Sunday, 19 December 2021

The Official Starships Collection: USS Enterprise NCC-1701-D XL

The XL that started them all, the Enterprise-D provided a template for the series and actually demonstrated what worked and what needed work.

This version it should be noted is delivered in the new magnetic clasp presentation box rather than the blue thin card version. Looks like this is one of several "upgrades" which are also costing a further £10 on top of the original price.

The criticisms that were laid at this XL's door were that, for all intents and purposes, it was just a copy and pate job up to a larger scale. Problem is, in most respects that's absolutely correct. One common theme on the XLs though is to change the base colour of the ship and here we have exactly that. The Issue One version carried a dour grey/beige finish with Eaglemoss upgrading the XL to the duck egg scheme as it should be. The aztec pattern is identical to it smaller predecessor and the slightly out of alignment registry is of a better quality but that's where it starts to fall apart a bit.

Neither the windows nor the lifeboat hatches line up with the raised and recessed sections of the ship with these being most blatant when you flip her over and take a look on the underside of the saucer. The square impressions are miles off...miles. Everywhere you look from bow to stern, the black and white lines just don't match to where they should be. Nor are the windows around the very edge of the primary hull marked in at all. At this stage of the series and with a couple of D versions under their hat, this should never have been an issue at this stage... but it still is.

Also the paintwork on the saucer's wraparound phaser bank is dreadful with a horrid feathered edge right the way round which should have been nailed off by now.

What has been added are the two transporter emitters either side of the bridge/shuttlebay central module so there has been some note of errors however just a few centimetres later we have the two "neck" shuttlebays unlabelled and also bay two is the wrong size and just a mirror of bay three. The windows again are a total mess even overlapping. At least the aztecing is on point huh...?

The warp engines bear the expected translucent bussard collectors and warp grilles. These are much less plasticky with running lights marked in and those red striped Starfleet pennants finishing the job.

On the first issue edition the Enterprise-D suffered from scale when it came to the main deflector. The orange and blue elements really mixed together with the XL allowing them both a bit more room and therefore the chance to see the dish detail as well as the surrounding shroud ridges. It's a lot clearer here and one of the things that does succeed when it comes to the sizing up of the Galaxy Class vessel.

Even on the underside, while the decals are spot on and much better than before, the placement of anything that resembles a window is atrocious and utterly ruins this model. Eaglemoss need to take another look at this one and get their printer in alignment. I mean the phaser banks are well integrated onto the model, the physical build is good and structurally sound. Even the weight reassures you that this isn't a cheap reproduction but the windows are such a downer and my apologies for repeating it a few times in here.

Into the magazine with the Enterprise-D and we have some more quite repetitive material around the origins of The Next Generation and casting of the main crew. It's decent reference work but the trouble once more is that these kind of articles are over repeated and have been since 1987.  Good content here but nothing spectacularly revelatory for experienced fans.

This is a great ship, period. The problem with its arrival in this line is that the bigger errors of the collection have not been addressed, leaving this one missing the mark and its potential straight away. This could have done the XLs a lot of damage and still needs working. 

Check out all our Starships posts HERE

You can find out more on the Star Trek: The Official Starships Collection by visiting the Hero Collector website HERE

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Sunday, 12 December 2021

The Official Starships Collection: USS Equinox NCC-72381 XL Edition

First released back in early 2014, the USS Equinox has now made it into a larger scale in the Official Starships Collection.

As with several of its XL predecessors, the Equinox benefits massively from the scale upgrade and that wonderful benefit of eight years model-selling hindsight. 

First up, the hull base colour is completely different and far lighter giving you the immediate notice that this has seen some MAJOR reworking in the last eight years. The lighter shade allows much more of the natural panel work detail to stand out as well as the darker grey printed panel etching to contrast the base coat. In a bit of a twist though, the panels here are not as glaring at their edges as they were and blend more into the model than being overly distinct.

Even down to the pointed primary hull front there are improvements with a more crisp finish to the decals and a brighter blue surrounding the secondary deflector. The open sensor work benefits from the upscale with more of the components "lit" and visible rather than being superficial pieces and over painted.

Window alignment is nigh on perfect thanks to the larger openings on the hull although the partition lines on the square groups of four on either side of the saucer are flat painted out blue. This should be a minor issue to resolve with a dab of grey paint. 

I've been made aware that the font for the ship registry is still incorrect and does seem to be squashed into a small space with only just bearable definition between the black and red. Add in that Eaglemoss have numbered each individual escape pod hatch and the model keeps on giving. On the smaller edition these were, shockingly, GREY!

The sunken bridge also carries a better colour range with the roof panel nicely split and the semi-circular defence grid again precisely split out. Reflect back on the original and there was no colouring on that bridge dome, the registry was simply thin black lettering and the windows were mainly blanked out. Yes, there's that much difference and we're only halfway along.

Moving down the spine, the upgraded details are fantastic with many of the features highlighted through black edging decals. Again, reflect back on the smaller original and there's a dark grey stripe along the spine and none of that finer detail. IN fact there's zero black edging on the collection issue 15 ship.

