Orctoberfest Preview

Dwarves, elves, orcs, vampires and the lot are having a party. And not just any party, it’s time for the biggest party of the year: Welcome to Orctoberfest!

Orctoberfest is a game designed by Stefan Linden, with art by Agnes Fouquart. It will be published in 2017 by Meeples Inc. It is a card game about placing cards and hoping for happiness, with a theme of fantasy creatures enjoying an Octoberfest celebration and waiting in line at the various vendor tents.  It has been my pleasure to play this game recently and write this preview.

img_1342The basics of the game: players play one of five colored decks, with each deck having the same line up of fantasy figures ready to live it up at Orctoberfest. The players will have all cards in hand at the start of the game and will all place a card face down in front of them. The players will then flip their cards at the same time. Next, they take turns based on card order placing the shown cards in line and resolving the card effects on the cards played and the cards in line already. Once all players are done, the creatures first in line are served, scored and removed from the game, happiness is removed from the cards still in line and play repeats.

The basic premise sounds very simple but as with all good games there are plenty of twists and turns. The fantasy creatures all have special powers that influence everything from happiness to location in line to blocking other powers. This has the amazing effect of making the strategy and planning of the game complex, intriguing, and chaotic. One never knows when or if the queue will change. Sometimes a whole queue can vanish in a single round, other times the queue exists for the whole game with only a handful of cards successfully being scored.

The game is not without flaws, however.  As with every game that has planning involved, analysis paralysis could be a problem for some players. Also, the stalling factors in the game can cause your high scoring characters to be bogged down easily if someone decides to play kingmaker. Lastly, I felt there was a degree of momentum that exists, meaning it is easy to keep rolling once you get going. Mostly this just needs to be dealt with using certain card powers to break up lines with multiple elves or avoiding lines with multiple ratmen which both have powers that build up very quickly.

Overall I found the game to be very good, especially since it is a light, quick game, with the nine rounds of play only taking around 30-45 mins to complete. Combining the overall speed of play on individual turns and the every changing field of play made the experience enjoyable. The downsides are fairly easy to deal with and while they are something to be aware of, no game is without its flaws and being aware of them helps to deal with them.

(Ed. Note: We previewed the game via print-n-play, so some of the components and artwork are not in final versions yet. We have been in touch with the designer, who says a reworking of the rule book is already underway to help clarify a few issues we had in learning the game. Plus, they are improving the graphic design of the cards to alleviate some of the problems we had in reading and understanding the icons. We look forward to seeing the finished product soon.)

— Bryan Barnes

Aliens (not yet) Among Us — A Preview of Alien Artifacts from Portal Games

One of the scheduled releases for Gen Con 2017 is ‘Alien Artifacts’ from Portal Games, a 4X card game of interplanetary domination designed by Marcin Senior Ropka and Viola Kijowska. I got my hands on this beauty at BGGCON 2016 and thought I’d share how the game works and my initial impressions.  Please bear in mind that this is still a prototype and although it seems that the core mechanics are fully developed, there is sure to be some alteration to the game by the time it releases next year.

Alien Artifacts primarily runs off of a single deck of cards.  Each player will draw multiple cards a round, and each card will have a number from 1 to 4 on them.  These numbers are only used during combat or when other special effects require them.  Mostly the cards are used for the symbols on them.  There are four colored symbols; blue, red, green, and yellow, and each card will have two sets of symbols of up to 3 symbols each.  For instance, a card might have 2 green symbols and 3 red symbols.  Each run through of the deck constitutes a single year of the game; for the demo we played through 2 years but there were tiles for Years 1-5 available, so I’m assuming a full play of the game would be a full 5 years.

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Players begin Alien Artifacts by selecting one of the galactic corporations.  Each corporation plays similarly except for their starting technology (this may have just been for demo purposes).  Corporations have several statistics that they can raise throughout the course of the game.  They are: Assembly (green), Production (blue), and Storage (yellow).  Assembly is how many cards you can assign a turn, Production is how many cards you draw a turn, and Storage is how many cards you can bank total.  You can upgrade each statistic in two different ways.  One, all statistics can be upgraded by paying a certain number of credits.  Each statistic can also be upgraded by completing certain milestones.  For Assembly, you automatically upgrade it for completing a certain number of technologies, while Production upgrades based on your combat power and Storage upgrades when you explore planets.

