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Dogs of War: Official Rules Supplement

by James Heaney, First Edition Rules Master

26th March 2021

Happy release day! After many months in development, The Dogs of War are loosed upon the Alpha Quadrant! You've been enjoying the trickle of card spoilers for weeks now... but the rule changes have been saved up for today's official supplement. 

And, you know what? I have to admit, I'm nervous about this one. I'm confident today's changes are good changes. They've been in front of playtesters for months. There are reams of data about them. They're clean, simple, and elegant. They're big enhancements to Dogs of War, perfectly on-theme with the final chapter of Deep Space 9. But these are undoubtedly the largest rule changes of my tenure as Rules Master, the biggest shift in rules since 2E backwards compatibility ended in 2018. Today's rule changes open doors to new possibilities -- and close doors on others.

Today's changes limit regions and liberate Nors -- two major themes in Dogs of War. Since this article is going to be very long, I will list the changes here for those of you who just want the bottom line.

Some Day I'll Retire Here

You can read the exact text in the PDF Rules Supplement, and I will explain what these changes mean and how we arrived at them -- exhaustively -- below. The cards in Dogs of War won't be legal until next Friday. However, like all rule changes, this rules supplement takes effect immediately

Today's changes came originally from two sources:

Background on Regions

The Dogs of War Design Team was doing a lot of exciting work in regions, hot on the heels of last year's The Neutral Zone and Q Who? expansions, which also did exciting work in regions.

Design has faced playtesting problems due to what's called "region turtling." In a "region turtle" deck, players use 3+ missions within a single region and "turtle," arranging the region's spaceline as they please, and never leave that region during the game. "Turtling" has been a testing concern going back to at least DS9-Block, especially for affiliations that aren't one of the "traditional" turtles (Bajorans, Romulans, and Maquis).

With The Neutral Zone and now the Cardassia Region sweetening the already strong incentives to use regions, Design concluded that it needed to do something to counter the power of regions. You saw the first part of their solution a few days ago, a new anti-region dilemma called Someday I'll Retire Here. Another part of their solution has been revealed today, the new dilemma Plasma Currents.

Lastly, Design collaborated with the Rules Committee on a subtle but important change to how regions are seeded, which ultimately became part of Dogs of War.

Background on Nors

Ops

Nors are beloved by some (including me), but they have some problems, and everyone's known it for years. They're confusing and they have roughly 75,000 fiddly bits that turn them into complex time sinks for both players. That's tragic, because the fundamental concept of a "gathering space" where all players' personnel can mix, mingle, and tussle outside planet surfaces is actually really cool -- but many players avoid Nors like the plague, because they're just too much of a bother to be fun for them.

In early 2019, Director Charlie Plaine commissioned a new experimental design team called Project Babylon. This design team's remit was as clear as it was ambitious: figure out how to make Nors fun, and prove it with data. Project Babylon has been quietly churning away in the background for two years now. In fact, you've already been the beneficiary of some of Project Babylon's work: the cards Primary Turbolift and Community Leader from The Neutral Zone both stem from data and advice generated by Project Babylon.

When Babylon found out that the newest set was themed around the final chapter of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and the Dominion War, Babylon asked the Dogs of War designers to send playtesters a new batch of Nor changes, and the good folks on the Dogs of War design team (who significantly overlapped with the Babylon team anyway) generously agreed. When those changes tested successfully, they were sent to the Rules Committee for codification and, today, they are being released alongside Dogs of War -- the biggest expansion set for Nor players in years -- to shake up Nors forevermore.

(Full disclosure: I'm a member of Project Babylon. The Rules Manager does not normally join Design teams, but I joined this one before I became Rules Manager.)

Let's start with the region change.

The Region Change: Seed on Either End of a Region

Relocate Settlers

Under yesterday's rules, you seeded most missions on either end of the spaceline -- the left end or the right end. But regions were an exception. Once a region hit the table, any further cards in that region had to be seeded within that region. New mission cards could be inserted anywhere within the region -- not just at either end of the region. For small regions, this made little difference.

