There is so much source material for Star Trek board games I decided to break the post into two parts. This post will cover the “modern” era of gaming, which is to say, Star Trek games that were published since Magic: the Gathering and/or Settlers of Catan. Star Trek board games are not going away anytime soon either. Paramount’s prized franchise has a bright future ahead of it.
6. Of Licenses and Canon
I left you hanging in the last blog post. Not just because I broke the post into two sections. But also because of the topic regarding Task Force Games use of Star Trek material. It has always struck me as odd that Task Force Games used “Klingons”, “Romulans” and the Enterprise but it wasn’t called Star Trek.
And Task Force Games (now Amarillo Design Group) still has the rights to do so. How could this be? How could Paramount allow Task Force to use their material for 40 years?
It seems that Task Force Games got the rights from CBS/Paramount to make their line of games during a time when two things were true: Star Trek was a forgotten television show and board games were being replaced by video games. During this brief time period, Task Force Games managed to get permanent rights to make their line of games. So long as they did not borrow from the Star Trek movies or the newer Star Trek shows, Task Force Games has tremendous publishing freedom.
Now Star Trek is a cultural phenomenon. And board games are in some cases replacing video games. And Amarillo Design Group has no plans to stop publishing new Starfleet battle modules.
7. Star Trek and customizable games: 1994 to 2007
Magic: the Gathering changed the landscape of tabletop gaming. The introduction of random boosters for customizable games was, if anything, a marketing coup. Numerous publishers jumped on the CCG (customizable card game) bandwagon. One of these publishers was Decipher.
Decipher Inc.’s early game credits include the recognizable “How to Host a Murder” game series. With these chops, the team from Decipher approached Paramount about doing a Star Trek take on Magic: the Gathering. And Paramount signed the rights over to Decipher. (Learning from their agreement with Task Force Games, Paramount put an expiration date on their agreement with Decipher!)
In Decipher’s Star Trek CCG, players build a deck. They choose an affiliation (or faction). This includes the Federation, the Klingons, etc. Then they attempt to complete a missions. Completing a mission scores you points. When you announce a mission that you are going on, your opponent then draws Dilemma cards and hammers you with them. If your crew still meets the mission goals (usually a numerical number along with a trait), you still complete it. For example, you might play “Terraform a dead planet: Science 30, Biology 20”. After all the dilemmas cause your crew to be killed or waylaid, if you still have those Science and Biology scores, you complete the mission.
Now I love Star Trek. But I had Decipher. Not because Decipher wronged me but because they fully embrace and champion my most hated game mechanic of all time: the Silver Bullet.
Decipher saw what Wizards of the Coast had done with their Magic: the Gathering. WotC decided to errata or ban cards when unintended meta took place. Decipher said, “That’s bad. Let’s not do that”. When an abusive strategy was discovered in tournament play, Decipher “fixed” this in the next expansion with a silver bullet: a card that shot down the previously abusive card or combo.
Kids sitting on your couch at home: do not, repeat, DO NOT DO THIS! Silver bullets suffocate a game. The silver bullet becomes the monstrosity that you were trying to correct.
In addition to silver bullets, Decipher loved taking wonderful IP’s like Star Trek and Star Wars and turning them into CCG’s. And then they would take the most recognizable facets of those IP’s and make them the rare cards. Jean-Luc Picard? Rare. Commander Riker? Rare. USS Enterprise? Ultra rare. Why are the main cast and characters rares?! I want to play Star Trek not some one-off character from some forgotten episode.
Decipher would stop publishing Star Trek CCG in 2007. This is an extraordinarily long run for a CCG. Decipher, despite its flaws, did do a few things quite well. Their graphic designs were always nice. And Decipher had a knack for coming up with a cute hook in their games. The Dilemma mechanic was a good idea. Players had to manage two constraints: trying to score 100 mission points first AND having dilemma combos that would stymie their opponent.
But Decipher was not the only Star Trek CCG in town.
Fleer decided to augment their baseball card print runs with some CCG print runs. They approached Paramount about doing a CCG for the Original Series. Paramount approved.
The goal of Fleer’s Star Trek Card Game was to get to 25XC (experience counters). You play a mission. Then your opponent plays a challenge (much like the dilemmas seen above). If successful, the crew are awarded 1XC.
The cards had multi uses too. I love this mechanic. In the bottom left corner is one of three icons: combat, humanity or logic. Instead of rolling dice, you flip cards over in your deck, comparing these icons. If you get enough icons, you defeat the challenge. So this would make for some interesting deck possibilities.
While this is a good mechanic in theory, the game suffered from the “all-logic” deck. This meant you would be immune to any challenge hurled at you by your opponent. Fleer had the printing background to make a card game but not the rigorous play testing background. This game did not even produce a single expansion.
One last entry in the Star Trek collectible entry: Five Rings Publishing’s Star Trek Collective Dice Game. It’s as lame as it sounds.
The dice are used to track in game information more so than outright chucking. But using dice (and collectible dice with rarity issues) as a tracking system is a money grab. And lame.
The public had no interest in this game and FRP went back to publishing good games.
8. Star Trek and Wizkids: 2011 to Present
Wizkids got the rights to do some Star Trek games in 2011. And since that time, Wizkids has made the best Star Trek games bar none.
They got famed designed Reiner Knizia (designer of Tigris Euphrates) to make Star Trek Expeditions. Then they made Star Trek Fleet Captains. And long time readers will know this is my favorite Star Trek game.
Star Trek Fleet Captains captures the feel of the franchise better than any other game I’ve played. You complete missions. You equip ships. You explore space. You go to war. It has everything. Except the Borg 🙁
Wizkids had been publishing their popular Heroclix brand before they acquired some Star Trek licenses. They applied the Star Trek license to Heroclix and came out with Star Trek Heroclix Tactics. Players assemble their fleets, chuck dice and click their ships when taking damage.
Wizkids has had the misfortune of being in Fantasy Flight Games’ shadow. Fantasy Flight released X-Wing Fighter miniature game months before Wizkids released Star Trek Attack Wing. Attack Wing is largely the same as X-Wing Fighter but in the Star Trek universe. The game is a good representation of the source material and does Star Trek justice. But X-Wing Fighter is basically a perfect representative of genre.
The gaming world is now awaiting the next big thing from Wizkids: Vlaad Chvatil’s Star Trek Frontiers. This retheming of Mage Knight is going to take boardgamegeek by storm. Look for it to be in the top 25 when it’s all said and done.
Paramount has not grown tired of Wizkids yet. Probably because Wizkids has made games worthy of such a license.
9. The future of board games and the future of Star Trek
Gale Force Nine has a very ambitious game announced for 2016.
10. Where Star Trek reruns and board games are always embraced…