The impulse engine and the vertical section just behind it are now coloured although the former could have done with being in a different colour. However, this is still a massive improvement. Checking the joint lines by the engines it's clear that some construction has been scaled up but the engine build this time is a light year better.

Instead of the horrible joint lines across the top, the nacelles are joined along the horizontal centre line avoiding trashing the registry and pennant as they were on the original. It has retained the painted on bussard collectors with the wrap grilles in translucent blue. But what's a step up here is the patterning on the engines which was absent previously. There's an added depth to the Equinox XL which trumps both the original and, personal opinion, the "upgraded" USS Rhode Island completely. 

As with the top, the ventral side of the Equinox adds more black edge detail including the landing leg doors and better colour for the docked Waverider. Eaglemoss have changed out to a stronger, more electric blue for the backing of the main deflector. The size of the name and registry has also been corrected so the numbers are now smaller (and correct) versus the equally sized fonts from issue 15.

The selective panelling across that version is most evident when you're looking at the underside while the XL has full and corrected gridding as well as better positioned decals (check the alignment around the warp core ejection hatch). It's better in every single way (maybe with the exception of that main registry font) and a fantastic XL version. Changing up the colours has made a heck of a difference and brought out a lot of elements previously hidden or painted up in the limited selection that was used back in the day. Truthfully it just feels better, more solid and with a few minor adjustments to the build, has resulted in a more accurate depiction of the onscreen Nova Class from Voyager. Small is absolutely best whe it comes to the XLs as we've seen with the Runabout, Defiant and the Delta Flyer so you'll know how excited I am for the USS Pegasus which will be up on here shorty.

The enclosed magazine covers the basics of the Voyager two parter and the background of the ship before plunging into a fairly in depth view on the use of the Defiant pathfinder to become the Equinox. Interviews with John Savage (Ransom) and Titus Welliver (Burke) fill out the edition, making this a very Equinox centric volume as it rightly should be.

A great all round package that adds detail tp the background of the ship on screen and off. I would say purchase of this XL is a no-brainer if you love the ship. It's a massive step up from the standard collection (may have mentioned this a couple of times) with two tons of updated detail and structural strength. Good to see changes made with the model to only take things forward. Magnificent work with only a couple of minor quibbles.

Check out all our Starships posts HERE

You can find out more on the Star Trek: The Official Starships Collection by visiting the Hero Collector website HERE

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Tuesday, 7 December 2021

Where's the Episode Reviews At?

For those of you who are regular followers/trolls/etc of this blog, you'll be familiar with my weekly episode updates.

But I've come to the realisation that everyone and anyone is doing them and, in all honesty, they're not the most widely read of posts. Even I've noted that I've reduced their length into more bitesize territory of late. With both Discovery and Prodigy now running at the same time it just isn't feasibly possible to write reviews and also do other discussions, opinions and those lovely item reviews plus a full time job.

So I'll be more or less covering a series of episodes and events within a piece on a more regular occasion and get away from being a) a pure episode review site and b) a pure ship review site that I fear I may have started to go down.

Let's move straight on though to a couple of things. One is of course the wonderful news that outside of the US and Canada, Discovery season four will be available on Pluto TV FOR FREE during what Paramount is describing as a "transitional period". Episodes one and two; Kobayashi Maru and Anomaly dropped last week if you happened to be off world at the time. Plus, yes, I was totally wrong that fan power would make a difference. It actually jolly well did.

It's going to be another slow burn (yes, intended pun) of a season. Burnham hasn't convinced everyone that she's amazing and the Federation president Laira Rillak even bypasses her for command of the Voyager-J. Burnham certainly has her issues in wanting to save everyone and saving no-one. For once we have a captain who isn't perfect and doesn't make the best decisions. I believe it's called "On the job learning".

But as we would suspect from an arc-based series, it's not all great news because the Discovery is called out to deal with a research station that is being affected by a gravitational wave. 

As an opening to a fourth season I was expecting something with a bit more weight to it and Kobayashi Maru didn't totally live up to its namesake. The Big Problem of the season is another huge threat to the galaxy that might be something we've seen before or it might not be. First thoughts were that it could be V'Ger and I swore I heard a few bars of it's ominous theme but it's got to be something else entirely.

Adira is still a great addition to the ship and has slipped into the "inexperienced" role which Tilly filled for seasons one and two with her storyline and the ever nearing rebirth of Gray providing one of the seasons standout narratives already. There's even a hat tip to the procedure's previous success with some Starfleet admiral named Picard.

David Ajala though is leaving me slightly cold. His relationship with Michael feels disjointed while it should be more endearing yet the time he spends working with Stamets to gather data on the anomaly turns out to be a great piece of writing.

Discovery has to be the most inconsistent of all Trek series. Whether that's down to the overriding arc structure or the very generic background bridge crew, it never seems to live up to its potential. There are a few too many sideways glances, odd humour moments (Tilly's funny voice one with Saru in Anomaly for instance) which feel jarring and totally out of place in this format and also at this far flung point in the future.

Episode three did ramp it up a bit into more action territory with the return of Burnham's mother, no tears from the captain and a rogue Quwat Milat nun. Of the three so far it's a step forward but once again the Gray/Adira story was far more interesting and even managed to reference a certain Starfleet admiral being reborn in the same synthetic manner.

