Welcome once again to the Game Night Blog Carnival hosted by Roving Band of Misfits. It has been some time since my last review. For those of you new to the site you can visit their site for more information about the blog carnival initiative.
I have mentioned on numerous occasions that I primarily play Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition. While I thoroughly enjoy 4th Edition, I know I am missing out on many great gaming experiences in various formats. One of the formats I have not experienced often enough is tabletop games. In the past month or two, I have enjoyed playing Ticket To Ride on my iPhone, which is a port of the tabletop game of the same name. It is a fun game that features competition between 2-5 players. It made me realize there are wonderful gaming experiences to be had away from roleplaying games like D&D. During Gen Con, I was able to take advantage of several great game demonstrations that were available to test and consume.
While at Gen Con, I played the following games for the first time, Dominion (and later Dominion: Prosperity), Settlers of Catan, Kingdom Builder and Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer. I saw how similar Dominion is to Ascension (and vice versa) and it reminded me of when I played and reviewed Thunderstone. All three games – and I’m sure many others I have not played – work off similar principles and mechanics. Of the three, I found Ascension to be the game I thought about most after I finished playing it. My friend and I came close to buying Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer but decided neither of us would be able to travel home with it. Besides, I had already reached my limit for buying merchandise at Gen Con!
Enter the slick Ascension application for the iPhone, which allows you to play the first edition of Ascension for a $4.99. The app also allows you to purchase the two expansions (Return of the Fallen; Storm of Souls) and additional Promo Cards for a few extra dollars each. The app has a solid tutorial that teaches the basics of the game, and there are routinely open games online to join 24 hours a day. Two-player games last approximately 10 minutes (when both players are actively playing back and forth) but games can also be played asynchronously over the course of days or weeks. It is addictive.
Let me repeat.
Below, I write about why I find Ascension so engaging and discuss my initial foray into playing against random people online – and the beatings I suffered as a result.
Having only dabbled in Magic: The Gathering over the years, I’m unfamiliar with the highs and lows of a competitive deck-building game. Unlike Magic: The Gathering, where a player builds a deck first and then starts playing against another person, Ascension features the same cards each game for both players. The goal is to add new cards to your deck to gain points, which in Ascension is termed Honor. There are two ways to collect Honor – defeat a Monster or acquire a Hero or Construct. Players are awarded Honor when they defeat a Monster and each Hero and Construct has an associated number of Honor that is tallied after the game concludes. The game is played until a designated number of Honor points are collected from an available pool. Once the pool is depleted, each player counts up the Honor they have earned from defeating Monsters and the Honor points printed on their Hero and Construct cards. It is a simple game to pick up, but the competition against another player and the desire to string together perfect turns has kept me coming back for more.
If the above overview is unclear, then read more about how to play. The game begins with five random cards laid across the board, consisting of Monster, Hero and Construct cards. Each player begins with the same 10 starting cards in their deck – 2 Militia and 8 Apprentice. Each Militia is worth 1 Power and each Apprentice is worth 1 Rune. Monsters are defeated by matching the Power listed on the card. For example, Avatar of the Fallen (pictured right) takes 7 Power to defeat; when defeated, the player earns 4 Honor points and is allowed to acquire or defeat any other card in the center row. This mechanic is a complete game-changer because one player can either recover from a huge deficit or extend an existing lead out of reach. There are numerous high-power cards such as this that “break” the game, but lower-level Monsters are more common. Each monster displays a specific reward, such as number of Honor earned and other mechanics, such as drawing extra cards, earning additional Runes or banishing a card from the center row.
Likewise, Hero and Construct cards are purchased with Runes. Mr. Arha Templar to the right requires 4 Runes to purchase. When played, he can automatically defeat any Monster that has 4 Power or less. He is a quite nifty card when the center row is littered with lower-level monsters, but he losses effectiveness when the center row is devoid of monsters. Taking him into your hand is a risk – and like much of Ascension, each round requires the player to decide on the appropriate risks to take. The other type of card that can be purchased with Runes is a Construct. Constructs can be played from your deck onto the board and they provide static bonuses as long as they remain on the board. Some Constructs provide an additional 1 Power or 1 Rune; others are more powerful and may allow you to draw an extra card each round or provide an opportunity to take an additional turn after one of your hands. The combinations between various Hero, Construct and Monster cards can get ridiculous during the final rounds, and stringing together those combinations is extremely rewarding . . . or terribly frustrating if you are on the receiving end!
