Last weekend was Wizard World Comic Con Austin, and it was a great show!
We arrived on Thursday to set up our booth and were immediately put in a good mood. The Austin Convention Center is what’s known as a “Drive-On” show, which means they allow vendors to drive their vehicles right onto the show floor to load and unload. Since we usually have to transport all of our booth materials into a show from parking lots that are far away, we really appreciate this. Boy does being able to park the van right next to the booth make setup easy!
The show started on Friday afternoon, and we immediately got to work showing people all the fun to be had with cats, airships, and spaceships. Comic Cons are known for lots of amazing costumes, cosplay, and crazy creatures, and Austin was no exception. The aisles were filled with bow-tied Doctors, Harley Quinns, Stormtroopers, and more. We managed to grab a few photos of some of our favorites, including this amazing rendition of Khan.
We also fell in love with/were terrified by this father and son Predator duo.
Of course, another big draw to a Comic Con is the chance to meet all sorts of celebrities from movies, TV, books, and all corners of the geek universe. This show featured Sebastian Shaw (The Winter Solider), Bruce Campbell, and tons of other famous faces. We’ll admit you don’t get into the board game hobby without being a bit of a geek yourself, and we weren’t going to miss the opportunity to meet some of our favorites. Since we just happened to have Star Trek Panic with us, and William Shatner was at the show (coincidence?), we had to get a photo taken of all of us.
He was super nice, and it was great to meet the man behind the Captain in person after all these years!
He even autographed a copy of the game.
There were two more guests that I was especially excited to see. If you saw the TableTop episode featuring Castle Panic, you might remember Yuri Lowenthal and Tara Platt being pretty darn entertaining. Well, they were at the show this weekend, and I can confirm that they are also pretty darn nice people! Not only did they happily sign my copy of Castle Panic, but we chatted for a few minutes. I learned they still play the game at home, and I even got to hug Yuri. It was pretty awesome!
I now have signatures from 3 of the 4 players on the Castle Panic TableTop episode on 1 cover. All I need is Andre the Black Nerd, and I’ll have the complete set!
I took a side trip to get my album cover to the original Flash Gordon soundtrack signed by Flash Gordon himself, Sam Jones! Hey, it can’t ALL be about work, right?
It turns out that we even made a (very) short appearance on the local morning news show when they did a feature on the convention. How cool is that?!
We met tons of great people at the show and had a blast introducing people to our hobby. If it sounds like something you’d like to experience for yourself, there is probably a Comic Con coming to a city near you. Check out their complete schedule here, and let your geek flag fly. Trust us, it’s worth it!
One of the best developments to come out of Star Trek Panic is a better understanding of the whole Panic line. It would drive us crazy when we’d be at a convention happily demoing and we’d overhear this conversation between two friends walking by.
Friend 1: Ooo, Dead Panic. What’s that?
Friend 2: That’s just Castle Panic with zombies.
“No!” we wanted to say, “It’s a whole different experience! Come back! We’ll show you!”
Now, friends are debating which variation in the Panic line is their favorite. That, of course, means they are talking about the differences among the games. To help the discussion, here are the ways each game connects and differs in the Panic line.
Overview:Castle Panic is the cornerstone of the Panic line and what started it all. It’s a friendly, cooperative tower-defense style experience that appeals most to light gamers and families. It’s often referred to as a gateway game, a game that can be used to introduce new people to the board game hobby. It’s the nicest of the Panics.
How It Plays: In Castle Panic, you work together to defend the 6-tower castle in the center of the board against the monsters coming out of the forest at the edge of the board. The board is set up in colored concentric rings that the monsters move through to get to the castle in the “bull’s eye.” You use cards to hit and slay the triangular-shaped monsters in specific rings and colors. It’s like a conveyor belt of evil! When the monsters are hit, you rotate them down to show how many health points they now have. To win, you must slay all 49 monsters and have at least 1 tower left standing.
How It Forms the Foundation: The concentric-ring design of the board, the triangular-shaped monster tokens, playing cards to hit/slay the monsters, and rotating the tokens to track damage are the elements shared by all of the variations in the Panic line. Beyond that, the ways that the other themes integrate with the system (changing objectives and rules and introducing additional mechanics) create unique experiences.
