Ever since I was 11, I’ve wanted to be in Starfleet. Unfortunately for me, Star Trek isn’t real. And even if it were, Starfleet won’t be founded for another century. Fortunately for me, Star Trek Timelines exists. This fantastic game lets me put on my virtual captain’s uniform and explore the final frontier daily.
I’m not much of a gamer. You could call me a casual gamer. I don’t clock in hours and hours on my PlayStation 4 or join trophy leagues. And to some, I wouldn’t be considered a hard-core Trekkie either. I’ve never owned a real-life Starfleet uniform or dressed up for a convention (in fact, I’ve only been to two cons in my entire life). Although, I have a nearly complete Star Trek encyclopedia in my brain, that’s how much I watch the show.
However, when Star Trek Timelines launched in 2016, I was immediately hooked. I didn’t intend to be, but I still play it every day. There’s just something about this game that’s so engrossing and hard to describe. When the app first came out nearly seven years ago, it was much more basic than it is today. And I honestly don’t know if I could get into it now if I were just starting, given how expansive the game has become. So, it may be slightly intimidating to beginners, considering how much there is to do.
The game’s monetization model may put some gamers off. It’s free-to-play with microtransactions and cash purchases. And it’s essentially pay-to-win in some circumstances. However, winning isn’t the point if you’re in it for the long haul like I am. And frankly, “winning” is a term you can define for yourself in this game. For my money (and I do pay for it), this is the best Star Trek game out there for fans with a long-standing devotion to the franchise.
The Premise: Universes are Colliding
Gather Your Crew: Collect All the Versions of Your Favorite Star Trek Characters
The Missions: There's a Lot to Do
Away Missions: Beam Me Down, Scotty
Space Battles: RED ALERT! All Hands to Battle Stations!
Faction Missions: Send Your Crew Away
Voyages: Explore the Galaxy
The Gauntlet: Can You Beat Trekkies as Obsessed as You?
Battle Arena: Yes, More Space Battles
Events: A New Star Trek Story Every Week
Fleets: Find Friends and Join a Squad
Free-to-Play: The Elephant in the Room
Final Thoughts: Join Me in The Final Frontier
When you first sign up for a Star Trek Timelines account and launch the game, Q (voiced by John de Lancie) shows up and explains what on Earth (or space and time) is happening. There’s a temporal anomaly at the center of the galaxy that’s merging infinite parallel universes into one. Long-dead heroes and villains are reemerging from across the Star Trek universe in countless variations, causing chaos across the cosmos. It’s your job as a Starfleet captain to investigate the anomaly’s cause and mitigate the damage it’s causing.
Of all the aspects of Star Trek Timelines, collecting my favorite characters from the franchise and immortalizing them (more on that later) is my most-loved part of the game. The conceit of the Temporal Crisis (the name for the never-ending crisis caused by the temporal anomaly) allows for multiple variations of Star Trek characters to show up in your crew quarters.
For example, there are 21 crew cards for James T. Kirk, from various episodes and films. Each card has the original captain of the Enterprise in different outfits, with various skills and traits depending on what was happening in that chapter of the franchise. The most basic version of Kirk is “Captain Kirk,” a two-star (uncommon) card depicting him in his classic yellow tunic from Star Trek: The Original Series and holding a phaser. He’s one of the very first cards you get. So, he’s not incredibly powerful, but useful enough to get you through the initial stages of play. As the game progresses, you’ll acquire a three-star (rare) card of Kirk wearing his green command wrap, appropriately named “Command Wrap Kirk.” He is much more helpful at completing more challenging missions than his two-star counterpart.
Other variations of Kirk include the four-star cards “Roman Captive Kirk” from the episode “Bread and Circuses” and “Nexus Kirk” from the film Star Trek: Generations. The most potent versions of Kirk are the five-star (legendary) cards, including “Mirror Kirk” from “Mirror, Mirror,” “Tribble Kirk” from “The Trouble with Tribbles,” “Admiral Kirk” and “Wrathful Kirk” from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn, and the most recent Kirk card introduced into the game “Judoka Kirk” from the episode “Charlie X.”
Not all Star Trek characters have as many versions to collect as Kirk. Most crew members only have one or two variations. Take Lt. Savvik from the classic 80s films. She only has one card in the game, which is the character as portrayed by Kirstie Alley in The Wrath of Kahn (I would love to see more of Savvik in case anyone from Star Trek Timelines is reading this). Ro Laren from Star Trek: The Next Generation has two cards. The recurring villain Seska from Star Trek: Voyager has three variations. And it goes up from there to prominent cast members like Michael Burnham, having 21 variations. And Jean-Luc Picard from Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Picard has a whopping 30 versions. As of this writing, there are 1,286 distinct crew cards available, and more are added each week.
I mentioned “immortalizing” earlier. This is a Star Trek Timelines phrase for leveling your character to maximum capacity. It’s important because the game limits how many cards you can have in play at any given time. When you first start the game, you’re allocated 175 crew quarters to manage your cards (that’s a lot more than when I started, even though I can’t remember how many you got in 2016).
