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Ascending Empires - Board Game Box Shot

Ascending Empires

Humanity has been at each other's throats since time immemorial. Now, in another galaxy, humans wage war amongst themselves again, but this time, with the aid of alien technology found on other planets.

Ascending Empires offers a nice mixture of building, exploring, and development, along with combat via a simple dexterity element. Players flick their starships into orbits around planets to defend or attack them or surround enemy ships to destroy them.

Ascending Empires is sure to sate the desire for a space empire building game that plays simply yet deeply.

User Reviews (8)

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148 of 155 gamers found this helpful
“A wonderful hybrid of empire-building and skillful flicking.”

Ascending Empire is an empire-building game with interesting tech-tree and dexterity components. The basic premise is simple: start with a few troops and a home planet, and expand from there. What makes the game innovative is the movement and combat mechanism for the ships.

Flicking the little discs across interplanetary space, with some degree of precision, is necessary for success. Ramming an enemy ship (colliding with it’s disc) is easy but wasteful, since it both destroys your unit and his. A better option is to position two ships within the appropriate range (the radius of which increases as you research the appropriate technology) – done well, it leads to the destruction of the enemy ship (possibly more than one, with the right technology developed).

The other key to success in the game is choosing the right technologies to develop given your circumstances. The colour-coded, linear, technology trees correspond to the colours of the planets you can colonize. Building a research station is the first step to development, and you are limited in your advancement by their number and placement (only one per planet, with exception a single planet of the player’s choice). Some technologies afford you increased mobility, others give you better combat options, and others still make colonization easier.

Unlike other conquest games, the winner in Ascending Empires is determined by victory point count rather than territorial domination. VPs are earned for destroying your enemies, but also for building cities, developing technologies, exploiting planets, and for your territorial acquisitions. There are numerous paths to victory, it feels, and the unexplored parts of your tech tree always seem pregnant with possibility.

The components are top-notch, with the exception of the board. The puzzle assembly, while smart and perhaps unavoidable, is not seamless. In a flicking game, this can pose some minor problems. This obstacle is not insurmountable, though, and hardly detracts from a unique game which accommodates from 2-4 players smoothly.

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Critic - Level 5
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Marquis / Marchioness
129 of 136 gamers found this helpful | Medals x 1
“Civilization Game with Dexterity? Really? Really!”

I’m a sucker for dexterity games, whether it’s games like Tumblin-Dice, Hamsterrolle, Crokinole, Bisikle/Roadzters, or my favorite, Pitchcar. I was excited when I heard there was a new dexterity game out, Ascending Empires, where you build up a space civilization, while flicking your ships around. While I think this is a correct way to describe the game, it doesn’t do justice to what this game is.

A friend commented when he heard about this game “I think a 75 min dexterity game may wear out its welcome, but I’m very excited to try it.

Yes, it’s a civilization game with dexterity elements, but the dexterity is just that, an element, it isn’t the main course. And in this game, that’s ok! That same friend, after playing, was interested in playing again.

General Overview

As with most games, you’re aiming for the most Victory Points. A set pool of points at the beginning of the game acts as the game “timer”, once they’re all taken, each other player gets one more turn, and the game ends. You’ll gain points by being the first to increase to new technologies, as well as for mining planets and blowing up other players’ ships. Each player selects one main action to take each turn, keeping the game moving quickly.

Players start on different sections of a large nine piece puzzle board. There are holes in the board where planet/asteroid wooden cylinders are placed face down, with a purplish halo around each, representing an orbit.

The dexterity part comes with the ships. Movement is solely controlled by flicking your ship around the board. If you run into another player’s ship, they ram each other and both are destroyed. If you get multiple ships close enough to an opponent’s ship, you attack and destroy it, gaining points. You can also destroy all pieces on an enemy’s planet by bring more ship firepower than their defense can absorb.

With your one action you’ll be exploring new planets, developing technology, and performing other civilization building activities as shown below. There are four technology tracks (based on the four planet colors) that give greater powers as you progress along them.

You’re only allowed three pieces on any planet at a time, which will greatly impact your decisions, and need to be balanced between defending and getting benefits from the planet.