The game essentially runs off of a single deck of cards (some 200 of them for the purposes of the demo).  Each turn, a player either draws as many cards as his/her Production allows, or takes another action available.  The additional actions include claiming a planet, beginning a new technology, upgrading one of the three statistics with stored credits, or buying a ship.  If you decide to draw cards from the deck, you then have to assign them.  Cards have 2 sets of symbols each, either being Blue (used for research), Red (used for Combat), Green (used for Exploring), or Yellow (wild cards that can be used for anything).  You can assign these cards to those purposes, remembering that you are limited in the number of cards you can place by your current Assembly and you can only place to one effect a round (for instance, if you had an Assembly of 2 you couldn’t place one card for technology and another for exploring.  They would both have to be placed to the same effect).  

You also have the option of storing the cards as credit, selecting one color and storing the cards as credits, one for one, based on the number of icons that match that color (so if you stored a card with 2 green symbols and another card with 3 green symbols, you would have a total of 5 credits scored).  Stashing cards for credits in this way is not limited by your Assembly score.

image02Cards assigned for combat (red) must be placed under a ship that you control.  Each player begins with a single Freighter that can have a total of one card placed under it.  Additional ships can be bought from a shared pile of 4 different types of ships.  Each player may own only one ship of each type and the ships get more expensive the longer you wait to buy them.  The first player to buy the Mothership pays only 10 credits for it, while the next player must spend 12.  The Mothership can hold an impressive 4 combat cards under it while also granting an innate 3 combat power, and grants additional victory points is fully equipped at the end of the game.

Cards assigned for technology (blue) go under a specific technology, and technologies are completed once you have a specific number of symbols assigned to them.  Technologies come in 4 different types; Blue (Expand), Green (Explore), Red (Exterminate), and Yellow (Exploit).  Expand technologies typically either make your technologies stronger or easier to complete.  Explore is the same for planets (one green technology might give you the ability to assign both green and red symbols to exploring planets).  Red technologies affect combat, while Yellow technologies change fundamental rules of the game for you alone.  For instance, one of the yellow technology cards that I got let me copy one of my opponents’ technologies.

image05As well as the decks of ships you can buy, there is also a deck of planets.  There are always two planets showing from this deck, and a player can, as their turn, claim one of those planets instead of drawing from the main deck on their turn.  Planets require Green (explore) symbols to complete, but once you do they grant you a one-use power.  Some may allow you to buy ships at a discounted rate, and some let you search for Alien Artifacts (which consists of drawing the top card of the main deck and gaining a number of Victory Points equal to the card’s numerical value).

Attacking other players is also a possibility in Alien Artifacts.  To do so you first have to draw one of the combat cards from the deck during your draw phase.  Drawing these cards is the only way to attack other players during the game and they are fairly limited in number.  Once you attack an opponent both he and you draw a card from the top of the main deck and add it to your combat power (your combat power being a total of the red symbols assigned to your ships).  If you have the most combat power after drawing, you steal a victory point from your opponent.  If they have the most, they effectively fight off your attack and your turn is over.

I enjoyed the games I played of Alien Artifacts, but by no means do I think it’s perfect.  The game is so far along already, however, that I have high hopes for it when it releases at next year’s Gencon.  Personally I would like to see something done with the combat system to make it more interactive.  As it stands now all you do when you attack is draw a card from the main deck and compare combat strength.  Since the cards in the main deck only go from 1 to 4 that means if you attack someone with fewer than 4 combat strength than you have it’s an automatic win.  I’m also not a huge fan of the Alien Artifacts powers of the planet deck.  Again, when activating these powers all you do is draw a card from the main deck and gain Victory Points from it.  I’d much rather see a separate deck for the Alien Artifacts that include unique bonuses as well as negative effects such as aliens assaulting your company.  That would add a sense of uncertainty to completing a planet that grants an Alien Artifact, and would allow for the artifacts to be slightly more powerful than their current state.

