Game Design: Sean Sweigart & Aaron Dill Playtested by: Battlefront Published by: GaleForceNine 2-3 players but best with 3
The players each take control of one of the most famous Star Trek Civilisations: Federation, Klingon and Romulan and their Home Planet System. Each of these begins on its own in front of the owning player as what is called a "fixed" system. Home Systems also have their own Starships and Control Nodes in shapes that all Star Trek fans will recognise: Enterprise, Bird of Prey and Warbird. Players also get Command Console cards to track their resources (using plastic sliders) and also have visual reminders of their Civilisation's rules. Civilisations are attempting to be the first to reach Ascendancy Five (for Ascendancy read Dominance). You can only build new ships at a Starbase or Home System under your control, building or joining three or more ships at the same such position allows you to treat them as a Fleet, a single ship or ships in a Fleet may move on one Command Movement order.
Space is made up of Planetary Systems, each represented by large disks showing the planets and any specifics about what can be found there by way of spaces on which certain Resource Nodes (shown by colour) can be positioned. Starcraft fly between Planetary Systems along Space Lanes of a length determined during each game - a die being rolled whenever a new Space Lane is discovered and the associated Lane tile placed between the two Systems; each Space Lane tile has movement segments along which the Civilisation's ships move. Space Lanes can only be placed at certain points of a Planetary System disk noted by the number at the opposite edge to the Planetary name on the disk.
During play the Civilisations may move their ships at regular Impulse Engine speed along the Space Lanes or at Warp speed from System to System. To use Impulse movement you simply move your ship up to 2 Sectors (sections on a Space Lane) but for Warp speed you need to collect or Command Warp Speed Tokens, one token allowing one full movement between two systems before it is discarded. This works extremely well as Warp speed is great to use but not exactly easy to come by, making it a good balancing mechanism, also it is necessary to remember that while a ship is travelling at Warp speed it isn't "on the board" until it exits warp. Ships can exit warp on a Space Lane (your choice of which section) or exit on a planetary system disk. Naturally you can move through places you control but must stop if your next stop or pass through is an enemy controlled Sector unless they give you permission to land or fly through.
This isn't just about "To boldly go where no man has gone before" there are lots of options to consider, but the Star Trek motto of exploration does drive the game and helps provide the atmosphere. Some Systems are marked with a dynamic red symbol and flying to these or through these is hazardous. This is another good reason to ensure you modify your Shields as each modifier lessens the chance of destruction - a failed hazard roll destroys the ship. To ensure you think about hazards carefully and prepare before chancing them the game rule is that any die roll equal to or higher than the hazard level destroys the ship; thus on a Level 4 Hazard the ship explodes on a 4, 5 or 6 unless you have Shield assistance. If you have a Fleet entering a hazardous system all ships in the fleet have to make the safety roll.
With all of this action and excitement comes the mundane, or so it may seem, of research. Without it you cannot upgrade your Weapons, Shields, Technology, Diplomacy etc. You can commit to Researching a Project (using Research Tokens as required for the objective Research) in the Building Phase. In the Command phase and according to the number of Nodes you control you may launch new Research Projects - if you lose a Node you must lose a Project. Advancements researched completely may usually only be used in your Turn but there are exceptions, as there are to almost every rule in life and in this case in Space. Command Tokens may be exhausted to utilise rules and special rules. Players begin the game with 5 Command Tokens - flip them over when you have exhausted them, exhausted Command Tokens are flipped back over at the end of the Round - controlling Starbases increase your Commands, one per Starbase.
For a large and complex strategy game Star Trek Ascendancy has one of the least complicated rules booklets. Its 28 pages make the game easy to understand and play and its final page gives a brief but very useful Game Round Summary taking Initiative, Execution and Recharge as its main points of play description for players who have a fairly decent knowledge of the gameplay.Knowledge of Star Trek isn't as I've already said necessary but it does help to know certain things about it. For example, knowing the Prime Directive "The Federation may never invade Planets or Colonise pre-Warp inhabited systems" is a must for the Federation player as it controls the manner in which they must conduct their strategies, whereas the Klingon and Romulan player is not bound by this rule.The Federation do get other advantages though so it's a game of swings and roundabouts as far as Civilisation helps and hazards go.
