On Need v. Want, and Creating Good Adversaries


Another round of delicious gaming last week. Lots of Uchronia, MagBlast, NexusOps, Citadels, Small World, Quirridors, Thurn & Taxis, and of course, Ascending Empires. Taught a couple games, including Citadels and NexusOps. If you haven’t played Citadels, you really should try it out. A great 2- or 3-player game. And NexusOps is a great skirmish/dudes-on-a-board style game.

High on my list of good things from last week was being beaten by a new player to Ascending Empires. I was very happy to see such leaps and bounds in his game play. I shall have to play harder against him next time, and perhaps focus on knee-capping him as early as possible.


First, there’s nothing finer than a player that wins a game, and that player isn’t you. They were able to read into, thwart, or outright ignore your strategy. That is key to moving forward – recognizing you didn’t make good decisions for the context. And being beaten is a clear way to acquire that knowledge – one would hope your adversaries would exploit your move.

Second, I am not angry when another player wins. If anything, I try to thank the player for revealing a better set of decisions within the context of the game environment, learn what I can, and move on. Of course, sometimes games are intense, and a trip into some fresh air and a chat is always a good way to disconnect with any frustration you’re having towards yourself or others.


          Take what you need, not what you want.

In the throes of defeat, ask yourself: Did you take what you needed, or what you wanted?

In most direct competition games, you fight over stuff. Resources, territory, fake money, etc. The only fight that matters is the fight where you lose less stuff than your opponents. That is the core of ‘need’ driving game play. If you take actions that put you behind your adversaries in terms of points or position, stop and ask if this is what you need to achieve another step towards victory, or are you simply getting emotional and want to teach a lesson (I am totally guilty of this from time to time).

Wants are things of ego, and in my experience, they have no place in a competitive game environment as they are tainted by that ego and the drive to protect the ego. Fuck ego. All that matters is playing to win, and driving yourself and your adversaries into a deeper, more nuanced play.

Need, however, is complicated to understand, and can be confusing depending on what’s at play. I would define need, then, by saying it is the single best action you can take now that will move you closer to victory, and/or move your opponents further from victory. Hopefully, you can achieve both in same act.


When you’ve shown an adversary how to pull off some kick ass move, or explained a synergy of rules, you should expect them to use those mechanisms against you, in game. This is the essence of creating good adversaries. And you as the experienced player should thank them when they pull off that awesome move, or make that awesome shot, and it directly changes your next move. The moment that that happens is when you can sit back and put a big grin on your face – for you have helped to create a better adversary.

There is a flip side to this coin: I’ve had players get pissed off when I use their tactics against them. Mirroring/copying is a great way to learn how to play a game. Your adversaries should be ready for any in-kind reply. If they are not, then your reply should encourage them to think about you as a more dangerous adversary.

AE Cult Talk – Aggressive Ramming

Speaking of mirroring strategy, I had a 3-player match last week where I rammed 10 ships off the board with only four of mine (over the course of several rounds). It was a tactic employed against me to great effect a few weeks back. So I took it and made it part of my toolbox of strategies. Using a pair of constantly in-orbit ships stationed within striking distance of my adversary’s home world, I was effectively able to negate ships launched into formation (2+ ships launched into orbit touching) from that home world with ramming and superior position. (see diagram)

From the positions shown, with two flicks, you could 1) align your ship to maximize the ram, 2) knock multiple ships off the board. It was a hugely successful tool that game, but only because my adversary continued putting ships into orbit. I don’t expect the same results next time we play.


In any direct competition game, implementing the same strategy over and over that didn’t work is a great way to lose. But its a clear advertisement for what is not working. Learn what didn’t work. Use that against your adversaries by not making the same exploitable mistake.

I have been incredibly guilty of stubborn-borne game play – continuing to repeat the move only to watch it continue to fail. Its in those times I need to remember to LET GO.

In fact, its in this very vulnerable place, to remember that it is not the time to get angry. Its a time to move yourself closer to victory – even if that means closer to victory in the NEXT game, because you have learned the hard lesson now. When you’re pissed off and you’re beaten into a corner, start asking questions about the game environment, and start learning where your strategy went astray. While losing a game, you have a great opportunity to try something different, even risky. What have you to lose if you’ve already lost? Luck doesn’t always favor the bold, but it doesn’t hurt to learn your limits in the risk-free environment of losing.