Choose to Live got it right for once. The character moments weren't forced, Tilly's motivations seemed clearer with her wanting a challenge. Even Book and Stamets' partnership is developed and we seem to have a more defined heading for the season. Yes, the gravitational anomaly was still in the background but this time the main plot line came off a lot stronger. 

A society in stasis is nothing new (Dragon's Teeth) yet this was much more in line with Star Trek's basis of helping a people and not misunderstanding them. J'Vini's cause is true to her beliefs and although it's completed with the death of a Starfleet officer from the USS Credence, it remains close to the Needs of the Many. Wonder where we've heard that before?

But Discovery still misses a beat. In Choose to Live it's come very close to the origins and core nature of original Trek but there's a lacking of depth overall. The arc nature ay well be making it feel exhaustive but once more we are on a path towards a penultimate episode reveal which will, undoubtedly, reveal Burnham to be the saviour of the galaxy even if the Federation President doesn't rate her.

Then there's Prodigy. A series that has really taken me by surprise and is currently on a mid-mid-season break after five episodes. My word how this has come out of nowhere. I'm still not super thrilled with the animation but at present it's the best Trek out there. Exploration, new frontiers, a ship that actually looks stunning and a not over-complex arc that allows the show to breathe and dive into its characters. The Murder Planet does something similar to The Naked Time/Now in that it cuts into the core of these five aliens and gives us a hook into each of them.

Bet you can name all five already. Designed for the younger generation, it has a lot of merits from the Michael Giachinno title score through to the lickable planet vistas and all points in between. The reveal of the protowarp drive leaves a dramatic and jaw-dropping cliffhanger and I cannot wait to see where the show heads now.

I;m aware I've skimmed that in two paragraphs. Let me expand. This show actually has an ensemble that works. All of them have distinct personalities and, you might surmise, different agendas. Everything is new to all of them with the fulcrum of Holo-Janeway as their balancing point. I really think this series is working at a great pace and right out of the dockyard.

More thoughts on the way... but how are the two shows comparing for you?

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Thursday, 25 November 2021

STO Issues 17 & 18: USS Edison and Tholian Recluse

The Discovery era Hoover Class gets a shiny update in STO with the USS Edison.

One of the ships featured in the Battle at the Binary Stars, the class was hidden from view with many others when the repair base was lost in a dangerous region of space only to be relocated once the radiation had died down in the 25th Century.

Tech'ed up to the levels of "modern" Starfleet in STO, the reimagined USS Edison model is a stunningly compact vessel packed out with a load of crisp details for fans of the franchise to pour over.

Continuing the theme of Starfleet ships, HeroCollector have base-coated the Edison with that pixelated white then layered her up with a series of greys through to black which accentuate the stepped hull levels and panels. There is a whole range of colours going off across the hull here and the windows are added as a decal rather than being painted in or recessed and marked up. As always, this coy move makes a huge difference since the decals for the lifeboat hatches and the "brackets" for the phaser strip ends don't line up quite correctly. Nor do the black marks for the RCS thrusters which means that, tragically a lot of this ship seems to have decal shifted about 3mm to the left.

Yet all of the painted sections are spot on. The domes for the warp field coil and the bridge are aligned, for the most part so are the darker hull patches but what is frikkin' terrible is the ship registry.

Slapped on the front of the hull, the NCC-95160 is almost unreadable due to the clash of colours - only legible if you flip the Edison over and read it from the underside. Carrying on the inspection, the pennant stripes across the forward hull and also at the sides seem perfectly in alignment with the curve of the hull right to the tapered rear end.

While the engines don't contain translucent bussard collectors, they do have blue warp field grilles set into the plastic and again carry that pixelated paint job and dark grey feature panels. The painting here is much better and the decals are far straighter than elsewhere on the Edison

But turning her over reveals a ton more. The ship might be one of the slimmest designs to have made its way into the game and onscreen in Discovery, but those wonderful people have maxed out on the visual upgrades when it comes to the underside. For one you can get a much better look at the engines and a second set of translucent warp grilles and even more of that rather excellent dark panel finish. 

Bizarrely the decals on the bottom around the phaser strip ends and the thin red stripes on the pylon edges are all straight as a dye and perfectly in place. The colouring for both the bussard collectors on the underside plus the central sensor dome are also great and you have to kick yourself a little bit to realise that this is just the ventral section. How the finish on two sides of the same thing can be this different eludes me but I do love the work that's gone into the build underneath.

Even at the front we have those legible registry details and there's a much more finished and uniform feel about the whole setup here. 

The magazine for issue 17 offers up a good level of depth to the in-game starship class and not just in reference to the Yard 39 spin that came off the back of Discovery airing. aligned with that is an article detailing the upgrades to that original 22nd Century design as well as images showing the changes made. Interestingly and actually in line with my own thoughts, the secondary/Engineering hull was the main piece that attracted the most design work. Flick back to the ship and review here and it's clear that the effort was a success.

