Whoever said that you can’t have an opinion on a game after only one play? Fanboys, that’s who! And since we here at Perfect Information are fanboys of our own opinions first and foremost, we’d never keep the Perfect Information Podcast Listeners (or PIPL for short) from experiencing the raw, real and unrefined reaction to a game we just played.
There are many ways for a game to achieve greatness. It can have rules so refined and precise that they seem impossibly simple and effective (Flamme Rouge). Its design can boldly break new ground to excite and mesmerize (Vast: The Crystal Caverns). The game’s presentation might be so vivid and inviting, that you can’t help but want to dive in and play it (Seasons). Or it may reliably produce a memorable and fun experience every time you get it to the table (Hoax). Actually, there is no limit to the way in which a game can be great and each year you’re bound to come upon a game that is great in a whole new way.
Star Trek: Ascendancy, sadly, only makes it halfway to greatness. The potential for a milestone in licensed board gaming is there. But in what might be the most heart-breaking failure to capitalize on what a game’s design can do, Ascendancy squanders it all when you enter the mid-game.
I cannot overstate just how effortlessly and elegantly the opening act of Ascendancy manages to encapsulate that unique Star Trek feel. The sense of wonder and exploration as your intrepid spaceships go forth to find new planets, interstellar pheonomena and new civilizations isn’t achieved by some mind-blowing feat of new ideas. It uses familiar mechanics and it just plain works. More than that, it sings. In the most basic terms, it’s really not all that different from the way you explore the haunted mansion in Betrayal at House on the Hill. Random dice rolls determine distances between star systems and blind card draws determine what you encounter on planets. As an aside, the way that the concept of Warp speed is dealt with in this game – namely allowing you to skip systems if your ship or fleet sits out a few turns – is ingeniously thematic, yet easy to grasp. But all this isn’t something you haven’t seen before. Yet the visual presentation, the references to Trek lore and the suddenness with which exploring ships can simply be lost to the vastness of space make the whole thing crackle with excitement. This is exploration: pure and simple.
It’s also quite interesting, that when Star Wars Rebellion felt more like a remixed version of the movies, Star Trek Ascendancy feels far more like your own take on the Trek universe. The planets, nebulas and events have far less narrative baggage, so when Risa or Deneb V are placed on your table, it doesn’t come across like a re-edit of the series and is instead simply an Alpha Quadrant that is uniquely yours.
Soon enough exploration turns into expansion. You start colonizing distant planets. You begin to expand your cultural influence to make other civilizations join your side. Your presence in space becomes more and more pronounced. The rush and excitement of the opening act gives way to a very traditional area control game. Resources generated at the end of the turn are invested into new buildings, increasing your resource output which allow you to invest said resources in further expanding your presence in the galaxy.
Expansion then quickly evolves into exploitation as your colonized planets start to produce resources for you. Your options widen and allow you to dive into research to get extra abilities, or improve the combat capabilities of your fleet. You can build bigger and bigger fleets. You start collecting victory points.
And this is where the game begins to falter. Because victory points (i.e. culture tokens) are automatically generated in every culture building you control at the end of every round. Which means, much like the highly criticized Imperial I strategy card in Twilight Imperium, that gives you 2 VP each turn for free, the game doesn’t really need much in the way of decision-making to advance you. You simply build as many VP-generating buildings as you can, and then sit and wait.
But the game doesn’t really go completely off the rails, until – ironically – you enter First Contact. That is to say, the first time one of your explored systems connects to one of another player, the game opens up a new layer: direct player interaction. What should be the crowning jewel of any reasonably complex or just any 4X game: the last surge of energy to propel the game into an epic finale… instead turns Ascendancy into a petty squabble over real estate. If the first half of the game is a sandbox that is yours to shape, the endgame is all about trampling other people’s sand castles out of spite with invasions, massive destruction of fleets and razed planetary surfaces.
In what is the most jarring tonal mismatch between theme and license, Star Trek Ascendancy ends as a simplistic, generic wargame where fleets of ships clash into one another, players chuck handful of dice across the table to obliterate the enemy and invade colonies. Because if Star Trek is known, remembered and loved for one thing it is the carnage of its epic space battles and the fighting over territory. When I think Star Trek, I think space war.
It is heart-breaking to see such a pitch perfect opening give way to what is basically Risk. And in 2017 that’s just not good enough. It’s not even one of the recent iterations of Risk. It’s basically a dusty old copy from your uncle’s attic, with all the mission cards missing, a tattered rulebook and most of the pieces replaced by some distant cousin’s Napoleonic wargame tokens from the late 1960s.
But it’s rage-inducingly frustrating because the solution, and the return to a game that is in line with what people love about Star Trek, is so apparent. VP could have been based on completed objectives, like in Twilight Imperium. They could have been based on playing to type, in the way that advancement tokens are awarded in Chaos in the Old World. Imagine a Star Trek game, where you explore planets and then try to deal with planetary crises, espionage plots, outside threats and diplomatic missions to stabilise the quadrant as you all compete for hegemony. THAT is the Trek game I want. That is the Trek game that would bring all the boys (and girls) to the yard.
Star Trek Ascendancy has fantastic production values. It starts off promising and is then content to just let you turtle as you accrue VP, or play a game of Risk. Whoever at Gale Force Nine was responsible for the creative decision to have every game culminate in large-scale fleet battles has badly misjudged the appeal and draw of the Trek license. And while an argument could be made that this is a case of a license being stretched to fit the demands of the 4X-genre, you have to ask yourself why that would be necessary in the first place. The hobby has more than enough great 4X games already, but there is a definite dearth of great Trek games. Even now, with Star Trek Ascendancy on the market.