Overview:Dead Panic is the first variation in the Panic line and has a much more cinematic feel than Castle Panic. The way players excitedly retell the game afterward sounds more like a movie. The new mechanics make it a better choice for people with some experience playing modern board games, although this is not a brain-burner by any stretch. The lack of gore in the art makes it a good choice for families who enjoy a little zombie-slaying together as well. Our favorite memory of demoing this game was to a father and son, who had this exchange.
Son: Dad! I can’t believe you killed me with a chainsaw!
Father: Son, I had to! You were a zombie!
Dead Panic has also had a surprisingly strong appeal to tween girls. Something specifically empowering about cutting down all of those undead coming at you.
How It Plays: In Dead Panic, you play as characters in the game with special abilities. You search the hunting cabin in the center of the board for items and weapons you can use to hold the zombies at bay while survivors attempt to bring radio pieces to you. After assembling the radio pieces, you have to call the rescuers and make it out into their van in the woods to escape to safety. If you die in the process, you return as a zombie and fight against your former teammates. Players who have experience with Castle Panic often make the mistake of trying to defend the cabin. You will die doing that. This game is all about escaping the zombie apocalypse while you can.
How It Differs: In addition to the introduction of characters that can move around the board and have abilities, the possibility of dying and returning on the opposite side of the battle, and the change in objective, Dead Panic also includes Event cards that change up the conditions of the board each round. And instead of simply marching straight toward the hunting cabin (as monsters move toward the castle), zombies are attracted to humans and will rotate toward any in their line of sight. Those changes create a completely new experience. No one has ever played Dead Panic and said, “Yeah, that’s just like Castle Panic.” Usually, they breathlessly jump up from the table and yell, “I can’t believe we made it out!”
Overview:Munchkin Panic is most like Castle Panic in its basic play. That was a decision to introduce Munchkin players to the foundational Panic mechanics before throwing them into the full Munchkin-meets-Castle-Panic experience that the More Munchkin Mini-Expansion provides. We should have known better. No need to coddle a Munchkin player after all!
How It Plays: In the basic setup, you work together to defend the castle towers against the Munchkin monsters emerging from the forest. Unlike in Castle Panic, these monsters are carrying treasure. When you slay the monsters, you draw cards from a treasure deck that you can combine with the Castle cards for stronger attacks. The Castle deck also now includes Curse cards that you can use to thwart opponents and end up with the highest monster-point count. Playing for individual points is one way to play Castle Panic, but it is the ONLY true way to play Munchkin Panic.
How It Differs: The differences really shine with the More Munchkin Mini-Expansion. (Did we mention that it’s included in the base game? It is! I know, right?!) With the expansion, you no longer have to defend that needy castle. It’s all about the points. In fact, if you are in the lead, you might want to play Monster Enhancers to help take down some towers and end the game quicker. Now the card combos take on a deeper dimension, and the negotiating gets intense. No polite, mutually beneficial trades happening here. It’s all about the art of the deal! You also pick a character based on the Races and Classes from Munchkin and use their ability to gain an advantage. Unlike Dead Panic, though, the characters do not appear in the game and are not in any danger themselves. Why risk your own skin?
Star Trek Panic
Overview: The latest entrant to the Panic line has brought a whole new level of excitement. (Munchkin Panic is a little jealous. Dead Panic is eating brains—again. Castle Panic just wishes everyone would get along.) The objective here is to fend off enemy threats while trying to complete 5 missions. It comes with a model U.S.S. Enterprise that players maneuver (what?!), the enemy’s attacks are ranged, and the defensive responses are based the direction the Enterprise is facing. There might also be a little cloaking going on . . .
How It Plays: Players work together as members of the original Star Trek crew, with special abilities drawn from their functions on the T.V. series, to defend the Enterprise while completing 5 missions. The missions are based on episodes from the original series and the classic Klingon, Romulan, and Tholian enemies provide a lot of the Star Trek flavor.
How It Differs: The prime difference (see what we did there?) is in the change in objective. You must complete missions while defending the central structure (in this case, the Enterprise). Completing a mission may require committing certain cards, maneuvering the Enterprise, and more. It borrows the concept of how character abilities work from Dead Panic, but the actual abilities are based on the world it’s set in (Star Trek, for those not following along). There is no discarding. You get what they came to space with. (OK, you do get to draw and trade each turn.) During the Play Cards phase, you may also maneuver the ship 1 space clockwise, counter-clockwise, or forward. And a lot of decision-making goes into whether to use cards in defense/repair of the Enterprise or in completion of the missions.
