Higher Ground – Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer review

I do wonder sometimes how game designers come up with their ideas. Do they have an algorithm that specifically works out the silliness of a backstory to the Nth degree? Do they roll custom made dice covered in words in order to come up with the name? Or do they just drink a lot of beer, take a thesaurus, choose some random entries and hope for the best? Who knows, but ladies and gentlemen – it’s time to look at Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer, a brand new deck-building game from first-time publishers Gary Games…

So, what’s different about Ascension then? Can we not just stick with Thunderstone or Dominion? Well, no. First of all, it has roots in the daddy of all deck-builders, Magic The Gathering – it was designed by MTG Tour champions Rob Dougherty, Brian Kibler and Justin Gary (who also founded Gary Games). While this may be their first release, you can tell that they have considered their approach – this is no rush release, thrown together to capitalise on a craze. The team have thought about how the game should play and what to do in order to make it stand out from the crowd.

So, how exactly does it differ? Well, first of all, it’s a simplified take on the genre. Ascension focuses on three areas – Runes (which allow you to buy new cards), Power (for smooshing monsters) and Honor (this game’s take on Victory Points – and yes, I’m using the American spelling as it’s plastered all over the cards and board).

The Top 10 Binary Demo described at the website, also makes a great effort at explaining the best trading platforms that people can easily use for trading. They go through umpteen of programs that are launched in the online trading market to select the few that are genuine and make real money for people and do not scam them. This can be compared to the honor points in the game here.

Depending on how many players are at the table, a certain amount of Honor points – depicted using little plastic crystals – are set aside. Once these are gone, the game is over – total up how many you have, add on the Honor from the cards in your deck and the highest total is the winner.

There’s no limitation as to what you can do here as long as you have the Runes or Power – unlike in Dominion with it’s one action / one buy mechanic. Similar to other deck-builders, you start with a weak pile of cards, but your purchasing options are slightly different. You always have the option for beefing up your deck by grabbing Mystics (more Runes) or Heavy Infantry (more Power) cards, or beating up the Cultist for a single Honor point, but there’s also The Central Row. This is a bunch of six cards that will cost more Runes or Power to acquire or defeat, but will bring greater rewards – getting rid of one of them will see it’s spot replenished immediately, so judicious decisions can really reap you some good stuff.

Monsters, as mentioned, will at least get you some Honor, but could also allow you to banish a card (chucking it on the Void – this game’s discard pile – which means you can strip out the poorer cards from your deck) or affect another player’s turn. Heroes boost your power, making monsters much easier to despatch, but there’s also another type of card to consider – the Construct.

Constructs are an interesting concept. Where most deck-building games have you discard everything you touch in a turn, the Constructs you manage to get your hands on actually stay in play, often giving you hefty bonuses (especially if you manage to pull a selection together). Other cards in the deck can see Constructs returned back to players’ hands or discard piles, so they won’t always be around – but when they are, you’ll certainly have an advantage.

Games are quick – even a four player effort can be done in 45 minutes. The artwork is good, really showing the differences between the four in-game factions, while the cards and board are great quality – satisfyingly heavy and made to last (although you can get Ascension branded card sleeves if you so desire). Some of the flavour text is a bit cheesey, but it doesn’t detract from the game. Also, while it’s not a bad thing, you can tell that the whole game has been put together with expansion in mind, but what do you expect from a design team with such a huge love for MTG?

Michael has lots of Constructs! Michael will lose this game by one point! Michael is sad.

So, is it worth picking up? I reckon so. If anything, it’s a good introduction into the deck-building genre and plays quicker than Dominion or Thunderstone – the level of simplicity is incredibly appealing… hell, the rules to the game are so easy they’re printed on the board. Twice. After a few plays you’ll find yourself working out strategies rather than just going for The Big Stuff – will you focus specifically on on faction or go for a range of different ones? Keep an eye on what your opponents are picking up though – remember that the winner is the highest total Honor points, and that includes crystals and cards. All in all, an awful lot deeper than first impressions portray – the more I play it, the more I enjoy it. Ascension will be coming to the table pretty regularly, I think.

Ascension: Chronicles of the Godslayer is published by Gary Games, and will be available here in the UK from August 31st. Designed by Brian Kibler, John Fiorillo, Justin Gary and Robert Dougherty (with art by Eric Sabee) – there’s no word on price yet, but looking at what it’s going for in the US, it’ll probably be around £30. Cheers for reading!