Thursday, August 9, 2012

Starships And Phasers And Gold Plaques (Oh My!) "Reflections Of The Future" Phase One Cards!

The Good: Excellent images, Some truly great chase cards, Good subject matter, Easy to collect.
The Bad: Chase are a little unsophisticated, Preview cards in common set.
The Basics: With its wonderful images and great bonus cards (even if some are hard to find!)the "Phase One" set is a real winner for Star Trek fans and trading card collectors!

Star Trek trading cards very seldom take risks. They appeal to their niche market and tend to be very safe collections of cards that usually focus on one of the many series' of Star Trek with a very narrow focus. When it comes to anniversaries - usually dictated by the debut of the original Star Trek series - occasionally the trading card companies go more ambitious and focus on the whole franchise. While SkyBox held the license, they looked at the entirety of the franchise and produced three sets of trading cards to commemorate the 30th Anniversary of Star Trek. The three sets (well, two of the three) remain to this day arguably the most popular pre-autograph releases.

The first of these sets, which set a new higher standard for Star Trek card releases was the Star Trek 30th Anniversary Reflections Of The Future Phase One set and it looked at the ships and technology aspects of the Star Trek franchise. It was remarkably thorough, including the original Star Trek, Star Trek: The Animated Series, the Star Trek film collections, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and the first season of Star Trek: Voyager. This, then, becomes a remarkably comprehensive set for fans of the entire Star Trek franchise and it is a treasure trove of information and images for the ships and technology of the franchise.

The "Phase One" set is a 129 card set featuring a 100 card common set and twenty-nine bonus cards, all but five of which are available in boxes of the trading cards. The "Phase One" set was originally released in boxes of thirty-six packs, which each contained eight "Phase One" cards. There was a manufacturer-created binder that bore the same logo as the box top and those are long since gone from hobby and collectible shops (since SkyBox lost the Star Trek license almost a decade ago). The packs generally had good collation and the basic set and the lower levels of chase cards were easy enough to come by to make them collectable but not so easy as to make one consider them overproduced. With the "Reflections Of The Future" series, SkyBox hit a fair production run.

The "Phase One" set features the ships and technology from the Star Trek franchise in both the common set and the bonus cards. The common card set consists of 100 cards, numbered 1 - 100 and the set is broken down with 54 starship cards, 35 technology cards, 9 Alien race/character preview cards, and the two checklists. As far as the series breakdown goes, this is a remarkably balanced set (though because Star Trek: The Next Generation had the most hours of material at the time, it might seem a little tipped toward that series) with 33 Star Trek, 3 Star Trek: The Animated Series, 13 Star Trek film, 37 Star Trek: The Next Generation, 9 Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and 3 Star Trek: Voyager cards. Each card is protected from light damage by a UV resistant coating.

The common card set is a beautiful looking collection featuring digital image captures that allow incredible transfers of the starship and prop photographs used to document the subject of the cards. For the starships, wherever possible, the card front contains an external shot of the starship and the back has a small image of the bridge of the ship! Similarly, most of the technology cards have a big image on the front and the back has a smaller image of the technology piece in use or close up illustrating more detail.

The backs are well-written with a great deal of detail (as much as a trading card can carry) on the ships and devices. They document the differences between phasers in the different time periods of Star Trek and tell a brief story about the ship being illustrated. One of the nice things about that is that because some of the ships are either obscure (Star Trek: The Animated Series' S.S. Huron), destroyed (the U.S.S. Grissom from Star Trek III: The Search For Spock) or visually repetitive (there are several cards that have images of Galaxy Class starships on the front), the text on the back clearly differentiates the starship types (i.e. Galaxy Class) from the individual ships (U.S.S. Odyssey). For the most part, the producers at SkyBox picked great images and intriguing ships, wisely devoting the first six cards to Enterprises!

The technology half likewise commits to the popular (phasers, communicators) and the obscure (the Transmuter from "Catspaw"). There are some intriguing cards of obscure props that one might never see as detailed elsewhere. The set also reveals with side by sides how Paramount sometimes reuses and redresses props! It's a wonderful and informative set for anyone who loves Star Trek starships or the gadgets of the series.

The common set is somewhat weakened by the last nine pre-checklist cards. These cards focus on aliens and characters and basically serve to advertise the "Phase Two" set. One suspects fans would have found the set without nine cards being taken out of this set to devote to the next one and I could easily come up with nine more technology cards that could have been done! The common cards themselves represent a higher level of quality as - in addition to incredible and rare images - each one is foil stamped with a Ship or Technology logo to easily differentiate which part of the set one is in. As well, they are all - common and chase - oriented in a landscape orientation, making for wonderful consistency when looking through one's binder.

