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Designer Diary: Going on My Star Trek: Five-Year Mission

David Whitcher
United States
Manchester
Michigan
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Warning: The following game contains 3, a lot of 6 — 35 4 in three colors, in fact. If you have a 2 allergy, you should stop reading now.

Most games take many years to develop. You start with an idea. You flesh out that idea. You prototype and test it over and over in what often seems like an endless cycle until the game is ready to show a publisher. If you're lucky, you find one right away, but more often than not you show your game to numerous publishers before it's accepted. If it's accepted, the publisher often requests changes to be made to fit their vision of how the game will best serve the audience they are trying to sell to. This is the process I have become accustomed to as a freelance game designer, and Star Trek: Five-Year Mission is no exception except for a few minor details.

From its conception, I designed "Star Trek / Cooperative Dice Game" for Mayfair Games. The game design community normally advises you to stay away from IP, especially big IP, because they are expensive and difficult to get the rights to, thereby making them a big risk. That is why so few publishers deal with them. I have been on the Mayfair Games demo crew for nearly a decade now and had the good fortune to find out that they were interested in doing another Trek game after Star Trek: Catan was released in 2012. I figured the odds of someone approaching them with such a design were a 1 in 10,000 chance, so I decided I would design one for them.

My first ideas were nonstarters: basic card games, board games with star maps to explore, etc. — nothing that hadn't been done with this license. It was several months after Origins 2012 when the idea came to me. I was sitting in a waiting room and quickly scrounged up paper and pencil to make notes for later. This would be a cooperative dice game in which you play the crew of the Enterprise completing dilemmas to score points. A cooperative game lends itself well to the crew of a ship, especially in the Star Trek universe, and since there are many main characters I could design it to be played with a large group.

Unlike most games I have designed, it was a long time between concept and first prototype. The original prototype had three decks of 24 cards each, with each card needing a unique set of requirements in order to complete it. I first had to create the 72 dice sets and a rubric to determine the difficulty of each card. This was not just a matter of calculating the odds of rolling the numbers needed to complete the dice set. There are other factors involved, such as urgent events that must be completed in three minutes. I also had to take into account card effects that hamper play, such as crew injuries and ship damage. Once that was finally done, I made my first prototype and did solo testing. As usual there were changes to be made before moving to testing with the public.

In the game's third iteration, I was ready to take it to one of my local game groups to get feedback. I set up the "H.M.S. Victory" prototype and found a group of four willing to give it a try. "H.M.S. Victory" is a cooperative dice game for 3-7 players in which you play the crew of a ship working together to complete events drawn from decks of varying difficulty. I tested the game in public gaming groups using this alternate theme so that fandom would not play a factor in the feedback I received.

I kept the real theme a secret until I showed it to the Mayfair Games Minister of Product Acquisitions, Alex Yeager, in June 2014. His advice allowed me to finalize the design over the next few months with the help of numerous testers, including dozens of game designers at the 2014 Protospiel held in Chelsea, Michigan, all of whom played it with the "H.M.S. Victory" theme. After several delays, which gave me more time to refine the cards further, the game was pitched to Mayfair by Alex since I was unable to travel to where they were the board was meeting.



Captains old (above) and new (below)



The game was accepted, and since then I've been working with the Mayfair team to get it ready for market. To my surprise, they chose to make Star Trek: Five-Year Mission so that you could play as either the original series crew or the TNG crew. This required another seven player abilities be devised. We also needed new titles and scenes for the additional TNG cards.

Using a later prototype with proposed graphics, we previewed the game at the 2015 Origins Game Fair, which was our last major testing opportunity. With only seven weeks to go and a promise to deliver at Gen Con 2015 — not to mention holding a charity event with actress Marina Sirtis, we had much to do. As of writing this diary, we are on schedule and expect to have plenty of copies of Star Trek: Five-Year Mission on hand for Trek fans to get Marina and me to sign on Saturday, August 1 at Gen Con 2015. Hope to see you there!

David Whitcher

Editor's note: For an overview of the gameplay in Star Trek: Five-Year Mission, head to my ST:5YM preview, which is based on a demo game that I played at Origins 2015. —WEM
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