Ultimately ‘Alien Artifacts’ provides a 4X experience, similar to Eclipse, in a card game that takes less than an hour to play.  If they’re able to add a little more flair to the game in the next few months, then I foresee it being a massive success for Portal Games.

— Bradly @BradlyBillingsl

 

Spice it up! with Hand Off: The Card Football Board Game (LSU edition)

The Mad Hatter will no longer roam the Death Valley sidelines, looking for a tasty blade of grass to chew on during a tense late season game against the Crimson Tide.  News out of Baton Rouge on Sunday, September 25 is that head coach Coach Les Miles and his offensive coordinator were relieved of their duties by the athletic director, after a shocking loss to unranked Auburn.

LSU fans are divided over the firing, although the division was probably not 50/50. How best to quell the uncertainty as to who will lead the great LSU program for the time being and for next season, too?

If your team has started out this season in disappointing fashion, or is already mathematically eliminated from the college football playoffs after only four games, then spice up your game nights with a great college themed game, Hand-Off: The Card Football Board Game (LSU Edition)!


CSE Games sent me a review copy right after the Krewe got back from GenCon. True to form, the Krewe brought back a stadium full of new hotness from the convention, and we have been wading through those games. But, tugging in the back of my mind as each college football weekend unfolded was that brand new copy of a poker-flavored game just waiting for me to play. So, when LSU announced the news about Coach Miles, it was a perfect time to break open the box and try a few games.

LSU Hand Off is a card game that apparently streamlines the original game called Card Football. The game is geared for two players and plays quickly, in only about 45 minutes. The game is played over four “quarters”, with all of the different aspects of a good football game: time outs, special teams, big offensive plays, penalties and great goal line defensive stops.  All of these can and will happen during the course of a game.

The set up is easy. The board is a flat representation of LSU’s Tiger Stadium, affectionately known by Louisianians as “Death Valley.” Although the crowd noise and bourbon fueled frenzy does not come in the box, the field has almost all of the appropriate views of the stadium and field — with one exception, namely that Tiger Stadium marks the yardage in 5 yard increments not 10 yard increments — and there are spaces for four downs for each player. Shuffle the standard poker deck, and deal each player five cards. That’s it.

The game play is equally easy and fairly intuitive. Each player tries to build the best modified poker hand (high card < pair < two pair < three of a kind) during the downs, and are allowed to add cards to a play if they can help build one of those hands.  The highest hand at the time of that down gets to enact the play on the card, which could be anything from a big offensive play or a defensive stop, or even a penalty.  

The game comes with a football marker and a referee marker, which shows you were the ball is and how far you need to go for the first down. I do have to complain here, as both my son and I had trouble moving the markers down the field as each yard is pretty tightly placed next to each other. Making the board a little bit bigger (I would love to see it on the Ticket To Ride 10th Anniversary sized board!) would definitely have made that part easier.

Frankly, I was surprised at how much fun the game was, and how much it felt like watching a football game. There was momentum when you saw that you had a chance to combo some good cards into a long drive. There was drama as teams got into the red zone or a penalty potentially wiped out a big play. Field position — just like in real football — was crucially important, and you have to manage your time outs to give yourself a chance to get those good cards you need in the red zone. Kudos to the designers who must be big football fans, because this really plays like a football game simulator.

I like the addition of the trump cards, too. A number of LSU’s greatest teams are represented by a small card that each player chooses. These can be played as a trump card if the player ends up with that very card in his hand. The implementation of the trump cards was a little bit of a let down, as they were just small square cards with some facts about the team. Artwork, photographs, flavor text — any of those would have spiced up those trump cards and I think the designer missed on that part.

But the whiffs are few, as the game plays very smoothly. I have never played the original implementation, but it feels like this is a 2.0 of that game. If I had to quibble, the rule book does need a little bit of development, as I think it could have been organized better. An index would have helped, too. But those are minor quibbles, because we were able to stop play as needed to check the rules and almost always got to the rule we needed fairly quickly.