How to Build Your Civilization

Use your one action per turn on one of the following. Keep in mind the technology tracks may impact/improve these actions.

Recruit Troops – Add 2 troops among planets you occupy. You can instead choose to take any number of troops off the board.

Mine – Remove 2/3 troops from one planet to gain 1/2 Victory Points.

Build Structure – Build a Research Station, Colony, or City on a planet you control. Research Stations require you to remove 2 troops, Colonies remove 1 troop, and Cities remove 1 troop and 1 Colony. Colonies and Cities give defense bonuses to the planet (1 and 2 respectively), and the same number of Victory Points at the end of the game. Troops also have a 1 defense value, while Research Facilities have no defense bonus. Only one planet of yours at any time may have two Research Facilities on it.

Develop Technology – Move up once on one technology track, if you have a number of Research Facilities on planets of that color equal to the level you’re moving to.

Move – You get two movement points to use, with a few choices on which to use them:
– Launch – Pick up a troop from a world you control and put a ship in orbit.
– Navigate – Flick your ship to move it around the board
– Land – Pick up a ship in orbit of an unoccupied planet and place a troop there.

Attacks can happen based on ship location at the end of movement.

Thoughts on the Game

As you can see from the Action choices, only one includes a dexterity element (Move – Navigate), yet this game is generally talked about as a dexterity game. While this type of movement is important to the game, there is a lot more going on than just flicking. While it will help to be an expert at dexterity games, it’s not going to automatically give you the win. Similarly, people who aren’t great at dexterity games have a chance to compete. When you’re trying to flick a ship, it’s more of a risk/reward decision.

I definitely get the feel of exploring and developing an empire while playing the game. With each technology type only able to be increased if you’re on the correct color planet, you’re forced to decide whether to expand, or fortify. Only having 3 pieces on a given planet will also require planning. Do you want to drop a defenseless Research Station, or add a Colony? Do you pull all your troops off to get mining points, leaving the planet up for grabs? You can also block players by leaving one of your ships in orbit around their planet. While there, they can no longer use most actions impacting that planet.

My favorite part of the game is how quickly it seems to play. There is little downtime, largely due to only getting one action per turn, with most actions taking a couple seconds to perform. You will generally decide on a course of action that will take multiple turns, with your opponent’s doing the same. This keeps everyone playing, and the action going. You can feel anticipation building as players expand into the same areas, racing to find the correct color planet to bump up a choice technology.

I have not had problems with my board, which have been reported by others. My board has no warping (I store it in the giant bag with desiccant that comes with the game), and the pieces fit together snugly (sometimes requiring a planet to be placed on a seam and pushed on, to pop everything into place).

In my experience, player’s really race for technology development, with a majority of the victory points given out this way. The two favorite paths seem to be Orange (upgrading ship weapons and giving the extra strength Battleship) or Gray (increases movement, and ultimately lets you take a full move action, and an additional action). Mining has been a much smaller part of the game in our group, but this can be exploited in the right setting.

Little downtime, civilization building, ship flicking action. If this sounds like your idea of a good time, Ascending Empires will deliver for you!

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147 of 158 gamers found this helpful
“Who knew Crokinole and Twilight Imperium went to well together?”

The tagline from Alien told us that in space no one can hear you scream. Ascending Empires tells us that screaming isn’t the only thing that no one will hear: In space no one will hear you when you try to explain that the spaceship you just flicked into their orbit got there purely by accident. You had no intention on going anywhere near them, and that you didn’t mean to hit that planet that ricocheted your ship right into the heart of their sector of space. Yes, Ascending Empires has reminded me of this cruel fact over and over again, and that any such “accident” will be treated as nothing short of an act of all-out war.

Ascending Empires by Z-Man Games is a 4X space game for 2 to 4 players, complete with exploring new planets, building cities, and researching tech, only it uses flicking for its movement and combat mechanics. Never thought you’d see the day when that combination happened, right? While the dexterity aspect is surely what Ascending Empires will be remembered for, and rightfully so, by no means does it define it. As it turns out the empire building plays just as big of a role in the game, if not bigger. It’s all done in a way that’s light enough to not seem out of place with the fast action of the flicking, and not too light to not offer interesting decisions to be made.

