I’m the first to admit I’m not the shiniest penny when it comes to playing board games. More often than not strategy is wasted on me as I tend to play games in a very aggressive manner, attempting to smash shit in the face and hope it turns out for the best. Obviously, this is why I’m shit at CCGs. I do love me the card games though, and one game I like quite a bit is Ascension.
For those that don’t like card games and don’t know what Ascension is (and if there is anyone like that reading this I’m questioning WHY you’re reading this. Are you stalking me? Hmm? Are you, oddball?) it’s a funky game which is technically a deck builder but has a different way of doing things than the Dominions and Thunderstones of the world.
Starting with your hand of Apprentices and Militia (8 of the first, and 2 of the second) which start you off with Runes on the Apprentices to use as currency to acquire cards and Power on the Militia to attack enemies. What differentiates this game from normal deck builders is the simplicity of it all. There are only 2 piles of cards you can ‘buy’ from that are present in every game; Mystics (which have Runes on them) and Heavy Infantry (which have more Power than the Militia on them). The rest of the cards are acquired from the centre row dealt from the Centre Deck.
The centre row is comprised of 6 cards dealt from the top of the Centre Deck and holds 3 different types of cards; Heroes, Constructs and Monsters. These are randomly dealt from the pile and laid out in the middle of the table. On your turn, as long as you have the currency or damage, you can buy as many heroes or constructs as you can afford or kill as many beasties as you can deal damage equal to. Creatures have bonuses printed on the cards which trigger when you kill them and go into the Void (discard pile) and Heroes and Constructs are added to your discard pile and make up your deck (unless, of course, stated otherwise). From this you start building your deck to smash the faces in of Monsters, the spoils of which are Honor gems (when the pile of gems, which is determined by the amount of players, has been depleted the game is over). Constructs and heroes also have Honor points on them which add to your total at the end. So who ever has the most Honor at the end of the game wins the game and gets the girl. Well, there’s no girl, but still nothing says “Come and get it!” more than winning at nerd cards, right?
Heroes are played from your hand and give you benefits like extra Runes to spend or extra Power to defeat enemies, but the interesting cards are the Constructs. Unlike everything else in your deck, the Constructs are put into play and stay there in front of you until the end of the game or another cards power forces you to put it into your discard pile. The Constructs generally tend to have very good powers but also cost quite a bit to buy, whereas Heroes can be cheaper (although there are expensive, seemingly super-bent Heroes too).
There are 4 ‘divine factions’, each having a theme of sorts. Mechana Heroes and Constructs bounce off of each other for Runes or card draw, Void usually have Power enhancers and Banish (to remove a card from your discard or Centre Row, depending). Enlightened tend to help you draw cards and Life are a combination of Runes, Honor Points and card draw.
So what you have here is a deck building card game that strips back the stacks of cards and need to randomise the contents of the game by chucking most of them into a pile in the middle of the table. No need for 10 stacks in the middle if you can just bung them all together into one massive stack, and this is what makes Ascension dead easy to play because you buy what you can when you can and hope for the best, which you might think makes the game feel a bit like a deck builder based around snap or Old Maid or something. The Heroes and Constructs have Honour Points on them so even if you don’t like the look of their powers you can swing the game by surreptitiously bolstering your score while your opponent gathers the Honor Point token gem thingies.
I like Ascension, it’s a daft card game that doesn’t require too much thought. Or so I assumed. Ascension has, or so I’m told, a successful tournament scene which has kind of confused me due to my inability to see strategies in the game. Of course, this is more a failing of me than anything else because as I was looking at how to write this little blog post it occurred to me that there must be strategies to the game because otherwise it would be a very shit game. The way the different types of cards bounce off their own themes is the basis for most of the structure of strategies, with dipping into cards from other factions for the benefits they provide. I’ve only got the first 2 games and reading up on it the strategy just expands with the addition of keywords and mechanics in Storm of Souls (set 3, set 4 is due this summer). The reason I thought there’s no tangible strategy to this game is because the major determing factor in the game is luck. The centre deck is quite large so you are completely at the mercy of the shuffle and draw. My missus hates games that have too much of an element of luck to them (which is why she won’t play WoWTCG with me) and I can understand why, because it’s essentially playing something like Magic the Gathering but there’s 3 decks smashed together and you have to wait until the cards you want are drawn to the centre.
Of course, it’s not really like that because the games been designed with this massive random factor in mind, so you have to think on the fly. Do you mix up strategies or commit and try to get the cards you need? It could all go to tits at any moment, so you need to prepare and think what’s going to work out best because get it wrong and you’ll lose. Of course, like most games that have the victory point win condition, you never really know if you’re ahead or not most of the game, even if you have acquired the most Honor gems.
It’s a cracking little game, and it even has it’s own iOS version so you can play it even if you don’t have any friends. Well, you do have to have an expensive Apple device obviously, us Android scummers are well out of that one. Just don’t think you can win by ignoring the fact that the fates my be waiting around the corner with an iron bar, waiting to scupper you.