PT Guides: Ascension DLC Buying Guide [Part 2]16 May 2017 0
Since the release of the original card game, way back in 2010, Ascension has expanded faster than the universe itself. This is a serious concern as we will eventually hit critical mass, and everything will be sucked into a big black hole. At the last count, the digital version alone has enjoyed a grand total of 14 expansions and add-ons, which have introduced a range of new features and challenges. Easy to grasp rules and regular updates have helped maintain the game's popularity; ensuring that it is still relatively easy to arrange matches.
In Ascension each player starts with a small deck of cards, most cards have special powers and also provide runes, power or honour. Runes are used to purchase new cards, whilst power is deployed to defeat monsters. Both of these actions have the potential to earn honour points - the player with the most honour wins. Players have two basic types of card; heroes are played and then discarded for their effect, whilst constructs remain in play and provide long-term advantages. The cards are divided into four factions, namely, Void, Enlightened, Lifebound, and Mechana. Each faction has its own distinctive feel and unique card combinations.
Before looking at the expansions in detail it is probably best to explain how they are organised. Initially, expansions were grouped into sets of two, called a block. Each block has a large set and a smaller set which are designed to complement each other. From the Realms Unravelled expansion onwards this changed, with each new release designed as a stand-alone game - although you can still combine them with previous sets.
Title: Realms Unraveled
Unique Cards: 67
New Mechanics: Multi-Unite, Transform
This expansion marks a change in philosophy since it is larger and not partnered by a smaller expansion. Whilst it doesn't have any totally new concepts, there are changes to make each faction feel more distinctive. Firstly, there is the new multi-unite ability. Now, all factions (not just Lifebound ones) have their own multi-unite powers, which are triggered every time another hero of the same faction is played. The transform ability, first introduced in Darkness Unleashed, has also been given a makeover. This time, instead of using energy to transform, actions like gaining honour or playing specific faction cards bring about the transformation. To make these two changes more effective some heroes now belong to more than one faction.
Although this expansion draws on concepts from previous releases they still have their own feel. The new transform ability streamlines the mechanics as it doesn't require energy shards. Conversely, the multi-unite ability adds more complexity to the game, which may be considered an unnecessary complication by some players. Players who like to develop their constructs will be pleased to hear that the monsters in this set do not destroy constructs. Another subtle change is that banishing has been limited to the discard pile so it will trigger less often.
Title: Dawn of Champions
Unique Cards: 76
New Mechanics: Champions, Rally
Do you fancy stepping into the well-worn boots of a faction champion? Good, because in this expansion each player is randomly allotted a champion, who can be added to their deck by collecting reputation points. Reputation is acquired by buying or defeating cards that match your champion's faction, or by spending runes. Rally is the other new mechanic, it is activated when a card you acquire or defeat instructs you to rally cards if a certain condition is met, such as cards belonging to a specific faction. If the next card drawn matches this condition then yon can acquire or defeat it for free. Rally can also be activated if you have gained the appropriate reward from your champion, and you acquire or defeat a matching faction card in the centre row. This focus on factions also means that many of the monsters now have a faction allegiance.
Having the chance to develop your champion pushes the game in a new direction. In order to improve your champion’s reputation you have to pay special attention to how you spend your runes. The rally mechanic can lead to some crazy turns if you happen to get lucky, especially if you've maxed out your champion's reputation. This can make the game a bit too swingy at times as each rally gives a 25% chance of gaining the next card for free.
Unique Cards: 76
New Mechanics: Dreamborn, Vision
Each player begins Dreamscape by selecting three special dream cards and adding then to their dreamscape, which acts as a reserve pool. Throughout the game, these cards can be added to a player's deck by spending insight, which is gained through various card effects and dreamborn cards. What are these mysterious dreamborn cards? Well, they are new heroes and constructs that provide insight when they first enter the centre row and again when they are acquired. Also new are vision cards, which are found in the dream deck. When vision cards are acquired from the dreamscape they are not added to a player's deck but instead have an immediate or ongoing effect.
Deciding which cards to add to your dreamscape and when to introduce them to the play area is a key element of Dreamscape. The expansion rewards forward thinking, as you adapt your plans to take the best advantage of the cards waiting in your dreamscape. You also need to consider the best way of spending your insight. Do you bring lower cost cards into your deck quickly, or save up for more powerful cards? Some of the regular cards now have interconnected powers, such as allowing insight to replace runes or power, thus making your decisions even more involved.
Title: Ascension X: War of Shadows
Unique Cards: 43
New Mechanics: Light & Dark, Dual Cost Cards
By the time we reach Ascension X: War of Shadows you begin to wonder if anything truly new can be added to the mix, yet the designers still manage to add two mechanics. The first is dual cost cards, which must be paid for in a combination of both runes and power. More significantly, is the introduction of the day and night mechanic. Each card in the centre row now has a sun or moon icon, if there are more sun icons then it is day and if there are more moon icons then it is night. Day and night doesn’t just determine when to slip into your PJ’s. There are cards with special abilities, powers, and rewards based on whether it is day or night when you play, acquire, or defeat them.
This latest expansion really brings the centre row into focus and introduces a neat timing element. Players are actively encouraged to manipulate the balance of the centre row in order to get the most out of their cards. The dual cost cards give more flexibility when deciding how to spend your runes and power and can dissuade you from investing too heavily into one or the other
There are also five other small promo expansions available that consist of about half-a-dozen cards each and cost £0.99 per pack. Whilst adding some cool new cards these promos are by no means essential. The biggest criticism levelled at Ascension is that it is too random, with massive swings of fortune. But, the more you play and become familiar with the cards, the more control and strategy you will discover. Although you can mix and match all of these expansions; to get a true feel for a particular expansion or block less is definitely more. Ascension is like pizza, piling on every topping may sound like a good idea but the end result is usually an uncomfortable bloated feeling. Sometimes, it can be fun to mix expansions to try out different interactions but the blocks and later expansions are really designed to be played as standalone games. Adding too much tends to overcomplicate matters, disrupt game balance and dilute the new mechanics that the designers have worked so hard to introduce. My advice is to choose an expansion that appeals to you and then take the time to learn all of the ins and outs before thinking about adding anything extra.
Got your own Ascension tips to share? Let us know in the comments!