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Subject: A Meeple Pusher Review of: Ascension rss

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David McMillan
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A little over two years ago, I began my review writing hobby with a review of Dominion. I was freshly returned to boardgaming from a long and inexcusable hiatus at the time and was fairly naive in my opinions. While Dominion is a great game, I never felt compelled to go out and buy more expansions. Instead, it sits on my shelf and only see the light of day maybe three or four times a year when I’m in the mood for it. As amazing as it was to me at the time, it failed to really hold onto my attention.

And, since the writing of my first review I have played and reviewed a lot of deckbuilding games. Some of them have been total garbage. Some of them have taken my breath away with just how awesome they were and the majority of them have left me feeling pretty ho-hum. It’s like Dominion came along and then EVERYONE scrambled to produce a deckbuilder. And so it was with equal parts trepidation and excitement that I was introduced to Ascension not too long ago. But, before I go into what I think about the game, let me tell you a little more about it just in case you’ve never played it before.

CONTENTS

The game of Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer (which everyone simply refers to as Ascension) comes nestled inside of a box that is illustrated with who knows what. There’s definitely a blue triangle with a picture of a hooded man wielding a wicked looking sword inside of it, but this triangle is surrounded by some bizarre, stream of consciousness illustrations. There are a few lightning bolts in there and there’s definitely a skull. And while it looks kind of cool, the artwork leaves the unknowing player zero idea about what’s going on inside of the box.

So, to find out what the game’s about, we open the box and inside we find a game board, some plastic jewels in red and white, and a whole slew of cards. The game board is divided into several sections. On one side of the game board there are marked areas for three card types: Mystics, Heavy Infantry, and Cultists. At the other end, there is an area for the Void and another for the Center Deck. Running in a line between these two ends are six spaces for cards that are collectively referred to as the Center Row. The plastic gems are just what they sound like, but the red ones are larger in size than the white ones. These gems basically represent collected victory points (called ‘Honor’ in the game) - the reds are worth 5 and the white ones are worth 1 each.

Of the cards, there are several types. Forgoing whatever the rules call these cards, I’ll refer to them as public cards, monster cards, constructs, and heros. The public cards come in three types - Mystics, Heavy Infantry, and Cultists. The layout of these cards is exactly the same as the layout of every other card in the game. At the top of the card is the card’s title. To the right of that is a symbol with a number in it. If the symbol is a triangle, it means the card may be purchased for the amount shown and, if the symbol is a red circle, it means that the card can be defeated if the correct amount of power is brought against it.

Beneath this, in the center of the card, is an illustration of what the card represents and, beneath this is a tiny banner that lists the card’s type. If the card type were listed as “Insane Cat Lady” then any card that targets “Insane” cards, “Cat” cards, or “Lady” cards would affect this card. Beneath this is an area of text that describes what the card does (if anything). In the bottom left hand corner is a black star with a number inside of it. This number represents the amount of victory points this card will be worth if it is in your deck at the end of the game. In the bottom right hand corner is an expansion symbol that is color coded. The color code gives you clues about the frequency the card occurs within the game and the expansion symbol tells you which expansion the card is from. There are quite a few expansions to this game now which I might review at a later time, but this is just going to cover the base game.

The Mystics and Heavy Infantry are upgrades to the Militia (which provide one damage) and Apprentice cards (which provide one buying power) that each player will begin the game with. The Cultists are basically damage throwaways; you can defeat the Cultist for a victory point if you’ve got nothing else to spend your damage on (and it can be done multiple times if you have the damage to do it). These cards will always be freely available to anyone to purchase. And since I’ve told you how these cards are laid out, there’s really no reason to talk about the layout of the other cards. There is literally nothing different about them.

Also included in the box is a rule book. The rule book begins with a backstory about the world of Vigil, the collapse of civilization, and that you’re one of several warriors trying to defend the world against the forces of the Fallen. None of this, however, ever really occurs within the game itself. To say that the theme feels a bit pasted on would be doing paste a disservice. The only real theme here is deckbuilding. The rule book goes on to describe the inner workings of the game in some detail and, while it’s not the best looking rule book I have ever seen, it gets the job done. After reading through it once, I never had to go back to it ever again.

SET UP

The game board is laid out and the Mystics, Heavy Infantry, and the Cultist are all placed face up into their appropriate positions. Then each player receives 8 Apprentices and 2 Militia cards apiece. These are then shuffled and placed face down into a draw pile and five cards are drawn as the starting hand. Next, all of the other cards are shuffled together into one great big deck and placed face down into the Center Deck area. Six cards are drawn off the top and laid face up into the Center Row spaces. Then an amount of jewels (determined by the number of players) are laid out close to the playing area and the remainder are left in the box for later use. Finally, a starting player is chosen and you’re ready to begin playing.