In summary, on the pro side, I love the speedy play, easy to pick up poker mechanics, and the drama that comes as a tense drive begins building up and crosses the midfield. The game is a breeze to teach, and should definitely excite any college fan. I imagine it is a great game for tailgating — and I will test it out at the Ole Miss game coming up next month to make sure.  

On the con side, the stadium is too small and missed out on some accuracy, the rule book needs a graphic designer and a developer, and the all time trump cards need some spice. These are not things that would dissuade me from buying the game, but they do need to be fixed in the future. 

Both my son and I really enjoyed playing the game, and look forward to many more plays this season. It is definitely staying in my collection, and although I cannot recommend it for everybody, I can definitely recommend it to any gamers out there who like college football and want a quick and easy game to play. Note that the game also comes in a Florida Gator version, too.

Until next time, laissez Le Bon temps rouler!

–B.J.

@boardgamegumbo

 

 

Cry Havoc – a Gumbo review

Cry Havoc

Published by: Portal Games

Designed by: Grant Rodiek, Michał Oracz, Michał Walczak

Player count: 2-4 players

Playing time: 90-120 minutes

Reviewed by: Dustin Boatman (@dustin_boatman)

I LOVE area control games; it is a mechanic that has always interested me. My favorite style of area control game is by far the “dudes on a map” genre, or DoaM, for the acronym crowd. Something about mixing area control with elements of war games has always sucked me in. It is probably the competitive nature and tactical thinking, as well as the eye candy of all the plastic miniatures that these games typically have. So when I joined up with the rest of Board Game Gumbo Krewe to head up to Gen Con, I had one game in mind: Cry Havoc.

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Love those miniatures and the color on the board.

Now I knew Cry Havoc was going to be a hard one to get my hands on, so I made sure to pre-order before I left, and I am glad that I did. I heard that all of the retail copies were sold out before the doors even opened. Is this game worth the hype? Well let’s take a closer look and find out.

THE SET UP:

Cry Havoc is a card driven, asymmetrical game that brings a few interesting twists to the DoaM genre of games. Set up can take some time because you have a good bit of stuff to place out on the board, but there are helpful images printed on the board of everything you have to set up.

First, place blue exploration tokens representing things you find as you explore the planet, green Trog party tokens which represent the planet’s native species, and finally, little plastic crystals that represent the planets resource that everyone wants for various reasons.  Next, the players pick a faction and collect all of that factions’ building tiles, card decks, and skill cards. Finally, each player places their starting HQ tile on the correct spaces(also printed on the board), and adds 4 starting units to their HQ. That’s it, you are ready to play.

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Machine’s Eye view of the basic set up.

As a side note, the set up is slightly different if you have less than four players. In a two or three player game the Trog faction isn’t played by a player, but is sort of controlled by everyone as you discover Trog units while exploring.

THE FACTIONS:

This is where the asymmetrical side of the game comes in, as all four factions play completely different. The human faction (yellow) is very good at being aggressive and taking control of regions. The Pilgrims faction (blue) is sort of the euro gamers of this battle, as it specializes in taking crystals from areas and either using those resources for points, or to activate certain skills. The Machines (red) are all about buildings. All of the other factions have three buildings at their disposal, but the Machines have five to choose from. Finally, there are the Trogs (green), who just want to protect their precious planet and its resources, and they are very good at swarming the map and laying traps for the invaders.

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Come at me, bro!

SCORING:

This game is definitely a competitive game, but scoring works differently than most games of its kind. The main way to get points is by scoring the areas you control, and scoring for all the crystals you have in those areas. Players also get points for doing different things in battle (more on that later), and can collect points here and there from certain skills and cards. Interestingly, there is no score for area control or crystals typically, unless someone uses one of their actions to enable scoring at the end of the round.

HOW TO PLAY:

I am not going to do a detailed section on all of the rules to the game, just a basic overview, because like most games in this genre, the rules are plenty and detailed.