The best thing about the Panic line variations is that you don’t have to choose. Let your mood pick your Panic. Up for a friendly, welcoming game? Castle Panic’s the one. Ready for a heart-pumping, edge-of-your-seat, “will-we-make-it-out-alive?!” time? Dead Panic will do the trick. Need a back-stabbing, treasure-grabbing good time? Munchkin Panic pairs nicely. Feeling bold, adventurous, and ready to reunite the crew? Star Trek Panic does the job. It’s all about choosing your experience.
For more on the differences between Castle Panic and Dead Panic.
Here’s a teaser for Star Trek Panic (that attention-hog).
And for how-to-play videos of all of our games check this video out.
His vision of a future where Humanity is better than it is now inspired millions and made for some amazing stories and adventures along the way.
“Perhaps one of the primary features of Star Trek that made it different from other shows was, it believed that Humans are improving – they will vastly improve in the 23rd century.” – Gene Roddenberry
We lost the “Great Bird of the Galaxy” in 1991, but his creation lives on. We are incredibly proud to have been given the chance to be a part of the Star Trek legacy and we hope Mr. Roddenberry would approve. Happy Birthday Gene!
Lt. Uhura: Captain, we are receiving multiple transmissions. They appear to be Star Trek Panic reviews.
Mr. Spock: My sensors confirm they are positively charged.
We are super excited to have launched Star Trek Panic out into the universe and even Mr. Spock agrees it’s a hit. If you aren’t convinced by his cold, Vulcan logic, then maybe these great reviews coming in from around the web will sway you!
Let’s start with this hilarious unboxing video from GameWire, where Pep and Bebo crack open the box and look inside. With both of them being huge Star Trek fans, there is more than a little squee-ing in this one, and it’s really hard not watch this with a huge grin.
From there, Vincent Paone at Dad’s Gaming Addiction gives Star Trek Panic an amazing 9 out of 10, adding, “Star Trek Panic fires its phasers in true Trek fashion and then some.” You can read the short review at dadsgamingaddiction.com or watch the whole video with a detailed breakdown of components and rules right here.
Over at Bower’s Game Corner, Forrest Bower’s glee is palpable as he exclaims, “A home run, no-brainer. If you’re a Star Trek fan, absolutely check this one out.” He goes on to add, “This might be one of my favorite games of 2016.”
Joel Eddy from Drive Thru Reviews has a hard time containing his enthusiasm as well, stating, “It’s really, really fun. It just puts you right into that fun aspect of Star Trek.” He also says, “If you’re a fan of any of the other Panic games I would 100% pick this up.” We couldn’t agree more!
Trent Howell of The Board Game Family proudly declares that “Star Trek Panic is a blast!” As a long-time fan of Castle Panic, Trent has to admit “Star Trek Panic now tops the list as my favorite of the “Panic” board games.”
If you want to boldly go where no Panic has gone before, you can pick up a copy of the game in our store right now. If you’re still not convinced, make sure to visit us at Gen Con this year in booth #743 to play a demo, pick up the exclusive promo card, and get an extra U.S.S. Enterprise with purchase!
Final preparations are underway for Gen Con 2016, and we couldn’t be more excited! We’ll have free demos, promos, events, and all kinds of fun!
Free Demos in Booth #743: Want to check out the latest games from Fireside? This is the best way to make sure you’re taught the rules correctly with friendly people who want to make sure your experience is great. We’ll be demoing Star Trek Panic, Here, Kitty, Kitty!, Dastardly Dirigibles, and Bears! in booth #743.
Promos for Demos: We’ll also be giving demoers these hard- to-find promos for checking out the games.
• Star Trek Panic: Vulcan Mind-Meld
• Here, Kitty, Kitty!: Milkshake
• Dastardly Dirigibles: Smoke Bomb
• Bears!: Alarm Clock
Extras: Dastardly Dirigibles winners can pose with the dapper Heir-on-a-Stick to show their win to the world. And purchasers of Star Trek Panic receive a spare U.S.S. Enterprise! It’ll look great on your desk. That is, until you need to replace the one in your game after all of that damage!
Events: This year, Fireside Games is hosting events for the first time! We sold out of our original events within 3 days and opened up more. Just 4 seats remain open. One for Dead Panic, and three for The Village Crone. Click here to sign up. After you click on the link, select the Board Game category to find our events. Hope to see you there!
