It’s game day once more here at spalanz.com! Today, I’m going to take a look at another deck-building game – Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer, designed by Magic: The Gathering Pro Tour champion Justin Gary, and first published in 2010. I’ve recently picked up the latest iteration, Dawn of Champions, so thought it about time I featured the game here, having mentioned it in plenty of other deck-building game blogs!
I’ve often wondered why I have so many deck-building games in my collection. My current count, with Ascension, is 9 – Dominion, Thunderstone, Marvel Legendary, DC (and Street Fighter), Rune Age, Xenoshyft Onslaught, Dark Gothic and Arcana. However, while they all use pretty much the same mechanic, they each play in so many different ways that, to me, they really do feel like completely separate ways.
First, the basics. Out of the above list of games, Ascension plays most like DC. However, it features the unique Honor mechanic that acts a little like a timer for the game. There is a central line-up of six cards fed from the Portal (main) deck. Each player starts with ten cards – eight Apprentices and two Militia. The currency of the game is Runes, with each Apprentice card providing one Rune, which is used to buy cards from the centre line-up. Militia cards each provide 1 Power, which is used to defeat monster cards that turn up from the Portal deck.
When monsters are defeated from the central line-up, they are sent into the Void, a sort of discard deck for the main deck, and you gain a number of Honor points listed on that card. Honor is represented by coloured beads, and the pool is set at a specific number at the beginning of the game – 60 for a two-player game, for example. When the pool runs down to 0, the game is over, and the person with the most Honor wins!
In addition to monsters, there are two types of card in the Portal deck that you can use your Runes to buy – Heroes and Constructs. When you buy these cards, they go into your discard deck and come into play later. Heroes are one-use things that grant you some sort of bonus and are then discarded at the end of the round. Constructs are placed into your play area and will grant you some sort of bonus every round. There are four divine factions represented in the game – Enlightened, Mechana, Void and Lifebound – and each offers a distinct play style to aid you in the game, from card draw to variable resources.
Common to all deck-building games, there are also low-cost heroes always available – Mystics and Heavy Infantry, which are essentially upgrades of Apprentices and Militia respectively – as well as a Cultist monster card, which never goes into the Void pile, but can be fought and defeated for Honor if you can’t go up against any monsters in the centre line.
I really like Ascension. It’s definitely in that sort of “generation 1.5” of deck-building games, where you have a centre line-up rather than a kingdom/village in the manner of Dominion, but you’re still competing for points rather than doing something with your deck, like Marvel Legendary. However, there is a definite charm to the more straightforward deck-building games, which is what keeps me coming back to DC time and again, even when Marvel Legendary arguably has the superior gameplay. There are times when you just want to build up a deck and see how many points you have, you know?
There’s a great app for the game available for iOS and Android, free to download the base game and offering multiple expansions as in-app purchases. When I first downloaded it, it was incredibly buggy and I couldn’t get a single complete game in, but that seems to have been fixed now and it plays like a dream.
There have been a number of expansions released over the years, and an even greater number of promo cards. The game line has been expanded in blocks, with new base games published that are subsequently expanded as the years have gone by. The first expansion is Return of the Fallen, which brings the new mechanic of Fate, which causes an effect when the card enters the line-up. I’ve played a load of this on the app, and it makes for a more interesting game, I must say.
The latest expansion is Dawn of Champions, which made its way over to the UK a couple of weeks ago. Dawn of Champions is the fifth such block, and brings two significant changes to the previous editions. First, and most obviously, are the four oversized Champion cards, which serve as a playable character almost, and link to the Reputation tokens that you can gain through defeating monsters mainly. Secondly, a new keyword – Rally – allows you to gain or defeat cards of a specific type for free. This links with the curious cards that mix the hero archetypes – Void, Mechana, Lifebound and Enlightened – with monsters, so there are some interesting combinations there.
I haven’t played Ascension quite as often as I’d like, but it is a really great game that is a lot of fun. The Honor mechanic means you don’t get a hand clogged-up with defeated monsters, which can be the absolute bane of Thunderstone, and so results in a much more streamlined game. It’s usually pretty quick to play – much like Magic, I suppose – so you can get a couple of games in rather than going through the set-up just for one.
After being difficult to get hold of for a while, Ascension is once again available on the mass market in its third edition. It’s definitely worth checking out if you like the deckbuilding genre, particularly if you fancy a more fantasy-like version of DC.
At any rate, with a free app available, why not delve into the world of Vigil today?