TURN SEQUENCE

On each player’s turn, they will use the five cards in their hand to either purchase cards to add to their deck or to defeat monsters in the center row. Whenever a monster is defeated, it is placed into the Void and whenever a card is purchased from the center row, it is added to the player’s discard pile. At the end of the player’s turn, they will discard all of the cards in their hand and any they may have laid onto the table in front of them and a new hand of five cards is drawn. Then it becomes the next person’s turn.

If you’ve ever played a deckbuilding game before, then this should all sound fairly standard to you. Most deckbuilding games follow this same formula. What makes this game slightly different from most other deckbuilders, though, are the Constructs. When a Construct is played from a person’s hand, it remains in play until it is removed somehow or until the end of the game. While it remains in play, whatever benefits it bestows will continue to be bestowed. Also, the end game trigger is slightly different. Most deckbuilders will come to an end once a specific pile or two or three of cards has run out and then the victory points are tallied. This one ends once all of the little gems have run out (for the most part) and we’ll get to that later.

THE FACTIONS

In this game there are four factions and each of them has some unique properties that make them desirable at certain points in the game. The factions (and their properties) are:

Mechana: lots of constructs that create opportunities to gain even more constructs. The Mechana are very construct heavy and most Mechana heroes are centered around helping you to acquire even more Mechana constructs. Another benefit of this is that all Mechana constructs provide victory points equal to their cost and no other faction has this

Enlightened: lots of cantrips, by which I mean that many of the Enlightened constructs and heroes will allow you to draw more cards. The lower end versions of these allow this card drawing at a lousy exchange rate, but the more expensive they get, the better the exchange rate becomes. Some Enlightened heroes also allow you to outright defeat monsters from the center row without having to generate enough power to do so.

Lifebound: Lifebound heroes and constructs will typically provide you free victory points, heightened buying power, and cantrips or some mixture of these.

Void: Void heroes and constructs typically provide you a lot of extra damage, the ability to ‘banish’ cards to the Void (they are, for all intents and purposes, removed from the game) , and cantrips or some mixture of these.

END GAME and WINNING

As I mentioned earlier, the end game begins once the last victory point gem has been claimed. Then the player that claimed it will finish their turn. That player may continue to earn victory points and, if so, those are tracked by the jewels that remain in the box. Then the round continues until play returns to whoever the starting player was. Once the round has ended, players will then count up the victory points from their cards and add that total to the victory points from their jewels and the player with the most victory points wins.

THOUGHTS

Never have I been so underwhelmed by a game and enjoyed it as much as I have. From the pasted on theme to the artwork that looks like it was drawn by a middle school art student to the lackluster and uninspired gameplay, there is really a whole lot about this game to dislike. Ascension really offers nothing that hasn’t been offered before. Some might argue that there’s a lot of strategy involved (like having to choose what to buy and what to leave behind for your opponents), but the game mostly boils down to luck. It doesn’t matter that you’ve chained together a bunch of cards and gathered up 45 buying power when the Center Row is filled with monsters. There’s nothing that you can do about that. And this kind of thing happens with virtually every hand in this game. It can be downright frustrating at times.

And here’s that classic M. Night Shymalan “what a twist” moment. Despite all of that, I really, really like this game for some reason. I could probably sit there and play it all night long if I were given half a chance. I really don’t understand why I like it so much either. It’s like being addicted to a really terrible TV show. Part of you is mortified that you’re watching it, but you just can’t seem to pull yourself away even though you know that it’s not very good.

Honestly, I think the reason that I like this game half as much as I do is because of the app. The app version of this game is phenomenal. Because there isn’t any setup and all of the scoring is done for you, you can mow through a game in a matter of minutes and that gets really dangerous because, before you realize it, two hours of your life has gone by with nothing to show for it. If it weren’t for the app, I’d probably have gotten sick of Ascension a long time ago and I doubt I would be as excited to sit down and play it whenever it hits the table as I am. So, while I’m not going to tell you to avoid this game like the plague, I’m also not going to try to convince you to rush out and buy it. However, if you ever have the chance to sit down and give it a try, then I wouldn’t turn down the chance to do so.