But those crew slots will fill up fast if you’re dedicated to playing the game daily like I am. So, choosing which crew you keep and discard is essential. When you max out a character card, that card is “immortalized,” meaning you can safely put them into the cryostasis chamber and bring them back out when you need them again. If you dismiss a crew member that’s not immortalized, they’re gone from your roster forever.
The primary way to advance your characters in the initial stages is to play the story of the game. The galaxy map contains 10 “episodes” and four “distress calls” that contain away missions and space battles. Each of these segments has a story of its own and plays out much like an episode of Star Trek. When you complete an episode, you have a choice to determine which faction is victorious in that particular episode. Will it be the Augments or the Klingons, The Ferengi Alliance or the Ferengi Traditionalists? The choice is yours–and permanent.
Away Missions are what you’ll play the most and the primary way to level up your crew and acquire their equipment. Each away mission is divided into several nodes, each with unique requirements that you need to match up with your crew’s skills and traits. This is what makes collecting a diverse crew extremely important. If you don’t have the right team with the correct combination of skills and traits, you can’t beat particular nodes to unlock the next level of that mission.
The level of your crew plays into this as well. Each away mission has three difficulty variations: Normal, Elite, and Epic. So, whether you have a two-star card with the engineering skill and the human trait or a five-star becomes critically important. It wasn’t until my sixth year of playing the game that I finally beat the hardest node that required a card with the diplomacy skill and the Dominion trait.
It wouldn’t be Star Trek without some sweet space battles, would it? Star Trek Timelines understands this and includes exciting battles to the death. And like crew, you need to have the correct ships, with the right bridge crew, to destroy that Klingon Bird of Prey or Borg Sphere and move on to the next level.
You start the game with a humble one-star (common) Constellation Class starship. But, as the game progresses, you will acquire ship schematics that allow you to build and level up various ship types. As of this writing, there are 80 ships in the game.
Of course, you have nearly all the variations of the U.S.S. Enterprise from the history of the franchise, but there are also less-notable ships, such as the U.S.S. Prometheus from Star Trek: Voyager, the U.S.S. T’kumbra from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and the U.S.S. Reliant from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn. There are scores of non-Starfleet ships, such as a Jem’Hadar Battleship, a Romulan D’deridex Warbird, a Cardassian Keldon Class ship, an Orion Interceptor, and many more.
And like crew, more are added regularly. The week I wrote this article, we saw the introduction of the U.S.S. Thunderbird—an Akira-class ship that appeared in the film Star Trek: First Contact.
Outside the story portion of the game, you can send your crew on other types of missions. The oldest of which is Faction Missions (sometimes called shuttle missions). These missions involve sending your crew away on what amounts to mercenary operations for the various factions (Federation, Klingons, Romulans, Borg, etc.) in the game. And they’re critical because some items can only be acquired via Faction Missions. When you send your crew away on the shuttles, they’re unavailable to use in away missions until they return, ranging from one minute to nine hours. So, I generally wait until I’m done playing for a few hours before I send away my more powerful crew on challenging faction missions.
Another type of mission that makes your crew unavailable while they’re away is Voyages. And this is another one of my favorite parts of the game because it allows you to pick a ship and select your command staff. For example, you can pick a Galaxy Class Starfleet ship and choose Number One from Star Trek: Strange New Worlds as your first officer, Tom Paris from Star Trek: Voyager as your pilot, Seven of Nine from Star Trek: Picard as your communications officer, Zefram Cochrane from Star Trek: First Contact as your chief engineer, and so forth.
It’s like picking the cast of your own Trek show and imagining what it would be like to be on a five-year mission with them, and you can even give your ship a unique name for each voyage. These missions last quite a bit longer than faction missions. They can go on for days if you have enough supplies. And they yield the most items and rewards of any mission type in the game.
Up until now, I’ve described missions that you play solo. But some aspects of the game pit you against other players. Chief among them is The Gauntlet. And frankly, this is my least favorite part of the game, and I hardly ever go in there. Mainly because I find it confusing and hard to master.
Basically, you battle your cards against other players’ cards that have similar traits and skills. Once you pick your opponent, some math voodoo (the best term I have for it) happens, and a winner is declared. If your crew loses, they’re out of action for a few hours. If you win, you get some items. And when the Gauntlet round ends (I think it’s daily), you get rewards based on your rank.
Don’t ask me to explain further because I’m already confusing myself. However, I should try to get into the Gauntlet more because there are crew rewards that you can only get by playing it.
Another area of the game where you square up against other players is the Battle Arena. They work the same as mission-based space battles. Only they’re much more challenging because you’re up against players that know the ins and outs of the ships and crew as well as you do. But it should be noted that you’re not battling against other players in real-time.