Origins Game Fair was last week and it was a blast! We had a booth in the Main Exhibit Hall and ran demos of Here, Kitty, Kitty!, Dastardly Dirigibles (releasing July 6), and Star TrekTMPanic® (available now!). Our booth was so busy and we got to see so many familiar faces and make some new friends.
We had the designer of Here, Kitty, Kitty! in the booth playing with attendees and the artist, Tony Steele, was back in the art area drawing cats on boxes for anyone who picked up a copy and asked nicely.
Star TrekTMPanic® received lots of attention and we had demo after demo of excited gamers devouring the latest variation in the Panic Line.
Saturday of the show happened to coincide with International Panic Day and it was fun to see Social Media explode with posts from Friendly Local Game Stores around the country hosting events in-store to celebrate the day, while we played the latest variation with attendees at the show.
The biggest thrill of the show was at the Origins Awards ceremony Saturday night when it was revealed The Dark Titan, the second expansion to Castle Panic®, was the winner of the Fan Favorite award for the Gaming Accessory category! Thanks fans!
Anne-Marie De Witt, our CEO, accepted the award on behalf of Fireside Games because Justin De Witt, the designer and Chief Creative Officer for the company, was back at home in Texas working on the THIRD expansion. You can expect more news on that game to be coming VERY SOON!
Castle Panic and the first expansion, The Wizard’s Tower, were both Origins Awards Nominees in their respective release years, so you know the whole line is good. Fans really love the toughness of Agranok in The Dark Titan and we appreciate all the support and dedication to this line you, the fans, bring every time you see us at a show or a local game store.
Thanks to all of you for making Origins Game Fair 2016 such a success and so much fun. We’ll see you there next year. And remember… Just PANIC and Play Games!
50 years ago, the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise took us on voyages to strange new worlds. This summer the latest variation in the Panic line, Star Trek Panic, will beam down to your game table to continue the adventure. Read the entire behind-the-scenes story of how the game was created, straight from the designer, Justin De Witt.
Growing up, I was a huge Star Trek fan. I had a model of the original Enterprise and the Galileo shuttle hanging from the ceiling in my room. As a kid, I remember dragging the big chair to the middle of the living room, right in front of the TV, so I could watch the original series (in syndication by then) from my own “Captain’s chair.” I have an (almost) complete set of Micro Machine spaceships from every series, and a well-worn Technical Manual from The Next Generation. I was a Trekkie before they were called “Trekkers,” so it’s both amazing and a little surreal that I’ve been given this chance to work on a piece of Star Trek history.
The project has its roots at GenCon 2014 when Anne-Marie met with Maggie Matthews, the Vice President of Licensing at USAopoly. In addition to their original games like Telestrations, USAopoly is famous for creating licensed versions of everything from Monopoly and Risk to Yahtzee. The year before, USAopoly had licensed Munchkin from Steve Jackson Games and combined it with the Adventure Time license from Cartoon Network. Maggie and Anne-Marie talked about what it was like working with Steve Jackson Games (great!) and compared stories about the process of licensing the games. Munchkin Adventure Time had been a great success. They were looking to combine even more hobby games with some of the licenses they had, and we agreed it might be interesting to work together in the future.
Later that year at BGGCon, Anne-Marie and I were being interviewed about Munchkin Panic in a quiet room away from the crowds. It was a common space set aside just for exhibitors, and at that time there were just a few other publishers in there. After we wrapped things up, we struck up a conversation with Andrew Wolf, the Project Manager for New Business at USAopoly, who had overheard the interview. As we talked with Andrew over dinner, he asked if we would be open to a similar arrangement for Castle Panic with one of their licenses. We agreed we might be, but whatever the license was, it would have to make sense for the game. While I knew we could be flexible with a lot of the mechanics, the Panic line’s core gameplay is about surviving a siege and fighting off attackers. I would want to make sure that whatever we paired it with was a good fit for both the gameplay and whatever theme the license brought. Andrew agreed, and we decided that he would take this info back to their office and see what they could work out.
Not too long after GenCon, we heard from Maggie that their team was excited to work on a Castle Panic variation, and they already had some ideas of licenses that would make good pairings. One of the first questions we were asked was if we would be okay using photos instead of illustrations in the new game? We were, but that really sent our minds buzzing. What could it be? What license would only use photos? We had a lot of fun playing the “what if?” game in our office, and it went to some crazy places. A few weeks later, Anne-Marie met with Maggie and Luke Byers, head of Creative Development for USAopoly, at New York Toy Fair, and they asked, “How does Star Trek Panic sound to you?” It sounded unbelievable, but somehow Anne-Marie was able to contain any squeeing and assured them we were interested. What really sealed the deal was when we learned that because 2016 was going to be the 50th anniversary of the original series, CBS wanted this game to be set in that timeline. That meant we were going to get the chance to retell the stories of Kirk, Spock, and the whole crew in a new medium.