Often times, we put our anger on the other players, especially the player clearly winning. Instead, start watching what they are doing, and attack their flow. Screw with their plan, and you force them to think in smaller cycles/increments. Making moves that force your opponent to think short term will take their attention away from mid- to long-term strategies being employed, and this is especially useful in games that allow direct interference (or politics, unfortunately).


More to come, hopefully a review/analysis of Citadels, and more nuances of gameplay.

Peace and good gaming!


Stressed out Bitching, and some stuff about Games


Life’s treadmill has been set at a brisk, full out Zombies!-Run-for-your-life! pace since two weeks ago, hence the absence of any game-related nonsense. As it stands, the whole concept of writing anything, other than this pathetic explanation for a complex set of relationships and emotional ties, and all that blah blah blah blah, [This is seriously boring the shit out of me.]


This is where my internal producer has stepped in, gone to commercial where you see some fancy faced man getting an orgasmic shave from the MACH 3 OMEGA! Now with NEW WORMHOLE MICRO ABRASION HAIR REMOVAL technology!!!!

Its epic, but I don’t care. Moving on.


Yes, the gaming. I have been expanding the Cult of Ascending Empires since last I had the gall or grit to write. I think grit. ANY way, back to the CULT.

I have a couple players that came back for more Ascending Empires last week, from the previous week’s teaching game.

I started the initiates off with a demonstration of a great opening flick – a double strike (your first ship hits your second ship) and sends both into the orbits of two separate planets. A beautiful, and completely doable opening shot, even for initiates. I showed one player how to perform the strike. He started practicing, then the rest of the table started practicing. I stepped out back to have a word with the store owner, and after about 10 minutes, I stepped back in to find them still practicing. (loved seeing that)

So we started the game.


When playing competitive games, we can forget that we are consenting to enter and help create a vulnerable play space with our adversaries. When we make it about just ourselves, we forget its an interplay of multiple people. In order to grow as a player, you both need to show your adversaries no mercy (as the rules permit) and request that they do the same with you.

That assertion means you have consented to not being angry and not being a dick to other players. You can get angry with yourself, that’s cool, but not really towards the other players. These are your friends and fellow gamers. Be nice, but don’t forget to turn their worlds to ash!!!


With that said, there is really only ONE rule for competitive gaming:

If you can do it, do it.

Said another way, the onus of defense is upon the defender, not the attacker. Its the brutal truth of most competitive games. If you leave a weakness to be exploited, you are obligated not to get pissed off about it (unless you’re pissed at yourself).

A Note About Scrubs

I know exactly the kind of adversary who cannot handle a particular level of aggression. They are the type to get a sour look on their face when you attack them, or when you do something unexpected in the game environment that forces them to think differently. Then they complain about it, cry unfair, force you to get the rule book out. Its a disaster of bullshit whining.0

Make no mistake, this is lazy, rigid thinking. I have totally been guilty of that type of thinking. Whatever you want to call it, its a transitional state of mind for new gamers. And hopefully when they are done complaining about how unfair it is to play the rules to your advantage, they will realize their mistakes, and fix them. Otherwise, don’t play with those types – they will only move you away from better play, and into some bullshit system of honor that isn’t even remotely in demanded in the rules.

The rules don’t say “BE GENTLE”. They say, “THIS IS HOW YOU BLOW SHIT UP.”

I have run into the most rigid, scrub thinking in resource management games. A great attack strategy in a resource management game is to take something to stop another player from advancing, and planning on using it the next round to gain points yourself.

Holding someone back IS a form of attack. Sometimes just over-consumption is a form of attack. They are terrible tactics to employ in life, but amazing tactics within a game environment.

Ascending Empires is a game of managing failure – you WILL miss shots, and they WILL be crucial. By becoming more efficient in other ways, you can negate the impact of such failures, but at the end of the game, its the players that failed the least, and managed their rules/technology bonuses the best, who are in the best position to win.

In many ways, Ascending Empires demands certain principles of play. If you can stall or prevent another player’s growth activities, do it. Its a brutal lesson, and Ascending Empires specifically allows that level of interference by your adversaries. That means that the game is just as much about keeping what you have as it is taking from others.


There was some heated moments in the last game. E. preyed upon the opponent that could least resist him, A. in this case. A. really bit back, called unfair. I reminded her that she must defend her worlds in order to keep them. Then I showed A. how to ram more than one ship off the board at once. Which she proceeded to do several times against E.