The game will play out over five rounds, each round beginning with a global event token being resolved. These are usually good, like adding more crystals to the board, but can also have negative effects. After the event phase you will do kind of a cleanup phase where you see if the upcoming initiative track was changed during the last round, unexhaust player skill cards, and draw four cards into your hand.

Then the action phase begins. Each round the players can take three actions each. You will take turns in initiative order taking your actions until everyone has finished. The actions available to everyone are move, recruit, build/activate a structure, draw two cards and keep one, or enable scoring.

One of the most interesting parts about this game are the multi-purpose cards. Four of the five actions are all located on the cards in your hand. You have to decide how many cards you are willing to discard to take a single action taken from the multiple ones listed on each card. Some cards will also have text on them with the keyword “Battle” written on them. These cards can be used in battle as well as playing them for their actions during the round, so you have to choose wisely when to use a card for it’s action, or when to save it for battle. This brings a lot of tension and hard decisions to the game, because the whole time you are thinking, “I really want to take this action, but if I do, I can’t use this card for battle later,” or “I want to enable scoring so I can score points this round, but by doing that I am basically skipping one of my actions this round.”

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Battle time. 

Now let’s talk about the most interesting thing about this game, the combat.

After everyone takes their three actions, you will resolve any battle tokens you have out on the board that were placed during the actions phase. The battle tokens are in numerical order so you just go through each one resolving starting at number one, and so on.

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Action Jackson.

This game comes with a separate little board that has three objectives printed on the top. The first one is for control of the region, the second for taking prisoners, and the third for attrition (murdering fools, yo). On the left of each objective there is a spot for the attacker to place miniatures and one on the right for the defender. The attacker must place his units first, so the defender has the advantage of seeing where the attacker is concentrating his forces. After the defender places his units each player takes turns playing cards. These battle cards can do anything from moving units around from one objective to a different one, add more units to objectives from your reserve or from other regions, or even mess with the order at which the objectives are resolved. The battle objectives usually resolve top to bottom. You see who wins area control first, then prisoners, then attrition. It is very important to keep track, because once you win area control, it doesn’t matter if your opponent kills all of your figures after that, you already won control.

The battle board is very well made, with all the important information written on it, as well as arrows pointing in the order at which you resolve them. You receive two points for winning the control objective, you capture a prisoner from the battle board for winning the prisoner objective which scores you points between rounds, and you immediately kill units and score one point for each unit placed on the attrition objective.

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Well done board.

The game will go on until the fifth round, or the fifth event is resolved, whichever comes first, and then final scoring happens. Highest points is the winner.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

Now to answer the burning question, is Cry Havoc worth the hype?

Well, that is a tough question to answer, and the best response I can give is somewhat. I love this game, I gave it a 9.2 on Board Game Geek, right behind my current top two games, Forbidden Stars and Chaos in the Old World. It has a lot of awesome stuff going for it, an original battle system, multipurpose card play, and asymmetrical factions, but there are a few issues I have that keeps it behind, if only slightly, the other two games listed.

First off, I am not totally convinced the factions are balanced. That is a big issue with asymmetrical games, because it is so hard to make everyone so different but yet equally close to victory. In the seven games I have played so far, three were four player games and three were three player games and in the four player games the Trogs are 3-0 and the Humans are 3-0 in the three player games. The only game that I have played that wasn’t won by one of those factions was a two player game, and that was because no one used them. The biggest thing to note here is that in every one of those victories the newest player was either playing the Trogs or the Humans, with one game after the Trog player won he laughed and said, “seriously guys I have no clue what I am doing, how did I win?”

Another thing about the game is the battle system, I love it but it is one of those things where not everyone is going to like it. One guy in the Krewe said it feels like he is playing chess, which he found underwhelming.

Finally, there is the event token mechanic. Over the course of the game you will turn over a total of five event tokens, but these events are placed on the scoring track and if a player scores enough points to pass that unresolved event, it is pushed down to be resolved with the next event. This means the game can be shortened if a player has a big lead, which means a runaway leader will end the game early and pretty much guarantee you won’t have time to catch up. I believe this was done so if a player is stomping everyone they aren’t forced to play a long drawn out game, but this can also be seen as making it that much harder to come back from behind.

