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Rules Update, September 2021

by James Heaney, Staff Writer

6th September 2021

Happy September! Today is the first Monday of the month, which is the scheduled day for rules updates.

If you have the time, please let me walk you through how and why we ended up doing the things we did this month. However, there are multiple functional changes and clarifications this month -- mostly pretty modest ones, but Staging Ground players will especially want to take note. For a summary, skip down to "The Bottom Line" section near the end of this article.

Join the Rules Commmitee!

First: jump over to the Volunteer page to see the job description and then fill out the application! We've received several applications to date. The submission deadline is Monday, October 4th, 2021.

Staging Ground

The Staging Ground Problem(s)

Staging Ground was released with Dogs of War in April. When it was revealed, we got two questions about how Staging Ground worked that, we discovered, did not have great answers:

  1. Do you have to report ships directly to the Docking Pylons, or can they report undocked "in orbit" around the station?
  2. Does Staging Ground "target" Docking Pylons at Deep Space 9? If so, doesn't that mean that Staging Ground immediately discards if the station is commandeered?

In order to keep the card working during its release season, we issued a temporary "bluetext" ruling that said, basically: Reporting undocked is fine and it doesn't discard if commandeered... because reasons.

We thought we could answer these questions convincingly within two weeks. Instead, as the rabbit hole got deeper and deeper, it took four months. Join me and I'll show you why! (Again, if you just want a summary, skip down to "The Bottom Line" section below.)


Until today, the rules said, "If the target (of an Event, Incident, or Objective) leaves play or becomes invalid, discard the card which required the target." We called this the "invalid target rule."

This rule was obviously intended to cover situations like Assimilate Counterpart, which requires you to target an opponent's unique male, whom you then chase for several turns until you can get him and assimilate him. The target entry in the Glossary defined "target" accordingly.

But "target" covers a lot more than that. The cumulative rule and dilemma resolution rules both relied heavily on a very broad understanding of "target." When you combined all the (sometimes contradictory) "target" rules, you ended up with a clear, but completely absurd, result: Tactical Console must be discarded as soon as the ship it is played on undocks, because Tactical Console's target has become invalid. (And many other cards were affected similarly.)

Staging Ground

So we changed the targeting rules. Not much, mind you! It won't matter 99.99% of the time! But that last 0.01% is important enough that I'm going to have to get into some Subtleties.

First, we unified the targeting rules. There are no more separate definitions of "target." The target of an effect includes every card, every deck (or hand), and every player that is altered by the effect.

Second, we explicitly acknowledged the existence of long-term targets. This is a target that persists beyond the start of the next action, such as the target of Assimilate Counterpart, Establish Tractor Lock, or Tactical Console. As of today, cards with a long-term target are treated as if they are played on that long-term target (even if they're not). If the long-term target leaves play, then, just like any other card played or placed on it, the targeting card leaves play in the same way.

For example, Establish Tractor Lock plays on your Nor, but you should treat it as if it were also played on the tractor-locked ship. If the Nor or the ship leaves play, Establish Tractor Lock leaves play the same way. Thus, if the ship (or the Nor) is discarded, Establish Tractor Lock discards. If the ship (or the Nor) returns to hand, so does Establish Tractor Lock.

Once the target is selected, the rule no longer cares whether the target remains valid, only that it remains in play. If you target Odo (a unique male) with Assimilate Counterpart, and Odo uses Shape-Shift: Fluidity to become female, Assimilate Counterpart remains in force.

This is very close to how the current rule works for the cards that care about it (like Assimilate Starship), but without causing strange side effects for Tactical Console, Staging Ground, or other cards.

Hopefully, if I've explained this rule clearly, you understand what this rule change means for Staging Ground: Staging Ground remains in play (and active) even if Deep Space 9 becomes Terok Nor. If Docking Pylons leaves play, Staging Ground leaves play in the same way.

Conundrum remains an exception to the general targeting rules. It worked different from everything else in the old rules, and it still does today.  That rule is explained in Conundrum's Glossary entry. We're working on that.

Son'a Observatory

Presence... in Space!

