Type: Deck-building game
Suggested Ages: 13+
Play Time: 30 mins
Ascension is a fast-paced deck-building game set amid an imaginative Eastern-fantasy backdrop. Players spend runes to gain more powerful cards, helping them acquire yet more cards and defeat monsters. The variety of cards and interactions allow a mild range of strategies, although as a new game with planned expansions the cards can feel repetitive.
How to Play
Each player begins with a personal deck of 10 cards – 8 runes for buying more cards and 2 militia for defeating monsters. On your turn, draw 5 cards and play as many as possible. Each card you buy or monster you defeat awards Honor. The player with the most at the end of the game wins.
The board has three major areas. To one side is the Center Deck and Void (permanent discard). From this deck, six cards are drawn face-up to the Center Row. These are cards you can buy with runes on your turn, or monsters you can defeat with power. To the other side are a stack each of Mystics and Heavy Infantry – basic cards you can always buy with runes, and a Cultist you can always attack with power.
After each turn you discard your hand and all cards you gained to a personal discard. When you go through your deck, shuffle your discard and flip them over to replace it. This way all the cards you’ve gained become your new deck to draw from.
The only catch here is Constructs, special cards that stay in play once played, giving their benefits every turn.
Monsters and some cards award Honor Tokens from a pool. The number available are based on the number of players. When it’s exhausted, tally up tokens plus the value of the cards in your deck.
I played a 4-player game with mostly new players. It only took 10 minutes or so to learn the game, and we dove in. The game plays fast – each player’s turn is pretty rapid, and even with four players we finished well inside an hour, including setup and learning. I started my deck focusing on runes to get more cards, then got two Construct cards that gave me an Honor each for my first defeated monster each turn.
I learned halfway through that I neglected banishing cards – removing them entirely from your deck into the Void. It might sound counter-intuitive if you’re not used to deck-building games – because you recycle your cards many times through your deck, you want to get rid of low-power cards so they don’t clog up your hand each turn. I knew this, but didn’t expect things to go so quickly. I came in second all the same, so it was a very small newbie penalty.
My only complaint was some card repetition. Part of this was simply that it was a newish copy, so the deck wasn’t shuffled enough. I think a very small part was that the company is planning expansions in the future. It’s a non-collectible game, so the expansions will be totally self-contained rather than booster packs.
The whole package is extremely nice and well put-together. The board keeps everything tidy, and the copy I played had the sleeves added in for a mere $16. The artwork is unique and fun, and the theme is fairly well executed through the card names and functions.
Ascension is a tight, fast, fun game in a compact package at a great price. Two-player capability is also a big plus for me. If you enjoy deck-building games, or want to try them out, this is a great one to pick up.