RR #119: How to Be a Rules Guru | openCards

RR #119: How to Be a Rules Guru

This Strategy-Note was written by Kathy McCracken (aka Major Rakal) and was published first on "Major Rakals Tal Shiar Headquarters (members.cox.net/majorrakal)" at Jun 22nd, 2001.

This article is part of the article serie "Romulan Review" from "Major Rakal (Kathy Mc Kracken)". Also see:

Revised 08/29/01

Aefvadh! What do you do when you have a question about the Star Trek CCG rules? If you're like many players, you go first to the Decipher gameplay message board, where you type in your question, hit the Post button, and then keep reloading the board, hoping for a quick answer. But maybe there's no one around to answer you. Or more often, quite a few people answer you, but their answers don't agree. What to do? Ask for a "green answer"? Green is irrelevant when it comes to official rules answers (most of the greenies are monitors, not rules gurus). Try the mailing list? Even slower. Email the Major? Perhaps slowest of all. That's the bad news.

The good news is, most of the time you don't have to go through this process! Yes, the majority of the questions I see, by way of the message boards, mailing list, and email, either have already been answered, officially and in writing (well, at least in electronic form), or can be readily figured out from the card texts. Save time and typing and amaze your friends, using this handy guide to...

How to Be a Rules Guru

Some people have expressed amazement that I know so much about the rules, assuming that I have memorized the Glossary and keep it all in my head. Nothing could be further from the truth -- if I tried to keep all that in my head, it would explode. I have a solid knowledge of the basic rules (that is, I can now safely skip step 1 below), but much of the details I have to look up like anyone else. That applies even to checking the exact card text -- I can't tell you how many times I have embarrassed myself by flubbing an answer because I misremembered the exact wording on a card.


1. Read the basic rulebook first.

Mundane, I know, but there are some things about this game that you cannot possibly know if you don't begin by reading the basic rules. The fact that missions are seeded randomly but dilemmas are seeded by choice, the restriction on outpost seeding at missions with matching affiliation icons (but not homeworlds), which cards use your normal card play and which don't, how to attempt a mission, how to battle... these things aren't found on any card. If you learned how to play from your friends and never looked at a rulebook, you might be surprised at the amount of misinformation you have accumulated.

Make sure you have the latest basic rulebook. There are still a lot of premiere rulebooks floating around out there, and even the more recent starter rulebooks, such as those from the Trouble With Tribbles, only present enough information to play with the cards in that set. (The Voyager starter rulebook is for Warp Speed format.)

But don't try to take the basic rulebook too far. It's designed for beginners to learn how to play a very basic game, and leaves out (or mentions only briefly) a lot of details and more advanced rules. Just because the basic rulebook doesn't tell you the difference between a nullifier and a cure for a dilemma, for example, doesn't mean there is no difference. Once you've mastered the basic rules, abandon that rulebook and use the Glossary instead, which includes everything in the rulebook and much more.

2. Read the game text on the card.

I get an astonishing number of questions that are explicitly answered by the card text. Sometimes this comes from thinking up rules questions when you don't have your cards handy to see what they actually say; but more often, it seems to be wishful thinking -- you're hoping I'll tell you the card really works the way you'd like it to work, even though it says something else.

Example: Can I seed Spacedoor on Deep Space 9? Spacedoor says "Seeds on your outpost." Is Deep Space 9 an outpost? No, it says "STATION" on the bottom. While stations and outposts are both facilities, the terms aren't interchangeable. If a card says it seeds or plays on an outpost, or affects an outpost, then it applies only to a card that says "OUTPOST" on the bottom.

Just one warning; some cards have revised game text (sometimes reprinted, sometimes not) that alters or explains the way the card works, or specific rulings on how it works and its interactions with other cards. So temper your reading of the card text with step 3...

3. Check the Glossary (and the Current Rulings).

For all the rules that don't fit into the basic rulebook (such as what happens when your Borg assimilate personnel, or how to interpret a dilemma), and for rulings and revised text for specific cards, you need the Glossary and its monthly update, the Current Rulings.

As with the rulebook, make sure you have the latest Glossary and Current Rulings. As the new Current Rulings appear each month, look through them for important changes to the basics, so you don't get taken by surprise when you play in a tournament and suddenly everyone is telling you that you that your holograms can't be used on a planet any more. The rules supplements found in most expansions are also useful for quick updates, but these rules are also incorporated into the Current Rulings, so that's really all you need beyond the Glossary.

One important thing to note about the Glossary and Current Rulings is that many rules and rulings apply to more than one card, and they're not repeated every place they apply. Also, many rules and definitions are related and interconnected (for example, "compatible", "matching", "does not work with", and "house arrest" are all related). The rules documents direct you to related rulings with bold-faced cross-references. If the answer you're looking for isn't in the first place you look, check out any cross-references in that entry to see if it's under a related concept.

Once you have read the card text and checked the Glossary and Current Rulings for possible changes or clarifications, believe what they say. If a card has no revised text in either the Glossary or the latest Current Rulings, then the card text has not been changed, no matter what your opponent tries to tell you. These rules documents are the official word; even if I say something different online, that isn't an official change until it appears in the rules documents.

4. You can do whatever a card or rule allows, as long as another card or rule does not disallow it.

A current frequently asked question is whether an Alpha Quadrant ship can report with crew at the Caretaker's Array. That card says, "Once per turn, a ship with fewer than four staffing icons may report with crew here." Since it does not say "a Delta Quadrant ship" (or specify any restriction except "fewer than four staffing icons"), the Array allows a ship from any quadrant to report there. "But what about the native quadrant rules?", you ask. Those rules apply only to using a facility or site to allow your card to report. The Array is an incident, so that rule has no effect on reporting a ship there. In other words, the Caretaker's Array says you can report a ship, and does not restrict it by quadrant -- so you can do it.