You start a game of Ascending Empires with just your home planet, two space ships, and a handful of troops. On your turn, you take one action, which can be populating your planets with troops, building a research facility, colony, or city, mining for victory points, researching tech, or, of course, flicking your space ships all over the far reaches of space in order to land on new planets and to battle it out with your opponents. Given that you only get to perform one of those actions and that they’re all very simple when you get down the details on how they work, turns should only be around 15-20 seconds. That means pretty much no downtime. Play goes until someone takes the last of the victory point tokens (determined by the number of players), everyone takes one last turn, and an end-game score is added to the VP you earned during the game. The whole thing stays pretty close to the 75 minute playtime printed on the box.

I’m a big fan of games that can present a simple set of rules and then give you a bunch of different, well-balanced ways to break those rules, like Heroscpae or Summoner Wars. Ascending Empires has a bit of that as well in its simple yet effective research tree, which is what really drives the game. There’s four color-coded technology paths to pursue, each one with its own theme. Orange is for combat, grey is for movement, purple for defense, and brown for recruiting troops. These are the four colors that planets come in. Each tech path has four levels that you need to research in order, each level more powerful than those before it. To develop a technology, you need to have a number of research facilities equal to its level on planets of the matching color. If you’re the first player to research that technology, you get victory points equal to its level. That may not sound like much for level 1 or 2 techs, but for 3 or 4, it’s huge. By the time you’re going for the level 3 or 4 techs, you’ll likely have found all the planets in your sector of the board that match the color you’re going for, and probably a few more in other sectors, which means you’ll have to take your opponents’ planets by force. So not only does research give you the opportunity to score the big points, but it will often draw out player interaction as well.

I suppose everyone wants to know more about the flicking and what role it plays aside from getting you to new planets. The flicking in Ascending Empires tends to be less about hitting targets, but rather getting as close as you can without hitting them, especially with ship combat. To destroy an enemy ship you need to get two of your ships within range of it, and each player gets a little cardboard gauge that is used to check if they’re in range. If both ships are in range, the enemy ship is removed and you’re rewarded a VP. But if you hit the ship, you’ve rammed it, both ships are removed and no VP is scored. But going back to how tech drives the game, most of these rules can and will be broken. You can improve your range, move your ships more times per turn, score VP for ramming, and bring out the dreaded battleship, a massive ship that counts as two ships, making short work of any ship that gets within its range.

Components are for the most part pretty good. There’s a ton of wooden bits in the box, and not just your standard wooden cubes. Planets are on thick, sturdy discs, and there’s about 30 of them included. Your standard spaceships are a bit lighter than you’d prefer them to be, and until you get your flicking down, they’ll likely be popping up on their side and rolling around the board. Practice certainly decreases how frequently it happens. The most troubling component of the game is the board, which comes in 9 puzzle parts. These boards warping will kill the game. A zip bag and silica packets are included, but the puzzle pieces themselves don’t always want to fit together as they should. We’ve had a few awkward moments in which a player went to flick their ship and found that somebody (certainly not me) didn’t properly put the board together. Forcing these parts together could result in damaging the boards, which also won’t do your spaceship flicking any good.

Ascending Empires certainly takes two genres that you would think have no business being together, yet fits them seamlessly together. You might think that it might come across as too light or too silly, but to the contrary, it manages to provide a fair amount of strategic punch and comes in at the just the right length. It’s not anywhere near the epic scope of Twilight Imperium, but you’d be hard pressed to find a better civ-building game, sci-fi theme or no, that plays as quick and as well as Ascending Empires does. I’m well over a dozen plays on it, and I can comfortably say that it’s the first strong contender for my 2011 Game of the Year.

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I play green
147 of 160 gamers found this helpful
“Streamlined space "civ" game with dexterity”

Ascending Empires appeals to me for several reasons. Firstly, and most importantly, the entire game is streamlined and distilled to its most important elements. It plays quickly, even with 4 players. Each player takes ONE action each turn, which means there’s little waiting and downtime. Your actions are all relatively straightforward and well explained on the reference sheet.