January is an odd parsnip: a month caught on the Biffin’s Bridge (look it up) between December’s acquisitional excitement/nutritional combustion and the Nuremburg Spielwarenmesse, it lingers (like an eggy fart) to taunt and depress one: back to school for the kids (boo!), back to life (back to reality) for everyone else. There’s nothing happening, the weather is pants, the Events calendar is blank, the podcast community is glowing in the aprés-spunkings of their Reviewsof the Year. Apparently, the general rate of suicides peaks in January.
All those games you wanted after the Essen Spiel Buzz are now on eBay/re-selling forums for £Stupid because the great HiveMind has determined them to be Amazing/Awful – usually the latter being the ones you did manage to get but haven’t yet played and now feel slightly dirty/unsure about. Actually, that reminds me of something that really gets on my man-tits: A.N.Expert pronounces that Game X is terrible and is greeted by a slew of “Thanks for letting me knowbecauseI wasjustabout to buy it*Phew*!”. Whatever happened to trying the thing out for yourself at some opportunity? I know that might mean – gasp! – waiting a bit and/or making a flippin’ effort but, you never know, it might be worth your while. The idea that some trembling mouse-of-a-gamer is actually reliant on these parping horns1 to determine the potential completion of their commercial transactions fills me with a palpitating rage; if Rahdo told them to buy Oracle at Delphi or Ein Fest für Odin because it makes you piss pineapples then they’d probably do it2. Probably.
For a month supposedly-pregnant with the hopes and opportunities of the new year ahead, it always ends up a catastrophic graveyard of failed resolutions, discount cookery equipment and ill-thought holiday bookings3. So why do we condone it? Why do we suffer this temporal turd-in-the-toaster to live? Named after the Roman God ‘Janus’4, the clues are in the name for all to see: the ‘J’ – as in that sarcastic ASCII emoticon – and ‘anus’. So, in an attempt to pep things up, I propose a new and different month; a month of workers joyfully-placed, of auctions merrily bid upon, of areas happily controlled, of decks efficiently-constructed and dice dextrously-rolled! Ladies and gentlemen, I give you:
Now fuck off (in a nice way) and play some sodding games!
1might be a compliment, might not.
2as any fule kno, Ein Fest für Odin, of course, actually makes you shit strawberries.
3”I’m pretty sure Egypt will be free from street-fighting and theindiscriminateslaughter ofinnocents by July, Mother.”
4(though I prefer to think it’s named after ianua, the Latin word for ‘door’ – as in door of the year)
It is the very last release of 2016 and we still have a few things to tick off of our “to do”-list. (Sadly, Ryan Gosling still won’t return our calls, so no change on that front.)
Instead we look giddily at the very best games that 2016 had to offer, and then pick the very best of those. Just because lists are a great talking piece at our New Year’s eve party, and arguing about our choices just tells you everything you need to know about us as people.
We also drop by the guild and talk about what YOU look forward to in 2017.
And we reveal the winners, and grand winner of our What’s Your Game competition. The video of which can be found on our facebook page, and the highlights can be listened to in here.
Finally, if you want to look up our specific best-of-the-year picks, here is a handy list of links:
Ben: Honourable mention, #3, #2, #1
Georgios: Honourable mention, No. 3, No. 2, No. 1
Nick: Honorable mention, 3rd place, 2nd place, 1st place
T.C.: Numero 3, Numero 2, Numero 1
And with that we say goodbye dumpster fire and hello 2017!
Talk to us: Twitter (Ben) | Twitter (Georgios)
Tell us what you think: | Website | BGG
Like us here: Boardgamelinks | Facebook | Instagram
Find us here: Stitcher | iTunes
Never one to dabble in self-awareness, the end of the etiquette series makes way for a new series in which spurious insights are laid out with the conviction of a man who has not yet realised he is four drinks past his limit.
Today… trading in board games. And how it inevitably fails.
(Hint: there’s a tiny chance it might actually be about something else, though.)
Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)
Share on Facebook (Opens in new window)
Click to share on Google+ (Opens in new window)
Perfect Information Podcast Episode 31 – So this is Christmas…
Gather round everybody, the festive season is in full swing and we here at Perfect Information are happy to talk about the ostensibly happiest time of the year.
03:00 – In an attempt to bring together board games and Christmas in as awkward a way as possible, we wonder: how can we make board games embody Christmas values and ideals. Like getting drunk on eggnog and arguing with your racist uncle about everything that went wrong with Cuba.
36:10 – T.C. Petty III swings his stick of knowledge and delivers a stunning lecture on the history of dice in Deep Design.
48:19 – A few words for our sponsor Spielpro.com
50:24 – The long-awaited return to the guild sees us reminisce about your formative gaming memories.
01:09:55 – A few more words for our sponsor Yolo-Games.com
01:11:39 – The rightfully lauded and revered Dr. Nick Mariner lays out his wishlist for Christmas.
01:22:12 – This week’s review sees Ben & I tackle the things we’re most capable of handling: Crisis.
01:48:40 – Finally, we unveil the Perfect Information Christmas Buying Guide. A not-to-be-missed help to maneuver the notoriously overwhelming and excessive holiday season like a board gamer should.