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John R.
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I also have the Ascension app (I've never played the physical version) and Dominion (without expansions) and I am generally in agreement with you about both of them. I can play Ascension mindlessly on my phone 5 or 6 times in a row, but most games are pretty much the same (as is the case with base Dominion). I don't plan to buy expansions for either on the grounds that it's throwing good money after mediocre. Ascension isn't a bad game, it just becomes lackluster and borderline tedious after you've played it a hundred times.
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timeodanaos wrote:
I also have the Ascension app (I've never played the physical version) and Dominion (without expansions) and I am generally in agreement with you about both of them. I can play Ascension mindlessly on my phone 5 or 6 times in a row, but most games are pretty much the same (as is the case with base Dominion). I don't plan to buy expansions for either on the grounds that it's throwing good money after mediocre. Ascension isn't a bad game, it just becomes lackluster and borderline tedious after you've played it a hundred times.


This is pretty much how I feel about DBG these days... they're such a hassle to carry, setup, shuffle, and put away that I much prefer them in digital format. I've joked with folks how half of Dominion was setting up the game, another half was shuffling, another half playing it, and then another half of the game was putting it away. It's twice the game that others are Although I've enjoyed it, at times, it has felt like you're doing twice the work.


Unfortunately, I have to say I'm glad I never invested heavily into DBG b/c they have some extra issues to overcome in storage and transport. I had grand visions of buying all of the Dom sets, but quickly realized that it was so popular, I could just play other people's copies. Asc., I just stuck with the app. Thunderstone, only the first 4 sets.


As for Asc. and Dom, I absolutely need to play them with expansions, as I've played their base games to death that it's not worth going back to anymore. The expansions for each game's add so much variety that their replayabilities go up exponentially. Plus, base game Asc. seems to have too heavy of an emphasis on mech constructs.
For Ascension, I've spent about $30 on all of the expansions and add-ons thus far. I could've waited for sales, but 1) I wanted to play it sooner than later (and who knows when that'll be), and 2) I actually did want Playdek to have more of my $$.
For Dominion, Androminion has 3 of the 6 promos, and everything up to and including Guilds. I doubt Adventures will ever get implemented, but there's still a lot of plays there.

And yeah, it's shocking just how much time you can spend on these.... The OP's statements about Asc. have been my experiences too. This app is certainly a reason that I've spent less time on others.

As for Androiminion, it keeps track of plays. I have 1300+ games on my previous, Samsung Galaxy s2 phone, while 350 and counting on my current Galaxy s4.
 
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You guys should check out Star Realms...GREAT little two player DBG. Highly, highly suggest it...

Also, Steamcraft is on KS right now...looks pretty solid.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/mikegnade/steamcraft-a-...
 
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David Jones
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CarcassonneFreak wrote:
Ascension really offers nothing that hasn’t been offered before.


This is a claim you can only make in hindsight. When Ascension came out, there was no deck builder with a shared center row. Also, there was no deck builder with as many different cards. The idea that each card would only appear in the deck once or twice was new. Everything else on the market was a Dominion clone. If you think Ascension is a retreaded game, then you should be respecting it as the grandfather of the games you think are better than it.

Quote:
Some might argue that there’s a lot of strategy involved (like having to choose what to buy and what to leave behind for your opponents), but the game mostly boils down to luck.


This is a difficult claim to refute, but also one that is not entirely true. When I first started playing Ascension, I played with somebody who was avid Dominion and Magic player. I was losing at least 80% of my games against her. After a lot of practice and starting to understand how cards worked, we are now at the point where I am winning 80% of the games against here. You don't have outcomes with that level of skewing if skill and decision making are irrelevant. It is fair to say that, among equally skilled players, luck is the deciding factor. But isn't that the case with all deck building games?

Quote:
It doesn’t matter that you’ve chained together a bunch of cards and gathered up 45 buying power when the Center Row is filled with monsters. There’s nothing that you can do about that. And this kind of thing happens with virtually every hand in this game. It can be downright frustrating at times.


If its happenening in "virtually every game" then you haven't found the right runes/power balance you need in your deck. Admittedly, even with skilled players this will occasionally happen in in the early game, but it isn't something that happens as often as you claim.

John R. wrote:
Ascension isn't a bad game, it just becomes lackluster and borderline tedious after you've played it a hundred times.


You are so right John. In this hobby, spending $40 on a game that you get only 100 plays out of is clearly a waste of money and surely an indicator of a sub-par game.
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David McMillan
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davypi wrote:

This is a claim you can only make in hindsight. When Ascension came out, there was no deck builder with a shared center row. Also, there was no deck builder with as many different cards. The idea that each card would only appear in the deck once or twice was new. Everything else on the market was a Dominion clone. If you think Ascension is a retreaded game, then you should be respecting it as the grandfather of the games you think are better than it.


As I am writing this review in the present and not the past, it is perfectly fine for me to make this claim. It's presented as an opinion formed purely upon what is available in the right-now.

