Cardboard Children: You’re In Space

By Robert Florence on July 16th, 2011 at 4:50 pm.


Hello youse.

Hands up who remembers Subbuteo. Hands up!

Put your hand down, for fuck’s sake, I can’t see you.

I had Subbuteo back in the day. We all did. American readers might not be aware of it. It was a tabletop football game where you flicked the players at a plastic ball, in an attempt to score goals. A football match, in plastic. I didn’t have a table large enough to take the large green sheet that served as the game’s pitch, so I would lay it out on the living room floor behind my da’s chair. Night after night, my da would play Subbuteo with the 10 year old me – I’d be Glasgow Celtic and he’d be Aberdeen, purely because the other team was a red colour.

Neither of us really knew the proper rules, and we were both terrible at the game. The matches were usually ghastly 0-0 grinds, because the playing surface was so poor. Folds and creases everywhere and lumps and bumps where the patterned carpet under the pitch undulated. A wee boy and his da, on their knees, flicking plastic men while Strike it Lucky blasted from the living room telly. My ma at the bingo. My whole life ahead of me. My da still alive.

I don’t know if Subbuteo is a great game. I’m sure it is. It just wasn’t really a game to me. It was just one of many things I shared with my da. Like Star Trek and in-depth conversations about the nature of the universe. Now, as a father myself, I realise what was actually happening when we were playing that game we didn’t know the rules of. We were just being with each other. Flicking plastic. Shooting the shit. Playing.

What’s the point of all this?

Being with each other – for me, that’s the key element of board gaming. When you get that occasional person who openly tells you they see board games as “sad”, I feel a bit sad that they don’t get it. If I want to play a board game with you, it really just means I want to sit with you a while. That’s not a bad thing, is it?

But, yeah, there’s a reason why I was thinking about flicking. I want to tell you about a brilliant board game this week. A brilliant board game. It’s called Ascending Empires.

ASCENDING EMPIRES

Picture this. You’re in space.

You’re sitting in a starship, waiting for the word to attack. Your Commander is overseeing the invasion of an enemy planet, and you’re ready to launch. He has been preparing for this assault for months. You’ve watched as he recruited civilians from conquered planets and made them starship pilots like yourself. You’ve watched as he researched spectacular new technologies for your race. So much preparation. And now, here you are, the starship’s engines thrumming somewhere below you, as your Commander gets set to send you across the galaxy into your enemy’s orbit.

And he rises above you. He bends over you. His giant finger comes down to the rear of your starship.

He says – “Look! My finger’s shaking like fuck!”

Other people laugh. You shift a little in your seat. You check your harness. You’re sweating a little. There’s a photo of your wife and daughter above the imaging panel. You touch it, for luck. It’s not you who needs that luck.

You see the Commander move a giant cup of coffee.

“Right. Here we go. COME ON.” The Commander’s finger flicks, striking the rear of your ship. You rocket through space, the force pushing you back in your seat. Your life flashes before your eyes. Those walks with Jennifer. Your first day at pilot school, and your first introduction to finger propulsion technology. Saying goodbye to the girls on the-

“HERE NOO!” from the Commander.

Your ship hits an asteroid, and hurtles off course. Worse, you feel the ship tilt, tilt, onto its side. Spinning through space now, you can’t tell up from down. You can’t think. You can hear, barely–

“HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!”

You reach to touch that photograph again, but your gloved fingers can’t make contact. And then you’re out of known space, into a world of brown, then further down (down?) crashing onto some unknown surface, but still spinning.

Rolling and spinning. Until you go under a brown bridge into a blackness, where you find peace.

The last words you hear are “Where’d it go?”

And “Under the sideboard”.

Oh man, is this a great game.

Ascending Empires is a space conquest game for 4 players. It all takes place on a large star map board that splits space into quadrants. On this board, holes are cut. And into these holes you put wooden discs that represent planets and asteroids.

