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Greg Syferd
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Ascension: Deckbuilding Game » Forums » Reviews
Gaming w/ My Son - There is so much not to like about Ascension...but we keep coming back!
When I first saw Ascension at GenCon '11, Gary Games was making a big push to market the franchise. They had huge banners and there seemed to be quite a buzz around their the first 2 sets. Great...another fantasy themed deck builder, just what I needed.

However, I couldn't shake the urge to keep checking Ascension out. I kept reading reviews and session reports. I must have watched [geekurl=http://boardgamegeek.com/video/3136/ascension-chronicle-of-the-godslayer/dice-tower-reviews-ascension]Tom Vasel's[/geekurl] and [geekurl=http://boardgamegeek.com/video/2706/ascension-chronicle-of-the-godslayer/drakkenstrikes-ascension-components-breakdown-vide]Drakkenstrike's[/geekurl] reviews at least a dozen times, yet still couldn't make up my mind. Finally, my 9 year old son (himself a big fan of Dominion and Thunderstone) convinced me to go for it.

Other reviewers have covered the rules in detail so I won't cover them here. In a nutshell, players are building a deck, via a draft mechanic, from a common pool of cards. Each turn you will spend power or runes (the game's two forms of currency) to acquire new cards and/or defeat monsters to score honor. You play until a pre-determined pool of honor has been emptied, then tally your scores.

Here's what we think!

What's Not to Like
Ascension on the surface looks simple. There's only 3 things you can do on your turn and most of the cards are just variations on the same theme (gain cards, gain runes, or gain power.) You play cards, gather cards, draw cards...that's about it. Then there's the artwork. I can tolerate it, and I know there are fans, but for many it's a big turnoff.

There's the feeling that Ascension is just a giant math problem. When playing Dominion/Thunderstone, there are so many options that you feel like you are on a journey to find the best solution possible in a sea awash with choices. Ascension feels different. Many times we caught ourselves adding up runes and guessing at the probability of drawing more resources from our deck to guess if we had enough to get a good card. It's often hard to decide when it's important to increase the number of cards producing runes/power, vs. going for a special ability. While I wouldn't say that Ascension is unforgiving of mistakes, it's not like there are huge swings in your favor or against you. It's just a steady march to the finish line.

Finally, there is little player interaction. There are only a few cards which let you effect your opponent directly. Even though you share a common draw pile, rarely do you find yourself plotting and scheming which cards would put put a hurting on your opponent or would screw them over if you snagged them. In many ways you're playing against yourself.

What's to Like
However, for what Ascension is, all of these negatives are what makes the game great for us.

Yes, it's simple. Within a matter of 2 minutes, the game is unboxed, decks are shuffled, and you're ready to play. It can be taught in about 5 minutes and plays in 20-30 minutes tops, even with a fair amount of analysis paralysis. The artwork, while simple, really fits the game theme well. Thumbs up here, especially for younger gamers.

Unlike many deck builders, most of the cards will have value throughout the game. A gripe I have with games like Dominion or Thunderstone, there are several stacks of cards which no one uses. Ascension has 6 cards available for purchase at all times (aside from the 2 upgrades mentioned above.) As a card is purchased, it's immediately replaced. This adds a lot of variety to the game and makes you adapt to changing situations. Note, the Epic Thunderstone variant seems like it would mimic this well.

Yes, the interaction is limited, but this keeps the game going fast. With my son, it's rare a turn lasts more than a minute since you can plot out your turn ahead of time. There are enough choices to think through and even if your opponent snags a card you wanted, there are still other good choices to be made. Yes it's solitairish, but this compromise makes the game lightening fast without feeling like it ended to soon.

Finally, the draft mechanic while not unique, is well implemented. We really like that it's rare you will end your turn discarding cards from your hand. There always seem to be enough runes and power in your hand to ensure acquisition of new cards and/or defeating monsters.

Why we keep coming back
For what it is, a quick-filler deck builder, Ascension shines. Don't try to make it to be it's bigger cousins...it's not, and it's not trying to be.

It's simple enough to play quickly, yet has enough depth that you won't bore of it after a few plays. Having played numerous deck builders, this is nearly the perfect gateway deck builder to introduce people to the genre. My 9 year old is able to give me quite a challenge each time we play, something I can't say for other titles.

This is now one of our regular weeknight plays and with the expansions, I expect it will remain so for some time to come.
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Chris Willett
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Re: There is so much not to like about Ascension...but my son and I keep coming back!
I like this review a lot. I agree that Ascension has issues, but it totally is fun. I like Dominion a lot more as a strategic game, but Ascension is easier and faster to play. It is a great game to play if you only want a filler or a short game, but that doesn't mean that it isn't good or fun.

Ascension has its place, and I'm glad that, for you, Ascension is kept close by. It is a bit farther from me, but I do still enjoy what it has to offer.
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Reuben
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Re: There is so much not to like about Ascension...but my son and I keep coming back!
I liked it at first, and then it got boring, and I haven't touched it in months. I can't understand what I ever saw in it. It has few redeeming qualities, and actually got me into playing MtG.
 
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Greg Syferd
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Hilliard
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CaptainCosmic wrote:
750-plus games completed on iOS. Ascension is, by far, the best of the deck-builders.

The game really pays off when you go below the surface and start digging into the engine.


The iOS version has to be one of the best board game implementations ever. I hope others will follow their lead!
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Crazy Adam
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Great review. I think that understanding Ascension as a great filler deck builder is what is key. It's a good game to bring out when introducing new players to the deck building mechanic and gets them pumped for slightly heavier games like Dominion and Thunderstone. But like any good filler it is one I think people will go back to, even if they find more depth in two previously mentioned games.

So far, I've only played the iOS version of Ascension and I have had a great time with it. I do wonder, however, the staying power of the game. Decisions are easy to make, and sometimes a little too easy. I rarely find myself racking my brain over what cards to buy and defeat, and I start tiring of games that I eventually can run through on autopilot. Perhaps the expansion will add just enough variety to give it that much more depth?

Overall, a down-to-point review that captures the feel of Ascension well: a little too easy but curiously addictive.
 
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