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Subject: Ascendant Star - Deck building Space Empire game. rss

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Michael Ptak
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Hi folks

With a new job I haven't had a lot of time to be creative (except for putting out X-Wing customizations...). When I was wandering around one of my local game stores the other day though, and thinking about how great it would be to try the Black Box version of Glory to Rome, I was suddenly struck by a game design idea. Something that utilized that wonderful minimalist graphic style and had cards that slipped under other cards for resources. Something with a mechanic that used cards like the old Star Wars CCG from Decipher did.

After getting home I sat down and let the creativity flow through me and ended up with this thing I'm calling Ascendant Star.



At a glance it might look familiar in a few places to Eminent Domain. There's a bunch of cards with similar backsides and a separate deck where one gets planets to advance to victory points. But that's more or less where the similarities end.



There are two significant mechanics in Ascendant Star. The first are the three power areas, with Conquest at left, Economics in the center, and Science at the right. Certain card abilities are enabled or triggered depending on these given levels. Of course, adding to them is more resources that the player has to spend.

The second is defining discards as spending. To Use is to send a card to the discard pile. To Burn is to send a card to the communal resource discard pile. And to Destroy is other game's trash: remove the card entirely from play. Weaker abilities designed for multiple uses force a player to Use cards. High-power destructive cards cause players to destroy their own cards to cause other players headaches.



Just about every card that you will be drawing is a resource. The action is obvious, since the card can be played to trigger that specific ability. Every card is also classed into four different categories- Common, Uncommon, Rare, and Bad. The first three values speak for themselves... they are acquired from planets you choose to mine. Bad cards hide in the resource decks and when drawn have determinetal effects for your faction. The worst is a card that forces you to Destroy a card each turn.

Every card also has a Society level. Society is a running value, and some cards have some effects depending on the total Society value in your hand (Cards you use/burn/destroy to trigger the effect do not count for soceity). Society might allow you to conduct 'peaceful' effects and acquisition of planets for example. Sometimes Society might be a bad thing when the right cards are drawn (messiah, revolution). Society is also used like Destiny in the SWCCG- providing a semi-random number that players can choose. When fighting over planets, players select a card based on it's society value to add to their combat value and any ships they have played. The total is the victor in such a case.

Some cards have a Science (or power, terminology not quite nailed down yet) requirement in order to be played. For example, Planetary Shield requires at least two cards allocated to the Tech level in order to be played from your hand and to a target planet.

I haven't concepted any yet, but another kind of card might be installation/technology permanents which require certain resource combinations to be discarded to be completed and placed in your play area.



Planets come from the Universe deck. As a player action they can overturn one of these and see if they can complete it. A colony mission in the player's hand can be used, or the player can conquer it. Habitable worlds are easier to colonize.

Conquering can be performed on planets just overturned, or planets existing in another player's space empire. To normally conquer a planet a player has to burn cards equal to the resistance value (red triangle) of the planet MINUS their conquest value. This includes cards in their conquest stack of their play area plus any capital ships they play from their hand (Frigate, Battleship, Cruiser).

When attacking another player's planet, the conquest totals the players are compared and they each select one of their cards secretly, then reveal. The society value is added to their total. If the attacker wins, he/she must burn cards equal to the conquest cost. If the defender wins, only one card needs to be burned (Or use the cost, I dunno).

The icons on the lower-left are the total resources produced by this planet. When a player decides to gather on this planet, he or she would be drawing three cards from the common resource area and adding them to his or her discard area face-up. Any unpleasant effects from Bad Cards could be triggered by doing this.

Lastly is the Economy stack in green. At the beginning of the turn the player draws as many cards from his or her draw deck as there are cards placed here.

whew.

So right now the problem is trying to populate each of the resource decks (Common, uncommon, and rare) with effects to make the game interesting. I'm not quite sure what feel I want the players to have when playing this game... I could add more ships to give it more battling options or grant more installations to give players the grandeur of assembling a mighty civilization. One thing I did want to have was greater player v player interaction because as great as some of the deck builders like Dominion and Eminent Domain are they don't have much in the way of direct player-v-player interactions and hand meddling.

So... what do you think?
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David Sevier
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First thing I'd suggest is playing Core Worlds if you can. It's a good Space Empire based Deck-building game, and while it's a good bit different than your idea it's always good to see what other people have done. And you might get some inspiration from it.