What it won't let you do is report an Alternate Universe ship with crew, if you don't have an open Alternate Universe Door or Space-Time Portal. This is a case of another rule disalllowing what the Array says you can do. The Array doesn't say it can't be an Alternate Universe ship, but a rule does say that -- you may not report Alternate Universe cards at all unless you have a card in play that specifically says you can. Caretaker's Array doesn't give you that permission, so you need the usual doorway card if you want to report the Enterprise-C, for example.

5. When resolving rules debates, don't think. Just do what the rules and cards say, and nothing more.

I'll thank Jason "Q" Winter for this one, and I think he wrote it just for me -- he often told me I was "thinking too hard" when discussing the rules with him.

Example: The rules say that when the Borg disrupt the timeline, humans and Federation-affiliation cards are placed out-of-play (unless protected). Some people have proposed that Lore should be placed out-of-play, because he was built by a human, Dr. Soong, who ceases to exist, so he couldn't have built Lore. But the rule doesn't say that. Lore is not human, and not Federation affiliation, so he stays in play. (Trying to argue a rules question based on a time paradox is guaranteed to produce headaches.)

Example: The Sheliak says, "Upon arrival, destroys any outposts, stations and Away Teams present." The most persistent question: "But doesn't it destroy a headquarters, too? It should destroy all facilities -- it doesn't make sense for headquarters to survive." Maybe it doesn't make "Trek sense," but the dilemma doesn't say it destroys headquarters (and there is no errata in the Glossary or Current Rulings), so it doesn't.

(Your next question may well be, "But why does it work that way?" See #10 below.)

6. Don't make up more rules; we have plenty of them already.

Many players are convinced that: - clearing all the dilemmas but failing to complete the mission "stops" the Away Team. - if a personnel is saved from death by a Genetronic Replicator, he's "stopped." - you can only dock or undock a ship once per turn. - you can only play one copy of any given doorway each turn. - a Borg scout on a planet is not an Away Team.

None of these is true, or has ever been true. Such misconceptions are often due to learning to play from another player, without reading the rulebook. Your friend passes on his own misconceptions about being "stopped" to you, and you never question them. But the Glossary tells you exactly what circumstances "stop" your cards, and failing to complete a mission or being saved by a Genetronic Replicator are not among them. Furthermore, both the Genetronic Replicator entry and the mission attempt entry explicitly tell you that the situations do not "stop" your cards.

Or you extrapolate from one of the most commonly used doorways -- Q's Tent, which says it can be played only once each turn -- and think that applies to all doorways. But if it applied to all doorways, it wouldn't have been necessary to say so on Q's Tent, and in fact if you check the Glossary under "doorway" or the rulebook under "Playing a Card", you'll find that doorway plays are unrestricted unless the card says otherwise.

7. This rule intentionally left blank.

8. Game terms don't always mean what they would in ordinary English.

"At any time" doesn't mean literally "at any time" in STCCG-ese. It means, "at any time between other actions, even during your opponent's turn." In other words, the general timing rules govern when you can play a card that plays "at any time."

Likewise, Luther Sloan's "may report anywhere" is a powerful skill, but it does have some limits. You can report Luther Sloan aboard your opponent's ship, on a planet surface, in any quadrant, or to an uncommandeered Empok Nor. But you can't report him floating in space (not that you would want to), or to the top of your opponent's draw deck.

How do you know what these terms really mean? As always, look them up the Glossary -- "at any time" has a listing, and so does "anywhere" (the key word in Sloan's skill).

9. If it seems too good to be true, you've overlooked something.

Countless players have stumbled across Gift of the Tormentor and seen a way to win the game on turn one by playing this interrupt on themselves (from hand) or by hitting their own Q-Flash (with their Continuum filled with nothing but Gift of the Tormentor). C'mon, now, do you really think the designers would make a card as broken as that? Or that nothing would have been done about it in over four years? (QC came out in late 1996.) Recheck the rules on the use of Q-icon cards and the Q-Continuum side deck, and you'll find (1) that you can't play Q-icon cards normally, but must put them in your Q-Continuum side deck, and (2) that you never encounter your own Q-Continuum cards.

Or how about that Transwarp Drone? How convenient that he can download any interrupt. Too convenient, and it would be a remarkable advantage over the other affiliations. Try parsing his skill as "may download one Transwarp (doorway or interrupt)", and you'll find it's slightly more limited than it first appeared.

If you think you've found such a too-good-to-be-true scenario, there's got to be a catch somewhere. Go back to the Glossary and look up the card type, the overall concept, game terms in the card text, and the card title, and you'll probably find that catch.

10. Any question that starts with "why" is not a rules question.

It's probably a design question, and the answer is, "For reasons of gameplay balance and/or storyline." (Take your pick.) It's futile to ask such a question of anyone but the designers -- and the designers really don't have time to explain every design decision and still get more design work done. (And we all want the new cards they're designing!)

If attention to these points fails to provide an answer, then it's time to start asking on the message board and/or mailing list. (Scroll down through the board first if your question is about a recent release -- chances are high that it has been recently asked and answered.) Maybe someone else has already asked the same question and can tell you what they got for an answer, or can point you in the right direction with a Glossary reference that you may have overlooked. Then again, you may have run into a new ambiguity or card interaction that hasn't come up before, which might require an official ruling. (If the official rules netrep -- that's me -- doesn't pick up on your online question, you can email it to majorrakal@decipher.com.) But 95% of the time, a careful reading of the cards and the rules documents will lead you to a satisfactory answer without going to that trouble.


The Major's Ultimate Combo:

  • Rulebook + Glossary + Current Rulings + Card Text: Hey, where do you think I find my answers? ;-)