One key detail was that even though USAopoly would manufacture and publish the game, we weren’t going to be content to have this be just a reskin of Castle Panic. To that end, it was determined that I would do the initial concept and design, pushing the envelope of what we’ve done with Panic games in the past while playing on the strengths of what we could do with this license. Andrew and I would take that initial design and refine it before he finalized the design work to create the finished game. It couldn’t have been a better arrangement.
Star Trek Panic—Where No Panic Has Gone Before
As Anne-Marie started negotiating the details of the contract, I started brainstorming ideas for what the game could be. The first step? Get reacquainted with an old friend. Part of my job for the next few weeks was to watch every episode of the original series. (I know. It’s a hard life.) I camped out on the couch taking copious notes as I binged on the entire series start to finish and running with every wild idea they inspired. It was a hoot to go back and see all the classic adventures again. I have to say that overall, it’s still an amazing achievement. The good episodes are really good, and the themes and messages of that 50-year-old show are still very relevant today.
As I made my notes, I had lots of inspiration on how I would convert the Panic mechanics to fit the world of Star Trek. I really wanted to capture as much of the Star Trek feel as I could, so I thought about different core game ideas. Maybe the center of the board would be a planet the players were protecting and the Enterprise could be a token that was moved around the board, similar to the Cavalier in The Dark Titan? Maybe there could be a space station in the center that warded off attacks, like Deep Space Nine? Cool, but that’s the wrong version of Star Trek . . . No, it really made sense to make the center the one thing Kirk and the crew always wanted to protect the most, their home, the Enterprise.
Converting walls to shields made sense, and treating hull sections of the Enterprise as towers followed naturally, but I wasn’t sure how we would show damage to the ship. We couldn’t just take chunks off without it being weird. What would happen if the only piece left was an engine pylon? That just wouldn’t make sense. I liked the idea of possibly showing a damaged ship underneath and covering it up with shiny, new ship pieces. That way when you removed a ship section, you would leave the banged up, burned out section in its place. I wasn’t sure if that would be done with just artwork on the board, but it would be really cool if we could make some kind of 3D model of the Enterprise! The downside was that it might make it a little difficult to handle having to load up the model with “good” pieces as part of setup. As part of my playtesting, I ended up building a prototype that showed a complete Enterprise and creating tokens that were placed on top of the sections, covering them up to indicate when a section was destroyed.
When it came to damage, I also wanted to expand the Brick and Mortar idea from Castle Panic and turn it into a system that would actually let players repair the Enterprise. This was kind of a big deal since that’s essentially the same thing as letting players rebuild towers in Castle Panic. I wasn’t sure exactly how it would work and I knew it was going to need balancing, but considering how many times Scotty saved the day at the last minute with a quick bit of repair work, I knew it needed to be in the game.
I was starting to create a pretty big list of ideas I could put into this game, and I knew that not everything was going to make the final cut. However, there were some concepts that I felt were pretty much a sure thing. The enemies would be Klingon, Romulan, and Tholian spaceships. These enemies wouldn’t just approach the Enterprise harmlessly like they do in Castle Panic, I wanted them to shoot, doing damage as they got closer. After all, what’s space combat without some pew-pew? I wanted some ships to be able to cloak, making them temporarily invisible. I wanted to include the idea of boarding parties. (There were always troublemakers getting on board the ship!) I knew I wanted to have the crew be actual characters in the game. Players would get to pick who they wanted to be, and each character would bring their own skills to the game that related to their area of expertise on the show. That’s an idea I’ve been waiting to introduce to Castle Panic for a while now, and I knew it would work great here.
One of the biggest additions I knew had to be in the game was events that were based on episodes of the show. I wanted the players to be terrorized by NOMAD, face off against the Doomsday Machine, and deal with everything from transporter accidents to rapid aging diseases. The original idea for implementing this was split between Mission cards that would be the victory conditions for the game, and Event cards that players would draw at different times and would present challenges that the players would have to overcome together. (These eventually were combined into the Mission cards that you see in the final game.) These events would have to be dealt with in addition to surviving the waves of enemies that the game would throw at the players, so while they needed to be somewhat challenging, they would have to be balanced out so the game didn’t feel overwhelming. A lot of the episodes dealt with the crew having some kind of countdown they were working against, and I wanted to reflect that with a timer that provided a time crunch to some of the missions.
