The Deck Building Game (DBG) genre is getting pretty populated. While initially made up of games with typical European and Fantasy style flavor (Dominion, Ascension, Thunderstone, etc.) here we have a game brought to us by Bandai which features a trusty old science fiction friend: Star Trek. More specifically The Next Generation.
For those unfamiliar with the DBG genre, here is a quick rundown of how gameplay works. The goal of most of these games is to reach some sort of point total. In the case of the main game type (Exploration) of Star Trek Deck Building Game (STDBG), the game ends when a player reaches 400 points. There’s a number of ways you can get these points and in this case it’s mainly by completing missions. One thing all these games have in common is that you have an identical starting deck for each player. Through play, each person attempts to build a stronger deck by acquiring cards that fit whatever strategy they’ve decided to pursue. There are usually mechanics to destroy cards out of your deck to thin it down to just the cards you like. Often there is little direct interaction between players. In essence DBGs play out like TCG/CCG games like Magic the Gathering but without the annoying and costly component of buying tons of cards.
I’m not going to go in to crazy detail about how the to play the game or the rules here. You can always go to the game’s website and download the rule book yourself here. In the base game (Premiere Edition), there are three game types: Exploration, Borg, and Civil War. Exploration is a free for all play type, Borg is a cooperative play scenario, and Civil War is a team based game type. I’ve mainly played Exploration and my review here is based on that. The Borg scenario is a lot of fun and great for players who feel like cooperating a little more in their gaming.
A turn in the Exploration scenario basically boils down to: playing cards, buying cards, and exploring space. There’s nothing too crazy going on here. What makes the game fun is that a lot of the traditional DBG mechanics are changed a bit to streamline play and focus on the fun. Setup and cleanup is streamlined by every card being in every game. There’s no sorting through the pile of cards that you can purchase from during the game to set up special piles. They all go in to one giant pile and are shuffled. Characters like Picard, Laforge, and Crusher are unique while other cards like Warp Drive, Fire All Weapons, and Sensor Scan have multiple copies. Starbase, the are you can buy cards from, is always made up of 9 cards in a 3×3 grid. Whenever a card is gained from starbase it is immediately replaced with a new one from the starbase draw pile. This assures the fun of both randomness and seeing all the cool Star Trek flavor in every game. Another way this game is different from many others is the fairly loose turn structure. You can buy cards multiple times. You can play cards multiple times. You start with 1 explore and 1 search. There are cards you can play and various game affects that may grant you additional explores and searches. You can do all these things in any order you’d like on your turn. This helps inexperienced players stay away from freezing up on their turn, not knowing what to do. They can just start, knowing that if they forget to do something, they can always come back and take care of it.
I’ll freely admit, having a spaceship going pew pew is a big plus for me and this game delivers. Each player starts out with a starship that provides zero stat boosts. Through exploring space, you may have the opportunity to get new ships. Getting new ships is a pretty big advantage. Ships will have different bonuses to your Speed, Attack, Diplomacy, and Defense. These bonuses are applied across the board to all of your card interactions. If completing a mission requires that you have 8 attack and your ship is providing a +2, you only need to have a sum of 6 attack from cards that you play out of your hand to your bridge.
STDBG doesn’t just take place in a different fictional space, but is also just a really great game. Even if you’ve fallen behind in points, you’re never really out for good. There’s always a chance to come back, even if you have to depend on the randomness and fickleness of Q and The Traveller. Not to mention that if you like games at all and are a Star Trek: The Next Generation fan, this game’s for you. The only weak point is the sometimes questionable quality of the card art. Some of it looks like they were going through old bootleg VHS recordings of the original airings of the show, hitting pause and taking a picture with a Polaroid camera before scanning them in to MS Paint. Then you have the fine card art pictured here. Maybe they should have waited until the Bluray versions of TNG came out. There’d be better art, but then I’d be sad, because we all would have to wait for this fine game.