Sunday, 5 July 2015

Where it all Began: Official Starships Collection Issues 50 and 51

We are here. The legend,  the Big One,  NCC-1701.

We're talking The Original Series here not movie refit and a model that I know Ben Robinson has seen as a real labour of love.

Have they succeeded in meeting our expectations?  Well here we go....

Painted out in the grey that fans will be familiar with from pictures of the original model currently undergoing restoration she is,  as I expected, very plain. The models from the 1960's were indeed very simple and straightforward. Detail was minimal and hey,  this is a show that won't go beyond the decade.... No need to get too technical.

All the weight with this one is in the saucer with the secondary hull and nacelles all in plastic. Just be warned that you might end up with some scratches on the paintwork as the stand clasp for the ship is very tight at the rear of the saucer. The surface of the Constitution Class vessel is very, very plain. If you're thinking there are going to be panel lines, radial edges branching out from the centre of the saucer, then you're going to be disappointed. It's absolute basics with the Enterprise. The only significant details you are going to see here are the registry numbers on the nacelles and saucer and the Starfleet pennants. Anything you've seen in CG or Deep Space Nine can be ignored since this is The Original Series pure.

There are a few highlight markings around the impulse engine and on the underside of the secondary hull but that's it. Ben and the team really have gone back to the beginning here and gone simple. This is as realised and as delivered to the studio for filming. I can understand what he meant by being concerned how the entries from The Original Series would come out because they are devoid of the usual intricacies that we are used to from Voyager or Enterprise

The light details on the secondary hull are painted straight onto the plastic so there's no concern over alignment in that respect. However the metal saucer windows don't quite match to their molded indents. It's very hard to notice since the size of them is quite small and when she's on your shelf you won't even notice.

The nacelles are pretty impressive on the Enterprise with translucent bussard collectors and the various vents and exhausts very precisely painted and parallel. Their fit to the pylons isn't a totally snug fit but again given the scale of this legendary ship, you have to look past and see the whole picture rather than the tiny imperfections.

One thing that will continue to be a disappointment is the deflector dish. A few weeks back we knew that it was going to be an issue as Ben revealed it would be from a clear plastic rather than a solid plastic painted bronze. Now the problem is that the deflector has actually come out more a shade of orange than it is bronze. It's still a nice result, a clean finish to the front of the ship but the colour is, well, wrong. There are also some "iffy" joint lines on the secondary hull, especially on the port side on the Enterprise I received this week. There are some small gaps and the way it's been put together sectionally is not what I expected.

For the cost it is a spectacular model and certainly the best I've seen at this scale. I find myself torn because it's such a massive model in terms of lore and you really don't want to point out any of the challenges with the end result. You can tell there's a lot of love poured into the ship and the level of superb simplicity that oozes from the box when you open her for the first time. 

As you do look through the accompanying literature, you do tend to glance back a fair bit to the model and then back to the pictures for comparison and it's difficult not to be a little disgruntled - but remember that a lot of the images are remastered with higher detail and are not from The Original Series in its original format. Looking at those images and the photos of the original ship you realise just how subtle/non-existent those markings were and that we've been greatly affected by later Star Trek's attention to detail and minute that it looks "wrong"  when actually this is as spot on as you could anticipate.  

I think Ben and the Eaglemoss team have, given the high levels of anticipation over this one,  delivered a solid,  high level result. It might not be perfect (and I know one reason why but can't say just yet) but it's as near as goddammit possible given all of the factors which influence the collection. Is it one of my favourites? Without question.

The issue 50 magazine won't fire any new info at the average fan. It is, like the model, very much back to basics covering a very broad backstory of the ship from April through to Kirk (ignoring The Motion Picture and beyond) before turning towards towards the design process as recounted from Matt Jeffries. Fans will have seen a lot of these sketches before but they are well presented here and there is a coloured drawing I don't recall seeing before. The views don't quite match up with the model given that the shuttlebay doors are a different colour and there is more hull detail but it gives you a good idea of how much design and graphics have come since the original Enterprise first took flight.

Making the NCC-1701 doesn't reveal any huge facts we didn't already know but it's great to be reminded of some of the changes that were made not only between The Cage and Where No Man Has Gone Before but between that second pilot and filming of the main series itself.

Closing out the issue are the On Screen moments - exceptionally hard to pick as I would have selected two totally different ones - probably The Doomsday Machine and The Tholian Web but it was always going to be a difficult choice!

Once you're over the high of owning a magnificent replica of the USS Enterprise, you'll be unpacking the Hirogen Hunter and issue 51. Voyager models haven't been that impressive so far and trying to remember specific alien vessels from the show has left me head-scratching a bit. There's the Dauntless, the Malon Export Vessel, the Borg Sphere(ish) and the Species 8472 Bioship are the only ones I could recall. After a quick list check they were the only ones, period.

Out of those only the Dauntless really grabbed me and that might have been because it's one of my favourite ships and episodes of the show. The rest were OK but not in my top ten.

