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James Heaney (BCSWowbagger)
Tournament Report - 1E
2015-09-27 - 11:00 AM
BajoranDominionFerengiFalse Profits (Or: Where Did The Good Ferengi Decks Go?)
I once heard a story about how "...Let He Who Is Without Sin," the horrific travesty of a DS9 episode, made it to production. The DS9 team thought it was time to take a look at how sexual morality works in the 24th century -- perhaps critique it a little -- and then ran out of time to finish it. So they filmed what they had. They all had their reservations, but it was time to just commit and do their absolute best. When release night finally came, writer Robert Hewitt Wolfe recalled thinking to himself, "Please don't let it be crap. Please don't let it be crap. Please don't let it be crap..." and convinced himself it might just avoid being crap.

It was crap.

That's basically the story of this deck. Kevin O'Neill (Kerlingonoas) really impressed me a couple years ago with his DS9-Ferengi build. (This was pre-TGQ.) It wasn't quite playable (they didn't even have a reactor core! I kept saying), but he wanted to play it anyway, and rode some clever reporting moves, constant Rules cycling, and general daringness to some respectable, competitive games at NACC. He even won one or two, as I recall. Now that the Ferengi RC card is out, I've been meaning to give them a go, and my original deck idea fell through, so I pulled them out, thinking that I would be able to do much of what Kevin did, but better and moreso thanks to Where Opportunities Are Made. The plan was to stack up Kevin's potent mixture of equipment and Rules with Cross-Quadrant Expansion draws, Dosi Trading Post plays, and, most potently, a Ferengi Trading Post in the Gamma Quadrant that could serve as a host for a few Ferengi Conferences.

I was off to a promising start two weeks ago, though there were some obvious flow and skill-mix problems which seemed routine, and I figured I could handle them with some time, attention, and a good spreadsheet. As the day approached, I found that every time I fixed one problem, another cropped up. Up until the night before the tourney, I was switching stuff in and out, trying to get all my engines online in a reasonable time period. Under optimal circumstances, it kind of worked! Mostly. So I went into the tournament muttering to myself, "Please don't let this be crap. Please don't let this be crap..." and thinking it might just not be crap.

It was crap.

Round 1BorgJeremy HuthFL (-100)
There's not too much to say here. This was my first time playing a Cargo Run deck, and I didn't realize that you could only run a single equipment at a time. (All my test builds assumed I could take three equipment from Point A and fly it to the Cargo Bay to generate draws from each equipment simultaneously. This would often give me a desperately-needed mid-game infusion of five or six cards.) Jeremy corrected me.

Then he steamrolled me. I was learning that, in fact, optimal conditions are quite rare, and didn't manage to get a single Ferengi Conference in the GQ until (I believe) Turn 5. A few mission attempts were rebuffed, as I couldn't find basic requirements -- a Spatial Rift held me for several turns while I looked not for Astrophysics (which is a big skill hole for these guys), but ENGINEER. Meanwhile, Jeremy made quick work of my dilemma combos, which turned out to be bupkis against the Borg. He Stopped First Contact and Salvaged Starship at Wolf 359 for a quick win.

It was a very great pleasure finally playing him for the first time, though! He's a cool guy, a patient player with a wry smile when you can coax it out, and he knows his rules. He also knows enough to persona swap Locutus of Borg for the other Locutus of Borg with the better card image at the earliest opportunity. I've never played against SFC Borg (locally the players seem to prefer Omega Particle Borg), and I learned a lot from this game. I'm just embarrassed I didn't manage to teach anything in return!

Round 2KazonMark MustonMW (+35)
Mark was running a Kazon battle build that was eerily similar -- identical? -- to the one I faced at our first meeting in Fargo. He struggled a bit with the whole Gamma Quadrant thing, which bought me a little time to build up my forces and get going on a couple of mission attempts. At the Dosi planet, I was able to drill down to a Female's Love Interest & Garbage Scow before his fleet arrived. Said fleet immediately damaged the Dosi Trading Post. Fortunately for me, while he was leveling the base, I was able to slip a Ferengi Freighter past to move the Garbage Scow off the mission, then fly it back for a turn to serve as the "ship in orbit" for "God" (which was on the mission) so I could attempt. We solved, and I scored 35 points (before the freighter blew up).