The focus is on playing the game!

The dexterity element is clever and not a gimmick. You flick your ships (which are hefty wooden pucks) around the large board to move them. It sounds dumb, but unless you are an absolute oaf you won’t lose this game because of a bad flick. You may have a better turn or a worse turn because of it, but the game won’t hinge upon it. This is why it’s fun, not tacked on!

To be successful one must think just a few turns ahead, especially when conquering planets or researching a difficult technology. This makes conquering planets not trivial affair. A mechanic I love is where you can blockade a planet and prevent your opponent from using it at all merely by being in orbit. This allows you to gum up an opponent’s infrastructure while focusing on a juicy planetary target.

The men as currency system is incredibly elegant. Men power everything, not fiddly money or coins. You use limited men (which you can expand) to land on planets, build colonies, launch fighters, and act as defense. Everything is fueled by them and it’s yet another way by which the game remains streamlined.

Ascending Empires is a big, hefty game without all the clunky weight and baggage. You can enjoy it in an hour instead of the 6 hour slog of some games of it’s type. It features very little luck and little downtime. If you are looking for a good space civ game that doesn’t take forever to play, give this one a look.

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Plaid Hat Games fan
Asmodee fan
I play blue
148 of 162 gamers found this helpful
“A surprisingly successful mashup of otherwise unrelated elements”

I was surprised recently to discover that a guy that I’ve worked with for quite some time is a bit of a gamer. He mostly plays Magic with his kids, but also enjoys some of the more mainstream hobby games like Settlers and Carcassonne. Settlers doesn’t take me by surprise anymore; it’s sort of like the Death Cab for Cutie of boardgames – formerly indie and outside the box, now mainstream and owned by my grandmother. Carc, though, isn’t all that common among non-gamers, and when I hear that, I know that I’m talking to someone who at least might share a few more common references than I usually get. So we spent awhile following an end-of-day meeting recently comparing notes. He asked me what I’ve been playing lately, so I started trying to describe Ascending Empires. “Well, it’s this game about space exploration with these discs…and you flick them around the board…and there’s a tech tree and upgrades…and there’s combat that involves flicking your ships at your opponents’…and…flicking…yeah.” He looked at me like I was nuts. And I probably sounded the part – this is a really tough game to describe in a few sentences.

Ascending Empires was below my radar for most of the first half of the year. Despite the fact that it’s a Z-man Games release, I hadn’t heard much buzz about it at all until around April. The thing that immediately drew me into the concept though was the flicking mechanic. Starship movement and combat resolved by flicking? Pitchcar meets Twilight Imperium? Sign me up. But could it deliver?

The game itself is an odd and interesting melding of civ-lite, dudes on a map, and dexterity. Players are competing for VP, which can be obtained in several ways: occupying planets, building colonies or cities, researching technology, using troops to mine, or defeating opponents’ forces in combat. A stack of VP tokens sits next to the board, and serves as a timing mechanism; when the available VP tokens are exhausted, each remaining player will take one last turn before end of game scoring is completed. This creates a set of varied objectives that allow for interesting tactics and dynamic play.

Gameplay is fast, bordering on frenetic; each player takes a single action on his or her turn, and then play passes to the next player. The result is a game with almost no downtime and a sense of being actively engaged from start to finish. On his or her turn, a player may do one, and only one, of the following:

Take two troops from his or her supply and place them on occupied planets.
Make two Moves as part of this action by launching a starship, navigating across the board, or landing on a planet.
Return troops from a planet to the supply to score VPs.
Build a Research Facility, Colony, or City.
Advance one of his or her Technology tokens by 1 level.

The interesting thing about this set of actions is that players will want to chain actions – in other words, a tactical decision to upgrade Gray tech by one level will typically involve a couple of move actions, a build action, and a research action. That’s four or five turns of actions to achieve one short-term tactical goal. This creates two very interesting and correlated dynamics: there isn’t a ton of analysis paralysis from turn-to-turn, and the opportunity for disrupting an opponent’s strategy is certainly present. What these dynamics create is a feel that’s almost real-time strategy. Players are making small advancements in rapid succession in a way that starts to blur the lines between turns. That’s not to say that the game prevents down time; at points in the game, when a player is deciding which strategy to pursue or reevaluating options after having a strategy disrupted, gameplay will slow, but even in these moments it simply hits the pace of most medium-weight strategy games until a new course is selected and play accelerates again.

