Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer is a digital port of the expandable Deckbuilding Card Game of the same name, and quite possibly the most recognizable one in the genre (aside from Dominion). Due to its popularity, and like Dominion before it, it has inspired many others to copy the format it uses, such as the more recent and extremely popular Star Realms which even shares one of the same designers as Ascension.
Given that the popularity of Star Realms has appeared to eclipse that of Ascension, how well does Ascension fare in the current market of digital deckbuilders? Is it still a good game? Read on to find out…
For the purpose of this review, I’ll be focusing on the digital port of Ascension, rather than the original card game. So please be aware that some references may not fall in line with the physical card game, but generally speaking, the digital version is a near-identical port of the game’s rules and card sets.
Ascension employs one of the most popular mechanics in recent years, the so-called “deckbuilding” mechanic. Instead of coming to the table with a pre-constructed deck to fight with, you have to build your deck as you progress through the game. Each player is given the exact same ten cards at the beginning of the game which you use as a starter deck to build upon, adding to it each turn by “purchasing” cards that will eventually end up in your deck.
The starting 2 Militia cards act as your “Power” resource, whereas your 8 Apprentice cards grant you your “Runes” resource. Power and Runes are what you use to acquire new Hero and Construct cards to be put into your deck, or defeat Monster cards in the shared Center Row. Each card you acquire or defeat will offer its own rewards, effects and game interactions as well as Honor Points, which at the end of the game are tallied in your deck, and the player with the most Honor Points wins.
There are a few drawbacks to this game system, and while not too disastrous, it can often lead to frustration. There is an element of complete randomness to Ascension, whereby you can look to build a particular strategy early on such as Power cards to defeat Monsters if it appears there are a lot of them in the Center Row. Yet as the game progresses, the draw deck can sometimes go in a different direction, offer very little of the cards you were focusing on initially.
Sometimes you’ll be stuck buying cards you didn’t necessarily want to buy, purely for the Honor Points. This can happen for any card type or strategy, and isn’t limited to just Monster-killing decks. It does make strategic play that much harder and out of your control, but games are so short-lived and fast-paced, not to mention ridiculously enjoyable, that it doesn’t matter too much and you can always start another game soon after.
What I do particularly love about this system, though, is that no player has a distinct advantage over the other. Each player has access to the same card pool, both at the start and as the game progresses. Unlike in the big TCGs, where people spend obscene amounts of money to build decks that are packed full of the best cards and then play against someone who doesn’t have the same financial investment in the game, Ascension eliminates this inherent unfairness by offering the same card pool to all players and offers a somewhat similar play experience.
As every game is fresh and unique you will find yourself discovering new and exciting ways of building your deck. If you dare to play online against other real people, you’ll discover even more, as experienced players often have a way of buying and playing that you could try and emulate, especially when it comes to using the expansions. I absolutely love this about the game and it’s what brings me back to play it again and again.
Ascension also has some of the most unique art I have seen in any card game to date. Some might be under the impression that it is of poor quality, or that it may be rushed. I actually quite like the art style employed by the designers, as again, it is unique from other fantasy card games that sometimes go for something more digital painted or photo-realistic. To me, it feels like a twisted alternate dimension where the heroes are fighting an even more twisted Demon Master and his minions. Not every fantasy game needs to have the same artwork style as Magic: the Gathering, and Ascension’s art continues to grow on me with each new set release.
Modes and Features
Ascension suffers a bit from a lack of different modes to play though. There is no story arc, and if you do wish to learn the lore of the game, you will need to visit the website and read the card flavor text (but there is a very good on-going story that is worth checking out). As a single player, you are limited to playing in a 1 vs. 1 game, or a multiplayer vs. AI game. The same options are given to you for an online match too, where you can play against up to 3 others, be they real people or AI, with various timers for players to take their turns, going from near real time up to somewhat asynchronous play.