The Hunter is probably the best alien vessel from the smattering we've had from Voyager. I'd even go as far to say that with the high level of detail it is the best starship produced from Voyager. There must have been some superb reference materials for this one.

A heavy entry to the collection, the ship has a large amount of metal in her with the plastic sections seemingly blending straight into the central section without a hint of a seam anywhere. The seams really are well disguised within the structure of the ship aside from the one under the nose but from a machining point of view this has to be one of the finest examples of what the factory can produce for the collection.

It's a polar opposite to the USS Enterprise in detail with every surface marked out precisely against the original model. There are a few lit/glowing sections which are far too small for replication on the model but it's understandable why these are omitted - cost, difficultly, probable endangering of eyesight from being so small to fit... the usual.

What gets me here though is that there are some really tiny markings in Hirogen that the factory have reproduced - just check out the underside of the ship on the pylons connecting the warp nacelles to the hull and on the sides of the nacelle cowling (those bits are in red on the plan views). They are very faint but definitely there - go and have a look and compare. Even the small etchings around the central section are reproduced and coloured - amazing. I spent a good while with the ship and pics side by side and was blown away by what has been achieved here. Just as with last month's ECS Fortunate, the Hunter is one of those ships you can pour over for hours, looking at every surface, nook, gun turret, indent and panel line. Each time you do there's something else that will catch your eye and draw you in.

As usual I do have one "however" moment and here it's the engines. The three grey/silver exhausts at the rear are just too clean and a little too "plasticy". There is evidence on the central sections of space weathering and it could have done with eeking onto other parts of the model. I know this is probably down to cost, production etc but it's a little bit of a shame given the echelons of brilliance that the rest of the ship climbs due to the evident focus on detail. I love the arcs of the nacelle covers, the horns, the abrupt angles, all of which we get here in abundance.

I actually think, after looking at the pics in the magazine that there could be even more detail on the Hunter but the scale here limits what can be done. The CG images too make it look like there are a lot more shades and colours across the whole surface of the vessel however this is still, as noted, the best Voyager entry to the series to this point and I suspect it will be a hard one to beat. She's not pretty to look at but she ticks every box you would want from a model in this collection and then some. I do think the Hirogen were the best baddie Voyager encountered and I hope Ben can push beyond the confirmed 90 to give us the larger Venatic Class ship from Flesh and Blood.

Top and bottom here, the Hunter is great from every angle and I'm really happy with how she's turned out (as you can tell). The rear position stand fits nicely and she's secure with the slight lean to aft. Totally well-presented. Only making her bigger would improve on this one and add more textures, rails and microscopic details. In my opinion, a perfect model.

So to the literary addition for issue 51. There are a few fuzzy screenshots in here but they run alongside some nice reference shots of the Hunter in CG, running lights an' all. The overview focuses more on the race as a whole rather than an episode synopsis which makes a change from recent editions although that was more due to the fact they were ships from single episodes. Even the plan views seem to have a few more notes than usual this time around.

Rick Sternbach takes us on a tour of the design process for the ship which seems to have been formulated quite early on with the sphere and spire concept showing up straight away. It is a much more aggressive shape than we had seen before and influenced by the internal designs produced for the Hirogen arc during Voyager's fourth season. The final piece turns towards other Hirogen vessels seen in Flesh and Blood so the title Designing Hirogen Technology is a little misplaced. It's a good read though, explaining how the race evolved for its final appearance in the last year of Voyager. I'm a big Hirogen fan so being able to look at the designs for their lesser known and rarely seen ships and base is a real pleasure. Just makes me want to get to that final year of episodes in my rewatch a little bit more!

Rounding out with a pick of Hunters and Prey for the On Screen appearances, this is a great companion piece to one of the real highlights of the series so far. For those of us who like to take a few pics of the models this one is particularly photogenic. Lots of good angles and light reflections to play with!

Issues 52 and 53 are due up next with the Centaur Class from Deep Space Nine and the Klingon Attack Ship from Enterprise taking centre stage. HOWEVER before that, there's a couple of articles you might want to check back for...

This week we're celebrating the 50th issue of the collection not just with this review but with two other pieces:

  • Perfect Ten - fans of the collection and friends of SKoST talk about the best models so far.
  • Chatting to Ben Robinson - I have an EXCLUSIVE interview with the man behind the collection including some great insights into the ships and a few hints of what we might expect.

So keep checking back this week or link up with one of our social media platforms to keep up to date with all of our articles. While you're at it, why not let us know your thoughts on the two latest issues from the collection?

You can also see our short review of the USS Enterprise on our YouTube channel.

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Friday, 3 July 2015

Art Trek: The Current Generation

Sometimes I fear Some Kind of Star Trek is going to get samey, that I'll bore you all to death out there and slowly the site will plummet to ground like an Enterprise towards Genesis.

Then you come into contact with a real talent and even better, they're in the UK (win!). I "discovered" this gent's work through the Risa social media site a few months ago and was blown away by his artwork. So much so that I had a chat and wanted to get to know David Milburn a bit more and just how he ended up producing Star Trek pics.

