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Star Trek CCG: A Newbie's Perspective

by Craig Giblett

19th September 2010

This article is written from the perspective of a new player to the Star Trek Customizable Card Game, comparing it to my experiences as a gamer and player of other CCGs. I will discuss what I like about the game, what attracted me to it, and just a little about the community I play in.

I have been playing games of all types -- such as board, role-playing and card games -- since I was 13 years old, the biggest influence being Magic: The Gathering. Most of the people I know I met through playing magical cards, even forming a magic testing group or ‘team’ with several others. We went hard at it, preparing, testing and analyzing magic strategy, cards, formats and metagames in depth, often playing hundreds of test games with any given deck for tournaments. Spending endless hours in debate and preparing, Magic was not just a hobby, it was a way of life, or at least it felt like it.

In late 2008, I became a victim of the Global Financial Crisis and made redundant, being forced to return to full-time study. I had to sell the rares out of my 25,000-plus card collection to be able to support myself until welfare payments kicked in. Being one of the best collections in Sydney, the rares sold for over $5,000; Magic had saved my life. It looked like my card gaming days were over, that is, until I began watching Star Trek on TV.

I must admit, I was never much of a Star Trek fan. In fact, I used to find Data incredibly annoying and it all a bit silly. Then, one day in an effort to avoid study, I sat in front of the TV and watched an episode of The Next Generation and got hooked. Luckily, the Sci-Fi channel here plays Star Trek episodes ad nauseum, so I was able to satisfy my new-found addiction. Later, when surfing a local magic site's forums, I spotted a topic advertising local Star Trek Customizable Card Game events, run by Kieren “I need to buy shares in a guitar string factory” Otton. That post inspired me to consider the game.

I had been playing bass in a cover band with Kieren for over a year, sharing the highs and lows of rock and roll obscurity. After one blazing, beer-fueled rehearsal session, where Kieren broke no less than five strings (and me, many a groupie’s heart with my stylish rhythms and inability to relate to women), I asked him about the Star Trek tournaments and whether he could demo me a game. He immediately responded by asking what races I liked in Star Trek, offering to build me a deck of that race. With Enterprise being my favourite Star Trek series and Shran being a favourite character, I responded with: Andorians! After being disappointed with the news that there are two Andorian cards in the entire game, I asked “Hows about a deck with William Shatner?” and four days later Kieren provided me with Original Series Federation and Klingon decks with a set of each virtual expansion available at the time. Thus began my love affair with the Star Trek CCG.

As far as CCGs go, I found Star Trek had a bit of a high entry barrier in regards to the way in which the game is played. The rules at their most basic are simple enough, the game plays out like a Real Time Strategy computer game, spending counters to play personnel and ships, then using them to attempt missions. However, I found there was a lot of information on the cards to digest. In fact, for a CCG, there is generally a ton of text on most cards, and for a new player, that can be daunting. In my first tournament last year, I found myself constantly having to re-read cards three times or more. Couple this with having to watch the game, my opponent and understand what they were doing, turns would take forever as I had to ask rules questions and constantly re-read cards. The Sydney community, I believe, is the game's strongest asset here. Not only were these people friendly, but also understanding when it came to inexperience; I would often accidentally place planet dilemmas in my dilemma stack when my opponent was attempting space missions, or be shown patience while I re-read cards and took up a bit too much time during my turns.

The relaxed playing atmosphere is a great plus for the game. There is no pro tour, no one cares about their rating, everyone is getting the same prize largely (typically two boosters per player), with some exceptions (like Kieren may throw in a board game for the winner every now and then), and the tournaments usually numbered about eight players. That was a big difference; here I was for years playing the world’s most successful CCG, having played in tournaments where there were thousands of dollars in prize money up for grabs, and more than 200 people present playing with decks worth more than $300... to playing on a casual Sunday afternoon with seven or eight other blokes, having a laugh, with $60 decks and debating whose ears were pointier: Spock's or T’Pol’s (for the record, it is neither; Saavik’s ears are pointier).