The second question we were dealing with was, can you use Staging Ground to report a ship undocked, in space, at the Nor's location?  Staging Ground says you can report a ship "here." "Here" usually means "anywehere at this location," but, of course, for facilities (or sites) and cards played on facilities (or sites), we know that "here" actually means "present."

And, uh... what exactly is a facility present with? Is a space facility present with a ship in orbit? How about a planet facility? Speaking of which, are two ships docked at facilities at the same location present with one another? When you look closely, the rules haven't ever been super-clear about this -- and this has caused some problems! For example, Son'a Observatory says "Son'a cards may report here." That means Son'a cards may report "present with this facility." Does that include reporting a Son'a Battleship into orbit? The rules were unclear, and we have become aware that this has been ruled differently at different events!

Now the rules clearly include facility presence:

Ships and facilities are present with all other ships and facilities (both players') at the same location (except carried ships), with other cards at the location like The Nexus, and with any site at which they are docked. They are not present with one another's crews. Planet facilities and landed ships are present with the planet.

Another way of looking at this? Ships and facilities are present with stuff they can shoot. Hooray! Son'a Observatory does allow you to report ships in orbit after all!

But there's one more complication here before we can answer all our questions.

You Gotta Report Docked To A Facility

There's a super-old rule that (until today) said, "When a space facility allows a ship to report, it must report docked." This rule, in various forms, goes all the way back to Premiere (even though the entire concepts of "outpost" and "docking" were radically different in Premiere). But, because this rule has not always been updated when related rules have changed over the years, it had developed some ambiguity to it.

Reunite Legends

What does it mean for a space facility to "allow" a ship to report? When a ship uses Staging Ground or Reunite Legends to report "present" with the facility, does that count as the facility "allowing" the report? What about when a Station (like Cold Station 12) allows a ship to report to it, but the Station itself doesn't allow docking? (Stations don't allow docking unless they specifically say so. We are today cleaning up some Rulebook passages that implied otherwise.) Does the U.S.S. Reliant have to report docked to the Station and then just... stay stuck there the whole game? Does it report docked, undock as an order, and then can never dock again? Or what?

We rewrote this rule to align with what we understood to be Decipher's original intention:

When a ship is played to a facility (or its site) that allows docking, it must enter play docked.

When you play a ship to your outpost, it has to be docked, because the facility allows docking. When you play a ship to Son'a Observatory or a space station like Cold Station 12, it has to be undocked, because the facility does not allow docking. When Docking Ports downloads the U.S.S. Defiant, the Defiant is, you got it, docked.

This has some implications for both Staging Ground and Reunite Legends. Both these cards allow you to "play a ship" "to a facility (or its site)." That means this rule applies: ships that enter play using Staging Ground or Reunite Legends must enter play docked.

For Reunite Legends, that means the ship has to be compatible with the outpost, because outposts don't allow incompatible ships to dock. The old Reunite Legends trick of downloading [Fed] U.S.S. Enterprise-A to a [Hir] Hirogen Outpost won't work anymore... but downloading the Enterprise to a [NA] Nekrit Supply Depot still will, because the Depot is [NA] and therefore compatible with the [Fed] Enterprise!

For Staging Ground, there's no issue reporting the ship to an incompatible station. Stations don't have the same loaded compatibility rules as Outposts. However, Docking Pylons only allows your ships to undock "if ship is compatible with station's affiliation OR crew includes a V.I.P. OR player controlling ship has a Computer Skill personnel present at this site unopposed." So if, say, the Kazon commandeer Deep Space 9, turning it into [Kaz] Terok Nor, your [Fed] / [Kli] / [Rom] ships will no longer be compatible with the station. They can still play just fine, but they won't be able to undock without a V.I.P. or unopposed Computer Skill around -- and, remember, your opponent will have control of the station's transporters at that point, so beaming V.I.P.'s around to make it all work will be a lot trickier! Staging Ground players take note!

SHIELD "Extension" Is Permanent

Romulan Ambush

Here's a fun question: if a ship with 5 SHIELDS is docked at an Outpost with 32 SHIELDS, can you target it with a Romulan Ambush ("Destroys your opponent's ship with SHIELDS<6")?

