One of the biggest highlights from Adepticon for me was getting a chance to participate in a demo of the new Gale Force 9 board game Star Trek Ascendency (STA), run by none other than John-Paul of Battlefront Games. STA is being developed by GF9 as part of Star Trek’s 50th anniversary, and is set to release this August. I actually played this demo last Friday, but I wasn’t able to post about it until the Star Trek.com article went up!
STA is a “4X” game, which as most of you know stands for eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate. Players take the reins of one of the major powers in Star Trek, which in the initial release will include the Federation, Romulans, and Klingons. At the start of the game, each of these major civilizations has only recently mastered interstellar travel, and must start exploring space around their starting systems in order to find other planets that can be colonized or conquered if they are occupied by an “alien of the week” generic civilization. There is also some risk involved with this process, as players can stumble upon dangerous celestial phenomena such as black holes. The objective of the game is to advance your civilization through various Ascendency levels, all the way to level 5. The first player to reach level 5 is the winner!
Building the Board
Players actually build the game board as they explore; when players leave a system, they randomly roll for a small, medium, or large space lane tile. At the end of a route, a location tile is selected and placed. The direction of the space lane and hence the exact position of the location tile can be adjusted multiple times by the player that placed it until they place a new route from the newly discovered location. This opens up all kinds of interesting game possibilities; for one, the size of the table will dictate the length of the game! The further players start from each other, the more they will have to explore before they can make contact with each other. Secondly, there are all kinds of blocking strategies that can be employed, to make it easier or more difficult for an opponent to build an access route into your territory. This aspect of the game is one of the more innovative aspects of it, I found. The only game I’ve played that has a similar mechanic would be Among the Stars.
Ships and Fleets
In order to do much of anything in STA, you need to have a fleet of starships (which is just fine by me!). Players build individual ships at planets who have shipyards. At the start of the game, that will be just your home system, but players can upgrade other planets as the game progresses to be able to produce ships as well. Ships can be employed either individually or grouped into fleets which is represented on the board by a marker. Each player can have a maximum of 3 fleets, each of which must consist of at least 3 ships. The maximum size of the fleet varies; each of a player’s 3 fleets is optimized for a specific role (such as exploration or combat), meaning they receive certain bonuses when undertaking some tasks. The great thing about this system is that it is a way to have factions play differently, within the core rules of the game. The Klingons, for example, have a fleet that is geared towards combat and conquest (as one might expect!).
Combat and Diplomacy
When two players make “first contact” (ie, their territories become connected by a space lane), they have the option of entering into a trade agreement, which serves as an alliance. The two players then have the ability to enter and travel through each other’s territories. Beware though! These trade agreements can be revoked unilaterally by one of the sides at any time, which means that any ships or fleets they have infiltrated into the other player’s territory are now free to attack. If your trade partner insists on keeping a powerful fleet near your home system, that might be reason for suspicion!
There will be a lot of plastic and cardboard in this game! Each faction has 30 or so individual plastic ships, plus 3 fleet markers. These ships are all of the same class, from the TNG era: Galaxy-class for the Federation, D’Deridex for the Romulans, Vorcha for the Klingons, etc. Along with the ship markers are three fleet markers, consisting of the same basic ship design mounted on a small plinth. Each faction also has a dozen or so plastic colony makers, which are customized in design to the faction. There are also plastic resource nodes that slot into the colony marker to indicate the Culture, Production, and Research that each colony is capable of producing. Rounding out the plastic bits are a handful of space station markers (which all look like the Spacedock from Star Trek III) and sliders for the cardboard dashboards that tracks the technological level of a player’s ships and fleets. Other cardboard components include the planet cards, the space lanes, resource tokens, and Ascendency level markers. Finally, there are a number of cards for various things in the game, such as for tracking what ships are in a fleet. Of note, the components in the pre-production copy we were playing were made out of felt-backed acrylic, like the GF9 tokens you probably own some of. John-Paul stated that these would be thick cardboard in the production versions, though he did not rule out the possibility of an acrylic upgrade set at some point in the future. As you can see from the pictures, the various sets of faction-specific components look great, and are clearly “branded” as being part of that faction. The Federation dashboard, for example, uses LCARS iconography, while the Klingon dashboard looks like the consoles seen on Klingon ships in the show.
GF9 has great plans for STA expansions. As I mentioned before, the Federation, Klingons, and Romulans will be in the base game. About a month later, the first two race expansions, the Ferengi and the Cardassians (which you can see in the pics in this article) will be made available. Each racial expansion will include all the plastic and cardboard bits you need for that faction, along with more location cards and warp routes. John-Paul mentioned that there were something like 9 more faction expansion in the work that will be released over the course of a year or so, as well as a Borg expansion. The Borg are going to act as an NPC that the players have to combat over the course of a game, which sounds like a great idea to me!
Overall, STA looks and feels great to play. Of course, I’ve only played a few rounds of a demo game, but I would hazard to say that STA has the definite potential to be not only the best Star Trek board game I’ve played, but the best 4X game I’ve played as well. This will be a day one purchase for me when the game hits this August!