This set's been out since April, but I digest very slowly. I feel like I've only just in the past week worked enough with the dilemmas to render a verdict on them. The rest of the set still bears more exploration. So consider this still very preliminary.
Also, my impressions are unfair, because I had behind-the-scenes knowledge of the set and that undoubtedly influenced my feeling after the set came out. Paddy and Niall can probably skip reading this whole thing, because they've heard it all before.
1) What was your initial impression of The Neutral Zone?
seemed to really nail
the feeling of TNG Borg through a powerful mix of mechanics and restrictions that beautifully echoed the story-based feeling of the terrifying, faceless, relentless Borg of "Q Who?". Playing them is unlike playing anything else (even other Borg), and their cards force
you to play them differently. Q Who?
was the CC's biggest affiliation-flavor hit in years, undoubtedly doing a better job marrying story and mechanics than my own work on The Cage
I hoped that TOS Romulans, crafted by the same design team, would end up in the same place, with a powerful mechanical identity rooted in the story of the honorable border-fanatics we saw in TOS.
I didn't feel TNZ quite got there. There was a clear effort to tie mechanics to story in Test For Weakness, but it didn't make TOS Romulans feel all that different from everyone else. It's kinda "bonus point farming" -- something a lot of affiliations can do -- followed by "okay, now that's done, here's a good solver affiliation with new colors!"
The Neutral Zone was good, restoring an ancient Romulan flavor feature to its full glory, and I appreciated the work that went into doing that. Strategic Sector
is a very nice juicy card that talked me into going with an all-Neutral Zone deck recently (rather than the more traditional 5+1).
I thought there were glimmers of an amazing
mechanic built around Engage Cloak
, but it didn't materialize (pardon the pun).
The androids just aren't very interesting to me. Despite "conducting upgrades" being kind of a new spin on an old trick, they mostly just play and solve. I know that's not a fair criticism, because I know how hard
the team worked to make them do something cool and original (both during The Cage and during The Neural Zone), and I know how hard all those ideas -- many of them very
refreshingly original -- got shot down, often by me!
Counterbalancing my disappointment with the affiliation flavor, however, was my pleasure at the success of The Squire's Rules
and all the
dilemmas that came along with it. That is such a good card, just because it takes a big cognitively expensive part of the game and makes worrying about it optional.
Imagine I just spent three paragraphs singing the praises of Squire, to counterbalance my earlier grousing. There's only so many ways I can say, "What a great idea, good work."
2) What is your impression of the expansion now?
Eh, kinda the same, but, to be fair, I've only seen most of the cards in the set played once or twice. I still haven't seen Long Live The Empire!
in action (the card I was most excited about), because nobody else wants to build No-Hand Starfleet except me, and I haven't gotten around to it yet.
I'm surprised by how strong some of the dilemmas are. I 100% underestimated Shuttle Crash
out of the gate, not realizing that it has much the same effect as Skeleton Crew
AND has further requirements and filters on it. Ditto Nuclear Disarmament
, come to think of it. I knew immediately that Experience BiJ!
was a solid dilemma, and I have not been disappointed in that assessment.
While strong -- perhaps too strong for my taste -- I'm glad there's nothing in the set that turned out outright broken the way Misinterpreted History
is (just my opinion). Eminian Disintegration Chamber
feels like the strongest overall, but we'll see.
Squire has proved better in practice than I expected. It punishes microteams more harshly than I first considered, so now I often go into missions with 10 people instead of 8. This may be bad strategy. (I am not a good player, just a good deck builder.) In any case, Squire being actually pretty good was a surprise, but not an unpleasant one.
3) What are your top 3 most favorite cards?
The Squire's Rules
- great idea, as many have said. Wonderful way to introduce the game to newbs, if you can get them to understand the complex text (sorry, Rules' fault). Then maybe they can graduate to Let Me Help
- it's so rare to come up with a solid new idea for a dilemma, but you found it here
- I'm not a fan of the draws, but the reporting function is so crucial to making Nors work that I can't believe we got away without it for all these years. It's an instant staple, and not in a way that makes Nors broken. Instead, it makes Nors feel right
in a way they never have before.
4) What are your bottom 3 least favorite cards?
Test For Weakness
/ Earth Outpost
- T4W for reasons already mentioned; Earth Outpost for complicating T4W in a way that didn't add to the mechanic and, thus, to the flavor-feeling of the faction.
- Primary Turbolift removes substantial complexity from Nor play; I think Community Leader adds a lot of it back. You end up with Nors that have SO MUCH TEXT on them.
5) Which card had your favorite image?
The Neutral Zone
. I'm a sucker for maps, and that one is such a classic.
6) Which card had your least favorite image?
, because every time I see it I think of Quark laughing "COMMUNITY LEADER?!" back at Sisko, so naturally I expect the image to be this
That's hardly fair, though.
7) Which card had your favorite creative treatment (title, subtitle, lore)?
- the primary merit of a creative treatment is that it takes a raw, bluntly-explained mechanic and explains to players why that mechanic does what it does in terms of the Star Trek universe. That can be quite easy -- it's simple to imagine a dozen stories for the text of Poor Quality Workmanship
-- but I remember looking at Tricynate in Rules Review and thinking, "Man, I have no idea what Creative is going to come up with for this, because that effect makes absolutely zero in-universe sense." They hit it out of the park, by finding one story in all Trek that slotted in perfectly
The "Limit 500" Androids - because I love that. It's a weird quirk that flows directly and naturally out of the story. Really makes them come alive for me.
Which card had your least favorite creative treatment?
, for technical reasons. (Don't ask.)
, because I hate fun.
9) Which card has surprised you as you've used it?
Already answered. There's still a bunch of these I haven't used yet. If I gotta pick one, Imma go with Strategic Sector, a card I thoroughly overlooked until I needed it for a deck and Orbin pointed that fact out to me.
10) Which card has disappointed you as you've use it?
Probably Creatures of Duty
, which is just such a blunt instrument for solving the problem it solves. Great image, though.
I've avoided using other cards that I expected to disappoint me.
I haven't used I... Have Had... Enough... Of You!, and never expected to, but I am a bit surprised that I haven't seen more of it in the environment.
11) What's the #1 thing that was done in The Neutral Zone you want to see again in future projects?
12) What's the #1 thing that was done in The Neutral Zone that you do not want to see again in future projects?
Hm... I liked, a lot, what the Squire
and associated dilemmas represented: a way to allow players who don't like or don't have time for a certain portion of the game to easy-mode it, without ending up overpowered or drastically underpowered. It would be interesting and perhaps quite lovely to apply that approach to other parts of the game. ("You must attempt missions with 8 random personnel," say.)
As for the thing I want to see done differently in future... I'd like to see affiliation flavor closer to what was achieved in Q Who?
, where mechanics both derive from story, are integral to the faction, and make the faction play unlike anything else in the game. That's no insult to this Design team, which produced both sets!
I was supposed to be actually doing something the last 90 minutes, but procrastinated with this instead. Thank you for the opportunity!