Guest Post: Exploring Strange New Worlds Just to Get Your Butt Kicked – A Review of the Borg Assimilation Expansion for Star Trek:Ascendancy

Hey All:

It’s been a busy week this week, so haven’t had time to write.  Luckily, my friend Eric Carter is back with a guest review of the Borg Assimilation Expansion for Star Trek: Ascendancy.  You might remember our playthrough of the base game, but if not, you can find it here: https://swordboardandpen.com/2018/07/08/guest-session-report-star-trek-ascendancy/

My game collection has evolved over the past decade. It grew into a highly-varied mass of 200 titles and expansions, then shrank to less than half that when I needed to keep my freelance business going. Now my collection grows deliberately with just a few titles added each year. One of the aspects that a game needs to have is the ability to play it solo. If it’s sci-fi themed then deliberation is out the window and it’s time to clear some Kallax space for my new acquisition.

Star Trek:Ascendancy’s base game is not a solo experience, so while the game remained in my sensor range, the $100 price tag kept it out of my tractor beam for quite some time. Finding it at a store closing sale for an unbeatable price resulted in quickly stowing it in the trunk of my shuttlecraft. By the way, I make no apologies for the any Star Trek puns, jokes or wordplay in this review, and I invite you to read this in the voice of Captain Jean-Luc Picard hence forth while you sip on your freshly replicated Earl Gray.

Even though it can be considered a 4X game, base Ascendancy initially feels like a standard engine-building Euro-style game. You begin with meager resources to build up and send out your fleet to establish more resource-generating colonies, which gives you more options for improving your ship’s various abilities and defenses. These decisions have to be balanced out with the goal of the game – being the first player to acquire 5 Ascendancy tokens.
Within these mechanics, the publisher, Gale Force Nine, has built an exceptionally thematic Star Trek experience. The Federation, the Klingons, and the Romulans all have their restrictions and rule exceptions that encourage different playing styles. However, to play solo, you need the Borg:Assimilation expansion.

What the Borg brings to your Ascendancy game is similar to what a tornado brings to a trailer park. The box comes with five Borg cubes that ruthlessly seek out the player’s ships, starbases, and home worlds, assimilating the colonies and civilizations they find along the way. The worlds they take over become a cruel parody of their previous existence… the player’s control markers that potentially house three resource-generating nodes are replaced with obsidian Borg spires, and the resource node spaces become a three-turn countdown timer that heralds a newly-constructed Cube to add to the Borg menace.

These Borg cubes, when they encounter your ships, fight with 9 combat dice. Roughly speaking, a fresh Borg cube has the same strength as a fleet of 9 starships, but unlike a player’s fleet, a Borg cube can regenerate itself after a round of combat. If a cube survives a round and rolled any 6’s during that round, it recovers one of its combat dice from the Cube’s damage tracker. What’s more, the Borg’s shields increase in strength each round, therefore it’s imperative that your ships destroy a Borg cube swiftly before it becomes impossible to overcome. The only advantages you have against the Borg are a First Strike opportunity during the first round of combat, and any Borg advancement cards you’ve happened to get due to successfully destroying a Cube or freeing a Borg-infested world in a previous turn.

The expansion adds Borg-specific system discs and exploration cards, creating even more thematic possibilities to the game. This, however, is where Gale Force Nine has slightly fallen short of perfection. While the plastic playing pieces are exceptionally scuplted, the printed elements of the game do not visually match up with the base game. They are slightly darker and more glossy, which makes them stand out during play.

During one of my first solo games I chose not to Explore because I saw that the next system I would reveal was going to be a Borg system disc, and quite possibly one of the two Warp Conduits that would give the Borg a shortcut to my home world. This is potentially a huge problem for solo play. However, my completionist’s mentality had already compelled me to buy both of the player expansions, namely the Ferengi and Cardassian factions, which also come with additional exploration cards and system discs. Thankfully these all have the exact same production issue, which means that the workaround for the Borg system discs problem is to simply add in even more! In my later games I did just that and now have a very large stack of system discs and exploration cards. I believe the stack was 51 discs high at the start of the game. It’s a simple, yet admittedly costly, solution.