On each turn you can do one thing, just one, which means turns fly round the table like crazy. You take your turn, and then sit down and have a sip of a coffee, and then you go “What? Me again?” For a space conquest game, this is AN UNCOMMON THING.

On your tun you can recruit troops, placing new wee men onto a planet or planets you control. You can build colonies and cities and research stations. Research stations let you RESEARCH, which improves the technologies of your race and awards you victory points and better abilities. You can Mine, which lets you drill into occupied planets for quick and easy victory points.

Or, you can MOVE.

You have, at the start, two movement points. These let you launch and land ships from your planets. Launching is as easy as removing a little plastic man from a planet and placing a wooden disc that represents a starfighter beside that planet. Landing is the reverse. Movement points also let you flick one of your ships across the board.

That’s right. To travel in this game, you need to flick the ships across the board. If you want to conquer an enemy planet, you have to reach it first, by flicking.

This single aspect, the flicking, makes this the best space conquest game I’ve ever played. And I’ve played the amazing Starcraft. I love the flicking because it adds an element of “choke” to the game. You can play like a master, and adopt some killer strategy for the development of your race, but when it comes to a vital defensive flick of one of your starships into the orbit of a planet – your finger will shake, my friend. In Ascending Empires, you can never relax. You’re always one bad flick away from a galactic crisis. Or one flick away from a game-changing masterstroke. A die or a card won’t choose your fate. Your bottle will.

Here’s what happened in a recent game I played.

I was in the lead, just. I’d been focusing on building cities in three separate quadrants, which awards the player a victory point bonus at the end of the game. Because of this expansion strategy, I’d left one of my cities far too lightly defended. The yellow player, Kenny, flicked one of his starships into orbit around the planet with the city. Disaster. It was clear he was making a big move on me, and my people were getting ZAPPED. I was way across the other side of the board, but I had a Battleship, thanks to my advanced technology. Battleships are bigger ships, thus bigger discs. And bigger discs are easier to flick. More stable. I weighed things up. Could I get my Battleship back home in one flick? Into orbit, defending my people? If I fucked up, I would be in a worse position. My planet would still be undefended, and my Battleship would be stranded god knows where.

I flicked.

My Battleship slid perfectly between a planet and an asteroid, kept going, and settled perfectly in orbit. I roared. I could VISUALISE it. Kenny’s starship firing up its attack cannons, and then VOOOOOM a big fucking red Battleship jumping in behind him, dwarfing him.

Man, is this a great game.

There was another beautiful moment that had everyone, even Kenny, in hysterics. One of his ships, on a bad flick, ricocheted off two planets then turned on its side and slowly, so slowly, trundled off the board. You wouldn’t believe how slowly it rolled. We were sore from laughing so much. Any ship that goes off the board is “lost in space”, and it was a horrible thing to happen at an important point of the game, but ohmygodsofunny. Trundle, trundle, trundle, rolling past planets and asteroids, trundle, trundle, trundle – roaring with laughter. Amazing.

I can’t recommend this game enough. If you’re looking for a surprisingly deep space conquest game, that would be great even WITHOUT the flicking, but which features this amazing, hilarious dexterity element – BUY IT NOW. You won’t believe how much your finger shakes when the nerves hit.

ONE LITTLE THING

There’s one little thing about Ascending Empires that must be said. There seems to be a problem with the board in many cases. I’ve been lucky enough to have zero problems with my board, but I’ve heard a lot of complaints from other owners of the game. The board has a jigsaw-style fit, and it seems that some people are experiencing issues where the board pieces fit together. Bad fits are interfering with shots, it seems. Again, I haven’t had any problems, but I think it needs to be said that this issue seems to exist. (Here’s a thing, though – I’m making sure to assemble the board as it was cut. What I mean is, maybe other people aren’t doing that. I don’t know.) Regardless of this issue, the game is so good that it’s worth the risk. Seriously. Don’t miss this game.