Experimenting with missions led to another new mechanic I wanted to introduce called “Command Points.” Some of the most powerful cards in the game would feature the same Division icons the characters wore on their shirts. Cards with these Command Points would act as a currency the players would need to pay in order to complete some of the missions. The cost would be higher than any 1 player could pay on their own, so the team would really have to work together toward the common goal. The catch was that a player could either use the card for its powerful ability or spend it toward completing the mission, but not both!
As I spent a few months turning rough ideas into playable concepts, there were a few ideas that ended up being dropped from the game. I had really wanted to include planets and away teams, where players would beam down for a separate mini-game that would have generated resources. Scotty always seemed to be dealing with equipment that broke down right when the crew needed it, and I had created a system that would gum up players’ hands with Malfunction cards that had to be repaired to simulate that engineering challenge. I’d even experimented with the idea of the characters being injured and losing abilities until they could be healed in the Sick Bay. As fun as these ideas were, the added complexity didn’t fit with the simpler goal for this game so they had to be cut. We’ve talked about including them as expansions so who knows, they may return!
Ahead Warp Factor One
Before long we arranged to fly out to California and meet with USAopoly for our kickoff meeting. I spent the days before the meeting turning my pages of notes into a readable design document before we packed up and headed out. Meeting the crew from USAopoly was great. They even had a fantastic Star Trek Panic welcome banner on display right when we walked in the door! We met with Maggie, Andrew, Luke, and the rest of the staff, got a tour of their very cool office, and then got down to some very intense days of work. The first day we covered everything from contracts and production schedules to going over all the various Panic games with a fine-tooth comb. We dove into my design document which, while it was stuffed with a ton of ideas, was still very much a work in progress.
Andrew and I broke out into our own design meeting along with Rick Hutchinson, the Senior Creative Designer at USAopoly, and we started really tearing into the game. Ideas flew fast and furious as concepts were refined, edited, and refined again. It was an amazing day and a half, and some of the most fun I’ve had while still getting paid.
One of the coolest things we figured out was how to make the transition away from the castle and walls setup to a 3-dimensional Enterprise model! Inspired by an idea from another game USAopoly was working on, it involved die cut chipboard pieces that are put together via tabs and slots to build the classic hull, saucer section, and nacelles of the famous ship. This would allow damage tokens to hang off of the ship the way the fire tokens work in The Wizard’s Tower. Now instead of just being a static pile of towers and walls in the middle of the board, the Enterprise would be built on a base that the shields were attached to and the whole thing could now be rotated as one piece to its facing.
Having the model of the Enterprise on its own movable base let us run wild with the idea of maneuvering the ship. We modified the ring and arc arrangement to be more like Dead Panic, using 3 rings instead of 4 (removing what would have been the Forest ring). The next big change was that we removed the use of colors. The Enterprise is aligned on the board so that its front faces 2 arcs, each side aligns with 1 arc, and its rear faces 2 arcs. We changed the Archer, Knight, and Swordsman cards to Phasers of Long, Medium, and Short range, limited each one to 1 particular facing of Front, Side, or Rear. Now, instead of playing cards to hit enemies anywhere you wanted to, the hit cards became directional, based on the facing of the Enterprise. The Phaser cards are not color-specific as Hit cards are in Castle Panic, and only let you hit a target that matches both the range and facing. Finally, we gave the players the ability to rotate the Enterprise one arc clockwise or counter-clockwise during their turn, while they were playing cards. This meant the players might be able to attack a target they would otherwise be unable to hit after they rotated the ship to change its facing. We were actually restricting the use of the cards, but giving the players even more tactical flexibility by maneuvering the ship.
We applied this idea of maneuvering to tokens outside the ship for the concept of moving “forward.” Obviously, the Enterprise couldn’t actually move on the board, so instead when players maneuver forward it brings all tokens in the 2 front arcs one ring closer to the ship. Tokens to the side and rear were unaffected. While it may not have been completely accurate from a physics point of view, it worked really well and allowed us to include maneuvering as a fun requirement for some of the missions.