In a solo game against the Borg they begin with their Transwarp Hub system disc already in play and, during their Build phase, must roll higher than the number of Borg cubes currently on the map in order to place a cube. This means that the Borg are already gunning for  you before turn two. Their movement rules send them exploring towards your home planet unless their Command cards tell them otherwise. A compliment to the designers… there is rarely a moment where you as the player need to make any decisions for the Borg’s actions.

One of the joys of playing with an intellectual property such as Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, Marvel, etc., is recreating a moment from those beloved stories. One of my plays did this remarkably well by having a seemingly promising game end suddenly after encountering Q, who sent my galaxy-class starship a space lane away onto a Borg Transwarp Conduit, harkening back to the Next Generation episode where Q first brought the Enterprise into contact with the Borg. Earth was assimilated soon after.

Something the Borg expansion makes you forget is that the base game already presents plenty of dangers to your ships. Hazardous systems can destroy them if they’re not shielded, Exploration cards can wreak havoc with your plans, and the simple random configuration of the system discs can mean that  you don’t have the necessary resources available to you to build up your fleets or improve your weapons before the Borg arrive. Most of my games had me struggling to get an engine going before even thinking about futilely resisting.

After four easy defeats I decided to take advantage of the rule variations in the back of the base game. One of them allows for the player to start with 8 Production, 6 Research and 4 Culture instead of the usual 3 of each. Sadly, both games I played this way ended the same as the others.
The next time I play will involve adding in other possible rule variations, and even using two factions. I have a feeling a second faction will help quite a bit, because the Borg won’t be constantly bee-lining for a single home world. However, it may just delay the inevitable, and make the defeat even worse, because if a faction becomes assimilated, the Borg now effectively have two turns to your one. The expansion is not only designed to give a player the option to play alone, but it also gives a multiplayer game a collective threat, something which they must cooperate against or perish. And an assimilated player is just that… they are now Borg, and their turn becomes another turn for the Collective.

Simply put, expect to lose to the Borg resoundingly often. However, if you’re willing to endure these defeats, you’ll have an amazing Star Trek experience. When you finally prevail, it will become a game so legendary that the Klingons will write grand operas about it.

My Half Year in Review

I am writing this and realizing the year is half over, which means that by now I should have played about 25 games from our “What should we play deck” as well as be about halfway done with my 10 x 10 and 5 x 1 Challenges.

The What Should We Play Deck has been a lot of fun.  We have been able to play some new games (and find some new gems) but also revisit games that we haven’t played in a while, for whatever reason.  I always seem to be looking for the new hot thing without realizing how many great games I have sitting on the shelf; case in point, I got out D-Day at Omaha Beach and played a few turns, and I forgot how tense and enjoyable this game is.  I know that this feeling isn’t unique to me, as many gamers probably feel this way, but having this deck guiding what we play instead of me staring at my collection and picking something I’ve played a lot has been really enjoyable.  My wife and I sort of picked “togetherness” as our word for the year, something to strive for, and this has definitely helped with that.  We don’t sit in front of the TV near as much or on our computers; we get our daughter to bed then play a game at least once a week.  I’m excited to keep this going for the rest of the year (and beyond).

I attended BGG.Spring this year and it was tons of fun as well.  I realized I never did a write up, but I played tons of classic games (or at least classic to me) that I don’t own or don’t get the chance to play very often.  I even went out of my comfort zone to ask complete strangers if I could join them in a game.  I want to try to attend a convention a year (or every 2) but I also want to try out a wargame convention as well.  It’s a different clientele than the BGG.cons (at times) so I think it would be another step out of my comfort zone.

My biggest surprise game to me this half year was: Space Base.  This is a dice rolling game that, to me, Is a better Machi Koro.  I haven’t played it a ton, but once I was introduced to it I had to get a copy.

My biggest disappointment game to me this half year was: The Mind.  I know it was up for one of the Spiel awards, but to me, this isn’t a game so much as an activity.  I don’t know.  I liked it more than I thought I would once I finally played it, but don’t want to play it again.

My biggest deep cut (game that I’ve had forever and finally played again) this half year was D-Day Dice.  I had not played it much due to the Kickstarter drama surrounding it, but I finally got over that and once we played it I forgot how much I really enjoy it.