Finally the STO Lore section expands on the Allied Cooperative Starship Development Board which saw the combined efforts of the Federation, Klingons, Romulans and Jem'Hadar to take the next steps in their navies. Resulting in some instantly recognisable designs (such as the Enterprise-C concept, Narendra Class), the ACSDB article covers how the big powers in the quadrant came together and the progress they are making to utilise the technology of each.

Issue 18 takes us into Tholian realms with their Recluse battlecruiser. Something completely different here that evokes the angular design of the classic from TOS as well as the tweaks from Enterprise and the remastered original episode. 

The Recluse is a Tholian webspinner on drugs. Pumped up and taken to another level, this makes for a terrifying adversary. Arched forward with a triple-pronged formation, the ship oozes aggression and is one of the most impressive craft to be included in this limited run.

The build work on the Recluse is amazing. The central section is held in place with struts running from the three outer forks and seem to gel back into that larger piece of the ship. The struts themselves have small window detailing and markings which was unexpected. The black blends smoothly into the rest of the hull, adding a valleyed effect to the surface and breaking up the grey overcoat. There's a lot of surface changes on the Recluse and it genuinely looks and feels unique amongst the 20 issues. 

Even the recessed sections carry minor detailing and brings a sense of life to the craft. What I also really like on this one is the "scarred" effect on the grey panels. It adds more depth to the model and makes it seem used and somehow imperfect. The fact that these lines do seem fairly random assists in taking the expected uniformity away and creates a much more realistic effect.

Check out that there are some further lighter sections on the ship and how nicely the engines to the rear are painted up. With all the differences in hull levels I was thinking there would be a ton of paint errors on this one but it's quite the opposite with one of HeroCollector's most impeccable finishes for several years. This does look the part, right down to the lighter blue weapon emitters at the tips of the arms. 

Acting as a carrier for the smaller Widow Class fighters, the Recluse magazine covers a bit on the Tholian Assembly as well as how the large vessel lines up with the web-spinning vessels of the fleet in quite substantial detail. This is excellent, expanded background on what are a scarcely explored race within Star Trek. That's one major plus point with Online in that it has worked to tell much more about some of those lesser known aliens.

This issue is a cracking read because the section covering the designing of the Recluse also includes the work done to update the Tholians themselves as an Online adversary. It explains how the levels of the Assembly were devised and ultimately how the ships and Tholians themselves aligned. As you would hope, issue 17 rounds out with a more in depth look at the Tholians themselves with more CG images and concept work to flesh out their story from their rare episodic appearances.

These are two great issues of the Online Collection with the Recluse being a particular highlight. The rendering, recreation and detail on it is beautiful and in keeping with the "reclusive" race. The Edision is only let down with those decal issues but remains a strong redesign and model maybe only because the secondary hull is such an impressive section. No big complaints with these two and certainly worth adding to your ship set up any day of the week.

Check out all our Online Starships posts HERE

You can find out more on the Star Trek Online Official Starships Collection by visiting the Hero Collector website HERE

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Wednesday, 24 November 2021

USS Defiant NX-74205 XL

The tough little ship is a little bigger with this edition of the XL series from HeroCollector.

Don't let the image on the box fool you either because the enclosed starship is a lot better than it suggests.

The first and most prominent upgrade to the Defiant aside from the size, is the colour. Both the grey base coat and the blue highlights of the original issue eight edition have been toned down and suit the ship a lot better.

The pale blue is much more suitable while the model also benefits from much thinner panel lines which, in retrospect, do overpower the finish of the smaller original. Edging detail such as around the torpedo emplacements are cleaner too and as you look further along the ship it's even more evident in the exposed electronics just behind the nose piece and then into the grille work behind the bridge module.

Defiant is also extremely heavy to the back end indicating that this has been purposely weighted for display and avoiding her being front heavy since it's a rear grip stand. Let's get my one issue out of the way first though; that warhead/nose section is still flimsy to a degree with only a small connection to the main hull holding it in place. It's better than before (because it's bigger) but I wouldn't want to catch it on anything. Easily the weakest part of the model.

Decalling, as with the Runabout, is also more precise with the thin Starfleet red stripes much more suited to the larger scale but aside from those points there is also a marked step up in the quality of the product. The edges are a lot smoother here if you compare the curve forward of the bridge. Some of the recessed circles (nose especially) are not a large and the colours actually line up to the panels.

The warp engines contain those lovely translucent elements to the front in red and then to the rear in blue. Note too here that one of those rear piece is sunk back from the hull plus they are separated by a separate plastic trim that runs vertically. On the regular issue that was just part of the insert painted up grey. 

On the underside it's a similar story of more subtle paintwork combined with that higher definition. Portholes are painted in along the sunken edge near the nacelles, the grille lines are easier to see under a better paint job and there's even some updated painting. The centre of the shuttle hatch is no longer blue and just behind that centre circle there are two smaller circles now in light blue rather than black.

Out on the engines, the red striping is cleaner again but there's added yellow panel detail to the front as well as a black stripe that was totally missing on the first version. Another addition is the underside phaser cannons sitting on the front edge of the warp engines and again totally absent on the smaller one.

