RogerBW's Blog

Star Trek Ascendancy: first game 18 September 2018

I bought Ascendancy (and the three currently-available expansions) at UK Games Expo, and I've just got it to the table.

This is by the same designers as Firefly, and it's similarly a long and sprawling game. More experienced players can apparently expect 60 to 90 minutes per head, plus another 60 if the (NPC) Borg are involved; we played with just the base game contents (Federation, Klingons and Romulans), and took rather longer. We'd all read the rulebook beforehand, but it makes rather more sense with the components in front of one.

You begin with a fair bit of stuff: three separate resources (Production, Research, Culture), a starting technological advancement, some race-specific rules, and lots of things to build.

Play is in a defined area (I used the three-foot mat I bought for X-Wing), because the map is flexible. I've played a lot of 4X games over the years, and this is the first one I've met that does something really interesting with the "Explore" side of things. Until a system has two warp connections, it can be pivoted round the system it's connected to. And that's how you can get into contact with other powers…

We quickly started to expand (and missed the rules about fleet limits). There is some risk of very different early worlds and contacts knocking a player back and relegating them to a kingmaking role, but I think that stacking the decks may fix this.

When you reveal a new world, you take a disc that describes the type of resource the world holds, and an exploration card that may tell you what sort of civilisation is there (or may provoke some other event). The combination of the two tells you whether it's worth invading, colonising, or simply inviting them to join your civilisation (the Federation is particularly good at the last). Planets can have resource nodes; resource nodes produce resources; you spend resources on building stuff, on research (you have a deck of advancements specific to your race), and on getting Ascendancy tokens which are mostly what win you the game (though conquering and holding enemy homeworlds can also do it).

First contact between Klingons and Romulans. It went fairly well, ish.

And between Federation and Romulans. (An awkward rule is that you can't move into a sector with another player's ships unless you have their permission, though you can attack from an adjacent sector. We kept wanting to move into the sector before doing the space battle or negotiation or whatever was going to happen.)

The map nearly complete. Things got fairly intense at this point and I didn't take any more photos for a bit.

At one point the Romulans took over the Klingon homeworld, and in order to get it back the Klingons bombed it to extinction. Which seemed quite appropriate, really.

End game. We each reached the winning condition (five Ascendancy tokens and control of one's homeworld) on the same turn, and tie-broke on systems controlled – where I was a distant third. But I still had a very good time playing the game, and I'd definitely like to give it another go.

The rules are fiddly and not always well written. (The unofficial composite rulebook on boardgamegeek runs to 72 pages, though quite a bit of that deals with the Borg expansion that we weren't using in this game.) We got the hang of it by the end, though.

I'm not a great fan of Star Trek, but I do like this kind of space 4X game where you colonise worlds, gather resources, and build ships – and while I'd prefer a more generic setting, I can always play it as though it didn't have all the branding, since while the card titles can give some flavour you don't need to recognise names to work out how to play them. This game fills the hole that Twilight Imperium used to take before I sold it on.

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  1. Posted by Michael Cule at 11:05am on 18 September 2018

    I won! First time!

    I'm ever so impressed with myself!

    But to be fair it was only because the Klingons left their right flank open because he was so focused on beating you up.

    One rule I missed at the time (which would probably have meant I went for the Klingons earlier) was that my warp speed was affected by sigils on the tech advance cards. There may have been others we missed.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 11:36am on 18 September 2018

    I know I saw (and turned down) various advances which would e.g. "block an enemy's Espionage card" - because the other players didn't seem to have developed any. In fact that was a card type, on the right hand edge near those warp sigils.

    Next time I'll use the unofficial corrected and integrated rules from BGG - and I'd like to try the Borg.

  3. Posted by Nick Marsh at 08:01pm on 24 September 2018

    Oh I wish I had the time to devote to games like this, I'd love to have a go. Why did you get rid of Twilight Imperium? I have a fantasy of having a whole day to play through this. Maybe when I'm retired!

  4. Posted by RogerBW at 08:33pm on 24 September 2018

    Well, most obviously because it's a great big box (and you've seen how much room I have for game storage) and I wasn't playing it much, and it seemed like a big investment in time for the amount of fun I got out of it.

    But the more significant question may be: why did I buy this even though I'd got rid of Twilight Imperium? Well, hope springs and all that. But this does things TI doesn't: genuine exploration, really big racial differences rather than just a few special rules, and diplomacy mostly being left to the players rather than being tied up in voting rules.

    For me it's a better game. (I realise that many people will feel differently, and that's fair enough.)

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