WHERE I PLAY
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.
NOW, ABOUT THAT CULT YOU MENTIONED?
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.
WHAT ARE THESE EMPIRES, AND HOW DO THEY ASCEND?
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
WHY I LOVE THIS GAME
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…