The Table Top... the final frontier! Through my entire geek filled life, there have been few constants. One though, is this; either you love Star Trek or you love Star Wars. Very rarely do the two co-exist. Both licenses are extremely popular in pop culture and geek culture, with everything from toys and bed sheets to documentaries being made about them, their fans, and their experiences living in their unique universes.
I myself have always been a Star Wars fan. I've been recently playing the Star Wars Living Card Game from Fantasy Flight Games and enjoying it very much. Meanwhile, my boss, Mrs. Tox, has always been a Trekkie, not hard core, but enough to put me in my place when I say something dumb about how many buttons a commander has on their collar or something. However, aside from a few random game, she still pined for a good Trekkie game.
So when I was approached about doing a review for this game, I knew it would both be interesting, passionate, and exciting, so how could I say "no"? Thankfully, I didn't, and as such, I transportered myself onto the bridge and prepared to tackle the final frontier!
Star Trek: The Original Series Deck Building Game is for 2-4 players, lasts about 60 to 90 minutes, and is meant for 13 and up. This is one of the first games I've seen for teens and up that really hits the mark for aligning it's challenge with the age group. Know this dear readers... this is neither a “light” game nor a "jump right in" deckbuilder.
One of my favorite movies is Willow, and its tag line was "Forget all you know..." which is perfect for this game, as if you think you can just compare this to Thunderstone, Ascension or Legendary, you will be lost in space, gasping for air and praying for a boarding party to save you!
Star Trek starts off immediately different. You have a starting deck of 10 cards, but they include 3 x Ensigns, 2 x Lieutenants, and 5 x unique starting cards. These 5 additional cards provide you immediate abilities to manipulate your hand, your deck, and your buying power in a way that is very refreshing in this genre. For example, one immediately lets you discard cards from your hand and draw that many discarded. Yes, you start with that.
You will use those cards to generate XP, or experience, which is your primary currency to buy newer and more powerful cards for your deck. In addition though, Star Trek uses a very unique "bar" at the bottom of every card, that will give you 4 additional statistics to use in the game, Speed, Attack, Diplomacy, and Shields.
Those stats are designed so that you can stack your cards and see the totals of all your cards in your Bridge, or play area, easily as they pertain to your Starship, which each player begins the game with (having 8 shields and no other stats). These stats will be used when delving into the Space Exploration deck, and discovering Missions, Events, and Battles to complete, so that you can gain Mission points, and ultimately win the game.
The goal is simple, get to 300 Mission Points before your opponents. The task is the hard part! Unlike other Deck Building Games, the main deck from which you buy from has almost three quarters of it's deck made up of unique cards, meaning there are no duplicates of them. This makes sense, as there should be only one James Tiberius Kirk, but it also means there are a LOT of cards you need to learn and how they impact the game to truthfully get the most out of this game!
Now, there are two copies of Uhura, Spock, Kirk, and the crew we're all familiar with, even George Takei with his goofy grins, but remember faithful Trekkies, there was that one episode where they ran into their "alternate selves"! Yes, thematically, this game hits a home run. If you are even a mild Trekkie, the scenes on the cards and the quotes will make you feel right at home. There is no lack of effort put into the connectivity. Characters who are aggressive help you with attack. Diplomatic characters, including Abe Lincoln (who is amazing and yes, in the game) provide diplomacy, and those that helped with the engineering issues seeming to always plague the Enterprise provide speed. The challenge, is balancing these attributes.
Once you have built up your deck, you'll be delving into the Space deck, exploring and uncovering Missions, Events, and Battles. Missions are optional to complete and at any time, two can be face up in play. They will require you to have certain amounts of different resources on the cards in your Bridge (play area again) to complete, and you can play cards from your hand before or after exploring to find Missions so there's not much concern on timing there. If you, however, can't complete the Mission you explored and found, it will remain in play and your opponent's will get a chance to complete it, and not only capture it's Mission Points (ranging from 25 to 10 depending on the mission) but also it's rewards.
Each Mission offers many different rewards to gaining cards from the Star Base (the main area) or manipulating yours, or your opponent's, decks. These are both exciting, but frustrating, as when you find a good mission, but can't complete it, you'll be kicking yourself for even peeking around the corner!