Unfortunately, that was about it for me. I turtled up with a landed Quark's Treasure shuttle and Transport Inhibitors to prevent any Kazons coming down to beat up my moneymakers. Mark was digging for his Orbital Bombardments, and I was looking for an opening to fly to the neighboring planet (Rurigan's World), where I expected I'd be able to hold out for a long while, build up holo-forces, and eventually solve. (Then I could go all-in on an attempt to solve the space mission at the far end in one go.) I figured eventually he'd need to give up and go solve missions. But time was called first. I had gone first, and it was my turn at that moment, and I had just pulled out Blue Alert (allowing my shuttle to both take off and land in a single turn), so I figured this was my best chance. But I forgot -- because I am an idiot -- that Outgunned is a thing, so I lifted off; before I could use my cloaking device to cloak, Mark Outgunned my shuttle, and that was that. Fortunately, Mark had spent the entire game camping me, and never managed to attempt a mission. He made a short-lived attempt at Insurrection, but was rebuffed by Hippocratic Oath immediately by a lack of MEDICAL. Here I have to give the Ferengi a shred of credit: they had some considerable resilience against the Kazon armada. Not enough to win, but enough to score and time out the opponent. (My huge download chains and slow thinking today -- I was trying to play carefully, not that it helped -- also helped bring things to time.)

Round 3TerranJustin KaufmanML (-12)View opponent's Report
Justin was playing an updated version of his Mirror Terran Rebellion from last event, trying to abuse Multidimensional Transport Device while he still can. As before, he had draw problems -- not as severe as last time, because he managed to get 2 Resistance out and used BRC to good effect, but he was still looking for lots of free plays that didn't materialize.

Between his draw problems and my wild dysfunction, we were actually more or less on pace with each other. At Dosi Planet, Justin's Volcanic Eruption whiffed (Dosi Trading Post was there), his Horta hit, and his I Hate You denied me for a turn -- but I was able to Ferengi Conference some Youth in short order, because this deck has inexplicably huge quantities of Youth. I was ready to solve, but my Your Galaxy Is Impure / Edo Probe / Quantum Incursions combo had caused Justin to abandon one of his mission attempts, and I decided I could go solve another mission first, then come back and solve this one later. That... didn't really work out. I could not draw enough holograms (and keep them in play -- the restrictions on Holographic Settlement make it tough!) to make Rurigan's World solvable, and then I lost 8 points to The Higher... The Fewer, so I had to give up -- the score was now -8 to 0. I completely wasted something like five minutes of time trying to figure out how to attempt the one mission while doing a cargo run while protecting the people I would need to keep alive for the original mission while keeping ships in range of all my reporting areas... and then just abandoned the whole project anyway. Sorry about the lost time, Justin!

Justin had decided not to attempt anything else while he waited for me to unlock the Edo Probe mission, and time was nearly up, so I made a new plan: I would solve the Dosi mission (bringing me to 27 points, IIRC) right at time (which was easy, because time was like 30 seconds away). Justin would score 30 from the Halkan Planet he was attempting, and that would be the game. So I needed to figure out how to score a few more points on my turn, to get myself past Justin's eventual score. I thought about playing Dabo (which would get me to 33 points), but, with mission specialists and Kira Taban facing a Your Galaxy Is Impure, he might be getting 35 or even 40 points from his single mission. I needed another mission, not Dabo.

So I piled everyone up and flew to Ferenginar for a last-ditch attempt. Solving would bring me to 60, which would force Justin to attempt and solve another full mission on his turn. The Ferenginar attempt actually worked really well! Kobayashi Maru ate some mope, then it was on to Your Galaxy Is Impure / Quantum Incursions.

How this played out is a funny story, actually. My phone was having trouble with the site, and we were in a rush, so we rolled the dice instead of looking up QI. I had written a little cheat sheet, copied out of the Glossary, showing the outcomes of each possible QI roll, and I rolled a 5. This QI requirement needed Empathy; I didn't have it; over to Justin.

Justin was also facing QI, and had a 2/3 chance of passing it. We decided to roll for this, too -- it's more fitting, somehow, than checking a website -- and at this point Justin noticed that my cheat sheet was wrong. Instead of properly copying down Entry #5, I had actually written down Entry #4 twice! My QI requirement shouldn't have involved Empathy -- it should have been 2 Navigation and Physics, which I totally had! So I should have scored there... but you know the rule as well as I do: if you screw up and don't catch it at the time, then it's on you. I blew the mission attempt fair and square, and it was my own bad copying skills that did it to me! (Thank goodness, actually, that it happened to me -- imagine if somebody *else* had lost to me because they were relying on my cheat sheet and it was wrong! At least this way no one could accuse me of intentional cheating.) Justin now corrected the cheat sheet by actually checking the website for QI. He attempted, he rolled, he passed, he solved, and he ended turn. Game over: ML 40-27.

