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Ascension: Deckbuilding Game» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Ascension: a "gateway" game with...swords & monsters??? rss

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Aaron Lewicki
United States
Milford
New Hampshire
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I like Ascension. It's not my favorite game, but it was definitely worth the purchase for me, and here's a few reasons why:

#1) My wife likes it

This really surprised me, because my wife is a non-gamer and dislikes virtually every game I make her try. That includes virtually all of the traditional "gateway" games (at least, the ones that I can stomach myself). The only other game that really worked for her was Lost Cities, and I've been trying for several years with things like Agricola, Ticket to Ride, etc. What really gets her with most games are the complexity of the decisions she has to make, combined with the number of mechanics she has to remember. Ascension scores on both fronts, in that the cards don't require too much reading, there are only 9 buying/fighting options at any given time, and the mechanics are ridiculously simple. So simple, in fact, that in our first game, she spanked me...hard!

#2) My regular gaming partner and I like it

At the other end of the spectrum, we play lots of wargames and more complex Euros on a weekly basis, and tend to look for depth, theme, and complexity in our games. While Ascension is light on mechanics, the various card interactions do provide depth, and the mix of MTG-style drafting with deck-building works exceptionally well. I like the buying mechanic here a LOT more here than Dominion's "static" piles, and wish more of the deck-building games would adopt variable buying options like this. I was a bit surprised that both of us liked it, but that is a major point in its favor.

#3) Room to grow

One of my major complaints with the game (and what I think is the source of many of the criticisms of the game here on BGG), is the lack of variance in the card abilities on the existing cards in the game. Draw another card, trim your deck, defeat a monster, buy something cheaper...the designers seemed to be aiming for the "old reliable" Dominion-esque mechanics with the first set. And while that creates a game that seems familiar, it does little to differentiate Ascension from the pack. But the designers have an MtG background, and it's clear that there is a lot of room here for future expansions to provide more interesting mechanics that would make the game a lot more interactive and variable. This is something that I think is over-looked in these types of games, the ability of the game's mechanics to introduce a large number of minor variations that actually make the game feel different when they appear. Ascension's expansions could really elevate this game to the head of the pack, depending on how creative the designers want to get.

#4) Consistent & original (albeit un-inspiring) artwork & card layout

The game does have a particular graphical consistency to it that we liked. Stuff is easy to find, and rules questions (beside replacing the Cultist) were few. The artwork is not my favorite, but it gives the whole game a feel that differentiates it from "generic fantasy" games. The custom card sleeves, by the way, are GORGEOUS.

#5) Speed

On our first day playing, we managed to get 4 games in in 3 hours, and that includes the fact we were playing with too many VP tokens in the pool. Whether getting in multiple games in an afternoon, or 1 quick game after playing something longer, the quick play-time is a big advantage. And what's more, while it plays quick, there is little down-time in the 2-player game, making it feel like it's always your turn.

#6) Balance

While the cards did occasionally seem to favor one player over the other, we found that the final scores were remarkably close, and in many games we weren't sure who the winner was going to be until we counted up the VPs. While some play mechanics felt stronger (trim your deck, draw additional cards, etc.) our initial play-throughs indicated that no one strategy seemed to be perfect. The game really is about making the best available choice each when it's your turn, and doing things in the most opportune order when you make those choices. In this sense we were very happy with how the game plays.

But OK, let's be honest, it's not perfect. Aside from the generic mechanics and un-inspiring art, here are a few other issues with the game that we had:

#1) Card quality

Ick, ick, ick. The cards are very thin and have a delicate feel to them. One of the cards already has a noticeable crease. The custom card sleeves were incredibly tight, which made it exceptionally difficult to sleeve the cards without bending them (I'm assuming that's how the one got creased).

#2) Questionable theme

Perhaps this is related to the "generic mechanics" argument, but the theme doesn't really shine through in the game. I think this issue may go away with more variety in mechanics, but for now it loses points to games like Thunderstone which do a better job of implementing the theme. It feels remarkably similar to Dominion, which I assume is by design, but that's not a good thing when it should have a cool "monster-slaying" vibe to it. The various "factions" of cards don't really add anything meaningful to the game, and even if they did there's no good way to build a deck around them with the existing rules short of hoping they appear when it's your turn to buy/kill.

#3) Generic start

This is a personal preference, but I hate starting with a fixed set of cards that doesn't differentiate one player from another. This could easily be fixed by expansions, where I'd love to see unique starting champions similar to Heroes of Graxia. This would also help improve the theme, by having the starting characters represent one of the factions.

Overall, I really like Ascension. It's more of a 7 or 8 out of 10 now, but that rating should improve when the designers let loose and start creating mechanics that feel different. The dynamic buy/kill mechanic is a great alternative to the fixed piles of other games, and given the speed of the games and the number of interesting decisions to make, this was definitely a purchase that I'm happy with.
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J. Jefferson
United States
Columbus
Ohio
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Maximillion wrote:
#1) Card quality

Ick, ick, ick. The cards are very thin and have a delicate feel to them. One of the cards already has a noticeable crease. The custom card sleeves were incredibly tight, which made it exceptionally difficult to sleeve the cards without bending them (I'm assuming that's how the one got creased).


Something must have changed between when you got your copy and I got mine. My cards are among the thickest cards of any game in my collection. They have a nice, heavy duty feel--to the point that my wife complains when shuffling them that they are too thick. Mine also didn't come with any custom card sleeves.

I'm with you on the art. I really like the consistency and that it is different from generic fantasy art. I get annoyed at the few Dominion cards that stand out as being in an obviously different style--this is not a problem with Ascension (granted, it wasn't a problem for Dominion either until it started with expansions).
 
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