Most impressive for myself though has to be the additional red chevron decal under the nose and the correct painting of the "handlebar" feature under the warhead. It's now grey rather than that odd choice of blue. The forward deflector too is spruced up utilising another translucent (but not coloured) piece as an insert. The edge grey on this is very precise and lightyears ahead of the first one. 

Probably the big win with the majority of the XLs comes down to the finish; the paint and decals are in the places they should be. On the smaller issues they were a little to the left for example but here there's no slip. Even the red/green port/starboard lights are in place and the more you look, the more you can see the differences and the reasons that this is a great addition to a starship collection.

In the magazine though it's a sense if deja vu to any long term fans with three sections tackling the Making, Casting and Filming of DS9. The focus, strangely, is much more in Emissary and season one than anything to do with the Defiant but then what is there left to cover? Not a bad read per se, just overfamiliar content for anyone dedicated enough to be buying the XLs. Also, biggest magazine gripe - keep it in some way relevant to the item.

It is a massive improvement in every single sense of the word and this is a ship that will easily be swapped in to take the place of its smaller predecessor. It highlights a lot of the errors, a lot of the "had to do" work that fitted for the 180 issue series but the choice to go bigger was justified. 

As I'm going through the XLs under review it's clearer and clearer that they are another level of product. In some cases the price may be too steep but they give a true appreciation of the ships and present them much more suitably.

USS Defiant maxes out on cool both in DS9 and here in supersized model form. Top flight from HeroCollector and one for permanent display without question.

Were you as enamoured with the Defiant? Let me know below!

Check out all our Starships posts HERE

You can find out more on the Star Trek: The Official Starships Collection by visiting the Hero Collector website HERE

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Tuesday, 23 November 2021

25 Years: First Contact Retrospective

After two and a half decades, First Contact still stands as The Next Generation's finest cinematic voyage.

A combination of time travel and the Borg, the eighth Star Trek movie combined two of the franchise's most successful elements into a movie of truly galactic proportions.

1996 was an interesting year for Star Trek; it was the 30th anniversary of the show and First Contact quite literally went back to the beginning, the pivotal moment in time where everything changed and looked at the very origins of the Alpha Quadrant. Voyager had produced Flashback and returned viewers to The Undiscovered Country while DS9 had perhaps more effectively commemorated its heritage with the mix of new and old in the sublime Trials and Tribble-ations

Star Trek was truly at the zenith of the Berman era with two popular shows in their third and fifth seasons and no apparent end in sight for Picard's crew on the big screen... but all that would change in seven years with the release of Nemesis in 2003.

However, at this point there were some changes taking place in the franchise thanks to the arrival of this eighth movie. While it's brilliant to note that passage of time it's also worth pointing out that this would be the debut of the grey/black uniforms, James Cromwell's Zephram Cochrane, the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-E and a striking redesign for the cinema screen of the Borg.

While the Enterprise-E would only make two further appearances in Insurrection and Nemesis, the new uniforms would transition onto DS9 and more recently Lower Decks while the Borg look would be seen again in the Delta Quadrant. Cromwell's Cochrane would even turn up in the premiere episode of Enterprise in 2001 to pass the torch. 

But it can't just be these factors that endure First Contact 25 years later. It came off the back of the successful - if flawed - Generations with a more natural gestation period than its predecessor. While the handover movie to the TNG crew had been hurriedly produced after the seventh and final season of the TV series in 1994, First Contact  had a chance to develop at a more sedate pace. Written by Generations and TNG scribes Ronald D Moore and Brannon Braga, the Borg were the natural go-to for villainy and First Contact probably fleshes them out more than any other single instalment of the franchise.

We've talked before about the differences in the Borg from TNG to Voyager but here in First Contact we have them at perfection. Assimilation en-masse is introduced as is the silky Borg Queen and in two hours we have a better picture of the Borg hive structure and even their true malevolence. In The Best of Both Worlds and the other TNG episodes there was always a sense of a blank slate with the drones and even a mindlessness but in First Contact they look threatening, they look determined. Take the look of the drone who attacks and presumably assimilates Lt Hawk on the main deflector dish. The menace is present not just his facial expression but in his movements and ultimately the costume. These were Borg you felt were genuinely unstoppable from the second they appeared on screen.

But again, First Contact isn't just about the Borg because even though they are a formidable threat, there are still moments of appropriate humour in here; Data and Picard touching the Phoenix, Barclay stalking Cochrane or Troi getting drunk. But they don't overwhelm the picture and help to alleviate some of the burgeoning tension that builds through the story.

There's a lot of variety in here with Picard's story on the Enterprise as he makes his way back to the bridge with Lily Sloane, the preparations for the first warp flight and then Data's peril at the hands of the Collective. While Generations placed the fate of an unseen planet - Veridian III - in danger, the Federation itself and more specifically Earth are targeted. 

Yet while we celebrate the dawning of another milestone in Trek culture, for us in the UK it was actually December 13th which marks our true 25th anniversary of its premiere. That's 21 days after the US experienced it.

Twenty-one days ladies and gents. OK, that was nothing like the wait we had for TOS or TNG or even DS9 if you were reliant on terrestrial TV in the mid-90's - but there was still a wait of some degree. Over time it became less and less until in the case of the latest shows it's 24 hours dependent on the platform.