My biggest Finally game (that game that’s sat on my shelf forever and I finally got to play) is a tie between The Colonists and Star Wars Rebellion.  Two very different games (Heavy, thinky Euro and Ameritrash goodness) but these hit just about everything I want in those respective categories, so I’m glad I’ve played them both, and hopefully will play them more frequently.

Most Memorable Gaming Moment So Far: Playing the six map version of Memoir ’44  D-Day landings at BGG.con.  I was really nervous about getting this together, but we ended up having a great time and it’s something I would consider doing every year.  It was organized chaos, and I definitely learned some lessons for if we do it again.

2018 has been a great year for gaming so far, and I’m really excited to see what I get played in the coming months.

Review: Champions of Midgard

One thing that my wife and I wanted to do this year was revisit some older ‘classic’ games that we really used to enjoy, but that have sort have been relegated to the corner of the game shelf as the new hotness arrives.  Sometimes, though, I find a game that revisits mechanics of these classics, and it can even replace the feelings I have for those classic games.  Champions of Midgard is one of those games.

Champions of Midgard is a worker placement/die rolling game designed by Ole Steiness and published by Grey Fox Games.  I would describe it best as a mix between Lords of Waterdeep and Stone Age, because the primary mechanic is worker placement, but there is also die rolling to determine if you defeat monsters or hunt successfully.

In Champions of Midgard, players are trying to vie for the Jarlship by recruiting 3 different types of adventurers and gathering resources that they can use to purchase or lease ships so that they can adventure to battle monsters.  Players can earn glory, but if they aren’t mindful to deal with the trolls that are rampaging outside the village then the villagers get angry with them and give them blame.  If no player defeats a troll each turn, they all take blame, which leads to increasing negative points at the end of the game.  If a player defeats the troll, then they get to give one blame to another player.  To fight monsters, you roll the adventurer dice you’ve assigned to the monster and have to roll enough symbols to meet the defense value of the monster.  You can also roll shields which block some of the damage you would have to take; for each damage you take, you lose a die.

The monsters you fight all have a different color, so there is an element of set collecting to this game as well.  You might try to fight a stronger monster because it’s the last color you need to complete your set (which means more end game victory points).  Each player also has a secret objective they are trying to complete (and a way to gain more throughout the game).

I really, really enjoyed my play of this game, and it’s one I’ve been itching to get to the table since.  It plays quick, is pretty simple to teach and pick up, and there is enough replayability that it would be pretty tough to play the same game twice.  The artwork is awesome and I do feel like it fits the theme really well.

I like the combination of mechanics in this game.  While I like Waterdeep, it can get a little bit samey to me (also because we played it a lot when it first came out) and I really like the dice mechanic in Stone Age.  By combining these two things, Champions is a fun game that provides some tense moments and some really meaningful decisions.

Review: Dice Forge

It’s been a while!! But I am glad to be back, writing.  I’ve had a rough adjustment period with some new medication I’ve been taking, but I’m back in the saddle and looking forward to writing.

With that being said, let’s get on to the review!!

It’s no surprise I love Dice Games.  I don’t know what it is about them, but I really like games that involve dice, especially when they are used in a non-standard way.

I recently saw a game on Instagram that was a “Dice Builder”.  I was immediately intrigued by it, so I did some research and dove in and picked up a copy.  That game is Dice Forge, designed by Régis Bonnessée and published by Asmodee as well as others.

In Dice Forge, players are heroes trying to impress the Gods.  On a players turn, they will roll their dice to gain resources, then they can either purchase faces that upgrade their current dice with more or better rewards or they can go on adventures where they spend resources to gain either one time or every turn abilities.  There are other rules that I won’t discuss, because this is the overall idea of it.

To upgrade your dice, you physically remove the die face you wish and snap the new die face onto it.   So when they say that this is a Dice Builder, they aren’t kidding…you really get to shape your dice to fit into the strategy you wish to follow.

