[TT] Ascension

I have been trying the deckbuilding game Ascension on Steam. Good sale, and it includes a bunch of expansions, so it seemed like a very inexpensive way to try the game. I have not tried all the expansions to see what design space the game has explored, but the first couple sets seem pretty shallow.

The natural comparison is between Ascension and Dominion. Ascension is a much more tactical game, based on its use of an offer row of cards rather than a fixed set of kingdom cards. In Dominion, 10 stacks of kingdom cards are available for purchase each game, in addition to six stacks of standard cards. In Ascension, 6 cards from the the entire deck are available for purchase each turn, in addition to three stacks of standard cards. In Ascension, potentially any card in the game could appear any turn, but you never know in advance which cards will be available to purchase on your turn.

This makes Ascension more tactical, Dominion more strategic. in Dominion, you should sketch a plan for the game before the first turn. In Ascension, you have no idea what options will exist three turns from now. In a four-player game, your options each round are effectively random; BoardGameGeek recommends it is a two-player game.

Ascension has fewer attacks than Dominion. The game has less interaction between players. Defeating some monsters affects opponents, but most interaction is indirect, through buying or banishing cards from the center row when you expect other players to want them.

Ascension’s dual currencies are a great response to Dominion’s victory points. In Dominion, victory point cards do nothing in the early game and are the only things that matter in the endgame. During the game, they are completely uninteresting, just dead cards. That is a catchup mechanic, as a player with lots of victory points has a deck clogged with dead cards, but that is not exactly exciting. Dominion more or less immediately set out to alleviate that with new cards: victory point cards that do other things or interact with other cards, ways to earn points without cards, and ways to remove cards from your deck but keep their points. Ascension addresses that problem from the beginning because the main use of its second currency is to buy honor points by defeating monsters. Honor points are tracked by tokens, not cards. This gives you the same need to balance cash- and point-generating cards across the game, but you are not penalized for early honor nor is the late game slowed under the weight of dead cards.

Ascension is much easier in terms of setup. Dominion starts with picking, laying out, and learning a set of cards. Lots of reading, lots of time. Ascension flips over six cards and goes. In the physical game, shuffling the single huge stack of cards must be troublesome, more so if you want to mix expansions. That is a huge stack of cards, and you are going to get unmixed lumps.

The computer version is nice in that it alleviates that problem and takes care of the bookkeeping. The Steam version is an unambitious port from mobile, not even bothering to eliminate “swipe” from text. Use of activated construct abilities is clunky, because those cards are held mostly off-screen. It takes four clicks to view, activate, and dismiss the construct. In person, you just say you are drawing a card, maybe tap the construct to show that it is used. But the computer always remembers passive abilities like construct income. Similarly, the game will give you a warning if you try to finish a turn without taking all possible options, which keeps you from forgetting to kill cultists. It also keeps giving you that warning every time you decide not to buy a low-value card or use an ability that would require banishing one of your cards.

It is not a bad game. It is quicker and easier than Dominion, and it works better with two players whereas Dominion works better with four. Maybe the later expansions shore up its weak points without taking away the simplicitly that makes it attractive to players who do not want to strategize the whole game before it starts.

: Zubon