The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Quick Thoughts

Ascension — a mess of a game that I enjoyed. Space Alert — a mess of a game I didn’t enjoy.

With Space Alert, you basically don’t have enough bandwidth. You have ten minutes to figure out what the threats are and make your moves, and you have to lock in your moves at set times. So a threat comes, players assess it, discuss moves, lock a few in, another threat comes, etc etc. But the strategy required is complicated. One (clever) captain could quickly come up with a strategy and explain, but players may be limited on what they can do (cards), or players may mishear or misplay.

Then theoretical hilarity ensues.

In essence Space Alert is an alternate workaround to the “One guy dictates everything” by making that player the captain, but giving not nearly enough time to dictate. Unfortunately, the alternate solution is everyone tries to talk at once. Space Alert may strike some as a fun activity, but in my mind, it’s a time-pressured puzzle.

Ascension — The anti-Macao. The flaws jump out at you. Two types of purchasing (Money and Combat), but what you can buy is highly limited and replaces randomly. We had one player with a huge Money hand with 6 combat cards up. Some cards strictly superior to others (including some “What were they thinking?” cards that show that the designers hadn’t read any of Donald’s Secret History, which explicitly warn against at least one card there. But it plays fast, easy up easy down. It may take a few more games to see if there are second order effects (He’s building this, so I should do that), which will determine if this has staying power.  Played four times, which shows how much I cared about balance and elegance. (Actually, the game does have some elegance, I just think it needs more development. It strikes me as Shadowfist to Dominion’s Magic the Gathering, less pretentious, with a few slight rules changes with enormous implications).

I still like Roma.

Written by taogaming

September 6, 2010 at 10:43 pm

Posted in Session Reports

Tagged with , ,

9 Responses

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  1. I love Space Alert. It is definitely a time-pressured puzzle, but the puzzle isn’t the threats and the board, it’s figuring out who you need to talk to before solving your trivial puzzle and who you really really need to not bother while they talk to the person they need to talk to in order to solve their trivial puzzle.

    It’s an exercise in timed communication, IMO.

    Guy Srinivasan

    September 7, 2010 at 1:06 am

  2. One fairly simple solution that occurred to me to the problem of not having the right currency for the Ascension board is to figure out which currency your right-hand-opponent is prioritizing, and work on maxing the other one. Doesn’t give you an advantage if everyone uses the same strategy, of course, but at least it cuts down on board lock.

    There does seem to be a pronounced going-early advantage; the first player will on average have the best choices, and the quality of choices deteriorates for the rest of the first set of turns. Maybe the first player to act should have only 6-(n-1) rows to buy from, with other rows filling as play progresses.

    Fred Bush

    September 7, 2010 at 4:12 am

    • I like the limited rows for starting player …


      September 7, 2010 at 5:50 pm

  3. What is “Donald’s Secret History”?


    September 7, 2010 at 7:12 am

    • The Secret History of Various Dominion Sets….


      September 7, 2010 at 5:50 pm

  4. To me the biggest flaw in Ascension is the scarcity of Banish actions. A player with a first or second turn pick-up that includes banishing from their hand/discard can tune their deck to hit either type of currency strong and dominate the board. Given that there’s only a handful of them in the game I’m tempted to suggest a variant where you cash in honor to Banish a card from your hand/discard, though unless that honor stays out of the pool it would theoretically make the game longer and favor the player who got the early two Militia draw.


    September 7, 2010 at 8:47 am

  5. I don’t know. I keep hearing people talk about tuning their deck to one type of currency, but I think Ascension might be a lesson in proper balance. While I certainly think a strong money (runes) deck shows more potential than a strong power deck, I think the randomness of the center row means that if you over-commit in either direction, your bound to wind up in the types of situations you guys have described. I like to strike a good balance, and then get some constructs on the table that guarantee me a certain number of both elements each turn. Then you just augment those with what’s in your hand. I think the booby prizes — the cultist, heavy infantry, and mystics, do well to ensure you always get “something” in the early game, even if it’s sub-optimal. The game definitely revolves around short-term tactics, as opposed to Dominion’s pre-planned strategy. I love the lifebound heroes, but if they aren’t coming out in the early game, then I’m forced to concede and make the best plans with what’s available. I *think* that’s why I like this game a little more than Dominion. It really comes down to whether you prefer strategy or tactics.


    September 7, 2010 at 12:44 pm

  6. Funny, the things you dislike about Space Alert are the very things that make this the only cooperative game I particularly like. The time pressure does a *great* job of ensuring that one player won’t dominate play while greatly adding to the playing experience. To me, it’s the only co-op game that doesn’t feel like a solo design split into four or five parts. Chvatil makes games unlike any designer in the world, although I fear even he won’t be able to do anything with blind selection (c.f. Sneaks and Snitches).

    Larry Levy

    September 7, 2010 at 8:04 pm

  7. I agree that Ascension seems to require balance. I had an opportunity the other day to go super-heavy on combat (lots of monsters in the center, got two early Void Hero banish powers), and killed for a while and then got completely hammered when the monsters dried up.

    I think the game also has rather different dynamics at 2, 3, and 4 players. I like 2 player a lot. I’m not totally sold on more players.


    September 20, 2010 at 2:09 pm

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