I have already played this game 3 times, which for me is a pretty big statement. I really, really enjoy this game.  It’s a unique mechanic and the different faces that are present can give you a different way to go about planning your path to victory.  It is not a difficult game to pick up but trying to figure out on which dice to place a face provides a little more of a thinky opportunity, especially if you are terrible at probability and math like I am :D.

I would heartily recommend Dice Forge to just about anyone, unless you don’t like luck.  The main issue you can run into is that none of your cool new die faces aren’t being rolled, but it plays quick enough (at least to me) that it isn’t an issue.

This was an impulse purchase, and it’s probably been my best impulse purchase in a long time.  If you are into dice and deck builders, I definitely suggest you pick this one up.

What are some of your favorite “outside the box” games? Let me know in the comments below!

Review: Azul

Ooooooooh boy.  I had been waiting for this game for quite some time after I saw a playthrough on Heavy Cardboard’s YouTube Channel.  Unfortunately it was quite hard to find, as it was extremely popular.

Luckily for me, I noticed that it was to be back in stock at Miniature Market, so I quickly jumped over to their corner of the internet, and managed to snag a preorder.  It shipped super quick, and since Samantha and I’s game of the week was “Play a New Game” we fired it up with some friends last Friday.

Azul is a tile placement game from Plan B Games/Next Move Games.  You are creating a wall inspired by azulejos that can be found across the southern Iberia peninsula.  While the theme is nice, to me it’s not vital to the gameplay (although it did make the game more appealing to Samantha).

On your turn you can take 1 color (from 5) of tiles from either a factory space or from the center of the board.  You then have to place those tiles on a row (containing 1-5 spaces) on your player board.  When you fill up a row, 1 tile goes over to your wall and you score points based upon how many existing tiles it touches.  The game is over when someone fills up a row on their wall.  The catch is that if you take more of one color than you can fit on a row, the excess falls to the floor, causing you to lose points.  There is also end game scoring for the number of rows, columns, and complete sets of colors you have on your wall.

This is a great game.  It’s thinky, but not so much that I don’t feel like I can play it after a day of heavy programming at work.  It has enough player interaction for us in that you can really screw up someone’s turn/plans if you stick them with enough tiles (at one point during our 1st game I lost 10 points [I think] because I didn’t have anywhere to put them) but if you play completely harsh you will likely won’t win.

The components are fantastic.  The player boards are chipboard along with the factory discs, but where the components really shine are the tiles.  They aren’t glass, but they feel like a heavier plastic.  I am not sure if it’s bakelite, but they are nice to touch and hold while you are thinking about where to play, and there isn’t a seam in them.  Additionally, the patterns for the tiles are printed on seamlessly, so I’m not too concerned about it wearing off anytime soon.  You also get a nice drawstring bag to keep all the tiles in.

For replayability, there is also a back side to the player board that is just a blank grid (the front side has specific tiles printed on each space in the wall). This is a much more thinky and ‘need to be more aware of what I’m doing’ way to play the game.  We haven’t tried it yet, but I am sure we will some day.

For me, Azul is a great gateway game for people interested in more puzzle type games.  The rules are not hard to pick up on, but to learn how to play the game optimally will take a few more plays, and can change due to how the tiles are distributed.  I really think there is a place for Azul in anyone’s collection, so if you can find a copy for a reasonable price, I’d recommend you grab it!

I actually enjoyed it enough that it displaced one of my 10 x 10 games that we hadn’t started playing yet, so I’m looking forward to playing it more.

Blast from the Past Review: Suburbia

For a very brief time, I ran another Boardgameblog on Boardgamegeek mostly called “The IT Gamer”.  I didn’t stick with it for very long but I did have a few reviews and so from time to time I’ll post them here, and note them as such.  This one is for Suburbia, which is still one of my favorite games even if it is a bit fiddly.

Originally posted Jan. 14, 2013

Suburbia is a tile placement, city building game for 1-4 players, designed by Ted Alspach and published by Bézier Games, Lookout Games, and uplay.it edizioni. I have played it 5 times as of this writing

Theme (1-5): This is a game about building a city, and the theme really shows. There are all sorts of buildings you can build, from an “Office of Bureaucracy” to a “Mobile Home Park” to “Domestic” and “International” Airports. But the buildings aren’t the only aspect of the theme.