"I have loved Star Trek since The Next Generation started on our screens in 1990 by which time I was ten years old." said David Milburn, a UK-based, Star Trek fan who is venturing out into graphic dimensions on the final frontier.

"I just loved it from the off, as it was at a time when I was massively into sci-fi (which was started with Red Dwarf) and The Next Generation was just so glossy with great special effects, I was always going to be hooked. After the first few episodes of The Next Generation found out about The Original Series and the films. 

"Of course the films had already reached Star Trek V: The Final Frontier so I had plenty to watch and catch up on but only later in the 90's when I could get my hands on all the VHS tapes of the past shows and films did it really dawn on me how amazing the universe of Star Trek was. I think for me, even though The Next Generation started my love affair with Star Trek, it was is The Original Series that I love the most. I don't really know why, I guess it comes from the fact that I love classic Doctor Who, and The Original Series looked (although with a bit more money spent on special effects I would imagine than the BBC could afford) very similar, wobbly sets, the over acting etc. 

"But I also think the stories told in The Original Series where just brilliant and I loved the relationship dynamic between Kirk, Spock and McCoy. When it comes to fave episodes it is a little strange. I never really got into the spin off shows like Voyager and Deep Space Nine because for me, Star Trek was the USS Enterprise and her missions.

"My favourite episode does come from one of those shows however! Deep Space Nine's crossover with The Original Series, Trials and Tribble-ations, was just genius and the way it was filmed, the effects, it was magic, and show what was so great about the show, the shared universe, its mythology and its history. It was brilliant TV. Having said that, I also love Space Seed from The Original Series and The Best of Both Worlds from The Next Generation."

I can't quibble with his choice of favourite episode there. It would certainly be in my top selection as would the other two he mentioned. Definitely a man who knows his Star Trek. David certainly has a flair for art and his box heads are a different spin on the fictional universe. So where did the fascination start that led to this creative streak?

"My interest in art has always been there ever since secondary school. I even went to art college for two years, which I really enjoyed. My dream when I was younger was to break into animation but unfortunately the reality of life set in and if I wanted to get a car, go out with my friends etc, I had to get a paying job so my dream became just that. I wouldn't change anything that I have done, I do really enjoy the career path that I have gone down and when the internet burst onto the scenes (which seems weird to say as it feels like it has always been there) it meant that I could maybe do some art and share it.

"When I was younger I just loved animation, Disney, Hannah Barbera, Warner Bros, Cosgrove Hall (the makers of shows like Danger Mouse and Count Duckula) and was always up early hours Saturday morning to watch the latest adventures of He-Man, Transformers and all the rest of the amazing shows that was produced in the late 80's early 90's. I also collected comics, the Dandy, the Beano and even some Marvel/DC although they where a little harder to get at the time. I still enjoy animation now and collecting comics which is why I have tried to break into comic making myself with Box Heads."

Those Saturday mornings were something that I was a fan of myself and I even recall the animated Star Trek getting a slot there at one point in the 90's. While I turned to the written side and the creation of new and crazy stories featuring my favourite characters, David was dreaming of how those things might look in another way.

"It's not much but it's my little space on the internet and it means I can do something I love and share it." explained David, "I enjoy making all kinds of images from simple character design, to posters and splash images. For this I use a Wacom Cintiq 13HD which is a drawing tablet and it's the best piece of kit I have ever owned and makes life so much easier to draw. Depending on the size of the image and details the times can vary. For instance the image I produced for took a while. The USS Enterprise on the poster took me three hours on its own. Then Picard and Kirk took me another three to sketch out, ink and colour. However some images can take me about an hour from start to finish. A Box Heads comic for instance takes me about, on average, two hours. 

"People are certainly easier to draw than anything else, but with aliens (especially original ones) you can get to have a bit more fun and be a bit more expressive. the ships are, for me anyway, the most difficult, but once you do one and get it right, its a proud moment. I am still learning my craft when it comes to the ships and hopefully I will get better in that department. In terms of inspiration, I like to do things for new projects and concepts.

"For instance I did a poster for a home made animation project called Star Trek Absolution. A concept that is set after The Next Generation, it was intriguing to me so I decided to help out with the poster and it was fun to do as it had original uniforms and space ships. I have also created a poster (again attached) for an idea I had called Star Trek Federation which see's the handing over of the Enterprise from Picard to Captain Saxon. I find these type of projects the most fun to do, but sometimes you cant help to revert back to the characters you love."

One of the other things that attracted me to David's work is an ongoing sci-fi A-Z of characters. While there are a lot of familiars, there have been a couple I didn't expect as his series has progressed. As you'll see here, there's even a couple of captains to satiate your Star Trek needs.

"It's going really well, slowed down a bit so I can concentrate on building up and getting the comics done, but we are up to S now and won't take me long until that is complete. Once done I am hoping to compile it onto a poster that will be made available. Then I will be moving onto... the A-Z of Star Trek! Although this won't be using the look of Box Heads like the current A-Z is, so that is something exciting I am looking forward too. Then I might do the A-Z of Game Characters... just so many geeky possibilities!!!