I do want to hit on one of the more contentious issues around this game’s release, and the reason I suspect that it hasn’t gotten more widespread attention than it has: the modular board. The game is played on a puzzle board that’s constructed from nine fairly large interlocking pieces that fit together to form a roughly 3′x3′ playing surface (although that’s just a guesstimate – I’m too lazy to measure it.) Each piece has a number of circles cut out of it for placement of the planet discs. The advantages are definite: the board stores easily in a standard-size game box, meaning that this game can live quite nicely in my closet along with all of my other games. It’s a smooth surface that works well for flicking the discs across the surface, and the planets are held nicely in place by the openings in the board. However, the board is not entirely flat because of the seams, some people have reported issues with getting the pieces to fit together properly, and there have been a few reports of warping. Speaking personally – and I can only comment on my personal copy, as I haven’t seen any others – I’m not experiencing these issues. The pieces fit together fine, provided they are aligned correctly – the background art on each corner needs to be compared to the adjoining piece to determine to which quadrant it belongs. This isn’t difficult as the correct alignment is obvious if you’re aware of the need to do so but the differences are subtle. I’ve had no warping – the boards lie as flat as they did when they were fresh out of shrink. And the issue with the seams – well, yes, they can affect shots. But to my mind, this isn’t an issue – it’s a factor that must be considered when weighing options. This game is all about the flicking, but not in the way that you might expect.

By flicking, I’m talking about the act of physically propelling the starship disks across the surface of the board. Technically, you don’t have to flick the disk – you could also push it, or nudge it, or thwack it if that’s how you roll. Bottom line – movement in this game is physical; it feels like a throwback to marbles. It’s an important, perhaps even central, part of the design – but flicking isn’t the game. Movement is a means to an end, not an end in and of itself. Players need to be able to land their shots, but because there’s an element of exploration, most shots, particularly in the beginning, are short range. Long shots are possible, to be sure, and can open up new avenues for a player – but they also open up risk. And this is where I think the board does its job. If you’re doing short range movement, particularly within a tile, then the seams are irrelevant. If you’re doing longer range movement, then you need to weigh the benefits of making your shot with the risk that it’s not going to work. If it really, really bothers you, then you can hold down the seams or something to make it a bit more smooth. But even if you make it across the seams with no issues, the discs are fairly light. If they hit one of the planets with sufficient force, they’re going to bounce, usually in unanticipated ways. Bottom line – channel your inner Newton. The harder you’re flicking, the more likely you’re going to suffer a bad rebound.

At its heart, I think this game just really works. All of the components come together into an interesting package that’s a lot more than the sum of its parts. And that, I think, is an important thing to remember; this game isn’t a dexterity game. It’s a civ game with dexterity elements. I’ve seen some discussion about how to make the dexterity elements work better, and honestly, I think that’s a bit like painting minis in other games: great if you have the time and energy, but not a central part of what the game is all about, and certainly not necessary to enjoy the game, at least in my view. Ascending Empires is a fun game that presents interesting decisions and solid interactivity while managing to not take itself too seriously. It plays fast and keeps players engaged through the whole game – no small feat for a civ game – while rewarding strategic play and good decision making – not often noted as hallmarks of dexterity games. I think it’s fair to say that in blending elements that aren’t typically viewed as synergistic, Ascending Empires manages to become a game that in some ways is truly the best of several possible worlds.

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Reviewed My First Game
148 of 164 gamers found this helpful
“[Insert Pun with "Flick" Here]”

My game collection is to the point where a new game really has to have something special to excite me. Do something I haven’t seen before and you’re on my watch list. Execute it well, and… well, shut up and take my money!