Round 4BorgDan Van KampenMW (+50)View opponent's Report
DVK screwed up his seed phase roughly as badly as I screwed up the previous game's endgame. Trying to do some cute anti-battle switching-up, he switched the outpost where his Spacedoor was located... but this ended up meaning that his free reports were all on one outpost, and his actual ship was on another. This DRASTICALLY slowed him down, and allowed me enough time to attempt and solve Expand Karemma Operation on the last turn. This was profoundly frustrating, because, again, I couldn't find an ENGINEER (this time to move a Garbage Scow), I couldn't use Sucking Up To The Boss (which only works when encountering dilemmas, and is therefore useless against Scows and -- fun fact -- Quantum Incursions, which is not a dilemma), and I never even saw a single Ferengi Conference all game (wth, deck? that's your main play engine!). Meanwhile, other skill-hole frustrations were cropping up: 4 of the 8 MEDICAL in the deck were copies of Merruk (a hologram), and he was therefore useless against both Hippocratic Oath and the Plague Ship. I lost 11 personnel to the Plague Ship -- including nearly all my holograms, sent to the bottom of the deck because Holographic Settlement is (mentioned before) way less forgiving of holograms than other holo cards. But we muddled through eventually, and managed to solve the Karemma Operations with 62nd Rule for 50 points. (Of course, the point loss didn't hurt DVK, playing Borg. Indeed, a lot of my favorite parts of the deck were useless against Borg. 59th Rule of Acquisition? Very amusing, useful Rule to slow up your opponent while struggling to catch yourself up. Complete whiff vs. Borg.)

DVK had finally got moving. He had a two-space-mission Delta Spaceline, and one of my space combos was Emergent Life-Form/Cytherians. The shape of the spaceline made these cards HILARIOUSLY useless; I couldn't even prevent him from continuing the attempt on the same turn that Emergent Life-Form hit him! Flying him away used 3 RANGE, there was nowhere else to go, so he'd just fly back. 7 RANGE total meant I couldn't fly him away again, so this combo was hilariously ineffective. He was all ready to do the Omega Particle thing, then go Assimilate the Founder Homeworld for the win (I had only seeded one dilemma there; I feared that DVK was planning to assimilate Ferenginar and shut down some of my draw engines, so ended up fortifying Ferenginar heavily against him, and just counted on the lack of anything else for him to do in the GQ as my best shield against a Founder Homeworld attempt. Unfortunately for me, DVK had noticed my slim seed there, and was gung-ho to bust through it (it was Quantum Incursions; he was more than ready for it). Fortunately for me, he ran out of time.

Closing Thoughts
This is about to devolve into a bit of a rant – I know, because I’ve already written it – so I want to lead off here by saying I had a wonderful time today. Every game was a bunch of fun. I got to play someone I’d never played before, someone else I’d only played once, and a third person I’d only played thrice. That’s hugely exciting for me. They’re all good guys, and it’s a pleasure to hang out with them. (Hopefully you’d all say the same for me!)

Beyond that, the fact is that I absolutely adore this game. There are times, when I’m on top, when I wonder whether I just love it because it’s going well for me. But then I have a day like today, where everything seems to be going all wrong for me, yet I still can’t wait to start the next round. People are saying they’re tired and they’re thinking about dropping and I’m like, “What? Are you off your gourd? You could be playing 1E!” On days like today, I know that, no, I don’t love this game because I’m good at it: I love this game because it is the greatest game ever created, and it’s a privilege to be a part of it. Thanks to Kris and Kevin especially for running a stellar event, even while running on fumes after a very long and very difficult weekend.

Okay, on to the analysis:

We have reached Peak Quantum Incursions. Everyone is teching against it now, in big ways and small, which means its effectiveness is plunging -- I got one hit with it all day, despite seeding two copies fronted by YGII (and one Kobayashi Maru) -- and pretty soon its usage will also plunge. It's still a strong dilemma, but the Borg just giggle at it, and everyone's using [AU] and Empathy personnel now. Sell your QI stocks.