Interested in having David work something up for you? Then you can get in touch and find out more. Well worth keeping an eye on his website as it grows and develops - that A-Z is a brilliant series and I'm already anticipating his A-Z of Star Trek. Maybe David will let me make a couple of suggestions(!)

"I have already done a couple of commissions, so very soon I will be having a commission section on my website, but in the mean time if anyone wants anything they can contact me at and we can have a chat about their needs, they can also check out some of my work at"

And just to finish off, here's that artwork specially commissioned by David for Some Kind of Star Trek - damn fine if you ask me and I have no doubt we'll be seeing more of his work in the future.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Did We Miss Something? Going Beyond Wanting Worf

Last week filming actually began on Star Trek Beyond.

Not that you would have noticed. The first few days were particularly mute on a film that we also know virtually nothing about. Is it Klingons? Is it the five year mission? Will Idris Elba or Bryan Cranston be starring as villains?  Is it none of the above?!

Frankly we know zip about this film. Potentially because Simon Pegg is still writing the script (or was the last time we had word from him). At least we know that it'll be called Beyond and that it commenced filming in the Canadian National Park on June 25th. Again Trekcore has some great pics of the possible filming location including some shots of very Star Trek fake rocks as well as platforms and a notice declaring that filming of something is taking place.

The cast themselves aside from Spock and Uhura have apparently been spotted in the area and we have the report that both Quinto and Pine have signed on for a fourth voyage. Good news that at least the movies are continuing for a few more years. 

I'm not going into the whole conversation over speculation but Paramount have acquired the website from the gent behind Star Trek Uncharted (formerly Beyond) who is getting the chance to pitch his series to the Powers That Be.

What we do have is a couple of Instagram shots from Zachary Quinto getting ready to drop into character and Zoe Saldana prepping in her trailer. Then yesterday director Justin Lin dropped the first official photograph via his Twitter feed (left). So does this tell us anything about the production? Well it does confirm that they're making a third movie and that looks like some form of utility suit similar to the ones Kirk and McCoy were wearing at the beginning of Into Darkness when taking a swim back to the Enterprise

One shot you might have missed was one (via Trekcore) which purported to show the Enterprise corridors being constructed in Vancouver. This is highly speculative and could even be a pic of the corridors being built for either of the previous productions. However, we can wish.

It's a very simple logo too - no central emblem denoting department but the blue might indicate Spock (as we know Quinto has started filming) science. But frankly that's about it. Heck I hoped there would be more but concrete facts on the movie are rarer than a sterilized tribble. In a way that's great since nothing's being ruined but might it suggest that the story isn't finished and they're still working out some of the "finer" details? 

I'll leave you to ponder over that one because talking of new Star Trek that Uncharted behemoth reared its head thanks to (I suspect) Michael Chang Gummelt owning a certain website name and having a very big series concept. I discussed my thoughts on a recent SFEscape Podcast and I'm not entirely comfortable with the format and the inclusion of the Stargate-like technology. I do find the exploration of a distant galaxy very intriguing and the backstory incredibly well thought out however there seem to be a lot of elements drawn from other sources and I need to be convinced more that this can still remain true to the principles of Star Trek. There is a great and varied array of characters as well as old and new races which would certainly expand and develop the franchise rather than restrain it within the 24th Century. I'd recommend casting your eyes over the site and certainly have a read of Michael's proposed pilot, Rendevous with Destiny. Which brings me neatly to another point.

One show that does seem to have that century very much at it's core is Star Trek: The Next Generation, The Worf Chronicles. Aside from being a horrendous mouthful (may well abbreviate it to TWC in future) it does have some promise as Dorn's meetings with Paramount/CBS haven't ended with a definite 'No'. Following his recent AQA on reddit, the #wewantworf movement has certainly gathered interest both for and against with a rather bizarre yet original million mini-muffin campaign on the go to push studio executives in favour of the series. Certainly it'll have a big effect on their collestrol if nothing more. 

Strangely Dorn sees this as a way to flesh out the Worf character (finally) -  but hang on, didn't he get more screen time and development than any other character EVER?! 

OK, probably a minor issue that (!) but as a nice selling point, former Star Trek scribe Ronald D Moore has penned a pilot and it seems a few other stories should it get picked up. I've said it before, I say it again - do we need to keep going back here? I feel that the more people ask him about what happened to it, the more it feeds the veteran Star Trek actor and in turn that fuels the fan frenzy. It's a vicious circle which might lead to a show but (saying it again) Worf's been done to death and his rather sporadic later career left many of us somewhat confused as to where he was supposed to be after the conclusion of Deep Space Nine. Always seemed to be conveniently near the Enterprise didn't he?

