Star Trek Deckbuilding game: next phase

I just acquired this game yesterday, since I got an extra shift that could help justify the cost.  This is an absolutely beautiful game, and I only wish I had known about its original incarnation.  It's fortunate that this can work in a standalone game by itself, but I really wish I could have what I'm missing.
Since most of my readers (if any exist) have probably not played the original version, I'll go over how it works in general before detailing the differences in versions.  There are 3 available scenarios.  I played the Exploration scenario, which is essentially a very general TNG experience.  You don't have a definite goal beyond simply accomplishing enough missions.  While that is expectedly competitive, the Borg attack scenario is actually co-op.  I don't really know how well that works for varying sizes of players.  There's also a Romulan Reunification scenario allowing 2 teams of varying players, up to 9 total players.  That one is really intriguing, as most of the effects are scaled for how large the teams are.
I'll talk on the Exploration scenario, since that's the only one I really played.  It's everything I expected.  You've got a starter deck filled with 5 effect cards and 5 that let you get more cards (uses XP for this, like gold in Dominion).  Honestly, the way you use XP doesn't feel right.  Sure, the higher ranking officers have more experience, but what does that have to do with gaining more people for your cause?  I can understand it for maneuvers, and kinda for technology.  Anyway, the first "phase" of the game seems to be focused more on getting your deck to be made the way you want, and you always have an array of 9 cards to pick at any given time in addition to the basic 3.  Once you've got your deck fairly well-tuned, it's time to start exploring space.  You'll have missions to accomplish, events to which you'll need to respond, and you'll encounter new ships.  You can always try to destroy ships, but it seems more efficient to just use diplomacy on them.  Then you get to use the ship yourself, generally allowing you to be far more efficient.  Characters and maneuvers all have modifiers at the bottom that will help you accomplish all these things.  I'm deliberately trying not to explore this one too much beyond actually playing it so as to keep a somewhat fairer playing field.  That's one big problem with this game: it's really not apparent early on what you really want to try doing.  You have to go through a full game before you can really appreciate how it works.

Now, what's different between the two games?  Well, after a little searching on Board Game Geek (currently participating in the SOPA protest, BTW), quite a lot.  Next Phase definitely seems to have a focus on the later episodes of the series, and I even spied a picture from First Contact (shown after season 3 of Voyager)!  There's certainly plenty of focus on the Federation in both games.  The first game has plenty of Klingons & Ferengi.  This game has only 2 Klingons (though there is an extra Klingon scenario to use with the original game).  This game has a focus on Romulans & Cardassians.  I remember I managed to take a largely Cardassian deck to a decidedly large victory.  There's nothing in the rules about combining the two Borg attacks, but I'm pretty sure you'd be able to figure it out.

Before I wrap this up, I just want to point out something.  Look at how much picture space is on these cards!  They chose to overlay a bunch of things on top of the pictures.  I've gradually gotten accustomed to increasingly less picture space on cards, especially with Dragon Ball GT.  By choosing to go with a smaller font, overlaying a bunch of things on top of the picture, and making the borders extremely minimal (albeit making it a bit harder to understand at first), there's a lot more picture.  That right there goes a long way toward improving the appeal.  Star Trek TNG fans are going to see these cards and reminisce without having to squint.  By taking up 3/4 of the card, it allows me to relate much more easily what the theme is to what the effect actually does.
This seems like a nice game.  I can see myself getting plenty of good games in with this thing.  This game effectively works because it's a license that's old enough for most of us to know well.  If you don't know TNG, you'll probably have some difficulty understanding why things are happening the way they are.  For that reason, if I made a point of rating games by numbers, it couldn't possibly be any more than 8.  The game is solid, but it would seem to lose a lot if you're not familiar with the franchise.  Any game that requires you to know the license in order to enjoy it has a serious problem there.  With the Gears of War board game, everything I've heard actually suggests that it deviates significantly from how the video game plays, so lack of familiarity can actually work in your favor.  Again though, Star Trek is pretty easily known with a wide audience, so play on Trekkies!  This definitely beats that horrendously designed (but wonderfully produced) VCR board game we got when the license was active.


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