I have mentioned fixed systems already but if a system is attached to a fixed system it is considered to be a "floating" system. This is another of the mechanics I like a lot in this game. If your ship or fleet is on a floating system and about to leave you can move another floating system close to the one you are on but to then fly Impulse to that system you have to roll the die and place a Space Lane between the two systems to connect them but you have to roll after you have moved the second system and then hope that you get to position a Space Lane of the correct length. Home Rule that we use is: If your roll is too small you cannot make the "bridge" then follow the rules on page 14. If the Space Lane rolled is a little longer than required gently move the System to allow the Lane to fit.
Star Trek Ascendancy has 4 types of Exploration cards: Crisis, Discovery, Virgin Worlds and Civilisation, each colour coded for quick recognition and each with something new and exciting for the players to discover. As you would expect, Crisis cards (Red) are not nice, in fact there are times when they are most definitely hazardous. Discovery cards (Blue) are like new episodes of the series, new Worlds, new Species, new Problems, new Tech, the keyword being "new". Virgin Worlds (Green) are suitable for habitation but are currently uninhabited, so no one to fight and no one to kill, but also no one to help and no new tech or anything. These are great for Civilisations to control and make into Bases where they can build ships etc. Finally the Yellow based Civilisation cards are similar to Virgin Worlds but are already inhabited or developed but not always by advanced Civilisations - it's the pot luck (random) possibility that makes for the fun or the groan factor, you cannot depend on locating a viable system but you can sure as heck wish for one.
The cards and disks are of good quality and with excellent artwork while the plastic ships and nodes are functional rather than detailed, however they look great in play and also add to the atmosphere of Star Trek created by the Civilisations and the Planetary Systems. The thing is, I was never a Trekkie or whatever they call themselves now, and recently when I found the complete series on YouTube from Episode One onwards I decided to watch it one episode after the other. It was excruciatingly awful, so bad it made Blake's 7 look professional and I only managed 3-4 episodes before my single brain cell had turned to mush and slithered out of my ear in search of sanity; this was before I got to play GaleForceNine's game. I am still not a Star Trek fan (although I did quite like the latest couple of movies - since seen because I am a glutton for punishment) but I am certainly a fan of Star Trek: Ascendancy the board game.
There is so much to do and so many options. You can fight, retreat, build, explore, invade Planets (and Home Bases), be knocked out/eliminated from the game, trade, launch projects and, well I'm sure you get the idea. Here is a YouTube video of the game being demonstrated by John of GaleForceNine. ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ll5W9DLQnE0 ) just in case I have confused you. What I intended to say is that you do not have to be a Star Trek fan to enjoy playing Star Trek Ascendancy, but it really is a good idea to be a regular strategy board game aficienado because it is not an inexpensive game, running around £50.00 - £80.00 in the UK online and in Game Stores. It is a very heavy (in physical weight) game
The great unknown really does lie before you as each turn offers the possibility of a new adventure in typical Star Trek fashion. There are new discoveries and challenging obstacles based on the fifty year history of Star Trek, TV episodes and Movies. Options to harvest vital resources at Rura Penthe, explore and discover the delights of the Mutara Nebula or be the first to Colonise Sherman's Planet; no two games of Star Trek: Ascendancy will ever play the same because of the modular pieces and randomness of the distribution plus there are over 30 Planetary System disks and around 200 miniatures all of which appear either randomly or through player placement.
This is a massive game that begs to be played, in fact it screams at you to play it whenever you encounter it. It makes for a more than decent game to be bought and owned by a games club.