When the dust settled we had a pretty good idea of what the game would be and how it might play. We said our goodbyes, and I took this new version of the game home to make some adjustments and start playtesting to see what worked and what didn’t. Within a few days, Rick had created a mockup of the 3D Enterprise that was nothing short of amazing, and they shipped me a version of it to include in my playtesting. I can’t say I didn’t run around the house with it making spaceship noises, but you try not playing with this thing!
The mission cards now became the focus of the game and how players would win or lose. I knew we weren’t going to keep the same end game condition as Castle Panic, where finishing off the last enemy ends the game. Instead it was going to focus on the famous “5-year mission” of the original show. I had played with idea of having the game last for 5 “years” with each year being a certain amount of turns, but that didn’t feel right. I experimented with a point tracker and even making the missions worth different amount of points. In the end though, simpler was better and we decided to have the goal be to complete 5 missions before the Enterprise was destroyed. At first, mission cards were drawn when certain tokens were encountered, but because of how unpredictable the token draw can be, it was cleaner to have mission cards drawn as part of a turn, so that players were always facing a mission and never waiting for one.
As I continued testing and having phone meetings with Andrew, the core ideas became more refined. Enemy ships fire after moving, damaging the Enterprise from a distance, adding damage tokens to shields and hull pieces before eventually destroying them. The ability to repair the ship evolved into a 3-way system involving Tritanium and Dilithium cards. Playing a Tritanium card on its own removed a damage token from the hull, where as playing a lone Dilithium card would remove a damage token from a shield. Play them both together however, and a player could rebuild a shield or hull section that had been destroyed. While this was a powerful (and incredibly satisfying) ability for the players, they would need it as the Enterprise is constantly taking damage from alien attackers.
Enemy ships that reached the Enterprise would become Boarders and cause the players to eject cards from the game permanently. The Security Teams found their use in fighting off these intruders. When an enemy ship becomes a Boarder, any player can play Security Team cards from their hand to reduce the amount of cards lost to Boarders. These Security Team cards are discarded in an homage to the famous red-shirted crewmen from the original show. It’s a fun way to work together, but it involves balancing the cards in your hand with the immediate and long-term threats on the board.
The Final Frontier
Within a few months I had a version of the game that was playable and felt very thematic. There were still a lot of details that needed to be worked on and a great deal of balancing, but at this point, I was ready to hand the game off to USAopoly. As progress continued, Andrew and I had multiple meetings where we would compare notes, discuss trouble spots, and work on solutions. The biggest challenges were in balancing the missions so that they were tough, but not too tough, and then refining the various methods used to complete these missions. We ended up including a timed element with every mission and even removing a few missions entirely from the game when they were too complex or unclear.
The Command Point mechanic was renamed Division Credits and we adjusted the distribution of these credits throughout the deck to better fit the desired tension. Character abilities went through several evolutions as we fine-tuned their effects on gameplay and ensured they reflect the character they belong to. Sulu, for example, can maneuver the Enterprise twice on his turn, whereas the other characters may only make one maneuver.
The cloaking ability of enemy ships took a lot of tweaking as well. It went through many incarnations, eventually settling on a system by which cloaked ship tokens will alternate their movement phases between cloaking (flipping over to be upside down, revealing just a starfield) and attacking. Players can’t attack a ship when it’s cloaked, but they can see where it is. The catch is that when a ship uncloaks, it’s movement is determined by a die roll and it immediately attacks. This means the players will only have a general idea of where a cloaked ship will appear and attack them from. It adds a great sense of tension and uncertainty, just like in the famous “Balance of Terror” episode.
Andrew and the USAopoly team continued to playtest and refine the game. We had many fun phone conversations about tension and theme, modifying smaller and smaller elements as the game settled into its final incarnation. After a few months, I had switched from design work to reviewing artwork and components. Using stills from the show wherever they could, USAopoly crafted a really great-looking game that is drenched in the look and feel of the original Star Trek.
In the end, I’m incredibly happy with the game we’ve created. As a fan of Star Trek, it’s important to me that this game stand on its own and remain true to what made the show such a classic. I think we created something enjoyable by fans of both licenses. If you’re a fan of Castle Panic, you’ll find an entirely new way to challenge yourself that will still have familiar elements. If you’re a Star Trek fan, you’ll reconnect with the original crew in an exciting, engaging way that you’ve never done before. Good luck to you all as you explore the Final Frontier. Live long and prosper!