Ascending Empires

Ascending Empires is a strategy board game for two to four players released by Z-Man Games . It costs $54.99, and is recommended for players 10 and up. The premise is simple. Humanity, driven off Earth by the Great Civil War, flees to the Andromeda galaxy. There four factions settle in the four quadrants of the galaxy, where they turn their starships into cities and build anew. Two hundred years later the four factions re-emerge into the new starscape and pick up where they left off. Players take over worlds, dig for materials, build infrastructure, develop technologies, and do battle amid the stars. The goal of the game is to have the most victory points, which are earned by successfully attacking other players, developing technology first, and holding planets. The more developed the planet, the more points it’s worth.

Setup is easy and takes about 5 minutes. The nine piece board snaps together like a jigsaw puzzle. It fits on a standard card table, but you’ll need somewhere to put your technology track and supply depots. I recommend a kitchen table. Planets are arranged in four predetermined stacks, based on how many people are playing. Each stack is then shuffled and placed randomly in one of four quadrants on the board. There are six different kinds of planets. Homeworlds, where each player starts,  four types of colored worlds, which determine what technologies can be developed there, and asteroids, which can do everything a colored planet can do except research.

Game play is simple and very fast. Each turn a player may take one action. Actions include recruiting, moving, building, developing technology or mining. A player recruits by putting troops on owned worlds.  Building happens by replacing designated troops and occasionally structures with other structures. Mining is simply removing troops  and gaining VPs.

Movement includes launching and landing spaceships. Worlds are claimed by landing spaceships on them. But movement is also where the element of randomness kicks in. Ships are moved by flicking or striking them across the jigsaw assembled board. Ships can flip on their side and roll, sending them far from their intended targets, or ricochet off worlds and carom off into deep space. Any ship that falls off the board is lost. If two ships collide, they are both destroyed. Combat is also part of the movement action, and happens automatically. If the active player outnumbers an enemy in range,  they are destroyed.

Technologies exist in four tiers, each with a different specialty.  Technology trees can improve your offense, your recruiting capacity, your movement, or your defenses. Each technology can only be developed on specific worlds, designated by color. Players have a limited number of research stations available, which forces them to choose carefully which technologies they want to develop. There are advantages to maxing a technology tree out, but there are advantages in diversifying, too.

This game is fast and fun. It takes a bit over an hour to play a complete game, but turns go by very quickly due to the simplicity of the rules. It doesn’t demand deep strategic thinking, but one does have to play smart to win. There are different paths to victory, which makes it nicely replayable.  It is challenging enough to keep an adult interested, and simple enough that that adult can still lose to their child. I give it four dice out of a possible five.

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