The rules were dodgy about this, but the answer (under yesterday's rules) seems to have been "yes." Although every player knows that a facility automatically "extends" 50% of its SHIELDS to all ships docked there, there was some wording in the Glossary about how this augments a ship's DEFENSE bonus that made it seem as if the extension only applied during battle. Since Romulan Ambush (and similar cards like Dropping In, Auto-Destruct Sequence, and Hunting Group) operate outside battle, it appeared that the facility SHIELD extension simply didn't help against those cards! That seemed pretty odd.

When someone asked us this question (hat tip: James Monsebroten, First Edition Playtest Manager), we started digging around in the Rules Committee archives for answers, and we stumbled on something interesting. It turns out that, way back in 2011, the Rules Committee was asked the same question, came up with the same answer... and hated it, because it makes no sense that a Romulan Ambush would work on a docked ship! The 2011 Rules Committee (led, on this issue, by Matthew Zinno and then-Rules Master Allen Gould) did a bunch of work researching and analyzing the problem, drafted a solution, agreed that the solution was a good idea... 

...and then, apparently, just never got around to implementing it.

We agreed with their solution, and, today, after a little spit and polish, we are implementing it. From the 2021 Rules Committee to the 2011 Committee: thank you, Matt and Allen!

When a ship is docked at a facility, it gains 50% of the facility's SHIELDS. This is always on and is mandatory (even for opponent's ships docked at your facility). No ifs, ands, or buts. We've changed the word "extends" to "adds" in most cases to avoid any confusion about what it means. The only functional change here is no more Romulan Ambushes (or Hunting Groups, or whatever) against docked ships (at least, not easily), but hopefully the rules are clearer as well.

(Note that a docked ship can now play Establish Tractor Lock backed up by a ton of SHIELDS, so watch out for that.)

The Bottom Line

Let's quickly recap all the functional clarifications and changes being made this month:

Glossary to Rulebook: Conditions + A Moratorium

This month, we are migrating most of the "conditions" (stopped / disabled / in stasis / quarantined / in play for uniqueness only) from the Glossary to the Rulebook. The Rulebook covered these things adequately, and the Glossary entries had become redundant. That removes another 1.8% of the Glossary, meaning that this project has made the Glossary almost 10% shorter since January 1st, 2021.

However, I am also today announcing a temporary moratorium on the Glossary-to-Rulebook project. Several different players have expressed concerns that, because some of the definitive rules live only in the Glossary and some of them live only in the Rulebook, they have to keep both documents open all the time -- and that there are some real difficulties navigating between them. I mean, at a very basic level, you used to be able to just press "Ctrl-F" while reading the Glossary and find every single conceivable reference to a problem. Now you've got to look at at least two documents, and some rulings exist in sidebars that can't be easily "Ctrl-F'd". There is also a perception among some in the community (whether true or false) that actual rule changes have become harder to track, thanks in part to the movement of rules into the Rulebook.

Although the Glossary-to-Rulebook project has (I believe) a sound goal that we are making healthy progress toward, it is not surprising that the transition period has some rocky patches of its own. These players' concerns are reasonable and well-founded, and the Rules Committee has heard them. I was already working on several projects to make it easier to navigate between / search both the Glossary and the Rulebook and to identify rule changes and errata. (Hopefully, you will be seeing the first of these tools, an Errata navigator, launching soon. It is currently in beta testing.) However, most of these projects need more time and attention. Suspending the Glossary-to-Rulebook project until more of those tools are released will give me more time to work on them -- and should, I hope, show that we are serious about making this transition easy on everybody.

Next month, I will give an overview of the projects we are working on to make the Rulebook & Glossary more navigable. (I was going to do it today, but this article is already way too long!)

See You Space Cowboy...

Thanks for reading! Be sure to tell us on the forums what you think of everything we've done this month. Hopefully you're happy, but, if you're not, we want to hear that, too. Until next month, we'll see you on the spaceline!



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