New Stuff Saturday

It’s time to look at some new stuff!

I’ve not really had much time lately to be checking out the new offerings in the board game world, having been trying to find a house. Having now bought a house, I’ve probably not got the money to go investigating some of these new offerings as much as I’d like, either! But I thought I’d just take a brief look at some of the things that are being advertised and see what’s going on.

First up, there’s a new expansion for Ascension out, Gift of the Elements. Featuring all manner of weird and wonderful new (and returning) mechanics, it looks like this one changes up the game in a few interesting ways. Back when I wrote up my game day blog on this game, I mentioned that I played this one primarily on the app; currently a lot of the new expansions haven’t been made available for Android, but hopefully this will change soon enough!

Blimey, Carcassonne is really branching out now! It’s been ages since I last had a game with the classic tile-laying game, and it seems like all manner of things have been happening since then! Under the Big Top seems like it could be one of those fun expansions that infuriates the hard-liners, those who used to denigrate things like the Catapult and Wheel of Fortune. Personally, I think people should be allowed to have their own fun, and nobody is going to force you to play with this, though I won’t be rushing to add it to my collection. I think, for me, Carcassonne has become something of a nostalgia game, where I’m happy to remain at the point where I last enjoyed playing it, when Abbey & Mayor was a new thing.

This new Genesys RPG system is being pushed kinda hard by Fantasy Flight, don’t you think? It certainly seems like an interesting idea, though I’m getting tired of seeing it popping up on social media as a sponsored ad every so often!

Coming out towards the end of the year, the core rulebook features essentially a blank canvas for you to paint your games on. It’s built around the narrative dice system that is used by RPGs like Warhammer Fantasy and Star Wars, where you roll dice that don’t just tell you if you pass or fail a check, but rather how well you pass/badly you fail, and if there are complications. It’s a really great system, as it happens, so porting that over to a more de-restricted game like this is a great idea. The book comes with frameworks for five different setting types, from sci-fi to steampunk, so sounds like it could be a great way to start something new!

While we’re on the subject of RPGs, though…

The Call of Cthulhu RPG is something that I’ve quite liked the idea of getting into for a while now, but have never quite managed to pull the trigger. However, seeing this pop up as a new release has got me wanting to investigate more of what it has to offer! I enjoy a wide variety of Cthulhu games, primarily from Fantasy Flight, and this Two-Headed Serpent adventure sounds like a lot of fun akin to the globe-trotting Eldritch Horror! Though, I must admit, my first thoughts on seeing the artwork on the cover were of Fortune & Glory.

I don’t have a playgroup that could support RPGs anymore, though, so it’s probably something that will languish. I’m a bit gutted that I missed Free RPG Day a couple of weeks ago, as I could perhaps have sampled the waters at my local store! Ah well!

Why I like deck-building games so much

It’s time for something a little different for game day here at spalanz.com today! While I normally showcase something awesome from my game collection, today I thought I’d just talk more about what seems to be the largest-represented subtheme of games that I have, the deck-building game, and why I like them so much.

Dominion, of course, is the grandfather of the deck-builders, and has a whole slew of expansions. First released in 2008, it ignited the spark that brought us so many more since. However, precisely because of the developments that have taken place in board games over these past seven years, I find Dominion to be quite a dry experience today, with its generic medieval-themed cards and its basic mechanics of buying as many cards as you can to win. There’s more to it than that, of course, and I won’t deny, managing to set up those killer-combos can be a lot of fun, but I eventually sold my Dominion collection earlier in the summer, as it had become a game that merely took up too much shelf-space.

Thunderstone (2009) immediately began to shake things up. Following the basic idea of having a set of cards that you can buy from, the game included a separate action that felt so much more like an actual game, where you went into a dungeon to fight some monsters. This is where the deck-building game really takes flight for me. While Dominion’s premise was to build a deck as the end result of your game, Thunderstone combined deck-building with an actual game to simple yet highly effective ends. Fans of Dominion will recognise the village as the usual card pool, but while in the older game, you bought cards which would allow you to buy more cards, and the goal was all about trying to refine your turn and maximise your resources, here you buy cards to actually do something with them. You hire warriors and buy equipment to outfit them better to fight the monsters.

There’s something about Thunderstone that remains highly appealing to me, and it’s a game that I continue to enjoy the more I play it. It’s the idea of deck-building for a reason that is so enjoyable for me.