The bonus cards in this set are some of the best and most intriguing pre-autograph inserts. Autograph cards changed everything and it is sometimes hard for collectors to look back at their collections and see what used to entertain and satisfy them as fans and collectors. With the "Phase One" set, there were twenty-four different bonus cards that could be found in the boxes and an additional five that were either mail-away or otherwise limited release cards. These were not mass produced, which has allowed them to retain some significant value in the marketplace today. While not strictly bonus cards, the Cinema Collection advertisement card and Survey card were plentiful enough that virtually every box had at least one of each.

The first level of chase card was the technology foil cards. One in every twelve packs had one of nine foil cards that featured technology - Phasers, Communicators and Tricorders - from the Star Trek franchise. The neat thing about these nine cards were they illustrated the development of each item from the mid-23rd Century (original Star Trek) to late-23rd Century (Star Trek films) to the 24th Century (Star Trek: The Next Generation). This is a very neat guide to the three most commonly represented pieces of technology in the franchise and the E1 - E9 cards tend to look great in a binder. It takes three boxes with ideal collation to complete this set.

It also takes three boxes with ideal collation to complete the Die Cut Weapons set. The three D cards are concept cards that have been laser cut to have shapes that are different from the standard trading card. So, for example, the D1 card focuses on the d'k tang Klingon Blade and the top of the card is serrated like the Klingon knife! The other two cards in the set have holes in them representing the blast patterns of some of the firearms. This is an interesting concept, but it is executed in a fashion that is ultimately somewhat disappointing. Points for effort, but it's hard to get excited about these weapon cards with the funny shape. Fortunately, there are only the three!

The most incredible chase cards in this set are the Ship Registry Plaque cards. All StarFleet vessels have a plaque on the bridge that clearly denotes the vessel and they were replicated from the actual props from the Star Trek shows! The back of each card has a wonderfully vivid image of the starship whose plaque is represented on the front. As well, the card text and edges are embossed, making it very much like a ship plaque! These cards were one in every OTHER box! That means to complete this set with ideal collation still takes eighteen boxes of cards! This turned off a lot of collectors at the time and these ship plaque cards have retained their value over the years. They still command prices of $50 or more in the secondary market, pushing the value of a master set up a bit. The only disappointing aspect of the Registry Plaque cards is that there was not one done for the U.S.S. Defiant (from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine). Given that U.S.S. Voyager made it into the set, the lack of a Defiant ship plaque is a letdown, especially when one considers that such one-episode wonders as the U.S.S. Stargazer, U.S.S. Brittain, and U.S.S. Sutherland made the release! The four different Enterprises represented make some sense, but to include the Brittain and not the Defiant is just wrong!

The final bonus card that might still be pulled from the boxes and packs is a SkyMotion Redemption card (which looks virtually identical to the Survey card on the front!). The Redemption cards have long since expired, but true completists will want them. Redemption cards were inserted into one in every five boxes.

The actual SkyMotion card is a neat card. It is a thick plastic card that when held up to the light and tilted, it illustrates thirty frames of images! In this case, the image is the U.S.S. Enterprise cresting Earth from Star Trek: The Motion Picture! In addition to the standard SkyMotion card, that was only available from the use of redemption cards, there was also a double-sized jumbo SkyMotion card which is a bit more clear, though it contains the same image. There was a double-sized promotional card as well that can be fairly easily tracked down in the secondary market. There was another promotional card that was an exclusive to Non-Sport Update Magazine (reviewed here!). That card is only differentiated from card #1 in the set by the text on the back.

The real bear to find for this set (outside the ship Registry plaques and the jumbo SkyMotion card) is the Mastercard Exclusive promotional card. This card advertises the complete "Reflections Of The Future" series but remains exceptionally hard-to-find because they were sent to customers who used their Star Trek Mastercard once and many people who received them simply tossed them out! As a result, this final card in the set can run well over $100 when one can find it, even though it in nothing truly spectacular.

But it does finish off well a fairly spectacular set. Boxes of the "Phase One" cards have retained their value well because the sets and the bonus cards have held their value as well. This is a great set for fans of Star Trek who are just getting into card collecting, despite the difficulty in assembling a Registry Plaque set. Most boxes contain two common sets with a healthy start to a third. And this was a set that had great box design as well (it's a bit bulky for my taste, but it won awards in the industry at the time and the images on them - there are very cool murals under the lid flap - are very creative and cool!) and makes for an all around wonderful release that still holds up in a world of autograph and costume cards.

This is a must have for Star Trek trading card collectors!

This set culls images from:
Star Trek
Star Trek: The Animated Series
The Star Trek films
Star Trek: The Next Generation
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Star Trek: Voyager - Season 1

This set of trading cards is one I proudly sell through my online store! Be sure to check out my current inventory of them!


For other card reviews, check out my Card Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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