A. came back to the game, if nothing but to cause havoc for her assailant. And E. (who is a long time player, and protege/annoying younger brother to myself) was given another complication to flow around.

The other two players, JP and S., got into a crazy turf war. Many rounds of fighting and posturing and launching and attacks. There was a moment where JP verbally jabbed at S. for missing a crucial shot. It was harsh. S. was fumed, and I agreed – it was time to say something about why this space is important to keep vulnerable. So I did, and JP apologized, and it was full on kick ass time until game’s end.

Great fun on my part, hopefully everyone felt the same. Definitely was intense.


Two in total.

First, S. missed her crucial shot (mentioned above) by about a 1/16th of the length – it was a LONG shot, and she was very accurate in a critical moment. Precision comes with practice, but this was by no means anything other than tight, competitive game play. Again, a reason to maintain that vulnerable play space.

Second, everyone at that table missed out on the extended run of the JP vs S. turf battle. We all know what missing a shot like that entails – the world in contest goes BOOM. What we don’t know is how much more stretching of the strategy there would have been as JP and S. continued to fight over it. There’s a loss for everyone when something like that happens. That’s why its so intense, and why we must remain cool about it.

It was a rewarding teaching session. I am very much looking forward to a couple of very dangerously minded adversaries in the future.

I am looking at you, JP and S.!


For me, competition is not about destroying opponents so I can feel great about my fractured ego. That is the providence of children, that level of jealousy and viciousness leads to people not wanting to play a game with you.

I want to help create GOOD adversaries. Then together we can become great adversaries. That means teaching sessions with patience, and keeping in mind my own idea of this vulnerable place within the competition. And guiding it back there when it goes astray. Don’t know about anyone else, but I love the concept of a safe place to push creative and strategic envelopes.

Looking forward to teaching more games.

And thanks for reading.

A few thoughts from a recent conflict at the game table, which included a not-so-higher-self moment on my part, and some defensive and offensive behavior on another’s.

Friday night is my church. It’s a place to learn the hard and immensely useful lessons of failure, and the fleeting nature of success (you cannot rest on your most recent victory). Sometimes these lessons are being instructed to others, but they aren’t taking them well. It’s during these times especially that we as competitors must remember that this is a very vulnerable and impassioned space. That has been hammered into me a few times, and thankfully, I am starting to reign in my reptile brain. But this space can be incredibly harsh.

So, there was some conflict. The details don’t actually matter as much as the outcome. I was not my higher self, but sometimes I have to raise my voice and say “shut the fuck up and let me speak a word without interruption”. Sometimes that happens with onlookers. It’s shameful, but when you are in a conflict, it’s a vulnerable space, usually with someone you either care about or rely on, or both.

What I can say is this: I was heard. He was acknowledged, and we agreed on a way to arbitrate this same dispute if it occurred again. Wasn’t my higher self, but the shit kicker comes out under duress. It’s not a pleasant feeling, and am very thankful I don’t feel it nearly as much as I used to. So, maybe there is hope for me after all.

I am once again rewarded in my choice of adversaries, and continue to learn about my own trigger-response behaviors through my own emotional responses to conflict. And hopefully learn to create a more valuable competitive play space. One where we can have a reasonable dispute, a calm response, with a measured, negotiated outcome. A very important set of principles that are incredibly useful in curbing those baser emotional responses to potential loss in a high competition environment. And of specific use for games like Ascending Empires with its flicking mechanic.

I always feel raw after conflicts of such intensity. And I am always thankful for the friends I have that can reconnect after a conflict. That’s how I know I have good friends and not just random folks I play games with. And that’s a very good feeling.

The Cult of Ascending Empires


Before I launch into a discussion of Ascending Empires and why I adore the game, I want to talk a bit about the Play Space. An equally important part of any gaming I do is where I play. My basic response is “a mix of public and private venues” (some games are clearly better with fewer distractions). Finding new adversaries requires going out into the world to  and learn games and meet new minds.

My favorite venue to play at in my neck of the woods is It’s Your Move. The owners, Chris and Will, do an amazing job providing a space to teach and learn new games. And consequently, a place that gave birth to our splinter cell of the Cult of Ascending Empires (I make a wild assertion that there are other members I have yet to meet).