I praise Dorn for getting the fans excited once again and it's good to see the community hyped up about the Prime Universe but I'm still thinking false hope and that, in some ways, Uncharted might stand more of a chance because it's fresh, set far enough distant from Voyager and the rest of the franchise and offers a new perspective on Star Trek. Sure I'll gripe about some of it's ideas but didn't we do the same when The Next Generation came along in 1987? Yes is the answer and I believe that if Uncharted - which is far from perfect - were made, we'd be in a similar situation. Worf is familiar, liked but a well-explored character while Uncharted does have the unexplored, frontier edge advantage plus 100% new characters, advanced tech and new species all in the mixing pot. Overall it's a much more enticing package although it doesn't have the initial might of a former Star Trek actor to add weight. That said, earlier this year Uncharted was barely known until it was forced into the name change and now look where it is.

Maybe just having the increased interest in renewing a TV path means we're more likely to get a new series. I'd like to think so. Where from? Still open to bidders I expect.

Liking Uncharted? Hating The Worf Chronicles? Found a better solution? Let us know below!

Monday, 29 June 2015

The Next Wave: Attack Wing 15 is Experimental

June's Attack Wing expansions have arrived and after a week of getting to slam them through their paces, let's look at the results...

As usual there are three diverse ships to add/subtract/mix and match with your existing fleet(s) although how many of us have been gagging for the Bajoran scout ship Ratosha may well be the biggest mystery of the year.

Probably one of the first model versions of the vessel which could usually be found ferrying just about anybody from Bajor to Deep Space Nine, I can only think players will be wanting to buy a few of these to go alongside their Bajoran interceptor(s). A low squadron points starship (18), the Ratosha won't get you anywhere at pace but with your options for this faction fairly limited you're going to be stuck with very few other places to go. That low total does mean that an "average" 40 squadron points per ship is going to get you a tidy amount of upgrades which you might want to choose from the accompanying pack.

Options for captain come from the season two trilogy opener in Deep Space Nine including scheming oik minister Jaro Esso, Colonel Krim and his right-hand man Day Kannu plus the usual cannon fodder commander if you're running a little points heavy elsewhere. Jaro has the advantage of being a low points captain (1) and can flip to become your Bajoran admiral if the need takes you. His feature reflects his duplicitous nature as you discard crew upgrades for the sake of extra defence. A nice twist on the character taken into the game by WizKids. 

The more expensive Krim captain card (4) is more forgiving allowing you to add one more crew upgrade to your roster and allowing a re-roll of a defence die. Both these two offer defence options with Krim being my preference and providing a longer term strategy. Day Kannu however is better if you're prone to taking the offensive allowing you to choose the result on one of your attack dice but does mean you acquire an auxiliary power token for the honour. It's a toss up which one to use but that will depend on your leaning in the game. I would be more tempted to boost your defences since there are only three hull points and two shield points between you and oblivion.

Before you skip to the next ship though, it's definitely worth considering the additional features here. Often those smaller ships carry some abilities that larger ships only dream of - or may never need. With the Ratosha the emphasis on defence continues through the pack. Provisional Government stops you attacking an in-range ship and in turn stops them from attacking you. Potentially this could allow you to get very close to a desired target and unleash your full final attack before getting obliterated if there's anything getting in the way.

There is also the Bajoran Militia upgrade (and I thought I had a duplicate card at first) which boosts the total number of attack dice dependant on the number of these cards attached to the ship. Probably a good call to only have two at the most as you'll be wanting to use one of the other upgrades to give yourself a bit of flexibility.

More Than Meets the Eye allows you to scan even if you already have a scan token allocated to your ship thereby reducing the number of defence dice your opponent can roll by two instead of just one. This plays to your minimal offensive capabilities only having two attack dice to roll if you're going by the basics. If you're not then it's likely you've added Assault Vessel Upgrade to your scout ship which can be used as in a tech, crew or weapon slot. This will boost your stats allowing three attack dice for attack and raising the shield value to three at the cost of only four squadron points. Given the ship value it's easy to see that a lot of the included upgrades would be easy to slot in. Tragically though you'll only have a maximum of three crew upgrades to use on this vessel which might mean you deploy some of these over on an Interceptor.

Closing off the expansion is the mission piece based around The Siege from season two of Deep Space Nine. Set up as a standard two player game, it sees a minimal Federation force take on the advancing Bajorans leading to either the local militia taking control of the station or the Starfleet team capturing its opposition. Why the planet token is used as part of this I'm not certain - it may just be there as an obstacle to slow the Bajorans down but in principle this seems to be one of the easier missions for a non-Federation faction to win.

Second up there's one for the warrior in you with the Klingon Ning'Tao Bird of Prey. Firstly I can only layer praise on WizKidz for their incredible recreation of the B'rel class ship, easily trouncing the last version released as Chang's Bird-of-Prey. The colours are more vibrant, the detail much more clearly etched and just so you can tell them apart, this one has the wings dropped for attack.

As with the Ratosha she's another low value ship with moderate maneuverability but is a very "average" Klingon ship One thing that does distinguish her is the choice of five captains which come with her. Alongside Martok (who can also act as an admiral but is a lower rating than the version included with the Negh'Var), there's Worf, the usual generic Klingon should you need to save a few points and two versions of Kor. 