You also get bonuses and penalties if you build inconsistently. For example, if you build a freeway next to a suburb, then you lose 1 Reputation. If you build a Movie Theater, Fast Food Restaurant, or Stadium next to a community area (a green tile), then you get more population or income. If you build an office supply store next to a skyscraper, that gives you a boost as well.

The final aspect of “Theme” is that some buildings affect others throughout the whole game. If you build a fancy restaurant, for example, you get a lot of income up front…but if other players decide to build other restaurants, then you start to lose income: Customers only want to come to the fancy restaurant when it’s the new, hot thing, and there aren’t cheaper offerings.

The only thing that bothers me is that the theme isn’t 100% consistent. There are a few tiles that can be next to each other that don’t quite seem to make sense, such as a power plant right next to a school. This isn’t a huge deal, but could make you take a step back the first time you encounter it and say “Huh. Interesting”

I give theme a 4.5 out of 5.

Components(1-5): The components are nice cardboard tiles and tokens. Apparently there was a problem with some misprinted tiles and money tokens; my money tokens are off-center, but I haven’t experienced any misprinted tiles, and the misprinted money doesn’t affect game-play at all. I did have a bit of a problem punching out some of the tiles without getting either a little tearing on the edge of the tiles (only 1) or with a little extra cardboard stuck to them afterward (5 or 6).

Another unique aspect of the components is the dual sided player board. Each player gets a player board from which to build his suburbs, and you can either build ‘up’ (towards the center of the table) or ‘down’ (towards the edge of the table). This is a nice touch for those gamers who have space limitations.

The components are functional, decent quality, but do have some minor issues.

I give components a 3.5 out of 5.

Gameplay (1-5): The gameplay is pretty straight forward. There are 3 stacks of tiles (A, B, C) . When the A stack is exhausted, you begin placing tiles from the B stack in the market. There is a variable end game tile that is mixed in with some of the C tiles. This means you will never quite know how many more rounds you get to play, even if you do have a general idea.

Each turn, you buy a tile or place an investment token (which doubles the effect of one of your tiles).
The tiles you buy can be placed in your suburb or flipped over to create a lake. When you place a tile, you run through a plethora of steps to add Income, Population, and Reputation to your board. These steps include checking the tile itself, checking the adjacent tiles, checking other tiles in your suburb, and checking other player’s tiles. It may seem like a lot, but after a few plays you get the hang of it. Also (and this ties in with theme), as you score points, you will pass red lines on the scoring track. As you pass these red lines, you must decrease your income and reputation (which you have been building by playing tiles). This reflects the difficulty in expanding a city and providing it the infrastructre and other needs; as your suburb gets bigger, it’s going to take more money and you will need a higher reputation to bring residents to your suburb.

Another aspect of gameplay is the goals, which require a player to usually get the most or the least of something, whether it be a type of building, income, reputation, or even congruent lakes. The goals are cleverly titled (the Libertarian goal gives the player with the fewest Government buildings). Each player gets a secret goal which is only for them to try to achieve, and there are also “global goals” that all players can try to achieve.
The problem with the goals is that sometimes the secret goals of a player and the global goals can be incompatible: You, as a player, could get the “Least amount of Lakes” goal, while one of the global goals is “Most Lakes.” This hasn’t been a big issue in the games I’ve played, but I do see the potential. There have been a few fixes or variants suggested on BGG, and I have yet to try them. One idea a few players and I did come up with was the possibility of themed scenarios or sets of goals that players draw from, that could possibly be themed with actual cities?

Finally, play time. Play takes 90 minutes, according to the official BGG play time, and I have to agree, although this could be a little high once all players know what they are doing.

The game-play is pretty simple when you get the hang of it, and it’s a different take on the Tile Laying that I normally play. While the goals can give some wonky outcomes, this is a solid game.

I give game-play 4 out of 5.

Replayability (1-5): This game has a lot of replayability. There are a ton of tiles, and not all of them are used each game. While there are some repeat tiles, the different goals and tiles that could come up each game means not two games will be the same.

I give Replayability 4 out of 5.

