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Design Spotlight: Second Edition Terok Nor

by Charlie Plaine, Chairman

13th June 2018

Founder Leader (Beguiling Teacher)

As Hans Beimler explains [about the Terok Nor arc in Season 6] "This was big, a really big thing for us. Because even though we had done some strange things over the course of the show, we never had attempted a six-episode arc. In the history of Star Trek, it never had been done. None of us came from series where you did that, so it was a new experience for all of us. And there was a learning curve. But it showed us the possibilities and the excitement that could be garnered, and in the end, we liked it so much that we decided to do the ten-episode arc at the end of the series." Similarly, Ira Steven Behr says, "There was some hesitation over whether it was a valid direction for us to take, about whether we were pushing the envelope a little too far. But ultimately everyone agreed that it was tremendously successful, and one of the best things the show ever did." - (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion)

Overview

Terok Nor, the sub-affiliation derived from the six-episode arc to kick of DS9's sixth season, made their debut alongside the Dominion affiliation in 2003's Call to Arms. They were the fourth sub-affiliation to appear in Second Edition, and struggled to find an identity for many of the next fourteen (14) years. Other than a few brief moments of power, fueled largely by "broken" cards, Terok Nor has historically struggled. However, they've started to find a clear identity in the modern game.

At a Glance
Here's a quick look at the [TN] sub-affiliation:

Terok Nor [TN]
Nouns 46 Cards (40 Personnel, 6 Ships)
Verbs 10 Cards (6 Events, 4 Interrupts)
Missions 65
First Appearance Call to Arms (2003)
Recent Appearance Far Beyond the Stars (2018)
Appears In DS9
Doesn't Appear In Enterprise, TOS, TNG, Voyager, and Movies

Strengths
Terok Nor, in many ways, mirrors the strengths of Deep Space 9. I spoke about the benefits of a SPAN 1 headquarters in my DS9 spotlight article, and this version of Mouth of the Wormhole has all of the same benefits. Similarly, Terok Nor and DS9 share the benefits of being native, multi-affiliation headquarters. I think DS9 has a bit more native synergy than Terok Nor, but not enough to devalue it as a strength. [TN] players can still enjoy the access to mulitple affiliation's verb cards, as well as use of the "affiliation matters" cards. Arguably, [TN] personnel were the first to have cards of one affiliation that benefitted you for having cards of the other in play.

Over the past several years, Terok Nor has been given "dilemma milling" tools that have given the sub-affiliation a mechanical identity. By necessity, some of these tools are available to Cardassian or Dominion players, but having access to both increases the volume of the mechanic significantly. Having access to a higher value of removal tools also allows the cards that key off of having dilemmas removed, or a threshold number of them, to work much more efficiently in Terok Nor decks.

Milling - A card or ability that discards or removes cards from the top of a player's deck or dilemma pile. The term originates from the Magic the Gathering card called Millstone, which was the first card with the mechanic. The verb "mill" is typically used, i.e. "I'm playing a mill deck."

Speaking of milling, Terok Nor has the largest quantity of deck milling cards in Second Edition, courtesy of the [TN] Dissidents. It's an incredibly difficult deck to build and play (more on that below), but if you're looking to play a milling strategy, Terok Nor had best be part of your deck. In theory, you could mill an opponent's deck and dilemma pile in a single deck; even if it's not easy to be effective, it's a definite strength of the sub-affiliation.

Weaknesses
In what's going to be a theme for awhile, I'd argue the largest weakness of Terok Nor is the lack of available source material. Decipher's definition of this sub-affiliation consists of six (6) episodes, and the characters that appeared aboard the station during that time frame. Much like the Kazon in First Edition, this just leaves a very limited pool of available nouns. Design can deal with this somewhat by making new versions of existing characters, but that doesn't really expand the pool and often frustrates players. There have been a few design experiments in expanding the definition of the card pool, but they've been met with limited success (or the jury isn't back yet).

Milling is a controversial mechanic, with dichotomous opinions; some players really love the mechanic, and others despise it. It's not a mechanic that tends to have casual fans, and mechanics like this are difficult to develop. Aside from the dislike of the mechanic, milling doesn't serve the same function in Second Edition that it does in Magic. For those that are unaware, in Magic, a player loses the game when they have to draw a card and they can't because their deck is empty. That makes milling a win condition for Magic. In 2E, both players need to have an empty deck for the game to end, which is a much different beast. An even bigger obstacle is that when both decks are empty, normal tie-break conditions apply, so a milling player with more points can lose to an opponent that completed a single mission.

Undermined Defenses

Looking Ahead
Terok Nor originated with cards that cared about having the other affiliation around, with cards like Mavek and Modern Galor. Even though [TN] has expanded into other mechanics as their signature, this is an area that shouldn't be neglected. Simple personnel, like those given to DS9, that reward you for playing both affiliations equally, would be welcome in most Terok Nor decks.

Dilemma milling is a fun and effective strategy, but a potentially dangerous one to design. If the volume is turned up too high, you can end up with degenerate decks that avoid dilemma plays; most of the most broken and least fun decks in 2E's history have been based on similar dilemma avoidance concepts that were pushed too far. That being said, there are a lot of ways to add new rewards for investing in the strategy that don't involve making it too easy or too powerful. For example, more "threshold" mechanics that give rewards for removing a specific number of dilemmas.

Milling itself is a strategy that should exist in the game, but has so far resisted attempts to be developed. It's my hope that there's a breakthrough out there somewhere, waiting to be found, that will allow this deck to make a comeback. When it does, I'd expect that Terok Nor will be a big part of it.

One of the most difficult aspects of designing cards for a multi-affiliation headquarters like Terok Nor is the fact they are multi-affiliation. For example, if I design a [Car] card, it needs to feel like it's a Cardassian card by using [Car] mechanics. But as soon as I put the [TN] icon on that [Car] card, it's serving two masters. It needs to be a [TN] card, relevant to [TN] mechanics, themes, and restrictions, while also satisfying those elements for the Cardassian affiliation. I am interested in exploring ways to make more cards that are [TN] above their native affiliation.

Finally, I expect design to sit down and formalize an expansion of [TN] into some other sources beyond the six-episode arc. We've hinted at including [Pa] Terok Nor (Cardassian occupied) and [Dom] personnel outside of the station from the arc, but my personal opinion is that neither has been the right direction. It is something that will need to be discussed and planned, though I don't know when that might be.

Conclusion
I'm proud of the place that [TN] currently holds in the game. The dilemma milling mechanics are innovative and something that Terok Nor can claim as its own, giving it a rare and special place in the pantheon of Second Edition affiliations and sub-affiliations. There are still some big problems for them, but they don't feel insurmountable anymore.


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