Quote:
This is a difficult claim to refute, but also one that is not entirely true. When I first started playing Ascension, I played with somebody who was avid Dominion and Magic player. I was losing at least 80% of my games against her. After a lot of practice and starting to understand how cards worked, we are now at the point where I am winning 80% of the games against here. You don't have outcomes with that level of skewing if skill and decision making are irrelevant. It is fair to say that, among equally skilled players, luck is the deciding factor. But isn't that the case with all deck building games?


This particular deckbuilder is a lot more reliant on luck than some others are. It is almost impossible to plan ahead and build an efficient engine. There's just too much hidden information to be able to do so. The best strategy I've personally used that seems to be pretty effective is to try to thin my deck as quickly as possible so that I'm not constantly drawing Militias and Apprentices, but even that strategy relies entirely upon the cards that I would need to do so actually making it to the Center Row and actually being available on my turn. At best, Ascension is akin to throwing mud at a wall and hoping that something sticks. You're entitled to your opinion (and it's fairly obvious where your biases lay).

Quote:
If its happenening in "virtually every game" then you haven't found the right runes/power balance you need in your deck. Admittedly, even with skilled players this will occasionally happen in in the early game, but it isn't something that happens as often as you claim.


A.) You seem to think that I'm not a skilled player and you'd be incorrect. I know how to read and I understand how one thing affects another thing. I've been an avid M:TG player since 1996. Card games aren't something I have never encountered before. Ascension, for me, is to deckbuilders as Pokemon:TCG is to trading card games. It just doesn't inspire me to sing its praises because it's just not very good. B.) These situations do arise all of the time. When everything in the Center Row costs 5 or more and you've only got a buying power of 4, the decisions you're left with are limited and meaningless. You can buy a Mystic or, at most, two Heavy Infantry. There is absolutely nothing that you can do to affect the Center Row if nobody is buying anything. True, this can be said about a lot of deckbuilding games, but this isn't a review of them. It's a review of Ascension.

Quote:
You are so right John. In this hobby, spending $40 on a game that you get only 100 plays out of is clearly a waste of money and surely an indicator of a sub-par game.


Now this is one thing that you've said that I do agree with. $40 for a game that you've already played 100 times sounds like a pretty sound investment to me. However, if I had $40 in my hand right now, I could think of better games to spend that money on. Ascension will never, ever be my first choice.
 
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@davypi
Well, Thunderstone came out before Asc., and TS has the Dungeon hall which is sort of like a CR for monsters only. However, which came out first in design and concept, that I don't know.

In tournaments, the winners tend to be the same players from time to time

I've gotten hosed, or came out ahead by getting the right combo of runes and power. Sometimes, an even mix works out. Other times, power heavy or rune heavy is tops. Despite balance being important, the sweet spot does change from game to game, and can create imbalance



@CarcassonneFreak
You did mention Dominion in your review on several occasions, so that did seem to set the precedence that Asc. will have some contrasts and comparisons to it.

While I wouldn't want to play such chaotic games all the time, I do enjoy them on occasion. How "front loaded" Dominion is isn't something I'd want to do all the time either

Speaking of which, having high cost/defense monsters in the CR isn't that much different from other similar situations in other DBG. In Dominion, it's not uncommon to go Silver for $3 even though there are some 3 and 2 cost cards out there. Sometimes more Silver with the $4 hand.
 
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Quote:
Ascension isn't a bad game, it just becomes lackluster and borderline tedious after you've played it a hundred times.


While that might be so, there are very few games that I play more than a hundred times.
 
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CarcassonneFreak wrote:

And here’s that classic M. Night Shymalan “what a twist” moment. Despite all of that, I really, really like this game for some reason. I could probably sit there and play it all night long if I were given half a chance. I really don’t understand why I like it so much either. It’s like being addicted to a really terrible TV show. Part of you is mortified that you’re watching it, but you just can’t seem to pull yourself away even though you know that it’s not very good.


I am 100% in on this sentiment -- I shouldn't like this game... the deckbuilding is pretty standard, the options always seem somewhat limited with the centre row, and the end game where you simply add up victory points is just so-so to me. Couple this with the fact that I have too many deckbuilding games, I really had no interest in this one.

However, my brother introduced this to me after he started playing the ios app. I wasn't really interested but I decided to buy him the Apprentice Edition as a gift so he could play with his fiance.

One bored and stormy night, my wife and I decided to try it out. Within the next month we had bought Immortal Heroes and Darkness Unleashed. The rest is history.

Even with the expansions' sometimes swingy randomness, we still have a blast playing it. The expansions add a lot of interesting and fun cards and mechanics into play. The design and the art on the cards are also very nice and hits us in the right spot aesthetically.

And I'm pretty sure my wife likes it as much as she does because typically beats me 4 out of 5 times
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