But remember back then? We just had to wait whether you wanted to or not. You could always fork out £11.99 for two episodes on VHS and even then they were at least six months behind. Yet here we are again but having to wait an untold amount of time to see the latest Discovery episodes. The more things change, the more they do indeed stay the same however, while we can grump over the delays (which back in t'day we just dealt with and waited or got someone to post a video from the US!) TNG remains only one of two Star Trek shows to have made the jump to the big screen.

While it is 25 years since Picard, Data and the Enterprise crew faced off against the Borg Queen for (what should have been) the only time, it is still a rather jaw-dropping 18 years since Nemesis. Eighteen years since a Trek series last crossed to the big screen directly (not a reboot!) and surely now the clock on that possibility is ticking down rather than adding up.

After the rushed production of Generations, First Contact showed what the cast of TNG were capable of both in front and behind the camera. It set a benchmark that neither of its successors were able to match and in many respects that no Star Trek movie has managed to achieve since. It is the crowning glory in that short-lived big screen stint for the Enterprise-E and a stepping stone and reference point for many, many more adventures across the galaxy.

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Monday, 22 November 2021

STO Issue 16: AFS Khitomer

With only a slender few issues left in its sadly limited run, the Online Collection is pulling in some excellent editions to round out 20 volumes.

Issue 16 (apologies but the Enterprise-F refit was out of stock so this will be updated with that shortly) is the AFC Khitomer. Aptly named after the location of the infamous peace conference, the first starship to be designed jointly by the Klingons and Federation is a fairly recent addition to the game.

A slender design, the Khitomer attempts to meld two design strands together and does manage to pull it off. The front is very Federation and the back is very distinctly Klingon. But we're here to check out the model rather than offer opinions on the in game creation, more how does HeroCollector handle it.

Honestly, it could do with being bigger and would look stunning as an XL - which they also need to do with the Enterprise-F. Just as with the Excelsior and Enterprise-B, the length versus the box space on this one works completely against it with the ship seemingly squashed into a size that doesn't befit it. 

Windows are mere tiny blobs and barely recognisable out on that scythe edge to the front of the saucer and the distinct blue and yellow panelling seems totally lost on such a small canvas. Even the CSN-01 registry looks crunched up on the small primary hull. 

That's not saying that HeroCollector haven't done all they can here because it is still as STO accurate as possible with that unusual brown edging running the whole way round the Khitomer's leading edge. The mix of colours here is interesting too with that as noted brown linking in with the more typical white base of Starfleet to give an unusual starship look. 

Even in its small diecast form, the Khitomer still smells Klingon with that long neck assembly, replete with bridge-style module nestled on the top and those classic low slung dagger-like nacelles which almost look stolen from Discovery. The forked upper assembly is another distinct Klingon assembly and beautifully brings the combined strengths of the two formidable powers together in one shape. 

However, it still feels a bit crinkly. The mottled, pixelled paint job does convey the online nature of the ship nicely but there is still a lot going on. Some of the yellow striping is arrow straight while the curves are slightly wobbly and uneven. Lifeboat hatches and other miscellaneous decals are just too damn small to really take in with the undulating surface of the hull not helping their placement either top or bottom. 

Most of the best paint and decal work here is towards the rear of the Khitomer. The impulse blocks, warp grilles and markings around that winged section are quite precise with the bussard collectors standing out on the engines. Indeed, it's not that bad a result but as I've looked over her more, it's that primary hull/saucer that doesn't seem to be totally up to scratch on this one and mainly on the top. Underneath the detailing is nice and clean with a decent level of decalling that doesn't overcrowd the surface with a flatter finish for the hatches and ship registry. Even the more curved and circular features here are under better control and just sit right. There is a section of brown paint missing (?) from the edge of the primary hull (see pic on the left side) and continuing on, it seems to flake in and out at several points with a distinct white line in some places.

Under a bit more inspection, the ventral side of the Khitomer is it's best. The blocking is conspicuously better although still not perfect. There is some feathering towards the prongs of the back upper unit which again bugs me a little but it's a step up from the other side.

I cannot emphasise how much this really, really needs to be made into an XL. I think STO fans would go mad for it (and the F) if it were in a bigger scale because this just doesn't work. That's a big shame because I can see a lot of game fans looking forward to this one and coming out relatively disappointed because of the finish. There's nothing to quibble on when it comes to the actually build materials and construction, just how it's wrapped up.

Into the issue 16 magazine and we have an overview of the in-universe story behind the abilities of the AFS Khitomer as well as its journey to creation. This is followed with the real world story of its design and build which details how the team behind STO worked to combine elements of the two distinct cultures into the one vessel. Wisely we then complete the issue with ship stats from the game plus a briefing on the nature and history of the alliance between the Klingons and Federation as seen in the late 24th and early 25th Centuries.

The magazine this time rounds out the ship nicely and it feels as though this is a complete Khitomer package with all elements clearly interlinked and related to the featured vessel. As a bundle, great, but when it comes to some of the touches on the starship model itself there is room for improvement.