But, for large regions, the ability to insert anywhere in the region meant that a "region turtle" player could arrange her spaceline exactly as she wanted, with no element of randomness unless her opponent also happened to seed into the same region. Thus, in the weeks just after The Neutral Zone came out, there were quite a few Strategic Sector players who got to seed exactly the same six missions in exactly the same configuration in every game they played.

Were you aware of this rule? If not, you're not alone. When we asked playtesters about it, it turned out that several tester groups had been playing regions wrong for decades! These groups have been seeding regions the same way they seed the rest of the spaceline: new cards in the region could go to either the left end of the region or the right end, but could not insert into the middle.

Well, if you've been playing it wrong, I've got good news: that's the rule now.

Starting today: When you seed a mission into an existing region, you must seed it on the left end or the right end of the region. You cannot insert it into the region anywhere you want. Of course, non-mission cards that "insert" into a region, like Bajoran Wormhole, can still insert anywhere in the region, so no worries for you Ultimatum fanboys.

Testing showed this change to be a mild inconvenience to region turtles, but is barely noticed by players using small regions. (The rule literally has zero effect until a third location is added to a region.) That seemed to be the "sweet spot" for addressing the issues Design hoped to address, and Rules liked the way it made the process for seeding a region more consistent with the process for seeding the spaceline. Regions are still an escape from many things, but they are no longer an escape from the randomness of your shuffled mission pile.

The Walking Change: Walking is Unlimited

Science Lab

This one's very simple. Under yesterday's rules, each personnel could only walk from one site to another once each turn. There was more to it than that, but the details don't matter anymore...

...because this rule is abolished. There is no limit on walking between sites. Your personnel have always been able to walk in or out of a planet facility as much as they want. Now they can walk from the Docking Ports to the Science Lab to Quark's Bar to the Docking Pads all in the same turn -- and then do it again!

There were big worries in Project Babylon that doing this would unleash hitherto unseen and monstrous power from Nors. What if one personnel were left on a station to walk past all the sites and activate, with one card, abilities that should require 4 or 5 personnel?

In both internal and regular testing, those fears never materialized. Meanwhile, not having to keep a mental count of who has "walked" each turn? Not having to write elaborate scripts to send Personnel A to the Security Office to pick up a gun and then meet Personnel B in Quark's Bar next turn who can carry it back to the ship, planning this "worker placement minigame" turns in advance? Dumping this mental load made Nors a lot easier to manage! Nors didn't get stronger, but turns went faster, and players were happier!

The Ops Change: Operate WEAPONS from Any Site

Under yesterday's rules, there was an obscure clause deep in the Glossary which stated that Nors could not use their WEAPONS -- not even to return fire -- unless a matching personnel (or, to initiate battle, a leader) were present in Ops to operate the WEAPONS. The Intendant might be on the station in her Quarters during a Klingon attack, but, if she left Ops empty (or in the hands of the invisible "Bobs"), too bad! Mirror Terok Nor would be unable to fire back. On the other hand, a single Ari (a CIVILIAN dissident from the wrong universe) could make Mirror Terok Nor fire back... as long as he was in Ops.

On every other facility and ship in the game, any matching personnel in the crew, "anywhere" on the ship, is sufficient to operate the WEAPONS. Starting today, the same is true of Nors: Personnel do not need to be in Ops to enable the use of WEAPONS on a Nor. As on ships and other facilities, a matching personnel anywhere on the station can return fire, and a leader anywhere on the station may have the station initiate battle. There's no need to rouse the Intendant from her milk bath in her quarters just to deal with a couple of rebel pilots!

Docking Pylons

The Docking Site Change: You Don't Need a Docking Site

Under yesterday's rules, you didn't technically have to seed a docking site (Pads, Ports, or Pylons) at each of your Nors, but you faced a pretty tough penalty for skipping it: all sites lost the ability to report cards if there wasn't a docking site aboard the Nor. No OFFICERS could report to Ops, no waiters to Quark's Bar, unless the station also had a docking site.

