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In The Cards: A Creative License Edition

by Michael Shea, Designer and Volunteer

29th May 2020

We all have our favorite episodes of Star Trek. These are the ones we can watch over and over and never tire of. One of the perks of being a designer is that, every so often, we get the opportunity to work with other volunteers to try to depict our favorite moments or stories in card form. But, what happens when stories or moments we love aren't exactly depicted on screen? At least not entirely.  What happens when game play needs exceed our available material to draw from? The short answer, of course, is that volunteers have to work harder and smarter to keep the game interesting and exciting. Think of these cards as the sort of anti-star power cards. These are examples of cards that Art, Design, and Creative volunteers work together on to bring to life in more imaginative ways than we have to when depicting events, people, or ships that get more screen time.

Revok, Eager Ally

Rayva, Bureaucratic Ally

Because it comes as a surprise to exactly no one that I am a fan of the Star Trek Deep Space Nine Season 5-Season 6 story arc beginning with Call to Arms and ending with Sacrifice of Angels, I'll start with those episodes by looking at a few of these, shall we say, more imaginative cards. First, I'll look at Revok, Eager Ally; and then I'll move on to Rayva, Bureaucratic Ally, both from Balance of Terror.

Volunteers working on Balance of Terror were faced with an interesting challenge, and one that confronts us far more often than some might realize. The team working on that set was trying to give Terok Nor a distinct faction theme that would set it apart from other standard Cadassian or Dominion builds, but without straying so far that the cards no longer felt like part of those affiliations. The challenge comes from the reality that one can only make so many versions of Dukat or Weyoun or Kira Nerys. Sometimes, we have to make stuff up. But, what we "make up" has to feel like it could have - or even should have - been depicted more clearly. In other words, it has to feel like part of the story.

When we examine these two cards, we see that they fit well in the Terok Nor story arc being depicted in Balance of Terror. Both support the dilemma removal mechanic that started way back in Raise the Stakes with Tenuous Alliance - a prime example of a good idea made before its time. Rayva does this in a particularly Dominion way - by having the effect happen to both players. Revok does this in a particularly Cardassian way - by recklessly exploiting deck resources for short-term gain. These abilities could easily have been made as personae of Dukat and Weyoun, but then they'd be competing with arguably excellent versions of those two cards from Peak Performance and that's often a recipe for a design fail. The solution was to "invent" Rayva and Revok as characters. We see them both on screen for the briefest of moments, but we're never given their names. In the episodes, they are living background scenery. But, by giving them titles and skills and abilities these bit players are transformed into important parts of a Terok Nor player's deck. And, they feel like they really belong there.

Oq'nab, Academy Commandant

SparberA look at two additional cards from the same set, depicting personnel from the DS9 Season 4 two-parter Homefront and Paradise Lost, provides two additional examples of this rinciple at work. But, this time the examples are a little different. With Sparber we have a non-unique personnel who never meet and see only briefly. Like Revok and Rayva, volunteers had to work together to create a character out of whole-cloth to fit a game-play need. With Oq'nab, Academy Commandant, on the other hand, it was a much simpler matter of assigning a name to a character we see and hear from. We know he exists and we know he is the Commandant of Starfleet Academy. I guess it's a good thing Jean-Luc Picard passed on that job! 

Both of these cards serve to flesh out the Paranoia mechanic also introduced in Balance of Terror. Again, these could simply have been personae of cards we'd already seen, or not made at all. But, creative license was exercised in the service of game play, and the game - at least the Paranoia mechanic in it - is arguably the better for it. After all, without the creative license, we might never had the opportunity to see this guy!

As the life-cycle of this game continues, and as designers continue to explore new facets of existing affiliations and factions, it will likely become necessary once again to utilize this kind of creative license from time-to-time in order to enhance the game-play experience. Let's face it, everyone loves the stars, but we can't always design just for them. When designers opt to explore these new ideas, they often need to work with Art and Creative volunteers to craft a new character, or even a new personae of an existing one. It can be fun to imagine future possibilities. Speaking of the Dominion War, for example, will we ever find out who the Prefect of Dominion-occupied Betazed was? We imagine there well might have been one. If we do, will it someone we've already seen, or could it be someone entirely new? Or, will we need to create a few new non-unique characters to continue to flesh out the Ferengi Waiter keyword? Or, maybe we need to see card versions of a few more cadets we know existed but never got card versions of.

Volunteers enjoy working up cards with star power or that depict pivotal moments in major story arcs. But, sometimes it can be just as fun - and even more challenging - to create new cards (or new versions of old cards) partly or entirely by using the powers of our imaginations. The trick is to make the card without betraying the story itself. If the card feels like something we could have - or even should have - seen, then we've done our jobs well.

Speaking of jobs well-done, a few online Second Edition events took place recently. Not even a global pandemic can dampen our enthusiasm for this game. On May 2, Michael Van Breeman took the day with a dual HQ Dominion Maquis deck and reading the tournament reports it looks like it was quite the fight. Then, on May 16 Nathan W (Naetor) played to a flawless victory of full-wins using a TNG deck featuring one the The Omega Directive's new 50 point missions. On May 23, Jon Carter played a variation of an Equinox deck to carry the day. I originally had registered for this tournament, I am sorry I had to miss it. But, those of us who wanted to experience the event anyway through the joys of Nate TV!

For more general information on online play, see these articles. If you have questions about Second Edition online play, you can probably also get on the forums and ask questions - any number of players will be happy to answer your questions. Dates and registration links for upcoming events are as follows:

2020-06-01 - 09:00 AM

2020-07-03 - 12:00AM

Live Long and Prosper.

- Michael Shea, The Prefect


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