Check out all our Online Starships posts HERE

You can find out more on the Star Trek Online Official Starships Collection by visiting the Hero Collector website HERE

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Saturday, 20 November 2021

Dominion Faction Pack: Cardassian Union


A break in the run of XL reviews to cover another of our popular topics - Attack Wing.

An eternity ago we discussed the excellent Starfleet, Vulcan and Klingon packs but were surprised that the Cardassian Union expansion was delayed in the UK. It's finally arrived on our shores and is sure to provide a new level of play to your existing Dominion faction.

Set up in the standard four ship faction box, the Cardassian Union set brings together various aspects of the DS9 storyline. Taking a piece from the Romulan/Cardassian alliance to destroy the Founders, another from Dukat's personal arc and a third that also encompasses TNG and Voyager, there's a lot going on just with the ships.

Providing a second side to your Dominion faction (if you're playing pure), the pack includes two Keldon Class ships, a Galor Class and Gul Dukat's Klingon Bird of Prey models along with 28 new cards and tokens.

The four ships are the standard versions of ships which already exist so we'll skip onto the upgrades. The highest costing ship is the Keldon Class Preloc at 24 points. Offering the same fie Attack, one Defence, four Hull and three Shields as the lower costing Orias, the Preloc increases the number of Attack die of Dominion faction ships within range one by one. The two Keldon Class ships both have options for two Tech, two Weapon and one Crew upgrade as well as Evade, Target Lock, Scan and Battle Stations.

Strange thing is, I would have actually put the Orias as the more expensive of the pair since it gets to field the Cloak and Sensor Echo Actions as well if there are only Romulan or Dominion upgrades attached to it. If a friendly ship within range one cloaks then the Orias itself can do likewise as a free Action. Honestly I'd go with the Orias due to that extra standard Action ability. I only tend to play faction pure so this would be a huge advantage.

The Orias and the Galor Class Vejar both come in at a 22 point cost. The latter loses an Attack die but gains a Shield. Again, the Orias seems a better choice since the Vejar only carries Evade, Target Lock and Scan as standard abilities and four upgrade slots; Tech, Weapon and two Crew. Its Unique Action allows friendly ships up to range two can perform a Free Action from its Action Bar. 

Finally there's Dukat's Bird-of-Prey for a cheaper 17 points. With a four Attack, one Defence, three Hull and three Shields, the captured Klingon ship fields the Cloak and Sensor Echo features as standard as well as Evade and Target Lock. Operating as a dual faction vessel both as the named and generic versions, the Bird-of-Prey gets to either receive a Battle Station, Evade or Battle Station during combat or can increase the Captain Skill by three for that round. 

The Bird-of-Prey is a cool addition to the set and something a bit more curveball. Two Keldon Class could have seen one substituted with some Hideki fighters. If you are looking to reduce costs then the Bird-of-Prey general version comes in at 13 points with a single Tech, Weapon and Crew upgrade. The two generic cards for the Keldon Class both cost 20 points with two Tech, one Crew and one Weapon slot while the Galor Class is 17 points with a single Tech, Weapon and Crew slot. Each of them also loses its Unique Action from the named card and one Shield point. 

As for the Captains, we have four in the set enabling you to field every ship straight out of the box... well almost as for some reason I was missing one base!

Top dog here is Gul Dukat. Oddly there's no benefit to placing him on his own named Bird-of-Prey but he still proves an eight Captain skill plus, rarely, two Elite Action slots. 

He does also provide an enhanced attack feature which more than justifies his five point price tag. While modifying attack dice, an Evade or Scan beside the ship can be spent to convert up to three Battle Stations into two damage each. Now, logically I'd stick Dukat straight onto the Preloc or Orias to max those dice every time and if not, have him on a ship which comes into range of one of those on every turn just to max the hit chances.

Enabran Tain can flip to either Fleet Admiral or Captain with a skill of eight. There are no penalities with him for attaching Romulan upgrades to his vessel and as a second ability, Tain lets you discard a Dominion Crew upgrade to attack with an additional attack die on your primary weapon. It does incur two Time Tokens but could up your fire power to six if you're staying with this pack.

The four point costing Gul Toran also has the Elite Action option and a Captain skill of six. Toran's action unusually gives a bit of added attack and defence for friendly ships within range two. As the Action for the round, he can select a faction and then all friendly ships engaging them will gain an attack and defence die that time round. I like this one because it's rare to get a good defensive option. Just remember it's there if you equip him - and I'd suggest to a support vessel.

Last up there's Gul Evek. While Tain and Toran are DS9 focuses, Evek actually appeared in TNG, DS9 and Voyager during the mid-90's aboard the Vejar - see it all links!

Skilled with a lowly four and costing a reasonable two points, Evek only operates his Action at range one but does take on all the Auxiliary Power Tokens that might be in play on those ships during the Combat Phase. While potentially incapacitating Evek's command, it may well open up other Action opportunities on more than one ship.