Starting today, there are no penalties for a Nor without a docking site. This change made a lot of people nervous, because how are you going to get aboard an opponent's Nor if your opponent doesn't seed a docking site? But some Babylon testing pointed out that there are already pretty good ways to prevent an aggressive opponent from docking at your sites. Simply using Docking Pads as your sole docking site excludes most battle decks from ever getting anyone aboard.

The solution to an opponent seeding no docking sites is the same as the solution to the old problem of an opponent seeding only docking pads: bring a docking site of your own! Every player, even if not seeding a Nor, is always entitled to include up to 6 site cards in theseed deck, for free. Make one of them Docking Pylons, just in case.

The other concern is that we could start seeing a lot of Nors that, shorn of the need to use a site slot on boring docking stuff, will now be able to do even more stuff. We didn't see that in testing. It turns out that Docking Ports and Docking Pads are pretty powerful sites in themselves, and players tended to want to seed them even when they no longer had to. But both we and the Balance Team will be keeping an eye on it. If we see Nors doing "too much" "too easily," there are rules- and card-based answers to that, up to and including reducing the number of "free" sites each player gets.

The Station Change: Station Controllers Operate the Transporters (and the Holodecks)

At last, the DS9 transporters get some use!

All facilities have rules about who can use the facility's built-in capabilities. All facilities have transporters. Who gets to operate them? All facilities have SHIELDS. Who gets to lower them for beaming? Some facilities have built-in WEAPONS and holodecks, too. Who gets to turn those on and off? Specific rules -- not cards! -- answer these questions for each facility type.

Under yesterday's rules, there were three separate sets of rules about this, one for each facility type. On Outposts (and, with qualifications, Headquarters), the facility's controller could use the transporters, SHIELDS, WEAPONS, and holodecks, and the opponent could not. On Stations (other than Nors), either player could use the transporters, SHIELDS, WEAPONS, and holodecks. On Nors, (James takes a deep breath), the controller could use the WEAPONS, either player could use the holodecks, and neither player could use the transporters or lower the SHIELDS -- except that Transporter Skill could lower the SHIELDS specifically to beam large tribbles.

That's a lot of conflicting rules for some very similar card types!

Starting today, all Stations, including Nors, work the same as Outposts: Station controllers can use the Station's transporters, SHIELDS, WEAPONS, and holodecks; opponent may only do so if permitted by a card. Yes, this eliminates the notorious Nor beaming restrictions. This means that, if you control Deep Space 9, you can beam directly from Ops to Chamber of Ministers, or to an orbiting ship, or to Bajor's surface. Your opponent is still going to need to embark and disembark through Docking sites, or beam aboard using another card like Invasive Beam-In -- Klingon boarding parties can't just beam straight into Ops and commandeer!

Dosi Trading Post

(Incidentally, this is a very good reason to continue bringing docking sites with your Nor decks. If you and your opponent both try to seed Deep Space 9, and neither of you brings any docking sites, whoever seeds the station will control it and be able to use the transporters -- but her opponent's cards will be trapped aboard until he can figure out how to commandeer the station at Ops!)

As with the walking change, there were concerns that this would make Nors too powerful, but, instead, what happened in playtesting is Nors became a lot easier to manage mentally. Compared to now-common "Nor cheats" like hopping through The Celestial Temple or beaming to the Mirror Quadrant and back with a Multi-Dimensional Transport Device, this did not prove overly strong.

This change affects only the "built-in" capabilities of a Station -- capabilities where "who gets to use this?" is a question decided by loaded rules instead of card text. That means it affects only: transporters, lowering SHIELDS for transport, WEAPONS, and holodecks.