Soloability (1-5): Soloability is very, very important to me. I started gaming as a solitaire wargamer, and there aren’t always people around. Fortunately, Suburbia provides not one, but two different solitaire modes. The first is more of an optimization style game: It’s just you, but you have to be able to get rid of 2 tiles a turn (one that you buy/place and the other to keep the game moving). The second is with a dummy player. I haven’t played the second mode yet, but the first is a great way to get the core mechanics of the game and see what buildings are available. While many designers may not have solo rules in mind, this designer provided two ways for us lonely gamers to play.

I give soloability 5 out of 5.

Difficulty (Scale of 1-5, with 1 being easy): I would rate this at a 2, simply because there is a lot to check each turn to make sure you are getting the most out of your tiles.

Expansions/Promos? There is one set of Promos which feature buildings from Essen. I have not yet played with these promos.

My Overall Score(1-5): Overall, Suburbia is an excellent City development game that is light, fast, and fun. This could even be a [heavier] gateway game for new gamers who may have played one or two style Euro Games prior.

I give Suburbia a 4 out of 5.

thumbsup Best Thing about the game: The theme; It permeates throughout the game (Tile interaction, scoring track, goals).

thumbsdownWorst thing about the game: The ability for the goals to really affect the outcome of the game.

Review: Sagrada

In 2015 my wife traveled to Spain to achieve a life long goal of hers…which was to travel to Spain and teach.

She spent 4 weeks in Seville and I met her for two weeks after.  We traveled all through the country, spending time in Seville, Córdoba, Granada, Barcelona, and Pamplona (we even attended the Running of the Bulls!).

In Barcelona, I had the opportunity to hear all about Antoni Gaudí, with whom my wife had become obsessed.  For those of you know don’t know, Gaudí is/was the architect behind La Sagrada Familia, a huge Basilica located in Barcelona that is known for many, many wonderful things, including it’s stained glass work.

sagradafamilia1sagradafamilia2

When I heard that there was going to be a dice game based on building stained glass windows, I knew this was one that would be an auto back for us.  I didn’t even really read through the rules in full, I heard that it was dice placement and I heard that it was based upon the basilica.  I opened my wallet and let them take my money.

The first time I played Sagrada, I knew it was something special.  It was thinky, but not the type of thinky that made your brain really hurt.  It looked absolutely stunning once all the dice of varying colors were placed.  There were ways for you to impact the other players, but it wasn’t in a confrontational way, which was nice for my wife and I.

We have played the game with the minimum (2) and the maximum (4) and we haven’t felt that play suffered at either of those player counts.  There are a wide variety of ‘tool cards’ which are special powers that players can pay to buy as well as a variety of public end game scoring goals.  One of the cons I have to this game (which I have for other games that run into this issue) is when you have two goals that are not compatible with each other.  Some people may not have a problem with this, and I know it’s a bit of a reach to call it a con, but I have had better plays when the 3 public objectives have been distinct.

The other major ‘con’ to this game is that you can’t find it.  It has been in high demand since it’s release, so I am always grabbing it to throw in my bag of games for game days so I can share the awesomeness that is this game.

Floodgate Games has published a gem, and this is one game I am super glad is on my 10 x 10 list this year so I can keep playing it.  Even if my overall strategy is normally the same, with the different window ‘boards’ to play, the different combination of goals, and the different combination of tools, I know this one will have immense replayability for years to come.

Review Rules

I’m off to  a great start with this whole “post twice a week” thing…

Anyway, I had originally started about having a super objective review/rating system.  Judging games on lots of areas on a scale of 1 to 5, breaking it down for everyone, and making it the definitive way I’ll review games.

But I’m not going to do that.

That seems really complicated for something I want to do for fun.  I want to write about games.  So when I review a game, I’m going to give you an overview of what the game is, what mechanics it has, what games I think it’s similar to, what I liked, and what I didn’t like.  I may say that it’s my game of the year, I may say it’s garbage (probably not), but my goal is to not overthink things.

The game of the week is “A Dice Game” and Sagrada happens to be on my 10 x 10, so I think we’ll be playing that tonight.  Look for my review on Saturday, as we’ll be travelling on Sunday this week.