Star Trek is WAY better than Star Wars. Just putting that out there. For me, if it comes down to a fight between what are arguably the two biggest sci-fi franchises out there, I’ll always plump on the side of the Federation over the Force. Of all the various shows, my favourite is undoubtedly The Next Generation – it was first on when I was a young teenager and showed me that there was such a thing as decent space-based television. Whether it was Picard being all badass against the Borg or The Q Continuum screwing about with the laws of space and time, it was great – even the slightly dodgier episodes where they were trying to push A Message.
When I heard the news that Bandai were working on a deck building game based on the property (Star Trek: Deck Building Game: The Next Generation) I have to admit I was a bit reticent. They didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory with the Resident Evil game, though it does have its fans, so while I was interested in how they’d handle Star Trek: TNG, I wasn’t holding out a huge amount of hope.
Thankfully, the game isn’t too bad. It’s not incredible but it’s far from terrible and will certainly keep fans of the series entertained. You could probably best describe it as “functional but a bit clunky”, the kind of game that could’ve done with a little more time to stew in its juices before being released. A little refinement to shear off the roughness would’ve been welcome, but we have what we’re given so let’s get into the meat of it.
The game follows the usual deck building 101 format with a few interesting twists – you start off with a hand of not-so-good cards and are looking to add better ones while removing the dross. Rather than coming with a single ruleset, ST:DBG:TNG (there must be a better acronym than that) there are actually three different ways to play, each one offering a slightly different experience. Exploration is a free-for-all race to score a set amount of points, Borg War is co-operative with all the players facing off against the game, and Klingon Civil War is somewhere between the two with a focus on pairing up with another player. In reality they don’t actually feel that different when you’re playing – after all, they’re all using the same basic engine – but at least Bandai have made an effort in supplying a range of experiences.
It actually works in quite a straightforward manner. Beginning with that slightly crappy deck staffed with a few vaguely competent crew members, you’re “exploring the universe” in a bid to pick up characters from the show. In other words, you use Experience shown on your crew cards to buy from a selection of those available in the middle of the table. These cards are drawn from the Space Deck, a set of cards that are put together at the start of the game that represent the scenario you’re working through. Managing to get more recognisable faces into your deck gives you the chance to use their Diplomacy skills – in turn, these will let you pick up better ships and equipment. If you’ve ever played any deck builder ever, you’ll pick it up in no time at all; everything is really straightforward despite the frankly bobbins rulebook.
And perhaps that’s where the game falls down a little. Seriously, most of the rulebook focuses on setting up the game but fails to really explain how it functions in a clear way. Before you even take to playing you’re going to have to battle with the rules; not exactly what you want when you’re looking for a quick game. Once you’ve got the rules down (and frankly, it’s not that hard to understand) you’ll be grand, but man… those early games really do drag and could well be enough for some people to dismiss ST:DBG:TNG from the start. Frankly, I’d say bin the rulebook entirely and watch the videos that are over on boardgamegeek – it’s a much better way of learning to play. The straightforward nature means that you’re not really getting anything new though… it’s far from an innovative game.
From a production standpoint, again it’s not awful but far from wonderful – the cards are of a decent quality and all information is clearly presented. Unfortunately a lot of the imagery looks a little blurry, which seems to be down to the fact many photos are lifted directly from video of the original show. Others look like they’ve been taken from headshots to promote the programme when it first came out – and Wil Wheaton has never looked so young, forever immortalised in that fetching Starfleet jumpsuit. There’s also a LOT of air in the box when you first crack it open – of course, that’s down to the plans for future expansions, but I don’t think there’s a single gamer out there who’s a fan of the concept of perceived value. Give us a smaller box first, then when you make an expansion give us a bigger one that everything can fit in… doesn’t that make sense?
Bandai have also made the slightly odd decision of using d20s to track damage taken in battles. Sure, they do the job just fine, but I think that tokens would’ve done a better job (and would probably have been a bit cheaper. This may be down to the fact that I’ve knocked the table a few times and it’s annoying when you send the dice flying. I’m as clumsy as the rulebook.
Still, it’s an entertaining wee jaunt, especially for an avowed Star Trek watcher like myself. Where many deck building games care criticised for a lack of theme, this one is positively overflowing with Starships and Birds of Prey all over the place. Again, you may run the risk of people turning their noses up at it – it is Star Trek after all, and some crazy folks aren’t into it – but that’s their loss. If you’re a fan of the series you’ll be willing to forgive its faults. If you’re not, you’ll undoubtedly be a bit pickier, but there are many worse ways of whiling away your gaming hours. Now, who do I talk to about a DS9 expansion?
Star Trek: Deck Building Game: The Next Generation was designed by Alex Bykov and was originally released back in 2011. Published by Bandai, games will normally take you about an hour and play with between two and five. Should you fancy a copy of your own, visit Gameslore today – they’ll get you sorted for £22.49.