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Review: Star Trek: ConQuest Online
(IDG) -- It all started back in 1993 with Magic: The Gathering, the world's first CCG (Collectible Card Game). Since then the CCG scene has grown at a phenomenal rate and has seen several iterations of the original Magic format. Perhaps the latest twist on the CCG has been the arrival of Internet-only versions like Sanctum, Chron X, and now Star Trek: ConQuest Online.
Developed by Genetic Anomalies (the makers of Chron X), ConQuest orbits around collectible "pieces" (the game doesn't refer to them as "cards") that you buy, sell, and trade exclusively on Activision's servers. Set in the era of The Next Generation, Conquest is a fast, furious -- and like most CCGs, highly addictive -- game of galactic chess between two Qs: you and your opponent.
It works like this: You download the ConQuest demo (or buy it retail), fool around with the basic starter sets you're given, and then pay $10 to become a registered player. This $10 gets you seven free booster packs and allows you to trade, play, and be ranked online. Non-registered demo users cannot trade at all. If you need more pieces you can buy booster packs online, or you can buy the actual starter sets--a must if you desire each unique "Q" piece associated with the 5 different starter sets: Romulan, Federation, Klingon, Borg, and Mixed.
Gameplay comes in two very different formats: Basic and Advanced. The Basic game may be a simplified version of the Advanced game, but certain random elements found only in the Advanced version make sure that the two formats require entirely different strategies in order to win. In fact, there are players online who refuse to play one format or the other, and fortunately STCO provides dynamic statistics for both Basic and Advanced play. Both formats are also faithfully represented in official tournaments.
The Basic game consists of three phases -- Deploy, Attack, and Move -- and is more strategic, relying less on chance. The Advanced game adds two phases: Event and Action. The Event phase, in which you and your opponent bid over who gets each event, adds a layer of chaos that can possibly ruin all your well-planned strategies if you're not prepared. The Action phase allows certain ships, items, and crewmembers to perform useful actions such as ship repairs, cloaking, and employing tractor beams.
A lot of players online prefer these added uncertainties, but some think they sacrifice raw strategy and thus only play Basic. Either way, ConQuest is rich with strategy and replayability. The only gameplay flaw would be the fact that early dominance often leads to an imbalanced "turn 9" lock where it becomes rapidly impossible to lose with the current set of game pieces in circulation. This will most likely be addressed as Genetic Anomalies releases new game pieces into the mix.
Graphics are a treat for all Trekkies. The Romulan ships look sexy, the Klingon women look twice as sexy, and each and every one of the Borg crewmembers will strike fear into the hearts of your enemies. For a strategic game, the graphics couldn't be any better. Well, that is, except for the fact that you're trapped in 800x600 mode with no option to adjust your resolution. What the hell were they thinking?
Sound quality isn't up to the standards of other Star Trek games and it often sounds like a bad dubbing job as one of your characters barks out meaningless drivel when you give an order. Very little effort was spent on the music and even the famous sounds of Trek combat were anti-climatic. Then again you're probably not playing ConQuest for its sound.
Overall, ConQuest Online is a satisfying online CCG that is likely to improve over time as future expansion packs introduce awesome new pieces. Sure, there are some imbalances, but after reevaluating your previous strategies you'll soon learn how to thrive. Any way you look at it, STCO is a must-have for Trekkies everywhere.
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