Ascending Empires managed to skip the watch list. I saw this in my FLGS (Amazing Wonders, Lexington, KY!!!), read the back, and bought it on the spot. Within twenty minutes some friends and I had everything stickered up, the cool puzzle-piece board assembled, and our warp drives powered up.

The game itself is simple. You can do one thing on your turn. Recruit troops to worlds you control, mine for victory points, build stuff, research technology, or move around. Standard fare. But ship movement involves literally flicking the little wooden space ship discs. This has blown the minds of innocent passers-by at the shop. Because it’s awesome.

This game might be bland without the variance of the flick. And rolling dice to see how far you move–well, let’s just say sophisticated gamers aren’t fond of that one. But with your finger tensed to flick, the feeling that you are in control of the destiny of that ship and her crew… it’s intense. Then you flick. And the ship flies off the board, lost in space. How did that happen? And what are you going to do now that you’re outnumbered in an unfriendly sector?

There’s just so much to do here, so much excitement. And because you only get to take that one action on your turn, the downtime is practically nil. Perhaps after a ton of plays, some new expansion material might be nice, but so far it’s just been great fun to introduce this to as many gamers as possible and flick some ships!

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Gamer - Level 8
Explorer - Level 5
Critic - Level 3
64 of 71 gamers found this helpful | Medals x 1
“It's space frickin flipping baby”

Ascending Empires is a fast paced space exploration that does what it sets out to do really well. This isn’t intended to be a deep thinking 4X game (we’ve got other games for that) but rather a quick no downtime game which almost is a borderline filler if everyone knows the rules.


Each player takes control of a corner of deep space with a home planet and will explore space, settle new planets and do some researching. Eventually space won’t be big enough for everyone resulting in conflict and fighting over a few planets here and there.


Space, as everyone knows, is built up off 9 squares as a 3×3 field with a few planets mixed in. At the start of the game these are hidden so you won’t know which resource they contain and thereby have to explore them. Each planet may produce 1 of 4 resources or it might be a barren asteroid without any useful material.

The players start of with a (barren) home planet and two spaceships on the search for a new world and on your turn you may perform one of the following actions:

* Movement – 2 movement points which can be flicking the spaceship through space, landing or taking off planets. Be careful when flicking because if your tiny spaceship moves off the board it has indeed run of the edge of space and is lost in time and, uhm, space…

* Build – there are 3 available constructions to build that will mainly score points or allow you to research.

* Research – improve 1 of 4 different technologies given you have enough resource centers on the planets linked with that technology.
* Recruit – Add 2 troops to your controlled planets
* Mine – return troops from a planet to score victory points

Both movement and recruitment points can be improved with the belonging technology research. Each of the technologies will improve your species / nation (or whatever you want to call it) in either attack, defence, movement or recruitment which often will be dictated by what planets you find.

In the end, Ascending Empires is a game about gathering most victory points. These are earned in several ways and the game lasts until the supply of points has been depleted.
Technology – If you’re first on a level of one of the 4 techs you’ll earn points equal to that level (possibly 40 points available but that just won’t happen)
Eliminating opponent pieces (1 point pr. piece)
Mining – remove two troops for one point or 3 for two (often used during end game)

In addition you score points for colonies, cities, each planet controlled and a bonus for controlling planets in 3 or more quadrants of space.


Ascending Empires is a very fast paced and engaging game with next to no down time as actions are quick and you often have planned for 3-4 turns ahead – move → land → build research center → research and thus turns are pretty much over before you’ve started.

Combat is very much in the spirit of the game and is simply about having enough space ships within range of the target, but do not be too rash, if you hit another ship both will be removed from space.

On the negative side there have been complaints about warping board pieces but for me this is almost a plus. Who thought space would be a luxury ride without any hazards any way?

Ascending Empires is really unlike any game out and is one of the reasons why I recommend it, in addition it is in fact a pretty good game that is bound to give some hilarious moments as well.

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80 of 175 gamers found this helpful
“Wow....this is fun!”

What a great game! Fun, not overly complicated, good times. Flicking little ships is only part of the fun though. There is a very nice little tech tree and some basic exploration bits. The tech tree is nice since it really is impossible to get everything! The resource constraints also work well making it a tight game with some interesting choices!


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