As with many card game apps, there are expansions. Fortunately you won’t have to try your luck with booster packs, because the developers have kept true to the physical card game and offer up entire expansions for you to purchase, at a tiny fraction of the cost. The expansion releases are a little slower in release than the physical counterpart, but this is probably due to the coding required to program each card set. The price for expansions is extremely low and makes each new release very affordable and more than worth the cost as you get so much replayability out of each one.
You also have various definable options you can tinker with, such as game speed, AI difficulty, and even the ability to turn off the Cultist screams if they annoy or disturb you too much! There are a couple of options for multiplayer, too. Keeping in tradition with the physical origins of the game, you have a pass-and-play option when with friends in a social situation and this is one of my favorite ways to play Ascension. Though the online game does seem to have a limited number of players, and some people often quit games early, there is still a strong, regular community of online players.
Deckbuilding and Strategy
Ascension has, simultaneously, some of the deepest and shallowest strategic gameplay mechanics. By this I mean you can get really lucky with the Center Row remaining balanced throughout the game, thus allowing both players to play their strategy out, or you can have the worst luck where the Center Row shuts you out of your strategy completely, often forcing you to switch it up mid-game, and by then you’re more likely to lose. Furthermore, the more players there are, the less likely it is you’ll be able to pursue any particular strategy at all. Games also have a tendency to snowball once one player gains a slight advantage, which can be frustrating.
The game features four factions: Enlightened, who focus on card draw and hand manipulation. Void, who use effects to banish cards in either the hand, discard, or Center Row. They also focus on Power as their main resource strategy. Mechana, are all about Constructs and Power, with a view to obtaining Honor Points through Constructs, which tend to have a high Honor Point value. Finally, we have the Lifebound, who lean more towards Runes, and gain Honor Points from the games stock using Heroes and their own Constructs per turn.
Strategy changes a lot depending which card sets you are playing with and how many players there are. Mixing certain expansions together will also modify the viable strategies, or mess with them completely. A safe strategy to go for, and one that I personally employ most of the time, is to go for the cards that allow extra card draw (which are usually Enlightened cards). You will also want to acquire a healthy number of Mystics to propagate the purchase of higher Rune cost cards later, as the Apprentices given at the start won’t be enough to do that. Banishing is also extremely important as it helps to thin out your deck which is needed to get to the stronger, more powerful cards quicker.
Power appears to be the most rewarding, yet dangerous path to tread. Monsters appear from the draw deck less frequently than other cards, and can sometimes leave you starved of targets to defeat. Some of the biggest monsters in the game offer insane amounts of Honor Points and other abilities for defeating them, such as drawing 3 cards, messing with your opponent’s Constructs and even acquiring Heroes or defeating all other Monsters in the Center Row for free.
For more strategy hints and tips, read our full-length Ascension Strategy Guide here.
Quite often when physical card and board games are ported over to a digital platform, they have a tendency to fall apart with either clunky interfaces, or poorly programmed rules that often lead to less than desirable effects. Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer doesn’t suffer from any of these issues at all, as the mechanics of the game do exactly as they’re supposed to in the physical game.
I also found the game quite comfortable to play on any digital device, having played on both an Android phone and an iPad. Through it is obvious that the larger the screen, the more pleasing the experience will be to the eye. The interface is polished, if a little crowded especially on smaller screens, but playing cards to the field and navigating around the various gameplay zones is simple enough.
There isn’t much more you could ask for when playing a game as refined as this, but there is actually a better client on its way for competitive play, called Ascension Online which had a very successful (though still massively delayed) Kickstarter campaign.
Ascension is a great game that I can easily spend many hours, or just a few minutes playing due to its accessibility. The game is a testament as to how digital card games ported from physical games should be. The artwork may be a turnoff for some, but that should not stop you playing what is otherwise a mechanically exciting and rewarding player experience.
If you are a fan of fantasy games, or even just card games in general, I would recommend you pick this game up. Luckily on the iOS platform, they offer a Lite version for free, so you can try before you purchase. I know though that with even a little taste of Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer, you’ll be wanting more and more, just like me.
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