Ascension is a game that I ran into during Gen Con 2010. It was stuck way in the back, near the artists alley, but I had been sent there by many people. This game didn’t require a prime location in order for it to be visited by many. It was one of those games that was sought out. And this is why I am prepared to get hate mail: I don’t really like Ascension.
The game is similar to Dominion, a game that I love. Throughout the game you are building your deck, one card at a time, in an attempt to get the most points. This, in theory, is the same as Dominion. However the execution is very different (as it should be, or I would be complaining about Dominion being ripped off!).
In Ascension, each player starts with the same 10 card deck that is comprised of cards that do damage and money cards. You draw five cards at the beginning of the game, from this deck, and the rest is used as a draw pile for you. In the middle of the play field is placed six random cards from the main games deck. To one end is placed more of the damage and money cards as well as something called the “cultist”. On your turn if any of the six cards in the center are monsters, and you have enough damage dealing cards in your hand to kill it, then you may, and you take the points associated with that card, and another random card is drawn into that spot on the board. If you see something shiny in the middle of the board, and you have enough money cards in hand to buy it, you can. This card is also replaced with another random card from the draw pile. If there are no monsters in the center of the board, and you have damage doing cards in your hand, you may “Smack the cultist” as many times as you are capable of, and take points each time for doing that. The game ends when all of the point tokens (denoted by red and clear crystals) are gone. That’s the game in a nut shell.
So what don’t I like about it? It’s too random for me. Unlike Dominion where you can carefully plot how you want your deck to go, because you always have the same ten kingdom cards to buy from, what is available on your turn is really just luck of the draw. You may have absolute crap available on your turn, and your opponents have amazing things. Or you may simply not flip cards that work well together. Or you may start buying a certain kind of card that works well, but then hit a large dry spot of them. You really can’t plan. This also makes the time that it isn’t your turn pretty boring, because what is there to mull over while your opponent is playing out their turn? You can’t exactly plan what you are going to do, because the cards that are available to you are likely to be completely different by the time it gets back around to you.
Now I say that I expect to get hate mail on this one, because several of my gaming partners love this game. It does have an amazingly fast set up and cleanup, much faster than Dominion. Some people really like this more random feeling, they don’t mind that you can’t plot so much. Although I have had it argued to me, that you can plot the game, once you’ve played it several times, because you know what cards are available in that deck. So there are up sides here…. apparently… it’s just not really my cup of tea. To the people that argue that you can plot the game once you know what’s in the deck, to them I say: That makes every game the same then, right? Which was one of the features of Dominion we all loved so much, the endless combos.
I’ve played this game a few times now. I keep thinking that maybe I will start to see in it what others do, but no. I’ve even won a couple of times, and I still don’t care for it, which is saying something because people often favor games or activities that they are good at. But this game holds no thrill for me. It’s much less a game of cunning and wit, and much more a game of “luck of the draw”.
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