2016 was a heck of a year for board games. With the release of giants such as Star Wars: Rebellion, Inis, and Scythe, it was difficult to make a name for yourself. Star Trek: Ascendancy didn’t care. It owned its namesake and propelled itself towards the top of the heap at sub-light speed, and as such was named as one of our Games of the Year for 2016. This (inter)stellar game displayed a masterful approach to thematically capturing the sweeping grandiose of Star Trek in its entirety. Featuring touchstone elements of each major series contribution to the IP, this design simply has it where it counts.
And now it has even more.
The Ferengi Alliance and the Cardassian Union have finally arrived. Originally set to debut late in 2016, they’ve course corrected and made it to their destination. It was well worth the wait.
Both species offer unique and evocative playstyles that are as varied and interesting as their base game counterparts; these are not b-sides in any way. They possess individual strategic challenges and will appeal to those seeking different approaches to the well-worn hurdles of politicking and war. The Ferengi make peace and love divorced from the tactics of the Federation. The Cardassians will tickle the small of your back with a disruptor pistol and veiled whisper, shedding the brute force of the Klingons and technology porn of the Romulans. The only challenge you’ll face going forward is settling intergalactic disputes on who gets to play which faction.
The Ferengi are totally bonkers. They feature almost no offensive developments and can’t even form a simple battle fleet. What they can do is park their inconspicuous spacecraft in your backyard and setup trade markets like a boss. There are natural incentives for these bulbous head merchants to share spaces and form trade agreements – soft alliances which benefit both sides.
Additionally, they can’t build culture nodes. Yeah, the main resource to seal the deal and achieve victory in Ascendancy is locked away from these poor dudes. Luckily, they can buy culture with production and can manufacture production nodes regardless of the color shown on a planet. Combine this with their bananas trading empire and you have a faction that can tool up their fleet quickly and spread like galactic herpes. At least after trading with a Ferengi, you don’t immediately regret it.
The Cardassians are a little more pew-pew and less schmooze. Ok A LOT more pew-pew. While the bulk of their developments center on defensive military capabilities, they can build some downright potent ship groupings. They’re also the absolute strongest faction at invading worlds and will have you constantly running defense groups and managing your fronts.
It is true they can struggle at times to separate their identity from the Klingon war machine. They make headway by relying on small precision strike teams as opposed to mass battle groups. This presents a tactical consideration that absolutely shifts the makeup of their personality. It’s also quite enjoyable to launch nimble fighter groups and make hay with the blood of your foes.
The trade-off for enslaving scores of planets is the requirement to keep ships in orbit to plant the proverbial boot on their helpless necks. This thematic threading of source material throughout design elements reinforces the philosophy of the game and its astounding pedigree. Trek nerds will not be disappointed and will eat this up like the delicious Gagh it is.
One of the big draws of these two expansion sets is the ability to finally play four players. Heck, you can even play five if you’re feeling particularly brave. The downside here is that you’ll be spending the better part of an Earth day as the playtime explodes into a lengthy four and five hours. Downtime is, of course, excessive at five players and still a nuisance at four.
Fortunately, the dynamics of a larger game are spectacular as alliances become multi-layered and wars span multiple fronts. The Ferengi also shine with larger player counts as there’s more opportunity for trade. While the effort and length of play will be prohibitive for many, if you can take a shot of adrenaline and down a case of monster, the effort will be worth it. The physical heft of burgeoning empires and the collisions that occur when talk meets deadly force is a spectacle. You could even go so far to argue that this is Ascendancy at its absolute best.
Simmering in the background of these releases are the additional planets and exploration cards included. While the factions are clearly the selling point, mixing the new content into your existing stacks can provide a huge jolt centered on Ascendancy’s most addictive mechanism – exploration.
The Ferengi offering is focused on trade agreements. You will discover third party arms dealers and profit-mongers that will provide momentary boons. These typically require a diplomacy check to acquire but will pay off repeatedly throughout the game. The Writ of Accountability even makes an appearance as a re-occurring event that threatens to tear apart your alliances.
Cardassian additions are all about conflict and interaction. One minute you’re skipping along in the Enterprise and the next you run into a violent fleet requesting (read: demanding) the swapping of planetary systems. You think you’re safe and then bam, weird pale dudes digging for night crawlers in your backyard. Solid chance they’re going to gank your stuff.
Shifting borders and toppling the cart is fun stuff. These interactions alter play in interesting ways and boost the experience regardless of which faction you’re currently fielding. Mix them in pronto and make it rain.
Really, no one here should be surprised. Ascendancy is a killer game and these expansions keep the bar elevated. With the Borg warping down the pike in the near future, that bar’s quivering and waiting to be assimilated. In the mean-time, get your trade game on and blow up those who are foolish enough to turn their back on you.
Are you a fan of Star Trek: Ascendancy? Let us know in the comments!
Cover Image Credit: Charlie Theel
Image Credits: Charlie Theel, Gale Force Nine
In addition to Geek & Sundry, Charlie Theel writes for Ars Technica, Miniature Market’s The Review Corner, and co-hosts the gaming podcast Ding & Dent. You can find him on Twitter @CharlieTheel