I make it a point to get people exposed to games that I find valuable to play as part of my itch to foster good competition in game environments, and I try to learn at least one new game a week (assuming something being played strikes my fancy). I devote part of my time at the shop to teaching games, and the later part of the evening to getting into something crunchy and satisfying with good adversaries.

That said, if you live near It’s Your Move, and have a Friday night free, come on down, and I’ll teach you game. Just ask for Jeremy. I am usually set up on a table in the rear of the store.


Yes, about that… I should mention my primary board game love affair. A game that has captivated a core group of us, and pushed all of us into a deep and nuanced understanding of one of most unique and tension filled 4X games I have played. That game being Ascending Empires.

I say “cult” loosely – though I have been told by third party observers (namely my partner K), that our little group’s discourse on opening moves, strategy, build order, etc. are a blur of esoteria from the outsider’s perspective. So, yes, its cultish – but so is anything you do a lot of. When you seek to flush out the nuances of a thing, you get more familiar with a thing. The more I play it, the more nuances I see and strive to incorporate.


Ascending Empires is a fast-paced, 4X game where by the means of exploration of the game environment requires the use of manual dexterity – in this case, flicking or tapping your wooden pieces (starships) around the board. For the uninitiated, 4X is shorthand for eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, eXterminate.

In Ascending Empires, players will compete for territory (planets), technology bonuses, and even attempt to destroy each other’s ships and facilities. The game has victory point chits (VPs) which function also as a time clock for the game. These VPs are only handed out when a player destroys another player’s pieces during an attack, OR if you’re the first to a technology plateau. End game scoring will also give players VPs (but not chits) for each colony and city built, each planet occupied, and some more difficult bonuses based on placement of cities.

Game Pieces

There are four ‘empires’, color-coded (Red, Green, Yellow, Blue). This decision is purely aesthetic. Each empire comes with 8 same colored cubes (Research Facilities), 4 small discs (colonies), and 4 hexagon towers (cities). Each empire starts the game with 6 Troops (represented by plastic space marine dudes), and 2 Starships (wooden discs with a sticker of a starship on one side). This number of troops and starships can be expanded during play (you have extra in a baggie).

The board comes in 9 puzzle pieces that are assembled to form a 24×24 inch square, with holes cut into the board to place the planet pieces into (discs).

Each player has a color-coded placard that has counters for current technology levels (four types: orange, grey, magenta, brown), and a place to put your supply of Troops and Starships that are not currently on the board. Each player also gets a homeworld of matching color, and a range marker (for measuring distance to ships for means of determining attack).

Game Mechanic

The game mechanic can best be described as parsed actions that lead to point gain actions. And like many games that have similar mechanics, you can learn to spot patterns, and attempt to thwart your adversaries’ moves and future moves.

Each round, players have a choice of one action:

  • Recruit Take 2 Troops from supply, and add them to occupied worlds. (Troops are like currency, recruit is like getting paid).

  • Move You get 2 Movement Points. You can spend them, one for one, to do any one of three specific actions:

    • Launch: Take off 1 troop from a planet you occupy (move it back to supply), and place a starship from supply on or within that same planet’s orbit line.

    • Land: This is the reverse of Launch. Take off a starship that is within or on the orbit line of a planet, and place 1 Troop on that same planet. Planet must be empty or yours.

    • Navigate: This is where you get to flick a starship to move it around the board. Each flick attempt that moves the starship costs you 1 Movement Point. You cannot push the piece. If your starship is not resting on the playing surface at the end of a flick, it is added back to your supply.

  • Build Colony Take 1 Troop from a planet, and place a colony disc on the same planet.

  • Build City Take 1 Troop and 1 colony on the same planet, and place a city Hexagon on the same planet. Immediately gain 1 Troop or 1 Starship from your bag (this is growing your empire).

  • Build Research Facility Take off 2 Troops, and place a Research Facility cube on the same planet.

  • Develop Technology Choose one color of planet you occupy with a research facility. Count up all research facilities you have on planets of the same color, and you may advance one level on that technology tree so long as that level doesn’t exceed the number of bases you have on that color. This requires a bit of explaining.

Planets are color-coded to match the technology colors (Orange = offensive power, Grey = mobility, Magenta = defensive, and Brown = growth). In this way, occupying an Orange planet, will allow your empire to exploit the Orange technology tree.

Each empire can have a single planet with two research bases on it. The limit on all other planets will be one research facility.

  • Mine Take 2 Troops off a single planet, and take 1 VP chit from the pool of VPs. Take 3 Troops for 2 VPs.