The four Crew for selection also give a broad pass across the DS9 Dominion story arc. The five point Tora Ziyal can act for either the Dominion or Bajoran faction. She targets an attacking ship during the compare results stage and if the enemy is within range one, she can cancel the attack completely and be discarded. Ziyal also allows her own vessel to then perform an attack on that same ship utilising one less dice than a primary weapon if possible. A good card to help live another day or stop that one huge attack that you know is likely to be coming.

Three point Korinas works a little harder out at ranges two and three. Disabled and incurring an Auxilary Power Token, she removes an in play Minefield token. Very subjective and a waste of points unless you know this is something that could be deployed. I'd probably leave this one aside.

Gul Damar (two points) although not a Captain himself is perfect to add to any ship since he ups the Captain skill by two. He also assists with a friendly ship at up to range two in that if they use a Weapon upgrade he can be disabled with two Time Tokens and up to three attack dice can be re-rolled. Very useful although the Weapon upgrades from this pack max out at three dice anyway. Last up is Gul Broca. The final puppet leader of the Cardassian Union during the Dominion War, his Action is another decent one worth considering. Two points for its use as well is very agreeable with him targetting all friendly ships within range two. All of those affected roll an additional attack die that round including the one Broca is equipped to.

As to those Weapon upgrades, the Cardassian Union has some interesting plays to use. Available only for Galor Class ships, Multiple Dorsal Arrays (three points) works at all angles of attack but only if your enemy is using Attack Squadrons (fighters). Disabled with two Time Tokens, it allows your vessel to perform a second attack against the same target. Now I like this because I also love fighters and understand how flipping annoying they can be. This does offer some protection and deterrent at the same time.

The Enhanced Resonance Field Grid is a bit of a sneaky attack for a cost of two points. When using the Primary Weapon and you have an uncancelled Damage result, the card is binned off and that Damage can be put straight onto the Hull rather than the Shields. I'm not sure if this will make much of a difference in the long run unless you use this multiple times to dodge the shields on your opponent. Plus you'll need to remain in range to make it work over several rounds.

Last up is Phase Disruptor Array which can be used on Galor or Keldon Class ships and will cost two points. Activated at ranges one and two, the card incurs three Time Tokens and you will need to spend an active Target Lock to re-roll any number of dice up to two times. Couple of BIG wins here. It's reusable and it's a multi-roll which is better than a standard Target Lock and is only actually costing one more Time Token (depending on if you're using that or Disable tokens). Ideal for close quarter combat, you will need to make sure that your attacking ship lines up with a target in the forward firing arc.

Tech upgrades in the faction pack range from four points down to one. Top price goes to Type-3 Galor Class which adds two points to the Shield value of your ship, making it more defensible than a Keldon Class. Legion Crew Module means you can add another two Crew slots to your ship for a cost of two points and Uridium Alloy (two points) can be disabled during the modifying of attack dice step to convert two Damage into Critical Damage.

Perhaps the most interesting of the four Tech cards though is Sensor Ghost. What looks like a lot of text for a two point price is another useful defence technique. Discarded, Sensor Ghost forces an attacking ship to roll one less attack die and if the attack doesn't destroy your ship then it can perform a "one" Sensor Echo move and get out of the way...hopefully.

Obsidian Order is the most expensive upgrade card in the pack at five points. Usable over all three range marks, it mirrors enemy ships. If they spend a Battle Station, Scan or Evade then you get to equip one. No disable or discard in play here either which means you can certainly use this to your advantage both on attack and defence. Another perfectly sneaky move from the Cardassians.

Interrogation for two points disables a Crew upgrade on an enemy ship at range one during the Planning Phase of the game and locks it out with three Time Tokens. Not a massive fan of this one as it need you to take a chance that your opponent will have something worth locking out for that period of time. Very risky but low cost so you could take a punt.

Third in the group of Elite Actions is Supreme Tribunal. One point is a good price if you need to fill up some points. It does incur a four Time Token penalty and the only result is that an enemy ship within range two receives an Auxiliary Power Token. Nice point filler to reuse if you have a gap.

The final upgrade card is Kanar which can be equipped on any ship without an upgrade slot. For one point it's a nice option to have as you perform your Action before moving with the penalty being twofold. First you have to reveal your manoeuvre face up and also take on two Time Tokens. However, very useful if you realise you're in an early tactical advantage before moving!

Two missions are also packed into the Cardassian Union box. The Simpler Times sees the Klingons chasing down Gul Dukat and his captured Bird-of-Prey on a straight forward seek and destroy. The Secret of the Orias Sector takes its lead from DS9's Defiant in that a Federation ship must escape from the Cardassians after completing scans of the sector. Its 60 points versus 40 points but more dicey for the Federation player who has a mission to finish before getting away.

This may well be my favourite faction pack to date. It's exciting, varied, sneaky, defensive and loaded with four ships that really do gel well as a force right out of the box. The upgrades here are exemplary and mixed in with the Jem'Hadar faction pack from a couple of years back, I can see this being one of the strongest armadas available.

The Keldon Class ships alone are worth the price and I'm looking forward to joining them up with the Dreadnought missile or even a Hideki fighter wing in combat. Definitely a must have pack that really could re-ignite a lot of passion for the game with its brilliant cards. Absolutely first class.

You can check out all our Attack Wing reviews over on the Gaming Section!

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