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Game Info:

Ascension: Deckbuilding Game
Developer: Playdek, Inc.
Publisher: Asmodee Digital
Released: Dec 17, 2014
ESRB Rating: Unrated
Available On: PC, Android, iOS
Genre: Deckbuilding Card Game
Number of Players: 1-4 offline; 1-4 online
Price: $9.99

I’ve always enjoyed card games. From the standard 52 card deck to Dutch Blitz, to Trading Card Games (TCG), they’ve always been a favorite of mine. When you’re working with a small number of cards, it’s no hassle; shuffling is easy, cleanup isn’t much harder. However, gone are the days of having 50-100 cards that you’re dealing with; now it’s hundreds of cards, and a deck that stands 6 inches high! “Where on earth do you play with that many cards at once?” you ask? Well in a deckbuilding game of course!

I welcome you to Ascension: Deckbuilding Game. One of the difficulties with playing with paper cards is the hassle of setup, shuffling, and tear-down. Thankfully Playdek and Asmodee have brought Ascension to the digital age. We can now sit at our computer, or on our phones, and enjoy all that Ascension has to offer. No more shuffling by hand, or spending 20 minutes sorting cards and cleaning up. Within seconds we can start a game and be off on our quest to defeat Samael the Fallen and his horde of monsters.

Before we get into gameplay, I’ll introduce you to the concepts behind Ascension, and other deckbuilding games. Many have played various TCGs where you build a deck from your available cards and then play against other players. These are enjoyable, but they come with an additional expense of having to buy a bunch of cards, either in packs, or individually, and it can get very expensive. If your opponent has more money than you, there’s a good chance you’ll never be able to beat them. 

Deckbuilding games take away the money side of things and even the playing field by everyone having the same access to cards. In deckbuilding games, you generally have a starting deck, which is usually around 10 cards, and a “Center Row” that contains cards you can either buy or defeat. As the game advances, your deck gradually grows from the initial starter deck and becomes your own creation. Every game the available cards and the order that they appear will be different, so you will likely never have the same deck twice. The game generally ends after a certain point system is reached or some other victory condition is achieved.

In Ascension, you start with 10 cards, and build your deck, competing against between 1 and 3 opponents until the honor pool is depleted. When you purchase a card it remains in your deck until the end of the game, or until it is banished via another card. Your goal is to have the most honor by the time the available honor pool reaches 0. This is accomplished by purchasing heroes and constructs, or by defeating monsters, as well as via certain card effects.

Ascension: Deckbuilding Game
Highlights:

Strong Points: Excellent gameplay; all of the benefits of the tabletop version no hassle; Cross-platform Asynchronous multiplayer
Weak Points: AI could be more difficult; Cards may be difficult to read without zooming 
Moral Warnings: Visual references to occult, new-age, and fictitious religions; some card art has implied nudity or images not appropriate for younger children

The Steam version of Ascension contains the base game, 8 expansions, and 5 promo packs. Currently, there are an additional 3 expansions and 1 promo pack available through DLC purchase. Each expansion contains a themed set of cards, bringing new mechanics to the gameplay. For each set, there is a rulebook that is available in-game that explains all of the new mechanics and gives some lore. The promo packs contain a few special cards that are unrelated to any other content. These tend to be stronger or have better effects and are limited in number.

There are however certain cards and aspects that will remain regardless of which sets of cards you choose to play. The base game starts with 2 different types of currency, runes and power as well as the scoring system which is called Honor. A rune is shown as a silver triangle and allows you to buy single-use heroes and continued-use constructs. Power is shown as a red circle with a sword across it that allows you to defeat monsters. Honor is shown as a black star with a yellow border.

There are 4 main factions in Ascension: Void, Mechana, Enlightened, and Lifebound. Each faction has its own style and theme within the game. You can choose to focus on any or all of the factions in your deck, but each tends to lend to a different playstyle. Void focuses on killing monsters and removing as many ‘fluff’ cards as possible form your deck. Mechana focuses on piling up constructs and setting yourself up for end game combos. Lifebound cards focus on gaining honor and buying heroes. Enlightened puts an emphasis on drawing a lot of cards and being able to manipulate the center row.

