A Gnome's Ponderings

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A Dominion Lover looks at Ascension

Lowell Kempf
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Tucson
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Lately, thanks to the ipad, I’ve been playing a lot of Ascension.

Why Ascension? Well, the short answer is because there isn’t an official Dominion application.

That being said, while I was already familiar with Ascension, our recent forays into playing it has made me look at it a little more closely than before.

First of all, let me say that I am a big Dominion fan. While I enjoy Ascension and would enjoy Ascension even if I was just playing the analog version, it is in no danger of firing Dominion from my collection. However, let’s be honest. The two games fill the same slot in the collection so it’s hard not to compare them. Heck, all I’m going to do is compare it to Dominion.

Let’s face it, the real virtue of Ascension in my life is that my fiancée and I can play it on the ipad. It sets up with the push of a button icon and off we go. We’ve taken to playing it before bed and it is super easy to squeeze a game or two in whenever we feel like it.

And, looking at Ascension as its own game and not making any comparisons to Dominion, it clearly works. However, the real question is: what does it bring that’s new to the party? What are the meaningful differences between Ascension and Dominion and are they enough to make me play Ascension when I could be playing Dominion?

Let me add a little bit of background. I tend to be a little gun shy when it comes to deck-building games. While I very quickly became a Dominion convert, I was very disappointed by Thunderstone. In fact, Thunderstone made me stop being an early adapter and a member of the cult of the really new and more of someone who waits until after the initial hype dies down.

However, after doing a fair bit of research, I ended up getting Ascension. I knew people that did like it more than Dominion (madness, I know) and what I read led me to understand that Ascension was a lighter, more streamlined game. I knew people who had been overwhelmed by Dominion and I figured that Ascension might be an easier deck building game for them. (And yet, I’ve only played it so far with Dominion fans. Go figure)

So, what are the meaningful things that stand out about Ascension and make it a different experience than Dominion?

Item number one: Ascension uses a middle row of cards instead of stacks of kingdom cards.

There is is, that’s the really, really big one and the one that might be the game breaker for Dominion fans. It removes a lot of the strategic depth that Dominion has. A game of Dominion starts with everyone trying to figure out the best way to use the cards and plan out their build before they start playing. With Ascension, the game is almost entirely tactical with you trying to decide what the best move is right now.

Does this make Ascension the weaker game? Well, yeah, on one level, I think it does. However, what it really does is make it a different game. You have to play it differently than you would Dominion and you have to learn new tricks to build a deck that works. It also makes it a more accessible game, as well as a faster game.

Item number two: In Ascension, the Dominion concept of action cards, treasure cards and point cards are rolled into one card.

This is a more subtle change than the middle row but it is a big one. In fact, this is a paradigm shift that I think breaks Ascension farther away from Dominion than the middle row. A key part of Dominion is balancing action cards and treasure card and the deadweight (but essential) point cards.

With Ascension, that is changed because every card you add to your deck adds an element of each of those three type of cards. That makes the limitations of the middle row more forgiving. At the same time, since each faction encourages a different kind of deck build, this doesn’t eliminate trying to build a good deck. It just changes how you build it.

Item number three: Ascension uses two different types of currency

Now, this isn’t a new idea. Thunderstone has multiple types of currency as well and you can even argue that potions in Dominion count as well. However, what Ascension does with its runes and power is use the two currency system in a very simple and efficient way.

And it forces you to decide what kind of deck you want to build. My fiancée like to make void heavy, killing decks. I like to try and pull off mechana heavy decks if I can. And we win a similar number of times. You are betting on what will come out. After all, having nine power and only cultists to kill can be kind of disappointing but wiping out a middle row full of monsters can be a winning play.

Item number four: Ascension combines the action and buy phases and sets no limit on either.

One of the fundamentals of Dominion economics is the conservation of actions and buys. Ascension throws all that out the window. While that takes away a level of complexity in your decision making process, it is also a lot of fun to get to go hog wild. You still want to get the most for your buying power in either currency but this does make it more flexible.

Bottom Line: Yeah, Ascension is different enough.

Dominion is still one of my favorite games, as well as one of my group’s favorite games. It is our go-to game for deck building and filling a half hour. However, despite their similarities, Ascension offers a different kind of experience and offers different kinds of decisions to make. So, it works as a fun break from Dominion when we still want to do some deck building. So the analog copy gets to stay.
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