I don't recall another Attack Wing ship offering up this many captains nor two versions of the same character and they are significantly different given their age gap and experience. Younger Kor from The Original Series' Errand of Mercy has the higher score and allows you to re-roll attack dice determined by the amount of non-disabled crew upgrades you have however the Deep Space Nine veteran includes one of the most bizarre moves ever - a card which forces opponents to attack the specific ship he is commanding. Great to help the remainder of your fleet regroup or escape I would think but don't count on the Ning'Tao surviving. 

As with the cards we noted on the Ratosha, the game's creators have cleverly worked little character traits into the way their ability plays. Sticking with the Klingon way, Martok offers better attack at the expense of defence. I'd personally use either Kor here instead of Martok who has a more effective card with the Negh'Var. Worf acts to give a nice balance to your options with the Ning'Tao, allowing additional defence dice but meaning your ship gains a weighty auxiliary power token.

Having five options for captain with this set means there's only one crew upgrade included here and that's Darok, another veteran who allows you one chance to use a free option before he's discarded. Me thinks that you might not be using a lot of the cards from this set on a regular basis given the less than stellar line-up however the features do make it quirky and could well offer a real thorn in the side of anyone trying to take on your Klingon masses.

Photon Torpedoes comes "as standard" it seems and then there are the pack-specific elements. In this instance Inverse Gravition Burst is a pretty great addition. While it is single use it does offer the chance for you to regroup by hitting every ship within the 1-3 targetting range. Another upgrade in keeping with the Kor theme of the expansion is Long Live the Empire!. The feeling you get from this set is that using any of the cards is tantamount to gaming suicide (as I said, keeps with the Kor theme) since you can add up to three attack dice to your attack but automatically you take hull or shield damage for each additional dice you used.  The final upgrade option is Strafing Attack which allows you to attack two in-range vessels regardless of whether they are within your firing arc. 

If you like your episodic missions then this one places you into something of a Kobayashi Maru moment with the ship taking on a more powerful Dominion force. In the space of four phases you'll need to stay alive or destroy the opposition which isn't so difficult since you don't have to worry about auxiliary power tokens and get an additional two defence dice. I won;t get chance to properly work this one through as I've yet to obtain any Dominion ships. If you have played it out, let me know how it went!

The Ning'Tao is not an obviously powerful ship from her stats nor does she have the quick boost option that comes with the Ratosha but the single use upgrades that you do have to use here or with another Klingon ship do offer late chances to change the tide of the game. I'd be more tempted to place them all into one basket and use the Bird-of-Prey as it seems she was intended - to draw fire and make a mess which the remainder of your fleet can clean up if it gets destroyed. On a final note, interesting that they choose the Ning'Tao ahead of Kruge's ship from The Search for Spock....

The big draw from Wave 15 though has to be the USS Prometheus. Model collectors can stand down as it's not the best replica with a rather blocky paint job that's in the same league as the Enterprise-E but I can say that the nacelles are all in parallel alignment. Good work on the mould but a "better try next time" on the finishing.

However as I'm fond of repeating here, it's not about the model it's about the cards and my lord is this a cracking addition. Offering maneuverability equal to the Intrepid Class as well as a number of tactical upgrades and superior stats, it all comes at a cost with the Prometheus draining a hefty 30 squadron points before you even consider beefing her up. That maneuverability does have its advantages since the ship's extra action allows a bit more evasion or repositioning but only if you've used a 1 or 2 in the activation phase of the game.

Coming back to reality a little there are three captain options with USS Prometheus which line up with Message in a Bottle from Voyager's fourth season. First there's Judson Scott's Romulan hijacker, Rekar who adds an extra attack dice to a secondary weapon (which you then have to give up). I'd suspect he's going to end up in your Romulan fleet rather than sticking with the Prometheus unless you're free-playing the game and ignoring factions.

Your second command option is The Doctor. Costing one squadron point he offers the chance to increase your captain skill from two up to ten but it is a gamble which will leave you with an auxiliary power token either way. I suppose this does reflect his lack of command experience/knowledge so if you do pick The Doctor (and I wouldn't for any ship) then your future is in your hands. However he is better than the standard non-action bearing Captain Keogh who fleshes out the set. Why they've included the Odyssey comander I'm not sure.

Your crew options in this expansion are limited to Romulan Hijackers which means you'll not lose out by attaching Romulan upgrades to a non-Romulan ship. Brilliant! So you can technically end up with the Prometheus or any Federation ship (for example) crewed by the secretive race. It also gives the benefit that if you're not near a friendly ship you can disable this upgrade and add an extra attack dice. 

Unsurprisingly the EMH Mark II appears as either a crew or tech upgrade. As with The Doctor he's not an amazing addition but that keeps with the inexperienced feel of those two medical crew-members. His target lock feature does disable an opponent's crew upgrades though so it's not that poor. 

While the crew upgrades are so-so, you're more likely to be adding the Prometheus to your fleet thanks to its tech and weapon options.  There is of course the usual photon torpedo card but with the experimental twist that using it with this ship adds a further dice to the attack.  Ok so now to the big stuff. 

