Posted by: Zach Smith | January 28, 2012

Ascending Empires: Review

Ascending Empires

Published by Z-Man Games and Designed by Ian Cooper

Ascending Empires is a sci-fi themed strategy game with a twist – a dexterity mechanic.  Players each start with a home world within the unexplored galaxy.  Each turn, the player gets one action which they can use to move their ships, explore new planets, recruit more troops, research technologies, build cities, and more.  Each action is simple, so turns are quick with little downtime.  The choice of actions is crucial, forcing players to think carefully as to how to best spend each turn.  When moving ships to explore, blockade planets, or attack enemy ships, the players must flick the disc shaped wooden starships across the board.  The planets themselves are larger wooden disks, and they act as bumpers.  This flicking element really separates Ascending Empires from the crowd of space conquest games.  Players will need both solid tactics and precise flicking to master the game.

There is a lot I like about this game.  The components look great and are quite sturdy.  The board works as a flicking surface, but imperfect creases can cause unexpected flight paths for the ships.  It is the responsibility of the player to check for creases before flicking, and one is allowed to smooth the surface.  It is also a nice tough that the game includes an extra copy of every sticker, so owners will have spares if needed.  The player boards are incredibly well designed, incorporating all the information and rules summary that a player needs to run his empire.

I personally love the strategy and dexterity mixture.  The strategic choices are interesting, and the dexterity element leads to tense moments and plenty of laughter.  The game length is perfect at 2 hours.  The game also scales well for 2-4 players, though 4 players seems best to me.

Each time I have played, the players have had a post game discussion about the 4 technology tracks their relative power.  Some think they are unbalanced, but this is ultimately not an issue because the four tracks are available to all the players to acquire and fight over during the game.  I personally think the certain technology tracks involve subtler strategies and less obvious bonuses, so each can lead to victory if player wisely.

Overall, Ascending Empires is a quality production with fun gameplay.  It is one of my favorite games of 2011.


  1. Great review. I really enjoyed our play together. In fact, At the time you were posting this review, I was playing it for the second time with my gaming group. I’m starting to see that the technology trees are a little more on the balanced side because, despite the fact that I took the silver tech tree to four, I still lost the game by more than 5 points. There is definately a winning strategy with all tech tress and that makes the game more enjoyable.

  2. For the first ten minutes of Ascending Empires, I felt the visceral thrill of space exploration. Flicking my starship across a dark galaxy generated real excitement! Unfortunately, the dexterity game is far more interesting than the strategic game, and it’s marginalized by it. This is just a simple tech-tree slog. Sure, turns happen fast, but when it takes three of them to get anything done, why do we have so many repetitive steps? The collision rule discourages conflict, too. (6/10)

  3. Pretty good game. You develop better stuff through a tech tree. That is the main part of the game. There is a little fighting but as Trip says the rules discourage it. The flicking part of the game works well and represents a novel movement mechanism. (7/10)

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