Events are not optional and must be either completed like a Mission to score it and gain the reward, or accept defeat and apply the fail affect each Event has. These, as you can imagine, are usually bad, and range from losing cards to gaining more Ensigns (slowing you down).
Finally Battles bring another unique thing to Star Trek, in the form of you facing off against your opponents to both stay alive and win rewards. When a Battle is flipped while exploring, all players have the option to participate and play cards from their hand to their Bridge. Cards played this way only count as their bottom bar of statistics, but know this, speed is good! After all players have played all the cards they want, the fastest ship shoots first, dealing damage to any opponent, but taking that opponent's attack value as damage to themselves. Each player first once, from fastest to slowest, and after combat, anyone still flying around space uses the Battle's "Order:" line to see which statistics determine the winner.
These fights are exciting, unconventional, sometimes random, and game changing in terms of "resetting" other players and also gaining Mission points and rewards to benefit you. Additionally you get to draw cards back up to your hand limit of 5 cards so it's not like fighting will leave you stranded for a random Klingon raid either!
Play continues around the table with players acquiring new cards, upgrading cards they started with through in game card abilities, exploring the Space deck, completing Missions, Events, and Battles, until someone has reached 300 points. The challenge in all this? Randomness. Complete, utter, darkness inducing, bone chilling, and uncontrollable randomness.
Space is dark, and I've heard, no one can hear you scream there, which may be good as we did a lot of screaming playing this game. Not in a bad way, but in the vein of "OH!" when we explored. There were countless times that even after building up your deck, exploring, dealing with flip affects from Missions and Events, and comparing stats, you just couldn't complete things. You could build up all the speed and Attack in the world and boom, your flipped card from exploring was full on diplomacy, no dice, no luck. the randomness was fun at first, but after several games, it becomes apparent that it really is the luck of the draw in the Space Deck that determines the winners more often than not.
One nice addition to this that I haven't seen in other Deck Builders is the "Search" ability. Each turn you can "Search" the Star Base (main area) for a card. This lets you choose any one card among the 9 laid out and discard it to flip the top card of the main deck. This is both cool as you can suddenly find things you can now afford, but also strategically remove cards you know your opponents need. Someone loading up on Romulans? Get Spock out of there, for free! This is a great mechanic as I can't count the number of times I've been playing Ascension and there's nothing I can do with the center row.
There is an additional scenario packaged with the game that sees other Missions and Infection cards come into play, which offers a good amount of replay-ability, not to think the vast options of cards to buy doesn't on its own! The game does have a lot going for it, but the amount of sheer randomness we saw in it really took away from the experience overall.
Is this game fun? Sure, without a doubt it's fun and Star Trek fans will love it. It does use stills from the Original Series TV show so if "real pics" aren't your thing, this won't bit either. It's also a very "Wordy" game that will see you reading a lot. Cards and their abilities have lengthy text so get your glasses on when you leave the Spacedock!
The components are average, being 99% cards, but not the best, nor worst card stock I've seen. Our game has already seen some damage through basic shuffling, so sleeves would be your friends here. The storage box is fairly basic as well, with a lot of room for more cards, but basic cardboard dividers with no flair or pictures on them at all, and no dividers to separate your cards in a way that makes set up easy and quick. You do get some D20 dice to keep track of your Spaceship’s health, but these feel out of place and tokens may have done better. There are some card abilities that will force you to roll to determine an outcome, again, the randomness.
Overall, Star Trek: The Original Series is a unique and fun game. The Random factors tend to put a lot of players off after a few games, and that’s only if they have stuck with it to learn the large amount of cards and abilities that makes this game shine. If you invest in it, you’ll find a unique and creative take on deck builders, but it will take several, several plays to get there, which honestly, the average gamer may not put into it.
Trekkies unite though! While I’m going to give this game an overall Hit rating, if you are fan of Star Trek, and more so a fan of Star Trek AND a Deck Builder fan, you’ll love it and tell me it’s a Crit! The game provides some great nostalgia moments, laughable scenes, and fun gameplay to make for a fun evening for the Trekkie deep inside us. Unforutnatley the randomness and learning curve may see the non-Tekkie fan stunned by a phaser of a different color and reaching for something more familiar to play.
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