Regenerative Shielding allows shield repairs and can be reused while Tactical Prototype lets players perform an additional evade, scan or battle stations move which emphasises the ship's better movement options over most of its peers and competition. 

Ablative Hull Armour is one of the nifty quirks of the pack and costs a not insignificant 7 squadron points. Hang fire though because it's advantages are more than clear with that high price. Applicable only to the Prometheus Class, it allows an additional three hits to your ship and converts all critical damage to normal damage. Surely this is a stunner of an option which will increase your lifespan in the combat zone and would be ideal to couple with some snazzy maneuvering. 

Finally though there is the Big One. Multi-Vector Assault Mode not only gets its own rule card but also its own token it's simply that awesome. Fairly obviously this is only available for the Prometheus Class. While the model won't spontaneously split into three sections it does give you a 360 degree firing arc with eight attack dice at the cost of disabling the card and a target lock. Better still - it's reusable and will surely cause havoc with your opposition.

When it is activated the ship does have limited movement and also reduces your defence by a dice but as with cloaking, you can keep it active for as long as required and won't be taken off at the end phase unless you decide to do so.

There's also a fantastic mission to take her out on which initially places the experimental ship in the hands of the Romulans before having the Prometheus reclaimed by The Doctor. The idea is to defeat your opponent and of course there will be a benefit to whichever side has control of the Prometheus.

By far the Prometheus is the most impressive and fearsome ship of the trio released this month and will definitely be part of my Federation fleet going forward including some of the great features it's brought to the game. Multi-Vector Assault Mode is potentially one of the strongest add-ons available to Federation players (aside from Voyager's Transphasic Torpedoes). The chance to rebuild your shields too is an enticing addition especially when coupled with the high maneuver score of 6 which will get you out of a sticky situation very, very quickly. It's a decent trio if truth be told with some nifty little features also present on both the Ning-Tao and the Ratosha. Certainly Klingon fans will be happy with the arrival of Kor (twice!) and perhaps some more Klingon-esque moves. My dad will be happy to slide it alongside his existing fleet and attempt to give me a further kicking - but then he's not seen the Prometheus so I doubt he'll stand much of a chance against the might of Multi-Vector Assault Mode

Where the Bajoran ship is aiming I'm not sure since we only have two vessels available for this faction in the marketplace right now. The Bajoran Solar Sailor is due but as a trio it's not looking like a serious force to be reckoned with. I can only suggest that the Bajorans might be amalgamated into the Independent faction to offer some chance of a win.

A great range of ships for June with three more great options due next month with USS Dauntless (first ship where you don't have to start with a captain!), USS Pasteur and the Ferengi Marauder. Good news too that we have info on every wave up to January now.  

Managed to get hold of a Wave 15 ship? How are you using them and what tips do you have?


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Friday, 26 June 2015

Eating My Words: Caretaker

For years I regarded it as the lesser Star Trek, the series too far, the show that really disappointed and a point in my full run-through that I wasn't sure I was going to enjoy.

Star Trek: Voyager is, as you might have noticed, 20 years old and recently I finally finished Deep Space Nine (massively let down with that last episode this time round) which meant lining up Caretaker

For us in the UK, today has even more significance. It's 20 years exactly since we hurried down the high street to Woolworths and purchased the pilot of the third spin-off, cracked open the plastic case and digested all the wonderful tech info and teasers contained on the sleeve. It was a wonderous experience and these were the days when the box was more than just a transportation item - it was a way into the franchise before you even stuck the tape into the player - and hoped it didn't get chewed on first viewing.

I still recall that first watching; being amazed at the Doctor, loving the hand-over at Deep Space Nine and finding it such a different take to the previous two incarnations. We were back on a starship, somewhere new; the unknown with possibilities galore.

I haven't seen Caretaker since the early 2000's - most likely around the time I watched Endgame and even then it would have been on that very same VHS; Volume 1.1 from CIC Video. 

I flashback to 1994 and remember the rumours, the cast suggestions, the arrival and speedy departure of Genevieve Bujold as Nicole Janeway which only mounted more expectation and hype onto this new child of the franchise. When it did arrive on UK shores some seven months later in July of 1995 to say excitement and anticipation were at fever pitch was very far from the truth; we were way beyond that mark by about March.

Two decades on and Caretaker is, honestly, a great pilot episode. I've derided Voyager a lot in my time for Warp 10, cheese, Neelix, making the Borg all cuddly, having an infinite number of shuttles/torpedoes/crew (delete as applicable) but in Caretaker there is a gold (maybe latinum) mine worth of potential - and the show literally threw it away by the end of the first year and chose another path.

Caretaker is action and adventure to Emissary's more cerebral, philosophical and typically Roddenberry approach to Star Trek. It opened an arc, set the pieces in place and laid out a gameboard that could be developed over subsequent seasons. It would be in one place (which was also true of The Next Generation to some degree) but with Voyager they were alone, lost and would be constantly on the move. Change would be the most constant element and that was one of its unique selling points.

However that's not what appealed to me at the start. I was sold on the conflict, the inter-crew relationships, the difficulty of two crews that disliked each other having to work together for the sole goal of getting home - with the more than occasional detour to look at the anomaly of the week or for Janeway to waste some resources playing at Victorian nanny.