LAST THINGS

I was going to talk a little about Battles of Westeros today, but I’m too sickened by a defeat this week to talk about it yet. I’m going to win a battle tomorrow, totally sicken my girlfriend with my amazing strategies, and then tell you about it next week. I will not have you thinking that the God of Games is a loser.

Also, yesterday I was in my local board game shop, and I saw that there’s some new magic expansion thing for Warhammer Fantasy Battle that includes these gorgeous magic spell template things. Anyone know anything about this? It’s not like GAMES WORKSHOP WILL TELL ME ANYTHING.

Finally, the bold Quinns is doing videos about boardgames now – check out http://videosgames.wordpress.com/2011/07/11/shut-up-sit-down/ for details. THE BOARD GAME ADVANCE CONTINUES!

See you next time, my pals!

.

42 Comments »

Sponsored links by Taboola
  1. Temple says:

    Don’t mind if I plagarise you and send the first few paragraphs to my girlfriend do you?
    “If I want to play a board game with you, it really just means I want to sit with you a while. That’s not a bad thing, is it?”
    Somedays she just does not get it.

    Also, fellow rpsers I play boardgames with -doesn’t count with you guys :)

    • Hoaxfish says:

      She’ll use that excuse next time she makes you go shopping with her

    • Tams80 says:

      Buuuuurrned.

    • Temple says:

      Craaaaaaaaaaap. If I delete a sent email it stops it right?

      And back on topic, this was played by people at the last Sunday meet-up and all of them enjoyed it.
      I hadn’t been convinced when asked to play ‘the space flicking game’. Thinking of a combination between crossbows and catapults and subbuteo did not make me jump for joy.

    • BeamSplashX says:

      Doesn’t count for guys? Nonsense.

      Hello, boys.

  2. Sicram says:

    This game, I will have to check it out.

    Also people who know me as a often miss that little detail that I like board games. They all raise an eyebrow and go “I thought you only played computer games”.

  3. Mike says:

    This was an excellent one, Rab. Really enjoyed reading this. The opening segment was really touching.

  4. Premium User Badge

    Colthor says:

    The Warhammer Fantasy expansion is called Storm of Magic, and it adds a heap of monsters and makes magic even more powerful than it is already.

    I think it also adds sort of a magical control-point mechanism, where if a wizard controls certain bits of terrain they gain cataclysmic spells and become a pain in the arse to kill off.

    I’ve not been following it closely – GW have been annoying of late, and I don’t really care for magic in WHFB – but there are rumour threads on Warseer if you wish to know more about what it may or may not be like:

    http://www.warseer.com/forums/showthread.php?s=738d07c9a99a2f1953a0ecccd547e557&t=305482

    • idespair says:

      I’ll just add to that description that it is, in fact, brilliant. You get an extra 25% of your army size which can only be spent on stuff from the new book – mainly monsters, daemons, undead and magic items. You then play a game of king of the hill, in which there are 6 hills which can move, explode or turn all the wizards into frogs (amongst other things). Its big, silly and fun and is the best thing GW have done in years.

    • Nick says:

      Is it like.. Battle Magic? The magic expansion when I still played Warhammer all those (16ish) years ago?

    • Jake says:

      Yeah sort of except as far as I can tell it is a system to crank the magic phase up to 11 – new, more powerful spells and rules. I last played the game when that Battle Magic box set you mentioned was out, but I picked up this months White Dwarf on a whim and it is pretty cool – full of new dragons and monsters and things. If only I was a bazillionaire with infinity time on my hands I would love to get back into that stuff.

    • Temple says:

      Just read a battle report where one piece is £132.
      It is almost like they said ‘How CAN we make more money?????’

    • Nick says:

      I bet they’d end up making more money if they charged less for their stuff.

      =(

  5. Premium User Badge

    Daiv says:

    So it was Cardboard Children Wot Dun Quinns In! Bless you, Rab, for returning to the Cardboard Throne, lest another RPS writer fall to the card side and be lost to its cool, fibrous embrace.