Now that we have a basic understanding of the game out of the way, let’s talk about the game itself. The interface is well thought out and is the same on all platforms. The play area is clean and doesn’t impede play in any way, although in longer games with decks that contain a lot of 
‘draw’ cards it can start to get cluttered. Accessing all of the cards and different areas for gameplay is well thought out, and there are multiple hotkeys available for those that are looking for efficiency. From the in-game menu you have access to all the standard settings as well as easy access to the rulebooks and card gallery, which can be a very handy feature especially when first starting out. At the end of the game, you are presented with a screen that shows everyone’s stats as well as the cards in each deck. This is nice if you want to see how you got beat so bad, or determine what you could have adjusted in your deck to change the next time.

Ascension: Deckbuilding Game
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 88%
Gameplay - 18/20
Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 9/10
Stability - 5/5
Controls - 4/5

Morality Score - 78%
Violence - 9/10
Language - 10/10
Sexual Content - 6/10
Occult/Supernatural - 4/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

 

Each card is beautifully illustrated, with the later expansions generally having nicer card art. I want to mention that there are a few cards that have implied nudity, but there are no sexual references anywhere to be found. There is a lot of referenced fictional magic or religious practices, that those who have a history with the occult or new-age movements may want to be aware of. This is primarily in the card art or the flavor text available on cards as well as in the lore found in the rulebooks. That said, the cards themselves just have effects, and it doesn’t go into any form of role-playing, nor do you actually cast any magic or anything along those lines.

When a card is available to use, purchase, or kill, it will have a glowing outline, making it clear what you are able to do. One of the best features in the game is the “End Game” button. It glows red if there is still something for you to do and asks for confirmation, so you don’t accidentally end your turn before you’re ready. Once there is nothing else to do it turns green and removes the confirmation. The music and sound effects are pleasing, except for the cultist scream which happens when you defeat a cultist, however, you can turn this off, so it’s only a minor inconvenience.

If you’re wanting to play locally you have a few options; you can either play with the PC which has two difficulties, normal and hard, or you can play with up to 3 others locally in a hot seat style play. You can also combine AI & human players to mix and match however you like. During creation, you can choose any of the expansions or promo packs that you have available, set your honor pool, the number of players, and give a name and picture for every player. While it is possible to play with every expansion and promo pack you own, it is not recommended. Most people tend to pick 1-3 expansions to play as any more than that floods your available cards with too many different mechanics and limits your ability to really enjoy each mechanic.

One of my absolute favorite things about Ascension is multiplayer functionality. It is cross-platform and asynchronous. I wish other developers made this available as it really brings new life to the game. You can play a game with someone, regardless of which platform they own, and because it’s asynchronous, if the person isn’t currently around, they can take their turn when they get a chance. Not only that, it gives you the ability to start a game on your pc, then move to your phone or vice-versa (as long as you own the same expansions on both) and keep playing. There are a few options for finding people to play with; you can create a private game and invite up to 3 friends, or you can either create or join a public game for up to 4 players. The host chooses which expansions and promo packs are being used, but be aware that all players must own the expansions to play together.

Overall Ascension: Deckbuilding Game on Steam is an excellent game based on an even better physical game. It takes all the great aspects of the physical game but makes them digital, mobile, and well put together while adding a few new digital-only mechanics. I would highly recommend this game to anyone that enjoys card games or wants to get into the deckbuilding genre. There is a discord community for finding more competitive games if you find that the AI is too easy or the people you’re playing against aren’t much harder. One thing to note, the original Steam port was poor quality, so if you haven’t tried the game out in a few years, give it another shot, as it has been upgraded and is a much better experience. Again I want to mention that this game has influences from the occult & different eastern religions, as well as a few cards that could have suggestive images. I hope you can enjoy this game as much as I have.

Doulos28

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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