Deep Space Nine had two crews united for the good of Bajor and the Federation who wanted to work together because there was a bigger vision while on Voyager the crews were only looking to be comrades for a short time (maybe) with a sole purpose in mind. But, all the conflict was ditched as soon as the credits rolled on Parallax and Torres was made Chief Engineer. There were touches during the second season's Kazon arc that culminated in Basics and then Worst Case Scenario in year three would drop like a stone to remind us of what could have been - imagine if the season one cliffhanger had been the Maquis trying to take the ship rather than Tuvok playing teacher to some dropouts? Imagine a second year with the Maquis taking priority.

The show chose to play it safe and avoided playing to whatever made it different but Caretaker remains that snapshot of what could have been. The anger and mistrust that could have developed from the Chakotay/Tuvok relationship would have been great to see evolve as would the slow, difficult integration of the two crews. It's perhaps only in season two with that Kazon/Michael Jonas story that we see that thread gather any pace. When we do have stories about the Maquis crew though it makes their swift amalgamation into the crew even more obvious and makes the landmark decisions of the pilot episode seem a distant memory.

But let's focus on Caretaker some more before discussing the rest of the show as I will in my season reviews. Harry Kim has a huge role within the pilot, being captured by the title character and being the audience's eyes and ears within the Ocampan city. His role is pivotal alongside B'Elanna to give the viewpoints of both crews which is something that no other Star Trek series had previously attempted. The #eternalensign ends up spending the rest of the season scanning nebulas and it's only the late second and early third seasons where we see him begin to shine in episodes such as The Thaw, The Chute and getting to take command in Future's End.

While Harry might spend his entire trip home on the bottom rung of the ladder, it's amazing how much of the other characters' backgrounds is laid aside. Janeway's boyfriend is only mentioned fleetingly, Tuvok's age and experience are rarely impressed upon and Paris' rebellious nature gets parked for less a less than desirable womanising aspect of his personality notably until Thirty Days which is a fair way off at this point.

The Doctor at least was given the chance to develop as was the nature of his program within the story although in Caretaker he's not actually used that much. Mind, he is one of the best bits even if he has minimal screen-time. Then there's Neelix and Kes. who certainly polarised fans nearly to Wesley/Keiko levels and while only one of them made it to the seven year distant finishing line, some would argue it was the wrong one.

Caretaker has one element that is consistent with these latter pilots - a distinct, huge alien issue. For Picard's crew it was Q, for Sisko it was the wormhole aliens/the Prophets and pushes the crew to the limit from day one. Having the female version mentioned gave us something to look forward to and a lot of fans including myself may well have believed that her appearance - or at least her final appearance - would close off the show. In reality it provided a simple get-out clause if the concept of a lost starship didn't work and from the fact they sunk Cold Fire into season two and never mentioned Suspiria again you kind of tend to believe it had worked or at the least garnered enough support not to require a quick trip back to the Alpha Quadrant. The Caretaker is unusually not the threat here, desiring to find a solution to his Ocampan issue while holding off the hippie Kazon.

Encounter at Farpoint embraced its predecessor's episodic formula and drove that forward across its seven years, not setting too much up or expecting too much up from its cast. Yes, the first year is barrel-scrapingly bad on occasion but there were signs of gradual improvement once we skip over Code of Honor and get to know the developing characters. Deep Space Nine set a couple of bits in place - the wormhole, the Cardassians, but its fixed point in the Alpha Quadrant meant that these points could never be evaded, they had to be addressed and managed over seven seasons. Voyager could on the other hand escape plot points, move from one arc to another over the course of its trip and explore those differing opinions by placing the crew(s) into a variety of situations where one side might not always be right.

On that front it failed, perhaps in that there was too much front-loaded into the pilot that could not be effectively carried into subsequent single-length episode stories. Considering how the nine characters in this, the largest ensemble in Star Trek were managed, its not a surprise that balls were dropped and might explain why so few of the cast were given any considerable amount of time as the show evolved.

For me, Caretaker represents a dream, a possibility and a vision of Star Trek that may have truly offered that diversity and conflict that we couldn't get from the tight-knit crew of Picard's Enterprise while also giving us the week on week changes that Deep Space Nine's set location could not. However, this all said there would be some truly excellent stories, appearances and ultimately I believe that Voyager is the greatest Star Trek series for concepts - Timeless, Living Witness, Blink of an Eye...the list could easily go on as it tried to push the envelope knowing that each week it could dare to do something different.

Perhaps that gaggle of characters weren't too bad after all and their idiosyncracies really made the adventures into adventures, perhaps this was the ultimate Star Trek action show that occasionally just used a little too much technobabble to dodge a sticky ending. It perhaps was never meant to be a people show, rather about the phaser fights and the big set pieces with those bits of character detail purely there to make these people a bit deeper than action heroes. I now look forward to my own journey through the show and while it isn't Emissary, Caretaker is still a damn good place to meet these guys for the first time.