Instead, you select your ship and bridge crew and let them sit there for other players of similar rank to fight against. When you choose an opponent, the game’s AI controls that ship in the battle. If you win, you swap ranking with your opponent. The more you win, the higher you rank against all the other active players in the game. And the longer you go without playing battles, the lower you rank because people are beating you while you’re away.
Apart from the game’s main storyline, every week, the game has what they call an Event, which has a unique premise and story that plays out over the course of four days (Thursday to Monday). Each event has a unique name, featured crew with bonuses, and usually introduces new crew members to the game.
There are four event types: Faction, Galaxy, Skirmish, and Expedition, each focusing on a particular mission type. Faction Events focus on shuttle missions. Galaxy Events center on Away Missions and crafting items. Skirmish Events focus on space battles, where the game introduces new ship types. And Expedition Events which also concentrate on away missions. Ironically, Expedition Events are my favorite, but we haven’t had one for years (hey, Shan, can we please have another Expedition? I’ve been really, really patient).
Every event is a four-day-long grind, and it’s another area of the game that ranks you against all the other players participating in the event. The higher you rank in the event, the more rewards you get when it ends each Monday. Remember, tens of thousands of Trekkies compete in each week’s event, so it is tough to rank highly right off the bat. I’ve played for nearly seven years and usually rank in the 10-13,000 range. But that’s high enough to collect the new ultra-rare crew member of the week. If you want to rank in the top 1,500, which yields the weekly legendary crew card, you really have to be on top of the action.
The final way to play the game with other Star Trek fans is to join a fleet. This is another area of the game where I admittedly don’t do very well. I prefer to be left alone and do my daily missions, level up my crew, and prepare for the upcoming event on Thursday.
Nevertheless, there are enormous benefits to being part of a fleet. Each fleet has its own Starbase that players contribute resources to daily. Starbase components are gained by completing ship battles and are used to build features like the Observation Lounge, Sickbay, Deflector Array, Promenade, Computer Core, and more. As you build up your Starbase, your crew gains bonuses for their skills and proficiencies based on which area of the base is being improved.
Another area of the game where being a fleet member comes in handy, and this part of the game is very new, is Boss Battles. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you much about them because my fleet is composed of people who just want to be left alone like me, and we’re not coordinated enough to make any progress.
If you read this article and find this game is for you, come join my fleet. We’re COLLECTIVE DOMINION, with open enrollment. We have plenty of space (I just dismissed about half the fleet for being inactive for more than a year), and as long as you play regularly and contribute to the Starbase, I won’t kick you out—that’s a much better deal than you’ll get from most Admirals that have 100+ level Starbases. And maybe we can attack these boss battles together if enough people join.
So far, I’ve avoided talking about Star Trek Timelines’ monetization model because I wanted to show you how much there is to do in the game. Yes, you can buy crew and resources to help you progress through the game faster, rank higher in events, and be a more formidable player overall. But I don’t think that matters much because victory isn’t really the point for me. The point is to immerse myself in the world of Star Trek every day.
And none of what I’ve described above costs you anything. You don’t even need to watch ads (although you get extra rewards if you do). I pay four dollars a month for the game to get a daily allowance of the game’s premium currency: dilithium, which allows me to gather extra resources and crew when something comes up that I really want. And to be frank, that’s a pittance of a price for what I get out of the game on a daily basis.
Furthermore, if you play the game regularly, you get stuff for free literally all the time. Star Trek Timelines has multiple ways to recruit crew, level up your characters, advance through the game, and become a competitive player over time, which costs you nothing. Just one example is the daily reward. On the day I wrote this article, just for logging in, you could claim the three-star crew card, “Nella Daren,” from the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Lessons.” And if you log in every day until the end of the month, you can have her immortalized just for logging in and tapping “claim.”
Further still are Campaigns. If you complete your daily missions regularly, you can collect a super rare character and have it maxed out before the campaign ends (usually about a month). The current campaign features the four-star crew card “Katra McCoy” from Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. However, you can buy premium tracks on the campaign screen to get legendary crew cards. I don’t often purchase premium tracks on the campaign, but I did recently to get my aforementioned “Jakota Kirk”—and he was worth it.
As I mentioned before, winning isn’t the point for me, and I don’t often rank highly in events, despite paying for monthly dilithium and being a veteran player. My strategy to rank highly when I want to is hoarding the vast resources that I get for playing daily. Sometimes for months at a time. When an event rolls around that offers a legendary crew that I want, I’ll cash in those resources and grind through my weekend to get them. All without having to pay anything extra to rank highly. I did this recently to get the legendary crew card “Ixtana’Rax” from the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode “One Little Ship.”
You may think this article has been an exhaustive treatment of Star Trek Timelines. I assure you it is not. I’ve only described a short overview of the game and skipped core elements like the Time Portal, Mega Events, and Cadet Missions to be as brief as possible. But, suffice it to say, this game dives deep into the Star Trek universe. And if you’re a lifelong fan like I am, this app is the best way to leave the 21st century behind and join your favorite Trek friends where no one has gone before.