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Subject: A Brief Review, Including 2 Play Session Report and Rules Overview rss

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J. Chris Miller
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Ascending Empires is a great 2-4 space civilization game that takes roughly 90 minutes to 2 hours to play, depending on the proficiency of the group. In this review I will give a brief overview of the rules as well as my thoughts on the game itself. Hopefully this can push someone over the fence one way or the other if they still haven't made up their mind about the game.

Components

The game, like most Z-Man games has excellent components. The wooden pieces, with sticker tops have a great look and feel to them, as do the solid planets. Z-Man even included an extra sticker sheet which is amazing, and something I was really happy about. ***WARNING*** Do not sticker both sides of the ships or planets, the extra sticker sheet is meant to be just that. The personal game boards are visually appealing, as is the main board. However, the personal boards warp over time, in humid conditions. It's not that big of a deal, but it's worth noting. The rulebook is fairly comprehensive, but leaves out a great number of explanations for special case scenarios. Thankfully we all have the geek right?

The other downside, one that most consider pretty major is the main board itself, and specifically, the cut of the puzzle pieces. They don't ever feel like they're fitting perfectly, and the corner pieces aren't marked as the others are. Because the game was most likely printed and cut from the same board, the pieces should naturally fit in place. I finally found the configuration which best fits, and quickly took a sharpie to the back of those corner pieces to label them.

The uneven edges can be devastating to the gameplay. A player will flick to hit a raised edge and be bounced back. It's a shame, and it's something that could have been easily remedied by the publisher.

This gets into talk of "Well I love this game so much I want to build a wooden board for it!" I'm not a master carpenter, so those days will have to wait. But even I fantasize about that, as I practice flicking things on smooth tables.

It's not a game-killer however, and should not preclude someone from buying the game. Again, just find that magic formation and mark it!

Rules Overview

All of the rules are posted on the player boards, but I am including this information as I feel rules can often help someone decide on a game. Players start with 6 troops and 2 starships. As you add and remove them, they will go from your player board to the main board and back. You cannot have more than 3 items on a planet. Each turn, players get 1 main action, in addition to the action of Attack. Those actions are:

Movement - You are allotted 2 movement points per turn, and can use them to do the following, in any order, or twice of the same movement type:
--Land - While in orbit of a planet, remove your starship and put a troop on a planet.
--Launch - Take a troop off of a planet, and put a starship within orbit.
--Navigate - Flick your starship. If you hit another starship, both ships are destroyed. This is called "ramming."

Attack - Attacking is an extra free action that happens at the end of one's turn. You may not attack and then move, for example. To attack a ship, be close to a ship and have more power. Starships have 1 power, 1 defense, and Battleships have 2 power and 2 defense. To attack a planet, be within orbit and have more power than the planet's defense, e.g., 2 starships against a planet with 1 colony.

Recruit Troops - Put 2 troops on a planet or planets you occupy. Troops have 1 defense each.

Mine - Remove 2 troops from a planet to gain a VP. Remove 3 to gain 2 VP.

Build a Research Facility - Remove 2 troops from a planet and replace them with a research facility. You can have 2 research facilities on 1 planet, but you can only build 1 facility on the rest of your planets. Research Facilities have 0 defense, however their is a tech you can research that gives them 1 defense.

Build a Colony - Remove 1 troop from a planet and replace it with a colony. Colonies have 1 defense.

Build a City - Remove a troop and a colony and replace it with a city. Cities have 2 defense.

Develop Technology - Move the corresponding colored marker up on the technology tree located on your player board. You must have the number of research stations on the appropriate color planet equal to that of the technology level, e.g., you would need 3 research stations on Orange planets to develop a Level 3 Orange technology.

I won't list the technologies here, but I will state the basic premise:

Orange is offensive, and Level 3 can get you a bigger, more powerful ship.
Gray gives more movement points, and Level 4 gives you two actions. It is often the most coveted of technologies for this reason.
Purple is defensive, and Level 1 allows for the research stations to get +1 defense, and to be honest it seems like a must-research in the game.
Brown is used for mining, and allows you to recruit more troops. The Level 4 tech lets you recruit to unoccupied planets, allowing you to spread your presence very quickly!

Victory Conditions

Mining - As stated above 1 VP for 2 troops returned, 2VP for 3 troops returned.
Destroying a Ship - 1VP
Destroying a Planet - 1VP for each piece on a planet.
Being first to upgrade a color of tech - 1 VP per Level, e.g. being the first to upgrade to Level 2 Orange would give you 2 VP.

End of Game Scoring
Cities - 2VP
Colonies - 1 VP
Cities in 3 different quadrants - 3 VP
Cities in 4 different quadrants - 4 VP

Thoughts

This is currently my go-to game; I love it. I guess the only slight bummer is other space-civ games have a plethora of options, and this is limited in that respect. Honestly that's not a bad thing, because the actions you do have become more chess-like than anything else, and so they all become equally beneficial and powerful.

There are multiple strategies to approach, and at first glance, all are viable. It mostly comes down to good decision making, and refined dexterity. I find it really thrilling to linearly take an offensive approach, and just as thrilling to turtle and mine, and avoid conflict. This simple game has a ton of micro-decisions within it, and that's what makes it so great.

You're often faced with crucial strategic decisions like leaving men on planets in case of emergency deployment to stop another player from getting a high level tech, or weighing the benefits of ramming an opponent with your ship to stop them from acquiring tech.

Not to mention the dexterity. The game provides plenty of thrilling moments when you flick your ship perfectly to land within an inch of an enemy ship, and then repeat that process with another starship to kill the enemy, and earn a much deserved victory point. Deploying a ship from a far away planet and making an epic long-range flick to blockade a planet to stop a tech research can just feel oh-so-sweet.

All that said, the game is so good, that it is worth putting up with the game board complaints; I'm thankful I found that magic puzzle configuration. If anyone is on the fence about this, that means they're interested, and they should run out and buy it today. It's that good.

2 Player Session Report

I had a 2 player session recently, and I must say it is a drastically different game than the 4 player, though I guess that could be said about most board games. I'm happy to report that it was a blast. The game becomes very strategic, and even feels like a game of chess in the later stages. Every action counts, and you're often faced with strategic decisions that will burn your brain, and test the dexterity you've been honing. In my session it was extremely close, and the other player won by 1 point.
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Geoff Hall
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I do enjoy this game. Sadly I can never seem to get it to the table and I don't know why as it's one hell of a lot of fun.
 
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David Bohnenberger
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Quote:
The uneven edges can be devastating to the gameplay. A player will flick to hit a raised edge and be bounced back.


I know I'm in the minority, but I feel that warps in the space-time continuum just add to the fun. "It's not a bug, it's a feature"
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Arthur Rutyna
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I've only got a chance to play this once. But I also thinks it's a great game. Looking forward to future plays.
 
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Gabriel Kitterman
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Dweeb wrote:
Quote:
The uneven edges can be devastating to the gameplay. A player will flick to hit a raised edge and be bounced back.


I know I'm in the minority, but I feel that warps in the space-time continuum just add to the fun. "It's not a bug, it's a feature"


Buy some colored glass beads at a craft store. They work perfectly. It is a very cheap and easy fix.

 
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