Collection-wise, the lack of a revolving format is appealing. In Magic, the most commonly played tournaments and more eagerly supported by Wizards, require the constant rotating of cards into and out of the format, which compels players to continually buy new cards. The fact that Star Trek doesn’t do this meant the decks Kieren and Iron Mike Nugent built for me to begin playing with are still legal to play, and those two copies of An Issue of Trust I bought four months ago will be tournament legal until the day the Vulcans land to shake Zefram Cochrane’s hand, brings me no end of joy. Rotating cards in a format isn’t necessarily bad -- it can keep a game fresh and evolving -- however, when new cards you need to play with to remain even the least bit competitive cost you $50 or more each, not knowing whether they will be viable for tournament play in a year's time can be quite negative.

The balance between the affiliations in the game makes it very appealing, play-wise. Not only does this make tournaments more interesting, as a greater variety of decks could be played at any given time, but it makes more cards more useful. I like having lots of options when building a deck and Star Trek certainly provides that. An Original Series deck alone can go in at least three different directions, skill- and personnel-wise. Since I have been playing, that Original Series deck that was given to me has evolved no less than four times after adding new cards, new missions, consolidating certain skill sets, and adjusting the deck generally as I learn more.

I like how the game uses counters to facilitate playing personnel, ships and events. It has the huge bonus of solving potential resource problems that can occur in other CCGs. Counters also allow for a variety of starting plays and set-ups, giving players options to set the tone of their game and structure the way they plan on going about their mission attempts. When I first started playing, I found it a little funny how the first four or so turns would often be spent just playing personnel, equipment and events with little interaction between the players other than the announcing of cards, orders and passing the turn. That lack of interaction, until mission attempts begin and players start choosing/ revealing dilemmas or the odd bit of event destruction or disruption -- such as Worth the Price or Cascade Virus -- truly makes Star Trek unique amongst the CCG world in my experience. It is a nice change of pace, and makes for less stressful and more enjoyable play. I have seen casual-oriented gamers playing other more confrontational CCGs, mechanics-wise, such as Magic: The Gathering (amongst others) be turned off when their opponents interfere too heavily in their ability to play the game by playing powerful disruptive cards. I believe this less interactive model will serve the game well in the future when attracting new players, as it is less intimidating, and gives a new player the enjoyment of at least playing their cards. Rather than their opponent just destroying their cards in play, discarding their hand or preventing them from playing cards in the first place, these players feel as though they're "in the game."

The Australian Continentals

This year was the first time I was a participant in a Continentals event. The Australian Continentals was held over five fun-filled days and nights of intense Star Trek action. I was excited to participate over the course of the five days. I saved my money and even sold off some of my remaining, valuable magic rares so I could afford to play in every Second Edition event. Having only played seven events total before the Continentals, I was worried about my relative slow play and inexperience in regards to playing against some factions. However, the focus was on just having fun and enjoying myself no matter what.

I finished with a two-to-one match win record in the Biermeister, on Wednesday evening, which was pleasing as it was my first Star Trek draft. To draft, I applied the principles I had learned in Magic drafting, and it served me well. However, the next evening, playing the exact same format in the Australian Nationals tournament, I finished with no wins and three losses. Undeterred, I soldiered on at a Friday night ‘warm up’ Standard side event during the First Edition Continentals, finishing 2nd for the tournament, my highest finish at the time and since, with the deck I was to play for the Second Edition Continentals Day One.

With a small collection of about 1,200 cards, I was still playing and tuning the Original Series deck that Kieren had initially given me. It was the logical choice, as I only needed to buy or borrow a few cards to make it more tournament worthy, and was the only deck I had experience with. The direction I took with the deck was to minimize the skills that I needed to use in order to complete mission attempts. After doing research, I found that Leadership and Officer were among the most common skills used by Original Series personnel. The missions chosen included three with Leadership as a requirement and two with Officer. This was beneficial for two reasons; there would be less chance that on any given mission attempt I would lose personnel with the required skills and be unable to complete the mission and, because I was a new player, I did not have to re-read cards and waste time looking through my personnel in play figuring out who to send on a mission attempt.