Basic Play

You flick your ships around the map trying to get them to new planets. You land on planets, recruit to those worlds, and build things on them. Rinse, repeat. That’s the basic concept. The point gain actions are building research facilities/developing or colony-to-city developments. Getting cities built will expand the troop or starship count you have to work from. Also, getting Level 1 technology across the board will get you 1 troop and 1 starship from the bag (another 1 troop/1 ship bonus at Level 2 across the board).

Rule of 3: Any planet you occupy can only ever have THREE pieces on it, no matter the combinations.

Scanning: You can always SCAN a planet at the end of any action you take. When you SCAN, you can look at any planet you are in the orbit of, but haven’t landed on yet. You put it back down.

Attacking: Attacks occur at the end of any Move action. Attacks are a straight comparison battles. Attacker must have 1 more attacks than target has Defense. Most pieces have a defense of 1, with a couple exceptions:

  • Research Facilities has a defense of 0

  • Cities have a defense of 2

  • Battleships have a defense of 2

  • Planets have a defense value of the sum total on the planet

Each piece destroyed by an attack nets the attack 1 VP chit. If an opponent’s Battleship is destroyed, the attack takes 2 VP chits. Starships must be in orbit of a planet to attack it.

Defended: If there is an opponent’s starship in orbit of a planet, that planet cannot be attacked.

Blockade: If an opponent has a starship in orbit of a planet you occupy, you may not do anything with that planet (no recruit, research bases don’t count, launching and landing prohibited).

Ram: When a player strikes another opponent’s starship during play. The first two opposing ships to touch are removed. Other pieces moved due to the activity stay where they stopped moving.

Off the Board: Any starship that ends its movement off the playing surface (that includes on planets), are removed from play and added to your supply.

Technology Trees

Each tree breaks the game rules as follows, but only for the player at the technology level. You never lose technology when your research facilities are destroyed. You just doing get to count those bases any more.

Orange Technology

Starting: You attack at Short Range (short side of range marker)

Level 1: You attack at Long Range (long side of range marker)

Level 2: Starships may attack multiple targets

Level 3: Remove 2 starships from supply or play, and take the Battleship from your baggie, and put it in supply. Battleships attack as if they were two starships.

Level 4: Gain +1 VP for each starship destroyed.

Grey Technology

Starting: You gain 2 movement points when you declare a Move action.

Level 1: You gain 3 movement points instead of 2.

Level 2: You may now Launch and Land at Blockaded planets.

Level 3: You gain 4 movement points instead of 3.

Level 4: After you declare and complete a Move action, immediately take a different action.

Magenta Technology

Starting: Research Facilities at 0 defense.

Level 1: Your Research Facilities now worth 1 defense.

Level 2: When you are rammed, gain 2 VP chits

Level 3: Your Starships in orbit of your occupied planets count as 2 starships

Level 4: Gain 1 VP chit when YOU ram an opponent.

Brown Technology

Starting: Recruit 2 Troops

Level 1: When recruiting, recruit 3 troops instead of 2.

Level 2: When you build a City, you may either take 2 troops or 1 starship

Level 3: When recruiting, recruit 4 troops instead of 3.

Level 4: You may recruit to unoccupied planets.


The planets are face down, and randomized. Making the most of your context is crucial, but so is exploration. And so is flicking well. All that under pressure. It makes for an intense and awesomely competitive experience. I could go in great detail discussing the nuances of this game, but I shall say that I have built my own board, out of a solid piece of material, specifically to pull off longer shots more precisely. That should expose the drive behind it sufficiently.

Another big reason I love this game is that I have seen people that are terrible at flicking win games! Which is a clear indicator that the rules and their manipulation can defeat good flicking. It’s solid. I personally think it plays best as a two player game, but three player is incredibly fun. And four player can be an odd mix of luck sometimes. Definitely prefer 2 or 3 player games.

The final reason I love this game is that it rewards nuanced play. Our group of players have pushed into some interesting nuances of the rules, and have taken turns bludgeoning each other with some interesting positions and attack patterns. Until we start to adapt and develop counter strategies. Its deep. I’ve played near 200 games of it. I love teaching it, and watching people start to ‘get’ it. Its a beautiful thing to behold.

I’ll get into more nuances of game play at a later date. With pictures, too. Definitely need to get some pictures up on here.

Peace, and more to come…