Friday, December 9, 2011

Star Trek: The Next Generation Customizable Card Game Debuts With An Intriguing Game Mechanic w/Low Collectibility!

The Good: Some interesting images, Decent rulebook makes it easy to begin
The Bad: Finding players is a pain, VASTLY overproduced!
The Basics: With its first Star Trek CCG release, Decipher created a monster that is a complex game for players and a dud for collectors.

This was originally written immediately after Decipher lost the license for the Star Trek CCG. The original text is preserved. Enjoy!

Last month marked a milestone in the collectibles world that passed largely unnoticed outside the culture associated with it; Decipher, Inc., after thirteen years, ended its flagship product, the Star Trek Customizable Card Game. This may seem like no big deal in the larger scheme of things, but when the CCG craze began, the three biggest products were Magic: The Gathering, Star Trek, and Star Wars. Decipher had the license for the Star Trek CCG and Star Wars CCG. It was a powerhouse. It lost Star Wars, picked up The Lord Of The Rings and up until August, it seemed like it would continue strong, but then it abruptly ended the The Lord Of The Rings Trading Card Game with "Age's End" (reviewed here!) and then in December it closed out the Star Trek Customizable Card Game. It's the end of an era for collectors.

It's not much of an end for me. Back in 1994 when the Star Trek: The Next Generation Customizable Card Game began with a black border limited edition set, my friends and I had a choice to make; did we want to start collecting this thing or not. We were avid trading card collectors (see below) and these were cards. But we were in high school and the CCGs being released by Decipher, while intriguing, instantly seemed manipulative to us. The first set, Star Trek: The Next Generation Premiere was being released twice. The first was a set that had a black border to it and would be very limited. Months later, a second release would follow that released the very same cards, but with white borders and this set would be reprinted as needed. It did not seem like much of a value to us.

Had I known then how crazy trading card collecting would get and how little joy it would come to be collecting Star Trek trading cards, I might have re-evaluated and started a collection of Star Trek Customizable Card Game cards at the beginning.

Basics/Set Composition

The Star Trek: The Next Generation Customizable Card Game White Border Premiere was (essentially) the first set of cards created by Decipher to introduce the Customizable Card Game. For those unfamiliar with the concept, CCGs are basically a late-teen oriented product designed to capitalize on the youthful desire to play with the acknowledged maturity of the target audience. The initial idea of the customizable card game was to allow young adults and adults to play in a way that was as free and imaginative as playing with action figures, but without the stigma of being a twenty-five year-old zapping a friend's toys with mouth-created sound effects. The result is something that is a midpoint between the freedom and creativity of action-figure free play and the structured rules and rigidity of a board game.

Players might prefer that I describe the game instead as a strategy game that is like a Role-playing game with cards. The break here is that the characters, vessels, and scenarios are all already conceived by others. The original concept was to find a way to make play socially acceptable for an older audience and it generally worked.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Premiere is a 363 card set focusing on characters, ships, alien races and scenarios presented in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Released following the finale of the series, this card set utilizes material from all seven seasons of the show presenting a well-rounded concept of the Star Trek: The Next Generation universe. The set consists of 121 common cards, 121 uncommon cards and 121 rare cards, with the most popular characters and scenarios being given rare status and the background supernumeraries filling out the more common cards.

The 363 card set features 9 Artifacts (cards featuring unique devices from Star Trek: The Next Generation), 45 Dilemmas (cards featuring challenges the crews faced), 11 Equipment (cards featuring generic, mass produced devices in the Star Trek universe, like phasers and tricorders), 38 Events (cards featuring long-standing challenges or concepts in the overall Star Trek universe, many of which alter gameplay - like treaties between major races, which allow cards from different affiliations to be played by the same player), 3 Facilities (cards that illustrate originating locations of major races), 39 Interrupts (cards featuring phenomenon that quickly turned plot events on Star Trek: The Next Generation, like the appearance of a Q entity or a sudden spatial phenomenon), 49 Missions (cards featuring basic plots of episodes, these are used to create the "board" for the game), 136 Personnel (57 Federation, 37 Klingon, 15 Non-Aligned and 27 Romulan characters from Star Trek: The Next Generation), and 33 Ship cards (13 Federation, 8 Klingon, 5 Non-Aligned, and 7 Romulan). This set, like Star Trek: The Next Generation is heavily biased toward the Federation and assumes most player and collectors are most interested in the Federation and the StarFleet heroes they (presumably) watched for years.

This set establishes a very basic and broad sense of the Star Trek universe as characterized by Star Trek: The Next Generation.


At its most basic level, this is a board game where one constructs the board and pieces out of a selection of cards. The starting purpose of the game is to get 100 points, points most often are derived from completing missions by thwarting dilemmas using the unique attributes of your ship and crew. The Star Trek: The Next Generation Premiere set establishes the game with nine types of cards with innumerable sub-texts and divisions to them. The basic idea is to assemble a sixty card deck (for beginners), lay out the board (spaceline) and play against an opponent.

Missions form the board for the game, known as the spaceline. Dilemmas represent the obstacles that opponents place at each location. The rulebook clearly defines what each deck must possess in terms of numbers of the card types. But basically, one starts by laying out a board, stacking obstacles under the missions, assembling a starship and its crew and traveling along the spaceline drawing cards and trying to overcome obstacles to gain points.

This is a very complex customizable card game, but it represents a level of gaming sophistication designed to appeal to younger adults and actually challenge them, which is a decent idea given the thematic complexity of the Star Trek universe. The problem, of course, is that most people who would be most stimulated by this game do not have the time or effort/interest to learn to play it. As a result, the mid-teens that basically run the CCG players world seem to have had mixed impressions about this game.

