Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Best Is In The Middle: Star Trek Aliens Trading Cards Confound And Delight!

The Good: Great concept, Decent images, Good overall value, Decent chase
The Bad: Common card set is irksome, Virtually impossible to complete the set!
The Basics: The Star Trek Aliens trading cards are a tremendous concept, with pretty awesome chase cards, but a problematic common set and a disturbing lack of collectability for avid card collectors.

Star Trek trading cards have come a long way from when I started collecting them in 1991. Like many people who started collecting back then, I was happy when the trading card companies evolved beyond the simplistic trading cards and into more intriguing card designs – both for common sets and chase sets. I have had issues with how the trading card collecting industry has gone in recent years, which were well-detailed in my reviews of Rittenhouse Archives’ Star Trek: The Original Series 40th Anniversary Series 1 (reviewed here!) and Star Trek (2009 Movie) trading card sets (reviewed here!). So, with the release of Star Trek Aliens, the latest Star Trek trading card set by Rittenhouse Archives, we are already way, way beyond the point where complaining about collectability of the card sets is a truly legitimate – or germane – complaint (Star Trek trading card collectors who might be able to create true master sets have been reduced from 50 to 25 to 5 over the last decade!).

So, there is some irony in Star Trek Aliens, a set that is clearly designed for those who love Star Trek and who thrill to collect, but that seems to service best a middle-ground of collectors. Star Trek Aliens is notable in that it has one of the coolest concepts for a card set, but has one of the most haphazardly produced common card sets; it has amazing chase cards and the first Whoopi Goldberg autographed card, but sketch cards of such incredible rarity that several of the artists produced less than 25 sketches. Those looking for sensibility or who enjoy collecting are likely to find the set to be a troublesome boondoggle, but those who just go with the flow and have a more casual approach are actually bound to find a lot that leaves them legitimately excited about the set.

Basics/Set Composition

As the name, Star Trek Aliens indicates, this card set explores the many aliens of the Star Trek franchise. Not limited to just the original Star Trek, this was an incredible collection of Star Trek cards that featured images, autographs, and sketch cards from all five television series as well as the Star Trek film franchise. With 7000 numbered boxes and a presumed 80 archive boxes, Rittenhouse Archives has created a product that is clearly designed to hold its value in the marketplace.

Star Trek Aliens trading cards return card collectors to the more image-packed sets that Rittenhouse became known for a decade ago. Packed with bonus cards that ranged from foil and die-cut cards to sticker cards to the grails – thirty different hand-drawn sketch cards by different artists, Star Trek Aliens is bound to be a favorite for many Trekkers. The Star Trek Aliens trading card set, when properly assembled, includes three hundred sixty-eight cards, of which ten are not available in any of the boxes! This was a virtually impossible set to complete, so collectors that do will end up with a virtually priceless Star Trek artifact.

The Star Trek Aliens trading cards were released in packs of five cards. There were twenty-four packs per box and a dozen boxes in a case. This was a set that, like most contemporary Rittenhouse Archives releases, had 6-case, 9-case and 18-case incentives.

Common Cards

Out of the three hundred sixty-eight cards in the Star Trek Aliens trading card set, one hundred are considered common. The common set focuses on, as the name suggests, the aliens of the Star Trek franchise. Oriented in a landscape format, Star Trek Aliens has the sensible format where the backs are upside-down from the fronts, so when they are placed in a binder, when one flips the page, they may read the backs of the cards, without having to further manipulate the binder. All of the cards feature the usual UV resistant coating to prevent fading.

Star Trek Aliens cards are distinctive in that they are very white; the front of each card features a white bar at the top and bottom and the backs are dominated by white space for the card text. Each card focuses on a single character and the fronts feature three images (one large taking up the left two-thirds of the card, and two smaller images stacked on the right side). Cards range from the popular and familiar alien characters like Spock, Guinan, Worf, Kira Nerys, Odo, Seven Of Nine and T’Pol to the memorable guest characters or recurring characters, like Worf’s son Alexander, the Talosians, Hugh the Borg, Gul Dukat, Shran, and Annorax. Fortunately, Star Trek Aliens does not include too many ridiculously obscure characters, though choices like Alexander the dwarf from “Plato’s Stepchildren,” Ambassador Ves Alkar (from “Man Of The People”), and Firek Goff are far less recognizable or influential in the pantheon (in discussing this with my wife, for example, we came up with five more worthwhile characters/aliens than Ves Alkar!). For the most part, though, Star Trek Aliens features the favorite and best alien characters of the Star Trek franchise.

The Star Trek Aliens common card set is fairly well written. The back of each card features a blurb on the relevant character with enough information to make them seem vital and memorable and encapsulate most of the character’s arc.

