I picked up Ascending Empires at UK games expo recently after reading lots of positive press on the geek, ignoring the board issues reported which I'll come back to.
I was immediately impressed by the game on opening the box. Instructions on top as to how to put everything together, two sticker sheets only one of which is used, and plenty of bags to hold all the components in. The bottom of the box will neatly hold all the planet discs and has plenty of space for the individual player tokens needed to play the game. Excellent stuff.
The wooden discs that come with the game are of good quality though I did find one that was a little wonky. I can't see this really affecting gameplay in any significant way. I have read a couple of reports of people having issues with different patterning on the discs, but I didn't find anything standing out in play, I was too busy considering my next move!
There are a bunch of wooden tokens representing cities, colonies and research stations and though it is fairly intuitive which one is which, there is nothing in the rulebook explaining that. A small thing, but an odd omission.
4 player mats are well laid out with a good summary of the main actions a player can take, the tech trees and the victory points you gain from different situations at the end of the game. These mats are made from thick cardboard and feel solid.
Now the board. There have been many reporting problems putting the board together so I took my time putting it together. The central tile shows where to put the 4 edge pieces but annoyingly not the corners. If you look at the patterns on the tiles, you can tell where the corners should go but it seems odd to not have the alpha, beta, delta and gamma symbols somewhere on the corner pieces. The pieces didn't seem to quite fit together on one corner so I did have to do some sanding. The board in play looks really good, and I have no problems with it now I know which way round everything goes.
Setup involves sorting out the planets into 4 different piles, the number of each of the four planet types present in each quadrant being determined by the number of players. These 4 piles are then shuffled face down and place in the holes in the board. Each player starts out with a homeworld on the board, a couple of starships in orbit and 6 troops in their supply. Troops are your basic currency in the game and you will find yourself using them to establish colonies, cities and research station over the course of the game.
One thing we really loved is how little downtime there is in the game. Each turn every player takes a single action. That action could be Move, allowing them to launch ships from a planet, land on a planet or flick, yes flick, your way round the board. The flicking we found to be great fun, and allowed for amusing mistakes as we all get used to it but also applause and congratulations at pulling off some excellent shots. After a move action you check for attacks against planets and ships in range of your vessels, using the neat little range ruler provided. The combat system is simple, effective and quick to resolve. It is also non-random which is nice.
Other options on your turn including building an item, colony, city or research station on a planet, developing tech or recruiting troops to planets you occupy. Technology comes in four different colours with four levels each, and research stations are the only ways to develop those technologies. Troops and ships are recruited from your supply, but you can add more to your supply by building cities or by reaching certain levels of tech.
Now onto how you win! At the start of the game you set aside a number of Victory Point (VP) tokens depending on the number of players. Over the course of the game you gain victory points for attacking opposing ships, planets and for being the first to develop each level of tech. The technologies you develop over the course of the game allow for other ways to gain VPs as well, as well as giving you more movement, higher recruitment rates and the awesome Battleship!
When the last victory point is taken from the pile, each player gets one more turn and then the game ends. Players get victory points at the end for occupying planets, or asteroids if there are less than 4 players, building colonies, cities and having cities in 3 or 4 different quadrants of the board. The player with the most VPs at the end of the game wins!
Ascending Empires is a fun, quick to learn empire building game, with a fantastic movement mechanic that allows for highs and lows without the randomness of dice. The low downtime between turns is a godsend, and we found very little analysis paralysis happening.
The rulebook is a little unclear in places and I have put together a FAQ gathering all the questions together that have been asked on these forums. There is also one rule missing all together about what happens when a ship flips on its side but stays on the board. This has been answered by the designer but considering flicking is a major component of the game, the fact this rule has been missed out kind of annoyed me.
I'm looking forward to playing the game more, and I think it will definitely find its way to the table on a regular occasion.
Jonathan "Spartan Spawn, Sworn, Raised for Warring!"
"By the power of truth, I, while living, have conquered the universe."
I have never heard of this game, thanks to your review its now on my 'Must Buy' list!
I've been watching this and many other space/4x games. This one really wasn't appealing to me due to the flicking aspect, but reading reviews is starting to change my mind. I imagine this would be a fun beer and pretzels meets serious space game. Could be perfect for a casual crew.
Warning: Portal 2 Ending spoiler xD