Overall, Cry Havoc gets a big recommendation from me, even with the balance issues, because at the end of the day I have a blast playing. The game brings its own flavor to the genre that lets this game stand on its own and earn a spot amongst my favorite DoaM games. With more expansions in the works (I hear), I am excited to see where this game goes.

—Dustin Boatman

 

New TCG? RIP, my bank account

Good news, all you Gumbo fans out there. We have a brand new, to the USA at least, ingredient to add to all those gaming cook pots. The Japan Expo had some new and exciting things going on with it but the announcement that the Final Fantasy TCG would be translated and coming to America was definitely one of biggest for me.

For those who don’t know the TCG Hobby,  Hobby Japan and Square-Enix collaborated to make the game and it has been in Asia since 2011 and is now coming to the West with translations to English, French and Spanish.

 

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The game plays similar to vanguard in the idea of having front and back line characters, the fact that you have no life total but instead discard cards from your deck and are “dead” once there are seven in your damage pile. The game also has some elements of Magic the Gathering in that you need to generate resources from your hand and back-line to play cards in the first place. Also these cards must generate the proper kind of resource for the card you wish to play.

The reviews I have found or been able to translate with Google Translate and my limited knowledge all say the game plays in a unique fashion not found in other games. It is supposed to play fast, as little as 20 minutes, which is really good for tournaments and game stores.

The whole game looks very interesting and the publisher stated when the game released that it was meant as something for both beginners to learn on, yet have the complexity that veteran players crave. The starter packs are 14.99 EUR which is about 16 USD while the 12 card booster packs (which is new as previously boosters were only 8 cards) is 4.50 EUR so about 5 USD.

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All in all I’m very much looking forward to this new addition to things that drain my banking account. I like the blending of mechanics from other games, well known characters from all across the Final Fantasy lore, and settings. With any luck, this will be a good release and give all of us card game players out there something to look forward to.

The release should be in September of this year with three main theme sets being released in either Final Fantasy 7, 10 or 13. Each theme deck corresponds to an elemental pairing. If you want more info here is a link to a French review: (google translate works) as well as the images courtesy of this French site.

Until next time, keep stirring the roux.

-Bryan

Reviews & News — Recap of Gale Force Nine’s GEN CON 2016 Offerings

Gale Force Nine is a company that may be more familiar to fans of Dungeons and Dragons than to board game enthusiasts.  For years they’ve been releasing collector’s edition models from the D&D world along with supplemental items used during roleplaying games.

Two games currently being released by the company should be bringing them quite a bit of attention from board gamers, however.  The Krewe de Gumbo had a chance to get first hand looks and plays at these two offerings.

The first is Tyrants of the Underdark, a game from the designers of Lords of Waterdeep but that plays more like Ascension with some added territory control.  

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Area control + deck builder = winner

 In the game you play as warring houses of Drow using allies and political intrigue to gain control of various territories in the Underdark.  The brain trust at Dice Tower were lukewarm on the game, but also were not big fans of the theme.  I absolutely love the theme, as I am a diehard Dungeons and Dragons fan, so this one is on my must buy list.

The other game currently being released by Gale Force Nine is Star Trek: Ascendancy.  I had a chance to demo this game at Gencon 2016 and really enjoyed it.  This is a 4X game where players take control of entire nations within the Star Trek world and fight to become to dominant species of the universe.

Playing the game with me and forty of my closest friends at Gen Con 2016

The game starts out simply enough, with each player choosing one of the nations to play as and taking control of that faction’s home world.  At release the game will only come with three options:  The Federation, Klingons and Romulans.  Each home world produces one of each resource a turn; the three resources being production, research and culture.  Production is used to build things, research to either advance technologies or upgrade ship weapons or shields, and culture is either used sparingly to found new colonies or advance your faction’s Ascendancy, which is one of the win conditions (if a player ever reaches 5 Ascendancy they win).

