The Best Board Games of the Year – Star Trek Ascendancy

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2016 turned out to be one of the biggest years for board games. We saw some of our favorite developers hit the shelves yet again with a couple of fresh faces thrown into the mix. It was hard to choose just a couple of games to spotlight on the list, but here is just one that you need to play. Stay tuned for the full list coming soon.

It’s a bright time now to be a Star Trek fan. Between the new movies, the old series being readily available on Netflix (remastered TNG never looked so good), more movies, and a new show coming soon; it’s a wonderful time to get out your tricorders and envision living in a utopian version of our world.

That utopian version, however, did come at a price. While personal conflict was the focus of the show, every now and then you’d get glimpses of the kind of galactic politics and battling required in that universe. Vast space battles were minimally featured in the shows (thanks to budget constraints) but there’s a certain epicness to episodes like Best of Both Worlds Pt II (which included the Battle of Wolf 359) and Sacrifice of Angels (where a Federation fleet faces off against a Dominion fleet and epicness occurs).

And it’s with that in mind that Star Trek: Ascendancy hooks me, capturing the universe that is Star Trek so uniquely to encompass not the episode-to-episode drama of struggling with the Prime Directive (which is a game mechanic for Federation players), but also the continuous galactic struggle between big players in the universe to assert their dominance in it.

The core box comes with 3 factions: Federation, Klingons, and Romulans. Players each get a faction with unique benefits and drawbacks. For example, Federation players cannot interact with pre-warp civilizations (the Prime Directive, as noted previously), Klingons may never surrender a planet or retreat a battle (Death Before Dishonour), and Romulans may never benefit from a trade agreement in the turn they make it (Distrustful, though I have many other choice words to describe Romulans.)

This is one of many ways the game captures the feel of the franchise, and uses the universe to create interesting game mechanics. The Federation player, for example, will have an easier path to victory through diplomacy and converting cultures to join the Federation than by conquering them, unlike the Klingons whose path to victory is soaked in the blood of those they conquer. Romulans benefit from both exploration and strategic conquering, using their cloaking technology to win space battles and their technological expertise to draw production resources out of non-productive space phenomenon.

Moreover, the game has one of the most interesting map-building mechanics. The map isn’t fixed but rather explored by players, with players discovering new systems by traveling previously unexplored space lanes and having random encounters in newly-discovered system. Systems linked to the map by only a single space lane aren’t fixed on the map, but can swing along their space lanes to connect to other systems, established or newly-discovered, with a really clever map mechanic.  It means that discovering the galaxy is always a fresh experience and that the map unfolds with every game and changes from game to game.

Players build their fleets, collect resources, explore and conquer the galaxy and eventually try to claim Ascendancy, winning the game, through either map control or developing their culture. The components are excellent, using the original art from the shows. The game is immersive, delightful, and while somewhat complex to learn on first playthrough, gets significantly better as players grow more and more experienced.

I’ve played this game a number of times and that learning curve is one of the more attractive features of the game: like a good miniature wargame, more experience around the table makes the game better. This return tends to have a plateau on more simple tabletop games, but meaty gaming experiences like Star Trek Ascendancy offers this exponential return with subsequent plays.

If you’re a Star Trek fan who loves tabletop games, Star Trek Ascendancy is a must-own game for you.

Which Star Trek race would you choose to play? Let us know in the comments! 

Featured & Blog Image Credits: Teri Litorco

Teri Litorco’s will be playing Klingons until she gets her greedy hands on the Ferengi Expansion slated to come out next year. Until then, she’ll be hoping her book, The Civilized Guide to Tabletop Gaming, does well enough to land her in the Divine Treasury. Check out what she’s excited about on social media:  FacebookTwitter, Instagram and YouTube

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