The final piece of Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer is the available pool of Mystic, Heavy Armor and Cultist cards. Each Mystic is worth 2 Runes, each Heavy Armor is worth 2 Power and each Cultist can be defeated to earn 1 Honor. These cards are always present each round and never run out. So if the board does not have any card you want – or more likely, cannot afford – then the Mystic and Heavy Armor are available for purchase while the hapless Cultist is ready to be pummeled time and time again.
Ascension has two paths to victory, although it seems rare that only pursuing one will lead to a win. Since Honor can be earned by defeating Monsters or acquiring Hero and Construct cards, players have a choice each round of how to build their deck – increase the amount of Power or Runes. In addition to this choice, the game features four Divine Factions of Hero and Construct cards.
Enlightened - allow the player to draw additional cards or banish cards from the center row.
Mechana - allow the player easier access to power Constructs, which hold powerful effects and increased Honor values.
Void - allow the player to discard low-level cards to build a leaner deck, and features cards with significant increases to Power.
Lifebound - all the player to draw more cards and build up a high amount of Runes. These cards often give Honor or other boosts for being played in pairs.
Players can choose to go for a themed deck but since the presentation and order of available cards in the center row is random, going into a game with a preconceived strategy to rely on one specific Divine Faction seems like a good way to get caught flat-flooted as the other player is taking advantage of what the board provides. The trick is to maximize the effectiveness of each round while preventing the opponent from executing his or her strategy.
I am still in the process of figuring out proper strategy. While strategy is important to the game, there is a great deal of randomness to make each game unique. I have been on both ends of final scores ranging from 104-57, 73-72, 65-59 and 85-79. The final score depends on how much Honor is earned during the rounds of play from Monsters defeating and Hero and Construct cards collected. Some games are slow grinds while others are quick explosions of fireworks on both sides.
Did I mention that Ascension is addictive?
Strategy and Brutality
I must warn you that Ascension is unforgiving. It seems that for every game where the cards flow like wine for you, there is another game where you cannot catch a break and your opponent has the exact sequence of events they need fall into perfect place to destroy you by 30+ points. Games can feel over as early as the third or fourth round if one player has a fortunate draw or two to beef up their deck quickly. The feeling during these games is one of complete and utter hopelessness; once you fall behind in Ascension it seems much more likely for the game to completely spiral out of range instead of offering an opportunity to catch back up.
I am new to the game, so I imagine there are advanced strategies that I do not know about yet. That will be the fun part of playing the game in the coming weeks and months – learning the nuances. My friend who traveled with me to Gen Con played the demo of the board game version and we will find a way to play against each other often in the future. I see some organized Ascension nights coming our way! I would be very curious to hear the thoughts of other people who have been playing the game for a longer period of time. What guidelines do you follow when playing the game?
I have been playing Ascension (too much) on my iPhone and the games zip by when both players are actively engaged. The game reminds me of standing in an arcade and plopping quarters into Street Fighter II or Mortal Kombat; you are in battle against another person for a short period of time and the satisfaction of victory is awesome.
Over the weekend, I got on the treadmill and walked close to three miles while playing three games back-to-back-to-back. The time flew by! I barely realized I was on the treadmill – except for all the sweat. I think that will be my new routine – get on the treadmill and burn some time with Ascension.
I have already suffered my fair share of “bad beats” in online Ascension games, but I will close with perhaps my favorite moment from the brief time I have played the game. I mentioned earlier it is rare to come back from large deficits, and I was in one of those games where it seemed I had no hope of catching up to earn a victory. The big bad guy, Avatar of the Fallen (pictured above) was on the board for many rounds and taunting me. I knew he was my only chance to get back in the game; I needed to defeat him and hope another powerful card could be claimed with his reward. A few rounds after Avatar of the Fallen appeared, the center row got even more interesting when Samael the Fallen appeared right next to him.
My final hand gave me just enough Power to defeat Avatar of the Fallen, which then allowed me to defeat or acquire any other card on the board. Yes, I used the reward to defeat Samael the Fallen and used my remaining Power to buy a Construct. The Avatar/Samael combo resulted in 12 Honor that I had no business earning on my last turn. The game quickly transitions to a Game Over screen with the final score.
I won by 4 Honor.
I was euphoric, and it gives me pause whenever something unlikely happens to “screw me” out of a victory. The breaks cut both ways in Ascension (e.g., Gretyl from Twitter executed the same Avatar/Samael combination against me earlier today; it still stings!).
Find out for yourself by playing Ascension! For those who want to play against me, my name is TheIdDM on Game Center.