I did not build the best possible DS9 Ferengi build. I am certain of that. The flow was never right, and I think I was trying to do one too many things in order to get that precious, vital edge that could deliver me some wins. I was trying to do both equipment stuff and Rules stuff, and I probably should have picked one. I screwed up on how cargo runs work, and paid dearly for it.

At the same time, I am convinced that the problems in this deck run deeper than my particular build. The skill holes here are vast and brutal; this deck had 20 Greed, and 3 Exobiology. 30 V.I.P. / Civilian, and 8 MEDICAL – four of which were the same holographic personnel. You can’t fix this with Kits and Tricorders – not very well, anyway – because those require people with real, useful classifications, and you almost exclusively have non-useful classifications. It is both difficult and expensive to get the deck running at all (ships in the GQ), and, even when you do, it is both (1) nothing really special, and (2) incredibly fragile. (I had to spend a lot of games keeping my Dosi Trade Vessel docked, because, if it were destroyed by anything, by Tower of Commerce would effectively shut down because XQX was depending on it. Ditto key play/draw personnel like Grand Nagus Gint and Ishka and Quark, who is the center of the 6th Rule web.) The Kazon experience, in which just FOUR SHIPS blew up my Dosi Trading Post, shows another key point of fragility. Nor can it adapt quickly; the deck is often forced to wait until the orders phase to make adjustments that it really needs to be able to make during the card-play phase (like cycling a 59th Rule through The Ferengi Rules of Acquisition in exchange for a 6th Rule, which you could then use to draw cards… next turn, by which time you might well need the 59th Rule back instead). And, man, it’s easy to get latinum, but not so easy to use it in the Gamma Quadrant – that “once each turn” limit on converting it to equipment is tough, especially when facing battle and you need to turtle up with all your defensive tech ASAP. The deck would be much smoother with quick, reliable transit between the Alpha and Gamma Quadrants – I might have even been able to leverage Quark’s Bar effectively – but there is no such thing as quick, reliable transit between quadrants, no matter how many resources you invest in it – The First Stable Wormhole forces you to discard a card every time you want to transit, and that assumes you even have SCIENCE and Navigation to spare – which, again, given the absurdly terrible skill matrix of the Dosi/Ferengi group as a whole, you probably don’t. First Stable Wormhole is a balanced and appropriate compromise that works well for most everyone – but it’s a fatal weakness for Ferengi. (I know, I know, you are saying right now, “If you think it should have been tested better, then you should be a playtester and you should have tested it yourself and you should have reported the problems!” You’re absolutely right, on all counts.)

Another DS9 story. During the production of another fabulously bad episode, "The Muse," Ronald D. Moore said that they thought they had a groovy thing going until they started watching the daily footage coming in from production. And then it dawned on them: "...we thought, are we insane? What are we doing? How did we get here?" It wasn't just the execution that had gone bad -- the whole enterprise had been built on shabby foundations. I felt like that several times today.

I think the Ferengi problem is summed up by, and reaches its apex in, Sucking Up To The Boss. I hated this card when it came out – it was a massive, massive nerf to Rule of Acquisition #33 (which was here retitled specifically to prevent it from interacting with Rule-based cards). I decided to include it here, since I was encouraged at the time to try it out, and I hoped for the best. Indeed, Sucking Up To The Boss turned out to be absolutely essential – but not for skill-cheating in clever or impressive ways. No, I used Sucking Up To The Boss to fill basic gaps in fundamental skills, like "OFFICER" and "Leadership". And it was horrible – not being a Rule meant I had to draw for it, not interrupting meant I needed to know in advance what dilemmas I was going to face and play the card in anticipation (which basically meant a blown turn of exploration while I ran into an often-deadly wall), and you don’t even get the very best, most enjoyable part of the original card (saying the words, “It never hurts to suck up to the boss”) anymore. The nerf here is so severe that I honestly believe DS9 Ferengi were a better, stronger faction before the Gamma Quadrant came out than they are today. The fact that this anti-fun card is essential to run the modern DS9 Ferengi is not a credit to the card; it is an indictment of a fundamentally dysfunctional faction that deals overwhelmingly in useless skills.

In my last game, DVK pointed out that our decks were both basically doing the same things: his Borg and my Ferengi were both trying to avoid playing the game as it was meant to be played. We were downloading things left and right, manipulating our draw decks, accomplishing goals that were only tangentially related to the main game (for him, objectives; for me, latinum games), and just generally trying to be big, complex, and beautiful – 1E in its purest form. And he’s right.

“The difference,” I replied, “is that the Borg aren’t sh*t at it.”