Otherwise...I'm fond of there being multiple paths in games. Especially for a deck building game, where the selection of cards available can determine what kind of game you get.

Much like in Dominion where you can have games that are focused more on attacking/defending and others where the focus is on engine-building.

So I'd try to add in several different paths to victory and see how they work out.
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Michael Ptak
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I've been curious about Core Worlds, but the artwork has kind of disappointed me. One of my local Game stores allows game rentals and they might have a copy for me to try out (or at least look at).

Still from what I can tell, I want Ascendant Star to be less tactical than Core Worlds and with more of a focus on building up your empire with some permanent structures. I've created an 'installation' class of cards which, after burning some resources, go permanentinly into your play area and remain there (untill destroyed by another player?). Basically they represent legendary academies or significant statues that endure through the ages.

Another class I've made are "missions" in the common category. You burn them to interact with other players with some benefit to yourself. One of them is Mission: raid where you can target a player, a resource stack, and then conduct a battle as if it were a planet. The difference between you and your target is subtracted from the looser and the selected stack.

I meant to post with a better mockup of what I was thinking (the artwork on display here are placeholders), but I'm at work and didn't have the time to make it :\

So what I'd like the players to 'feel' as they play are that they are developing their empire by longlasting structures, exploring to acquire new worlds from the Universe Deck, and then interacting with other players either diplomatically (here's two cards, be nice to me), or militarily (I want that juicy planet and I'm going to take it from you). Almost like Eminent Domain except not as abstract.
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David Sevier
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Yeah, the art in Core Worlds isn't the best. The design, though, is quite solid, which is why I was suggesting you check it out.

It also has card being played down into your play area, both on a permanent and until-used basis, although that's more a central concept than a special rule.

I like the Mission idea, I think that's a neat way to introduce some player interaction.

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Michael Ptak
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I'm looking at Ascending Star and wondering if it could be an outlet to express the redesign I did for Core Worlds...
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David Sevier
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Hehe. Yeah, that's the fun thing about game design. Don't like something about a game? Make your own that improves on it!
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Kim Brebach
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Mephansteras wrote:
Yeah, the art in Core Worlds isn't the best. The design, though, is quite solid, which is why I was suggesting you check it out.


Wow you guys don't like the artwork in core world? I find that... illogical captain. From my point of view it is top notch aspirational stuff. The card layout design, well yes maybe there was room to free up the art from its constraining boxes... but its perfectly functional and usable. But the actual art is tremendous and there is a very high % of original art pieces which is to be commended as that adds much expense to a games' production.

You really do have to play it. I agree re the game design, gameplay is solid, for a race you to points deck builder. Although I'll admit I yearned for more (any?) player interaction. It seemed somewhat unthematic, as you play a warlike outer rim barbarian space race gobbling up a falling empire from the edges in. As if you don't want to smash your friends along the journey to the centre in that thematic setting!?!

I presume from your description of ascendant star there will at least be some player biffo over planets?
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Michael Ptak
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Yes, grabbing planets and maintaining high-cost installations will net you the victory points. I think I might set a ceiling of so many, and when a player hits them that's victory. It works well enough in the Trek deck builder and I enjoyed playing that. Planets also increase your variety and amount of cards you can grab to add to your deck.

Some of the card art pieces in Core Worlds ARE fantastic. Just look at the planets and some of the ship art. But the bracketing structure of the cards gets in the way and it is not a pleasant game to look at (much like the original Glory to Rome compared to the Black box version). it doesn't help that some of the pieces look... well... pirated, which also hurts my enjoyment of the system. But I do want to give gameplay a try.

But one way to criticize is just to design a better game and I intend on doing that visually with Ascendant Star, if I can. It's just a matter of how abstract I want to go with the art. I'll see if I can cook up a full graphic example to show you guys what I mean...
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Ian O'Toole
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The illustration in Core Worlds is nice, the graphic design not so much.
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David Sevier
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I found the art on many of the planets to be lackluster. Some were neat, but too many seemed shadowed and difficult to make out. Most of the actual Unit art is pretty good, though.
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Michael Ptak
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Work's kind of been slow on Ascendant Star... maybe after a few days a new perspective will help me flesh out the list.

Anyways, I tinkered up something that might represent what the eventual final art would look like.



The two on the right are possible designs for the planet cards. I'm partial to the middle one, but the right most one is the most functional.
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David Sevier
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I agree. The middle one has a neat artistic aspect to it, but the right one appeals to me more as a gamer.
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