That said, Star Trek Aliens is one of the most flawed common card sets to be produced by Rittenhouse Archives in years. First, there is no rhyme or reason to how the set is organized (except in the most general sense). Cards go through the Star Trek franchise from Star Trek to Star Trek: The Next Generation to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, etc. But then after Star Trek: Enterprise, there are the Star Trek film aliens, followed by ten random characters (possibly fan favorites?). Within the various series’, though, there is no consistency; the Star Trek and Star Trek movies aliens are presented in chronological order of their characters’ appearances. The other four categories have no such order to them. Second, the cards do not make good use of the entire arc of several of the characters. For example, card 16 – Alexander Rozhenko – presents Alexander as he was played by John Stuer a disproportionately high number of times (Stuer appeared only in “Reunion,” Brian Bonsall played him several more times and even Marc Woden, who took the role on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine played him for two episodes . . . and his iteration of the character is not featured at all!). Some of the other key characters who were recast – Daimon Bok and Tora Ziyal – do not have all the versions of the character represented (Bok is an amusing example as the second actor to play him signed autograph cards for the set, but is not featured on any of the common cards!). Rather hilariously, there is no Ezri Dax card in the common set!

Finally, there is a strike against the Star Trek Aliens set for those who are avid Star Trek card collectors: the images. Star Trek has a rich amount of material and Rittenhouse Archives has done an impressive job of getting incredible images in the past. But with Star Trek Aliens, they have begun to reuse their material and that is bound to be frustrating for collectors who actually like looking at their collections. For example, on the Leeta card, one of the five images is instantly recognizable as the shot that was the subject of the Leeta card for the Women Of Star Trek In Motion set! Furthermore, cards like the Guinan and Troi cards both feature images on the common cards identical to the images on the autograph cards!

Chase Cards

Fortunately for collectors, there is so much more to card collecting now than just common card sets! In boxes of the Star Trek Aliens trading cards, there were two hundred fifty-eight bonus cards and they range from cool retro-sticker cards to unique works of art created by thirty sketch card artists. For the first time in Star Trek trading cards, collectors were pressed to collect artists as opposed to specific sketches! With absolutely ideal collation, the Star Trek Aliens trading cards would take thirty CASES (360 boxes!) and an archive box to complete the set! The set included bonus cards like parallel, “Quotable” Klingons, First Appearances, Sticker, Alien Ships, Autograph, Badge, and Sketch cards. The boxes of these cards are packed with value from the sheer number of bonus cards in them!

The first chase cards are the parallel cards. One per box, collectors found a common card that was replicated on slightly thicker cardstock and had a gold bar on the front of the card and an individual collector’s number stamped into the back of the card. The gold parallel set is limited to 100, so getting all one hundred cards replicated in gold parallel versions is a task in and of itself!

The four most common chase sets each required almost an entire case to complete! The nine “Quotable” Klingon and First Appearance cards and the ten Alien Ships cards were each found one per box, while the eighteen Star Trek sticker cards were released 1:16 packs, so with a single case, one could actually assemble a set. The “Quotable” Klingons cards are somewhat disappointing in that they are identical to one another, save the text on them. Featuring a cool background, but with identical Klingon symbol and communicator images on the fronts and backs does not make the set one of the more distinctive chase sets. The First Appearance cards are beautiful foil-enhanced, die-cut cards that feature multiple neat images of the first episodes that featured seminal Star Trek aliens like the Vulcans, Klingons, Romulans, Cardassians and Borg. Similarly, the embossed Alien Ships set is beautifully rendered with both matte and gloss aspects that accent the blacks of space that the ships are featured on and they look amazing. As with prior sets that included retro-sticker sets, the Star Trek sticker cards are a lot of fun! Having big sticker images of Guinan and Troi are enough to make the teenager in me giddy with retro-delight (I would so have gotten mocked in middle school if they had existed then because I would have stuck them on my book covers for my textbooks!).

At three per box are the Star Trek Aliens autographs. The Star Trek Aliens autographs have comparatively high rarity (only two signers signed more than 500 cards!), despite the frequency of the autograph cards in the boxes. With a mammoth 76 card autographed card set, the Star Trek Aliens set is arguably the most impressive and bloated set of autograph cards yet. The most rare autographs include Whoopi Goldberg, Daniel Davis (Moriarty), Leonard Nimoy, and Jeri Ryan. Signers ranged from the always-impressive Malcolm McDowell to the regular cast members like Michael Dorn, Marina Sirtis, Armin Shimerman and Tim Russ. While the autograph set is remarkably light on main cast members for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Enterprise and there was an issue that had the actors names on the front of some autograph cards in the place of their characters names, the collection is largely impressive. Star Trek Aliens marks the first autograph cards for Paul Dooley and Chris Sarandon, in addition to the obvious draw of a Whoopi Goldberg autograph card!