Any other capability added to a Station by gametext (such as the reporting text on most sites) is limited to one player only if the card text says so. Primary Turbolift says "Compatible personnel may report here." It doesn't limit it to "Your compatible personnel," and it doesn't say "Your opponent's compatible personnel," and so either player's compatible personnel may make use of this text, not just the station's controller. Both players can still dock at all the docking sites; both players can still make cargo runs; both players can conduct services; and so forth. The only site whose behavior changes is Holosuite, and only slightly: until today, either player could activate their holograms within the Holosuite. Now, holograms can only be activated in the Holosuite if the station's controller consents. (Opponent can still report holograms to the Holosuite deactivated, and can still transfer them to/from docked ships, as provided by the gametext.)

This change applies to non-Nor Stations, as well. In the past, opponent's compatible personnel could freely beam aboard your Dosi Trading Post or Amargosa Observatory -- usually in order to fight your personnel aboard -- because Stations were open to either player. This was an easy way to shut down Colony points, for example... and a really annoying way to remind DS9 Ferengi that they are the worst affiliation. Now, only the Station's controller can beam freely on and off her own Station, just like Outposts.

Of course, as always, the Golden Rule applies, and specific gametext can override this general rule. Outposts have always been usable only by controller, but specific text on Ferengi Trading Post makes it accessible to everyone. Likewise, Stations are now usable only by controller, but specific text on Deep Space Station K-7 overrides that, making the station accessible to all compatible personnel (exactly the same as yesterday). Future Stations may make use of similar text.

But the bottom line is, Stations all work much more like Outposts now. Instead of three different sets of rules about who can use facilities, there is just one. (Although Headquarters are still a little weird.) And the major implication of this change is a biggie: if you control a Nor, you can just beam on and off it without having to walk to a docking site at all.

The Bluetext: Staging Ground Still Works if Commandeered

Staging Ground

Finally, there was an open question last week after Staging Ground was spoiled: it plays on Docking Pylons at Deep Space 9. What happens if Deep Space 9 is commandeered and turns into Terok Nor? It's not clear!

The Rules Committee discussed the issue. We haven't reached a final conclusion and wording. But there are release tournaments starting this weekend! So we need an answer now. In these situations, the Rules Committee sometimes issues temporary rulings, or "bluetexts," and we are doing so here: Staging Ground is not affected by Deep Space 9 being commandeered. It doesn't discard, and the card continues functioning. (Although you will probably want to report the ships to orbit around the Docking Pylons rather than to the Pylons themselves, since you'll have a tricky time undocking otherwise!)

We will continue discussing this and hammer out a general ruling about targets in the next couple months.

In Closing: On Change

The game changes. That's a fact of life in a living card game. New cards come out, powerful old cards get banned, banned cards return with errata. The circle of life. Rules change, too, as the game grows, and as our understanding of it deepens. And we're proud of all these changes! The fact that our game still changes is what makes the Star Trek CCG different from the Babylon 5 CCG, Galactic Empires CCG, and .hack//Enemy.

Yet we also fear change. No matter what good comes out of a change, every change locks an old version of the game behind a gate, never to be seen again. Our decks get disrupted; our habits get shaken up. Every new card, every new expansion, every new ban, every new erratum, every new rule, is the birth of a new game -- and the death of an old one.

These are, at least relative to the CC era, some fairly big changes. Our hope is that these changes liberate Nors from the shackles of confused frustration and usher in a new era of player-friendly Nor-centric gameplay. Our hope is that the anti-region hammers in this set quiet the concerns of testers and allow more regional design. These are big improvements, worth embracing, and lots of people have tested them out. Yet, needless to say, Rules, Design, and Balance will all monitor the effects of all these changes as they reach the wider community, and we will make adjustments as needed.


Thanks for reading! We're sure you'll have lots of opinions about these changes. Regions seeding a new way! Beaming and walking on Nors! Cats and dogs living together! Mass hysteria!

You may even still have questions, despite all these words I've spilled trying to explain everything.

So jump on over to the forum to talk about it! I always try to be available right after an update, especially a big one like this, and the rest of the community will be on hand as well. Until next month, we'll see you on the spaceline, and beware the Dogs of War!

 

 


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