Explore, Expand, Exploit, Exterminate, and… Exit Stage Left — Let’s Play Ascendancy


Everyone who grew up gaming has that handful of videogames that defined his or her childhood. Instead of just formative years, we have formative games. If you’ve read any of this blog, you can probably guess that one of those games, for me, was Doom. But another, which I don’t talk about nearly as much as it deserves, is this one. Ascendancy.

When I think back to being a kid, I think of Ascendancy. I think of hours, days, and years spent meeting bizarre alien races, brokering trade deals and alliances, and conquering galaxies. I especially think of the haunting soundtrack — which is probably not a bad idea to play as mood music for this LP, since it so effectively captures the weird and wonderful atmosphere of the game.


What is Ascendancy? Well, it’s a 4X game from the mid-’90s, created by the mysterious Logic Factory, a company that released only this and one other (even weirder) game, then teased Ascendancy II for almost twenty years… before vanishing from the face of the earth. If you’re wondering what 4X is, think Master of Orion or Civilization. The four Xs stand for explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate; in simplest terms, 4X is a genre of turn-based strategy games focused on exploration, economic development, and diplomacy just as much, if not more so, than on warfare.

It could also, in the case of this let’s play, stand for exacerbating every military and diplomatic confrontation. Exhausting my options. Exasperating my poor readers. Exceeding your worst expectations. And in the end, exhuming and autopsying this corpse of a playthrough.

Nah, I kid. I figured that as my third LP, I’d finally play a game I know pretty well. Certainly the first game I’ve played for you guys that I consider myself anything approaching good at. So the tone of the Ascendancy LP will be a little different than you’re used to: more about showing off a game that means the world to me, and less about chronicling my journey as I fail my way through a game I barely understand. (I’m looking at you, Pokemon Silver.)

One other thing that’ll make this unique: I’ll be doing two runs of the game. You can win Ascendancy by making alliances with every other species, or by conquering them. Since those experiences are so far removed from one another, and I want to show you as much of Ascendancy as I can, it only seemed logical to play through twice — once in the role of a culture of tech-obsessed nerds, and once as revenge-driven zealots.

So here, respectively, are “Explore and Exploit” and “Expand and Exterminate,” our two Ascendancy mini-LPs. You can read one or the other independently, or both of them in either order. The choices are endless!* But first, I’d strongly recommend taking this brief crash-course in Ascendancy‘s game mechanics:


And without further ado — your let’s plays:


Year 1: Race to Space!
Year 2: First Contact!
Year 3: Through the Red Link!
Year 4: Meet the Neighborhood!
Year 5: Shevar Versus the Galaxy!
Year 6: On the Move!
Year 7: Stellar Strife!
Year 8 (and Beyond): An Unsatisfying Victory!


Phase 1: Codename Rocketman
Phase 2: Codename Strategic Failure
Phase 3: Codename Suck Less
Phase 4: [soon]

*choices not actually endless

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