Each faction has an additional way to gain culture.  For the Federation it’s exploring and finding either space phenomenon or other civilizations, while the Klingons gain culture for killing enemy ships in combat.  And then each race has a weakness as well.  The Federation, for example, cannot invade planets or colonize any primitive civilizations; they have to follow the Prime Directive.  

The game plays through dual phases, with players first taking a Building Phase.  This is where they can use resources to build more ships, one of the three resource nodes on a colony they control, or they can build additional colonies on unpopulated planets.  They can also assign research to technologies and upgrade their weapons and shields.

The second phase is the Command Phase.  Each nation begins with 6 commands a turn.  They can use these to do things like moving ships, invading systems and starting space battles.  Once a player is done with their command phase you move on to the next player who starts their Building Phase.  This continues around the board until the end of the turn, when players bid with resources for turn order for the next turn.

One of the most thematic aspects of the game is exploration.  Each player begins with only their home world and nothing else on the table.  But by moving ships away from their home world they discover new planets and possible space phenomenon.  To do this you first roll a die to determine how big of a space lane there is from one place to another.  The die will result in a 2, 3 or 4.  You then place that sized space lane, connected to the location you started from, to a new location drawn from a random pile.  Your ship shows up in that new location, which may be a hazardous space nebula that has the potential to destroy your ships, or a habitable world, or a space phenomenon.  You then draw a card from the Exploration deck, which tells you what you encounter at that location.  Maybe you come across another advanced society, or maybe you’re attacked by pirates.  You might even stumble across benevolent species that will help you research one of your technologies or allow you to upgrade your ships for free.

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Close up of some excellent bits

These locations stay on the table for the rest of the game and are usable by anyone who can get to them.  Explore enough and you’re bound to run into the opposing factions.  This is called First Contact, and from that point you have the option to exchange trade agreements with the opposing players.  Each player has three Trade Agreements and can give them freely to any player they have had first contact with.  You can also recall the agreements at any time for any reason.  Trade Agreements cost you nothing, but they give your opponents Production each round that they can potentially use against you.

Fights between players are either space battles or planetary invasions.  In space battles you’re trying to destroy the other player’s ships.  You roll a 6 sided die for each ship you control and they roll one for each ship they control.  Players start with weapons that hit on a 5 or higher, but this can be modified (each time you research better weapons, you hit on one less).  Players can also research Shields, which decrease opponents’ chance to hit their ships.  There’s even the chance that a player researches enough Shields that they are unhittable by an opponent (if you hit on a 5+ and your opponent has Shields of 2 then you need 7+ to hit; there’s no 7 on a 6 sided die).  

In Planetary Invasions you’re trying to take over an opponent’s colony, or possibly a neutral one.  Your ships attack the planet, and if you score more hits than the planet has defenses you overwhelm it and take control of the planet entirely.  If you tie or score fewer hits than the defenses of the planet then you have to destroy a number of resource nodes on that planet equal to your hits.  You may end up taking the planet, but you could destroy everything of value on it first.  Both Space and Planetary battles continue in rounds until one side surrenders or is obliterated.

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Go where no man has gone before…

Star Trek: Ascendancy has just enough complexity to allow for numerous strategies while still being simple enough to grasp in a single playthrough.  In that regard, for me, it joins games like Scythe and Forbidden Stars in terms of complexity (just enough, but not too much).  It also has multiple win conditions; the most common path to victory is by advancing your Ascendancy to 5.  However, you can also win by controlling a total of 3 home worlds, as long as one of those is your own.

I thoroughly enjoyed my demo of Star Trek: Ascendancy, but I’m not certain I’ll be buying the game just yet.  The idea of a game that can only be played with 3 players worries me a little bit.  And then there’s the price; $100 MSRP for a 3 player game is asking a lot.  In the end, although I do enjoy the game, I think I will have to wait until the 4th and 5th player expansions are released before I can convince myself to buy it.  Those expansions are already in the works, so I shouldn’t have to wait long.

— Bradly Billingsley @BradlyBillingsl