Again, I am not going over specific rules as those can be found elsewhere. These are impressions after a few games.
The cards are good stock. The board is nice, but probably not necessary. The tokens used for honor (victory points) are adequate quality for their purpose.
They may have been going for a certaom theme, but the artwork on some cards, especially monsters, looks juvenile.
The cards are difficult to shuffle. Maybe because the designers are Magic players and they can’t conceive of someone not sleeving cards? Shuffling the cards in Ascension is very similar to shuffling sleeved cards, whether they are sleeved or not. Minor issues.
Game time is nice and short. You can easily play a game in 30 minutes and still have a great experience.
I like that players are drafting from the same group of cards for their decks and there aren’t 10 copies of each card. You can see the different combos that will be available to yourself, and your opponent, as they develop from the available cards. Banishing (trashing) cards have an extra element as some can allow you to banish cards from the ones available to your opponent on their next turn.
After a few plays, the strategies and strengths of the different factions will become obvious, but sometimes you may not always have the same cards available to use in each game. Banishing cards might not come out to use. You really have to adjust your strategy from what is available and your opponent will be able to quickly see what strategy you are using and might be able to counter it. This is much more of a "tactics" game than strategy. You don’t get piles of multiple copies of cards to figure out a major strategy, you have to think on your feet with what is available. And since most games I’ve played (all 2-player) only end up having around 50% of the available cards showing up to use, there is no guarantee you will get a card you want even after you’ve figured out your favorite combos. I guess some might think this should be under "THE BAD," but I like it.
Ascension is pretty quick to learn and teach, especially if you have experience with deck building games.
Adding the "Cultist" monster to allow FOR the use of Power when the deck is being stingy with spawning monsters shows they obviously either had good design foresight or deserve much credit (from me, at least) for playtesting and figuring out that it would be frustrating to not have anything to spend power on.
Some players (mostly Magic players) have said they wish there was a way to track better how they are doing as the game progresses. Since you count honor (victory points) printed on cards as well as the tokens gained in the game, you really don’t know how many might be in your deck, or someone else’s until the end. I actually consider this a plus myself, but wanted to mention the complaint. It’s easy to get Magic players to try this since it was designed by Magic pros, but then they don’t seem to like not knowing where they stand in the game at any given time. I personally like that it doesn’t have the victory condition to destroy your opponent. Plus at least one of the factions (small spoiler) is based on not needing the victory tokens to win.
Players with more experience will probably win fairly easily over those with lesser experience, which could be frustrating to new players.
You are going to be playing with the same cards every time, so if variety is more important than learning to play tactically with what is given to you out of the same deck (which you will only see half the cards of every game) every time, you might have a negative reaction to the game.
I don’t really like the rule that says you replace a card immediately when you take one. This allows you to "fish" for cards and keeps your opponent from being able to react or counter your moves. I would prefer to have the rule be that the tableau in front of you is all you can deal with on your turn. This is probably a minor issue to many, but to me it changes, ever so slightly, the back and forth part of the game if I get to take a card because I went fishing for it by buying a low cost card hoping to get something good on the draw before you can react. I prefer "do everything you want, then replace empty slots with new cards."
OVERVIEW AND COMMENTS
I really like this game. It’s well designed and seems to have been well playtested. It’s short and easy to set up. It scratches the same itch for me that Thunderstone does, with less setup time, less play length, no "clogging" (and thus not needing a theme-busting rule of attacking a monster you can’t defeat just to get it out of the way) and no unnecessary math.
It’s not for everyone, especially if you aren’t into deck building games. But if you decide to try it, you’ll know soon if you’re going to like it or not. And it’ll be over soon if you don’t.
Good review! I've actually found that sleeving the cards (and there are very nice Ascension-backed sleeves available from Legion) make them easier to shuffle because the cards are somewhat tacky from the coating at first, and chip on the sides. And yes, I play Magic so I am used to shuffling cards
Better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven.
I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things. - Isaiah 45:7
I actually like the "fishing" aspect of the game. Sometimes there is just garbage on the board and I can try to snag one of the smaller cards and hope to get something better. Sometimes it works, other times it just ends up putting a cards just out of reach which then ends up helping my opponent. It's a nice mechanic, plus it helps when choosing what to banish. If something huge comes up and you can't pay for it and you know you're opponent has a good chance at getting it, *poof* banished.