  6. DrGonzo says:

    I got very nostalgic recently when I found an old Ipswich Subbuteo set in the loft. Don’t think my nails could take the damage anymore.

  7. Drake Sigar says:

    Subbuteo isn’t a game, Subbuteo is life.

  8. Tams80 says:

    I WANT THIS GAME. There, I said it.

  9. Easy says:

    I so love cardboard children. As if RPS wasn’t awesome enough, we get to talk about those oh so beautiful cardboard games that have made me the half-man half-geek that I am. Thanks Robert. And, next time, pics!

  10. edwardoka says:

    This sounds tremendous. Will have to procure a set and some friends to play it with.

    Also, vanilla Subbuteo was rubbish.
    Back in the day, we played a variant (which we churlishly called Super Subbuteo), where, instead of using the subbuteo players, we played with whatever toys we wanted, so long as they were vaguely humanoid.

    Hero Quest figures were particularly good for lobbing the ball, except when my mate used a giant Jabba the Hutt figure as his goalie :(

  11. TooNu says:

    aye is wiz a gid een!

  12. Premium User Badge

    Tagert says:

    *raises his hand* Ooh! Ooh! PIck me! I remember it! I remember the game!


    Oh. :(

  13. Brian Rubin says:

    I’m not into boardgames, but I totally wanna try this. :) Thanks!

  14. Yagya says:

    TWILIGHT IMPERIUM is also a space trading, empire growing board game, and from the sounds of it, far superior to this one.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      But there’s no flicking in Twilight Imperium, so how can it be better? It’s lacking a crucial feature, so is clearly dumbed-down console nonsense. Please delete your post in shame.

      KG

    • MD says:

      Kieron, the flicking was streamlined into dice-rolling. Move with the times, old man.

    • Temple says:

      Also, downtime. The time between turns in Twilight can be silly. And the compexity is… well, complex. Ascending is a much quicker turn-around and easier to grasp.
      Also, not all games can be the same. You pretty much compared diablo to baldur’s gate – bad example, but depending on your genre preference you’ll prefer one to another.

      Though you do get to build a deathstar in Twilight

    • Ergonomic Cat says:

      TI2 is perhaps the best space game ever made, once you add Distant Suns.

      It’s also one of the few games that you can reasonably play another game while playing, because it’ll be 30-45 minutes before your turn comes around again.

      TI3 handily fixed that with the rotating turns bit, and made the game far more accessible, but it lost just a little bit of awesome. Still, far more playable.

      Ascending Empires sounds like it might just take 2nd place.

  15. Premium User Badge

    Saul says:

    Sounds grand, but wherez the pica-tures?

  16. Noseybonk says:

    Playing games with my kids… soon enough they’ll be too cool for their dad – boyfriends and girlfriends and driving cars and college – and I’ll be thinking back to evenings of Survive and Pokemon and Zooloretto and wondering where the hell life goes.

    • Temple says:

      There is a rumour that if you don’t murder them when they turn teenagers that they come back and play the more complex games when older.

      Seriously, it is a good investment you made there. A boardgaming group for life :)

  17. echoMateria says:

    The board game with flicking combat concept reminded me of a simpler game called X-Bugs that I got from Steve Jackson a few years ago.

    http://boardgamegeek.com/image/718581/x-bugs

    I like how that gameplay mechanic is combined with conquest aspects, I’m inclined to grab Ascending Empires someday.

    • Ergonomic Cat says:

      X-Bugs is one of the few games I can consistently get my wife and/or daughter to play. We have 3 different sets, and they’ll happily flick bugs across the table with me.

      Also, pogs. And Disk Wars, the far better version of pogs. Not that the family will play that, but it’s the same sort of disks flying about model.

  18. Vile Vile Vilde says:

    Cardboard Children, y u no have more comments.

    • Radiant says:

      The ‘not cardboard children’ comments were all Quinns alter egos.

  19. soyadude says:

    Thanks for answering the question “Wtf is subbuteo?”. Now they should make games based on flicking erasers.