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Design Spotlight: Second Edition Borg

by Charlie Plaine, Chairman

8th November 2017

"The Borg were initially conceived by Maurice Hurley as a race of insectoids. Hurley wrote in to "The Neutral Zone" a plot point that Federation and Romulan starbases along the Romulan Neutral Zone had been mysteriously wiped out, having been "scooped off" the face of the planet in the same way that would later be referenced in "Q Who" and shown in "The Best of Both Worlds". This was intended to lead into a series of episodes that would have introduced the Borg as a main villain in the wake of the Ferengi's complete failure to meet with audience expectations of a major Starfleet antagonist. The Writer's Guild strike of 1988 prevented this, as well as many other concepts, from coming to fruition in TNG's early days. By the time they made their first appearance in "Q Who", the villain species had been changed from insect to the more budget-friendly cyborg form." -Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, pp. 169, 180

The Borg Collective… the soulless, relentless, adversary from The Next Generation. In Second Edition, the Borg made their first appearance in the game’s second expansion, Call to Arms and have been a perennial threat in the game ever since.

At a Glance
Here's a quick look at the Borg affiliation:

Borg [Bor]
Nouns 77 Cards (67 Personnel, 10 Ships)
Verbs 33 Cards (26 Events, 7 Interrupts)
Missions 15
First Appearance Call to Arms (2003)
Recent Appearance The Nth Degree (2017)
Appears In Enterprise, TNG, DS9, Voyager, and Movies
Doesn't Appear In TOS


Borg Queen (Guardian of the Hive)

The Borg, by far, are the best affiliation at taking and using opponent’s personnel, i.e. assimilation. There are a few other affiliations that dabble in this area, but the Borg are the most efficient and have the mechanic at the highest volume. In the spectrum of “bad things that can happen to an opponent’s personnel,” assimilating them falls in the mid-to-terrible range; you can replay copies of assimilated personnel, but you can’t access or recover them from your discard pile. Plus, the opponent also gets to make use of your personnel. If they bring a useful skill or ability to the Collective, they can join mission attempts - or even if they just have the Knowledge and Experience you need. Or, they can be converted into other resources, such as points; but more on that later.

Speaking of the discard pile, the Borg are the second best affiliation in the game at manipulating theirs. They’ve had this ability since their debut with the good ol’ Queen Swap, and it’s only evolved over time. Borg discard pile manipulation tends to come in the form of swaps, and mostly between the deck and the discard pile (though not always). I’ve always felt this is a solid flavor home run, since we’ve seen Borg reuse components from fallen drones. But the Borg have a highly-efficient package, with the ability to put cards in the discard pile and then get them back when needed. (There is a reason so many Borg cards have been given an errata.)

And finally, one common element that has frequently separated powerful affiliation in high-level play has been ease of access to bonus points; in particular, early game points. The Borg Annexation Drone gives 5 points for the “cost” of playing all [AQ] missions. Combine this easy access to up to 15 points with cards like You’ve Always Been My Favorite (or the class, At What Cost?) and it’s a powerful combo. All told, these strengths combine into a formidable set of decks, from solver, to Big Euro Borg to mass assimilator.

The Collective isn’t without its weaknesses. Their reliance on discard manipulation comes with a high vulnerability of an unintentional deck outs. (If you aren’t aware, whenever both players find themselves with empty decks, the game ends.) And of course there is always the threat of Greasy Dukat. But since so much of the Borg’s discard pile manipulation is based on equivalent exchange, it’s always a risk they will run out of gas.

Like the Romulans, a lot of the Borg’s power - especially in assimilation decks - derives from their events and interrupts. It’s not quite as inexorable as the Romulans, but it can be tough to get momentum if an opponent is well stocked with prevention and destruction. In a similar vein, Borg lean fairly heavily on downloading, so any throttling cards can provide a similar slowdown.

Probably the largest disadvantage of the Borg are their skill gaps, and their low baseline attributes. After all, almost all drones come with 5-5-5 attributes. Now, of course, they have ways to enhance those attributes; I’m looking at you Computation and Opposition Drones. But they don’t have anything to help their Integrity, nor to give them extra Acquisition, Honor, Intelligence, Law, Leadership, Officer, Telepathy or Treachery. Most affiliations have some, or can supplement with Non-Aligned personnel; the Borg are out of luck.

Finally, speaking of Non-Aligned personnel, the Borg are solitary and don’t play well with others. They can’t report Non-Aligned cards to their headquarters, and their headquarters explicitly prohibits using another HQ - no dual- or triple-headquarters decks that include the Unicomplex! Of course, this anti- [NA] agenda doesn’t mean Borg players can’t include [NA] personnel in their decks… if they wanted to.

You’ve Always Been My Favorite

Looking Ahead
Borg gained a new theme with their Phase II polishing, featured in 2015’s Lower Decks: megateaming. If I’m being candid, we missed the mark with our implementation of this theme. Now, I don’t think that means the theme is a dud - it just means we didn’t stick the landing. Mega-teaming fits the Borg flavorfully and mechanically, hearkening back to the TNG Borg where they were an infinite, relentless foe. I’d like to see this theme developed and expanded upon in the future.

Mega-teaming: Attempting a mission with more than nine (9) personnel. This has always been a strategy with risk, as there have been anti-mega-team dilemmas in Second Edition from day one. See: Pinned Down.

The Dissident i.e. Unimatrix Zero deck is several years old, but still - in my opinion - still ripe for further development. In particular, I’d like to see the Dissident Borg play differently than standard Borg. They already lose staples such as the Queen and Locutus, but it would be good design for the Second Edition team to give them positive reinforcement for being Dissidents. I generally dislike defining an element of the game by the prohibition on something, although there is a place for it.

Finally, I think it would be exciting to see more ways for the Borg to assimilate their opponents. After all, we saw Borg interested in technology - let’s see more equipment and event stealing, instead of just personnel. It would be a major design win if Borg players could be given meaningful choices as to how they assimilate. To vary the ways and means of disruption for a Borg player, would be a fun win for 2E design.

The Borg have been a powerful, dominant force in Second Edition for most of their time in the game. They have fallen off in popularity over the past few years due to some high profile errata; however, like in the show, the Borg are always out there. As players and designer alike adapt, so shall the Borg. I don’t know much of what the future holds, but I do know this: the Borg are coming. And resistance will be futile.

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