It takes a great deal of time and energy to learn the game, but once one has played a few hands of it, it is a pretty easy concept for an adult to master and the challenge becomes staffing ships and being creative (and lucky) about how the cards from one's hand are used.

Rules/Rule Changes

The rulebook for this game is thirty-six pages long; it's not so much the function of a review to rehash all that as it is to evaluate it. The rules are (mostly) very clear, though the game becomes rather complex and convoluted when it comes to alternating between the more board game-like mission-oriented point-scoring game and the more role-playing game-like space battle portion where players may attack opponent player's ships. Rulebooks are obtained in the Starter Decks for the Star Trek: The Next Generation Premiere sets.

The rulebook clearly establishes the rules of the game, especially as far as deck size and the creation of the game mechanics. It is also clever enough to attempt to appeal to an adult audience by establishing rule extensions, like suggesting that as players become more advanced, they may increase their deck size (it establishes the essential proportion needed), play to more than 100 points, and prohibiting duplicates of unique personnel along the whole spaceline (so, for example, if one player with a Federation deck is playing a Federation Affiliation Worf, another player playing a Klingon deck could not play a Klingon Affiliation Worf - this is not an issue in this series as all of the characters are given only one affiliation or loyalty).

Basically, there are rules that govern completing missions and earning points and rules that govern how opponents may initiate combat with one another. The rules are fairly clearly laid out in the rulebook and most adults will not have difficulty understanding and applying them. As well, each card contains text that informs the player what the card is intended to do, so there is not a lot that players need to memorize.

Seventeen of the cards were clarified with the 1995 printing of the white border Premiere, the most drastic of which was the correct spelling of Lwaxana Troi, though players might need the information from the altered Dilemmas and Missions cards more. The revised cards simply clarify ambiguities from the original printings.


Players, collectors and fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation will appreciate the image quality of the characters and scenarios from Star Trek: The Next Generation. The Premiere set features the entire main crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701-D, including Captain Jean-Luc Picard, Data, Counselor Deanna Troi, and Lt. Worf. The set also features the U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701-D as well as several popular recurring guest characters like Sela, Lursa, B'Etor, and Gowron. This set powerfully establishes most of the biggest characters and scenarios in the Star Trek: The Next Generation universe and despite how small the images are, they are likely to spark the imagination and appreciation of fans of all three groups.

On a fun note, this set features Deanna Troi as the Goddess of Empathy, as one of the rare Event cards and that's a fun concept that illustrates the humor Decipher had when creating this set.


The white border set has absolutely terrible collectibility. So mass produced as to be a joke, dealers cannot give away this product, much less hope to sell it except to players who are looking for cards who do not want to go the random route of buying cases for next to nothing.

As far as the set itself, the Premiere set is plagued with problems that make it a tough sell to card collectors, as opposed to players. For example, the 49 Mission cards are essentially game cards that feature pictures of planets or empty space or spatial phenomenon. They are comparatively bland and collectors who do not play the game are likely to resent the space the Missions take up and distract from the Personnel (which, along with the Ships, are pretty much the universal gold mine of this set).

Collectors are also likely to resent that some of these bland cards - actually a fair number with 29 cards! - are rare cards. When searching packs for rare cards like William T. Riker or U.S.S. Enterprise, nothing is more disappointing than pulling a rare of a planet. Players will enjoy rare missions as they are the ones that have high point values, but collectors will resent the rare "filler" and how their presence drags down the overall value of the set.

The cards come in packs of 11 cards that feature one rare, three uncommon and seven common cards. This means that even with a box of thirty-six packs it is unlikely a collector will be able to assemble even a single common set and they will not be able to make an uncommon set. A full master set takes four boxes with ideal collation, though six-box cases often did not yield a complete master set (though it left one with enough duplicates to trade, assuming one did not pull all extra rare missions and need rare personnel cards!). They also come in boxes of starter decks, like this one where there are sixty cards per deck and only two are rares! With 13 uncommon and 45 commons, it makes it very difficult to complete a set using boxes of stater decks as opposed to the booster packs.

But it is the vast overproduction of this set that sinks it for collectors. Premiere cards were found in packs, starter decks, repack starter decks, repack expanded packs, Reflections product and virtually any boxed set that was an anthology of the Star Trek CCG product. This is the most common, easiest to obtain and therefore least valuable Star Trek Customizable Card Game product, despite having the foundations for the entire game.


This might be the logical staring point for players, but collectors are likely to be disappointed at how this set did not retain its value because it was so frequently reproduced. However, as collectors become more and more disappointed with the extravagances of the trading card market, having a finite collection of CCGs available suddenly increases the appeal of this product. Though, collectors looking at their collections as an investment will find the Premiere set is an investment that does not appreciate and likely never truly will.

Ultimately, this is a thoroughly average product, sucked down by its overproduction. I'd recommend it for players who have friends who are looking for something different to play, not recommend it for collectors and ultimately the only reason I got into carrying these in my business was that some of the lesser characters appear on these cards and when the actors portraying them began hitting the convention circuit, it became profitable to offer cards to fans to get autographed.

But beyond that, this is too tough a sell.

This set culls material from all seven seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation, which is reviewed here!

This set was followed by the Star Trek CCG expansion "Alternate Universe," reviewed here!

This is a set of gaming cards I proudly sell in my online store. For my current inventory, please be sure to click here!

For other CCG reviews, please visit my reviews of:
Buffy The Vampire Slayer Pergamum Prophecy
Star Wars Premiere CCG
The Star Trek Card Game


For other card reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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