The deck is based around the synergy between How Would You Like a Trip to Romulus?, U.S.S Enterprise (Where She Belongs), James T. Kirk (Original Thinker) and various four-cost personnel. Copies of the U.S.S Constellation (Dead Hulk) and Matt Decker (Vengeful Commodore) further enhanced the utility of How Would You Like a Trip to Romulus?, never making it a dead draw. Cards that allow you to search your draw deck for particular cards get me excited, especially when they can have great utility and are costed efficiently. I felt that I did not need to play a third copy of James T. Kirk (Original Thinker), given the two copies of How Would You Like a Trip to Romulus?. I wanted to keep the draw deck size as low as possible to improve my draws, and felt that the numbers present were sufficient enough to make the deck consistent. I consider Willard Decker (Recommended Replacement) the second most important personnel in the deck, not only for his synergy with the card search, also for his high attributes and all the skills that are necessary for most of the missions. His ability to return a personnel to his or her owner’s hand is handy with the event destruction personnel like Montgomery Scott (Experienced Engineer) and Matt Decker (Vengeful Commodore).

The dilemma pile is not particularly synergistic, and comprised mostly the best dilemmas that I owned. I felt that if I played a lot of powerful dilemmas, then that would give me a fighting chance in the tournament. As it turns out, I began the tournament badly, losing my first match to a Dominion deck piloted by Daniel Hyde. His ships were too classy for Outclassed and I believe I only managed to complete a single mission before losing the game. This loss was backed up by another to Peter Hill, a local player who typically plays Borg, which he was playing at this tournament as well. The game was fine until he used a Necessary Execution on my first mission attempt at Investigate Maquis Activity, killing two of my personnel and backing it up with The Dreamer and the Dream, destroying my hand. I had to rebuild, and it put me too far behind. I was impressed with the dilemma, I had never seen it before and placed it on my "buy" list.

Round three saw me paired with Chris Foggin, a Star Trek irregular, who was playing a Ferengi Dabo! deck loaned to him by Kieren Otton. Chris could not find his Dabo! in time and I managed to complete my mission attempts relatively quickly. To make Day Two, I felt I needed to do nothing but win out from here, and earn at least 12 or 13 victory points to ensure a spot. The tournament consisted of 19 players, so even a three-win, three-loss score line could be enough.

My next opponent was local veteran and fellow history enthusiast Iron Mike Nugent, a popular and good player, and a scalp I considered a great challenge to take. He was playing Original Series as well, but played an anti-battle version, with U.S.S Enterprise-J and event destruction in the form of Amanda Rogers. He used said event destruction to knock out a mid-game How Would You Like a Trip to Romulus? and got his U.S.S Enterprise-J down, making his missions easier. However, I felt confident of taking a win here, given I know most of the cards in his deck, which made dilemma choices easier. The game was tight, but Mike managed to edge me out, beating me a turn before I could complete my third mission.

I drew the bye in round five, putting me at nine points, most likely not enough to make Day Two. I resolved to win the next match no matter what to give myself the best chance. For the final round, I was paired against Daniel Waller, another veteran player, sporting a Voyager deck. The game was tight, with both us getting good starts. It came down to the final turn, where I was successful in completing my third mission just after time was called.

Finishing on twelve points, I ended up twelfth. Two players with twelve points advanced to Day Two, but due to tie breakers, I was not one of them. All in all, I loved playing Continentals; it was enjoyable and exciting to be playing in such a respected and well-attended event. As always, the play was fair and the game was played in the right spirit. I felt the deck fared quite well, however, I have not played that build since, changing two of the missions and adjusting the personnel to match. It was an exciting ride from Star Trek newbie to the Continentals, and I hope I am able to play again next year and go one step further to make the second day's play.

-djl-


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