Ascension : Chronicles of the God King Review

Ascension : Chronicles of the God King is a deck-building board game that has strong flavors of Magic the Gathering and Dominion in it.   It’s a fast gateway deck builder game that takes less than 5 minutes to explain and less than an hour to play.  Ascension is a good game that I believe has carved out it’s own niche in this fast growing sector of the market.

Appearance:  Ascension : Chronicles of the God King comes in a rectangular box that is about three times as big as it needs to be – except for the inclusion of the board.  The game itself consists of 200 cards, 50 tokens and the game board so there’s really no reason for the large box size except to ensure the board fits.  On a different note – the game artwork is actually pretty good.  There’s nothing exceptional here; but it’s nice and quite thematic and the use of ‘flavor text’ on the cards can be quite funny (e.g. the Burrower Mark III whose text is ‘Can You Dig It’).  Card stock is good which means that the game is likely to hold up to quite a few plays.

Rules / Ease of Learning:  Ascension is the easiest deck builder to learn – I’d say even easier than Dominion.  It took me less than 5 minutes to teach and set-up the game for our first gameplay.   The board is set-up with the Heavy Infantry, Mystic & Cultist on one side and the draw / discard deck the other with the six (6) cards that are the cards available to purchase in the centre.  Each time a card is bought / killed; players refill the centre row with cards from the draw deck.  The number of Honor (victory) Points available varies depending on the number of players in the game, with Heroes & Constructs having honor points at the end game as well.

Each turn, players draw 5 cards from their deck and then play them out, using the Runes (for purchasing Heroes & Constructs) or Power (for killing monsters) provided for their turn.  As a balancing factor, the Cultist is always available to beat upon for 2 Power and the Mystics & Heavy Infantry cards for Rune purchases.

One complaint is that in an effort to keep the rulebook simple, the designers seem to have left out a few important points.  E.g. The Cultist never dies; when (exactly) the centre row is refilled and what order rewards are fulfilled.  It’d be nice if they included an FAQ or rules clarification on these points.

Gameplay: Ascension : Chronicles of the God King is much more tactical a deck builder than other deck builders as players must learn to use the specific cards available on the board and in their hand to win.  While you can start the game with a general ‘strategy’ (e.g. deciding to buy Mechana Constructs, focusing on Heavy Infantry / heroes, focusing on a draw deck); the randomness of the centre row will dictate your actual gameplay.

The game is also quite fast – since chain of actions are unlikely (i.e. multiple draws); it’s unlikely that players will be waiting for any single player to draw through and play his entire deck like Dominion.

We had a ton of fun when playing, with the game very well balanced.  Even with a bad draw, thanks to the Cultist, Mystics & Heavy Infantry; there’s always something that a player can do to better his deck.   The Cultist in particular caused lots of grins as players would send their army to ‘beat on the Cultist for Honor‘.

However, there’s a few areas to note with Ascension.  You need to play (or perhaps just sit down and read through the cards) a few times to get an idea of potential combinations through the game. That does give more experienced players an advantage.

The randomness of both card draws and the centre row can give an unfair advantage to a player – but that’s true of most games with an element of luck.   It’s just that with Ascension, since there’s almost no ‘interactive’ cards, you can’t stop a player that you know is pulling ahead.

Lastly, the amount of ‘randomness’ in the game increases as the number of players increase as the centre row churns through at a faster rate.  That often means that players have to take a ‘wait and see’ attitude in larger groups as the cards in the centre row will have churned over most likely by the time it reaches them.

Conclusion:  Overall, I like Ascension : Chronicles of the Godslayer.  It’s a light deck building game that is easy to set-up, simple to teach and fast to play.  There’s certainly depth to the game here already and a good expansion should add more to this game.  It’s not going to replace Thunderstone as a meatier, themed game for me but I must admit, I do prefer it over Dominion.