An Enemy Among Us
This Strategy-Note was written by Jason Drake and was published first on "The Continuing Committee (trekcc.org)" at Mar 21st, 2016.
Plots involving assumed identities have long been a staple of Star Trek, going back at least to the original series episode Mirror, Mirror upon which this expansion is based. The drama reached its peak in Deep Space Nine with the machinations of the shape-shifting Founders, and provided some of the most memorable episodes in the franchise.
Infiltration became a part of the Star Trek card game when Decipher released The Dominion in 1999. The mechanic they introduced involved one player's infiltration-capable personnel becoming part of his opponent's crew or away team, and the game's likeness to what had occurred on screen was absolutely perfect. As the cards played out on the table, it really looked like an Infiltration plot.
Unfortunately, making it work in a competitive deck has proven more daunting.
The first problem faced by a would-be plotter is to actually begin infiltrating. Even the versatile Dominion can only cover four affiliations among about a dozen possibilities. If using a generic card like Impersonate Captive (or even when having the correct printed icon, under some circumstances), the would-be infiltrator has to contrive a means of being "present" with his target victims.
The second problem is getting some value for your investment. Simply having an Infiltrator provided no benefit by itself. There are other cards which played on an infiltrator, but these required an additional investment in deck resources (on top of the infiltrating personnel). And the available cards could not directly help the infiltrating player, they could only hinder his opponent. In that regard, even a properly-functioning infiltration deck produced results similar to a battle deck (but without the benefit of providing protection against an opponent's battle capabilities). So a well-designed infiltration attack could easily result in a lot of timed games instead of full wins.
For designers to make Infiltration viable, the main challenge was to overcome these problems. Corollary to that, we absolutely wanted to maintain the value of existing inflitration-related cards. Inside Operation, Dial Martok for Murder, and Issue Secret Orders have fun and interesting effects. More importantly, if some mechanic overcame the icon-matching problem too easily, then affiliations with a strong complement of infiltrators (e.g., the Dominion) would cease to be special. Not only would that kill the "flavor", it would make Infiltration a plug-in module for whatever happens to be the strongest deck type, instead of a relative strength or weakness.
Finally, we didn't want to require a heavy seed card burden to make things work; and, if at all possible, we wanted to avoid adding to the "Incident Rack" with a long row of "seeds or plays on table" cards to drive everything.
(On a side note, this mechanic has long been of particular interest to me. The Dominion story arc is my favorite among all the series, and I was on a playtesting team when The Dominion expansion was being developed. It looked sound at the time, but quickly proved to have no teeth. We've flirted with various enhancement ideas on every expansion I've worked, but never found the right combination or the card space to include them. Working an expansion based on Mirror, Mirror provided an appropriate theme to revisit the idea, and, even better, Thomas, Adam, and I all shared a similar understanding of the inherent problems. Developing the cards was still a long and difficult process, for us and our playtesters, but the progress was steady and rewarding.)
And so, for your scheming, plotting pleasure, what does Through the Looking Glass offer?
Creating synergy with multiple infiltration icons
The fun begins with Getting to Know You, which gives card draws in direct proportion to your non-matching infiltration icons. With The Great Link and Shape-Shift, the Dominion can quickly have a draw engine equal in power to Handshake. If your infiltration icons happen to match your opponent's cards, you'll lose some draw power, of course; but then it's possible to actually, you know, infiltrate your opponent for a different set of benefits.
One such benefit appears as an alternate function of the same card: a skill-boost similar in design to Rituals of the Hunt. If your deck design has gaps in the skill matrix as a result of packing in so many infiltrators, you can pick up some help from your unwitting infiltratees.
Making infiltration more reliable
If your deck uses a lot of cards that require an infiltrator, then you have an ace in the hole. The second function on Insert Undercover Agent will let your would-be infiltrator gain the appropriate icon for any affiliation or faction (and you can acquire the card when needed with a spare copy of Getting to Know You). With great power comes some modest caveats: it only works once per game and has a built-in turn limit. Also, you need to find your own means of being present with the opponent's personnel, but there are some attractive options for that. Mission Debriefing can freeze an opponent's away team long enough for your infiltrator to beam down to the planet; Romulans can use Undercover Agent in their dilemma set at virtually no added cost; and, my personal favorite, the Federation can use Chain of Command's Benjamin Sisko to special download Jake Sisko directly to an opponent's ship or facility.
On the other hand, what if you've stocked the right personnel and don't need to add a novel infiltration icon? You're in luck, because that makes Insert Undercover Agent even better. The card's first function will give a potential infiltrator the ability to relocate and so begin infiltrating, and includes the added bonus of downloading Covert Agent. Also, unlike the second function, it is not limited to once per game and can be used to move your existing infiltrator to a different opponent's crew or away team.
Exploiting infiltration for positive gain
A well-trained infiltrator doesn't just sit around waiting for complicated plots to mature. There's spy work to be done and situations to be taken advantage of. Park that infiltrator at your opponent's outpost and Covert Agent gives a card draw benefit (which is also a good compensation if you come up short on non-matching icons with Getting to Know You), and has no theoretical upper limit if you are able to insert multiple infiltrators. And if your infiltrator leaves the outpost to tag along on an opponent's mission attempt, you have instant access to a whole suite of nasty trickery like Counterintelligence.
Covert Agent will also protect your infiltrator from the being removed from play by the ubiquitous Space-Time Portal pick-up, saving you the seed burden of Commandeer Ship and preserving an element of surprise.
Allowing a variety of infiltration strategies
Using all three of these cards together, with Getting to Know You as a primary draw engine, will obviously work best with multiple infiltration icons, at little or no cost in seed slots. But if you're playing Romulans, for example, and are happy with your existing draw engines, you can keep your card plays and take extra advantage of just a few potential infiltrators, by seeding the other two.
And, finally, there is another new option for setting up an infiltrator without relying on luck to have a matching icon. Assume Identity parallels the effects of Impersonate Captive, but with slightly different conditions: The opponent's personnel must be universal, and you need to be in the same quadrant when they die. Notably, though, Assume Identity does not change your Founder's skills. So if you want to build a deck that exploits the special downloads on Krajensky Founder or Martok Founder, for example, you can now include those download targets in your Q's Tent and have a better chance of being able to use them.
The choices are all yours. Surprise us. Surprise your opponent. Put an enemy among them.