One per case collectors could find one of six (or seven, depending on one’s perspective) badge pin cards. Rittenhouse Archives produced replicas of the Vulcan IDIC symbol, Klingon communicator, Romulan symbol badge, Borg symbol and Bajoran communicator in addition to a replica of a slip of Gold Pressed Latinum and attached those replicas to an extra-thick card. Each card was individually numbered to 200 and the cards are so thick that they take the place of any other cards in the pack when they pop up. These cards were beautifully made, but their thickness was problematic; virtually all of them had scalloping on the edges where they were pressed by the equipment used to seal them into packs! The Borg pins were available in two variants (black and red) and that gave collectors a little extra treat to hunt for for their collections.

The grail of the boxes, though, are the sketch cards. Thirty different artists contributed art of Star Trek aliens and ships to the Star Trek Aliens trading card set. The art ranged from the immaculately precise works of Roy Cover and Gener Pedrina to the less colorful, but more shaded works of Bien Flores. Jomar Bulda did not appear to sign his cards for the set and some of the artists (like Sean Moore) produced less precise and more stylized sketch cards, more like comic book versions of the subjects than the photorealistic works of, for example, Irma Ahmed. I was truly thrilled when I pulled a collage card by artist Javier Gonzales (he painted a viewscreen border and Naguilum’s head and pasted them onto a viewscreen painting!). Each one is a truly unique work of art and Star Trek Aliens features a number of artists who had not worked on prior Star Trek trading card runs.

Non-Box/Pack Cards

Outside the packs found in the boxes, there are ten cards that cannot be found no matter how many packs are opened. They include the promotional cards and the casetopper cards. The promotional cards include a P1, which is simple to find and was given to dealers to promote the set and the P2, which was an exclusive promo in Non-Sport Update Magazine. P3 was exclusive to the Star Trek Aliens binder from Rittenhouse Archives.

In every case, there was one of two Juan Ortiz art cards. Developed in a similar style to the Star Trek Portfolio Prints cards (reviewed here!), the casetoppers are poster cards for the Borg and Klingon. This is an unfortunately boring casetopper for such an art-rich set of trading cards. The casetoppers are not even individually numbered to make them appear distinct or rare.

For every six cases of Star Trek Aliens trading cards a dealer purchased, they received a colored sketch/painting card from Warren Martinek. Martinek made cards of both characters and ships from the Star Trek franchise and they were very cool.

The nine-case incentive card was similar; Matt and Mike Glebe did painted art cards that were even more limited than Martinek’s and they, too, featured characters and ships. The Glebe’s artwork cards have been popular with Trek fans since they started doing them and these are already some of the most valuable and coveted art cards in the set (despite not being as rare as some of the other artists!).

The archive boxes feature R1, a Klingon Neck Collar artifact card. Given that this is a piece of Karen Austin (Miral in “Barge Of The Dead”)’s costume and she is hardly one of the most influential or impressive characters in the franchise, the card has more value for its rarity than its popularity. Each R1 card is hand-numbered to 80 and the fabric swatches in them seem similar across the run.

There are two cards, not available in packs, boxes, cases or incentives given to dealers. They are the P4 promotional card, which was an incentive used to promote the Star Trek Collective card resource and the F10 Q card. For the "Rittenhouse Rewards" program, which award points for each wrapper redeemed to Rittenhouse Archives, fans could get an exclusive F10 card featuring the first appearance of Q. This also makes the First Appearance set from a sensible 9 cards to an awkward 10 cards, but the card itself is still cool. The P4 follows the same style as the rest of the promos.


The Star Trek Aliens trading cards is going to be the crowning achievement of someone’s Star Trek trading card collection, but the number of collectors who can actually complete the set will be remarkably few. For those who complete or simply collect the set, the rarity too often overrides the quality: the common set is a mess, the autograph cards are inconsistent and the sketch cards are prohibitive to collect a complete set of. But the attempt is a neat one; despite their faults in formatting, the common cards look good and are fun to read – the bonus cards are (mostly) inspired and the thrill of most of the autograph signers overcomes the variations in the card fronts. And the art . . .and the art . . . Star Trek Aliens is worthwhile to collect if for no other reason than they are making art a living, breathing, vibrant thing for people whose love of a television show and movie franchise might cause them to neglect a love of genuine artwork. And looking at the artwork cards in this set, it is impossible to deny that they are art!

This set culls images from:
Star Trek
The Star Trek Movies
Star Trek: The Next Generation
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Star Trek: Voyager
Star Trek: Enterprise

This is a set that I proudly sell in my online store! Check out my current inventory at: Star Trek Aliens Trading Card Page!

For other mixed series Star Trek trading card sets reviewed by me, please check out:
Star Trek: The Motion Picture Topps card Set
Star Trek 25th Anniversary Series 1
Star Trek 25th Anniversary Series 2
Star Trek 1994 Edition Master Series
Star Trek 30th Anniversary Phase One
Star Trek 30th Anniversary Phase Two
Star Trek 30th Anniversary Phase Three
Star Trek Cinema 2000
The Women Of Star Trek In Motion
Star Trek (2009 movie) cards
Star Trek 40th Anniversary


For other Star Trek trading card reviews, please visit my Trading Card Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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