Ascension (2010) is a curious blend of the two, I find. The biggest departure from both is that the “village” idea of a collection of cards you always get to choose from has now been replaced by a centre row of just six cards. This combines the idea of buying cards to refine your deck, as well as elements of the dungeon from Thunderstone, so that heroes and monsters can both emerge from the main deck. I think Ascension is my favourite type of deck-building game, and it’s also one of my favourites for the theme, also. It’s a fairly generic fantasy-style world, but the theme of each faction you can recruit really comes through very strongly. The best thing about this, however, is the variety that comes from having an ever-changing line-up of six cards. No two games will necessarily be the same, while Thunderstone has the potential if you use the same set-up (though the monsters will change as you go through, of course). Of the three games mentioned so far, Ascension wins hands-down for its variety!

I play most of my Ascension through the app, which is actually pretty awesome as well, and definitely worth downloading.

Rune Age (2011) is a curious mix from Fantasy Flight Games. It’s a little bit like a pared-down Thunderstone, with just a few cards on offer to buy rather than the whole village. It also uses an event deck, which can be both beneficial and harmful. The greatest departure here, of course, is that you start out in a specific faction, and build up your deck from there. The object of the game varies with each event deck in play, and the result is almost like a third way for deck-building games. I love this game for so many reasons, chiefly among them of course is the setting of Terrinoth. However, while there is so much to enjoy right out of the box, it’s unfortunately starting to get a little stale for me now, as so much of any deck-builder is dependent on the different ways you can build your deck. For Rune Age, that depends on the faction you play, and also the event deck you use, and with only six of each to choose from, it has become clear that more variety is needed! But when it’s been a while between plays, it’s always a real pleasure to come back to this one.

DC Deck Building Game (2012) is almost a straight copy of Ascension, featuring a main deck and centre line-up of six cards, where you recruit heroes and fight villains. However, there’s an added element that makes it a little more exciting, but the theme is perhaps the greatest draw here. You get to play as classic DC superheroes, and fight the arch-nemeses such as the Joker and Lex Luthor. The design isn’t particularly ground-breaking, but the execution is really great, leading to a fairly straightforward, yet super-fun game. While the base game may be a pared-down Ascension with a superhero theme, subsequent expansions have introduced several different keywords that alter play a lot, while the Crisis expansions have really served to deliver a really interesting game experience. Importantly, Cryptozoic have used the game engine for several other deck-building games, that are all compatible with each other – Street Fighter, Naruto Shippuden, and Lord of the Rings to date!

Marvel Legendary (2012) continues the superhero theme, and has been one of the break-out games from the deck-building genre of recent years. Of course, the runaway success of Marvel movies no doubt has a part to play here, but the game is actually really, really great, more than justifying its success. It plays very much like two games of Ascension happening at the same time – or more accurately, a game of Ascension where the heroes and the villains have been separated out, so you have two decks that are spewing cards each turn. However, we’re very much back to deck-building with a purpose here, as the villains are being led by a Mastermind, who is trying to get his scheme to go off. The object of the game is always roughly the same – defeat the villains and the mastermind – but the addition of schemes means they always play a little differently. Subsequent expansions have succeeded in both appeasing the fanboy need for more superheroes and also enriching the game experience.

Marvel Legendary is definitely the deck-building genre grown up.

So what is it about these games? Why do I have so many, and why do I keep coming back to them?

Well, first of all, I love variety. I could have the same game in several different themes, and love them all equally. I love card games such as the LCGs from Fantasy Flight and the recently-discovered Magic, and deck-building is obviously a highly intrinsic part of such games. I’ve said it before that, for me, the best part of Android: Netrunner is the deck-building, as you try to put together the perfect deck that should, in theory, run like clockwork. Getting to make a game out of building a deck just sounds so cool, and the fact that it actually is cool is just the icing on the cake, really. In a game like Ascension or DC, you get to choose the cards you want to buy not because they’ll be worth a lot in the end (though that is certainly a strategy you could go with), but because they’ll allow you to do much more. It’s always fun to see people around the table start with the same basic cards, but end up building entirely different decks as they attempt to go about their strategies.

I said at the beginning that I’m not the biggest fan of Dominion any more, but I’m certainly more than grateful to it for having provided the basis for so many of my favourite games!

Ascension!

Hey everybody!
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┬ápicked 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!

Ascension Chronicle of the Godslayer

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.

Ascension Chronicle of the Godslayer

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.

Ascension expansions

 

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.

Ascension Dawn of Champions

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┬ácurious 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?