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Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer

October 28, 2010

A quick look at my favorite games will reveal Dominion close to the top, and the vast enjoyment I’ve gotten from that game has made me want to try out some of the other entrants to the field of deck building games.

Ascension looks to be, on the surface, a slick evolution of the genre.  How does it stack up?

RULES SUMMARY

Each player is given a 10 card deck similar to Dominion’s starting deck, containing Militia and Apprentices which provide you with the two types of resources in Ascension.  Militia provide you with the military strength to defeat monsters while Apprentices give your deck some early buying power for cards which will go into your deck.  However, instead of a random setup which remains static throughout the game, Ascension has only 3 fixed stacks (two of those upgrades on your starting deck cards) and one large center deck of mixed monster cards which you defeat for various rewards (including victory points) and hero/construct cards which go into your deck and give you points at the end of the game in addition to various in-game effects or resources.

The third fixed card, the Cultist, is a single card which won’t ever be taken, but remains on the table as an option for the Militias and Heavy Infantries in your hand if you don’t have enough power to take down a Monster in the center row.

The large center deck is shuffled together and 6 cards are dealt to the middle of the table, forming a “live draft,” if you will, in which the current player immediately refreshes the empty space left after buying a card from the middle.

Victory points are collected in the form of Honor Tokens in addition to those counted on cards in your deck at the end of the game.  These tokens can be gained by defeating monsters on your turn or through some Hero or Construct effects.  (Constructs, unlike Hero cards, are played to the table as permanent supplements barring any adverse effect your opponents may trigger to  make you discard them until you can draw them again.)  Once the Honor Tokens run out, the game is over.

GAMEPLAY ANALYSIS

Unlike Dominion, there is no restriction on how many things you can do during your turn.  If you have the resources, you can keep defeating monsters and buying cards until you’re spent.  In one sense, this simplifies the game immensely, but I miss the slight amount of depth which is lost here.

Similarly, the game feels very streamlined because of its drafting mechanism of the six cards in the center.  Ascension has been called fluid and tactical, and those descriptors are very apt.

The added luck can be troublesome, however, and at times, frustrating, especially if you’ve geared up for Monsters and they don’t happen to be showing up in the mid- to late game.  Killing the cultist repeatedly seems a poor consolation prize in those instances, and particularly inefficient.

Part of this is because of the large deck which is necessary to provide variety to the game.  But I found myself wishing for more control in playing Ascension.  I must say I wondered how the game would differ if it split up the Center deck into Monsters in one stack and Heroes/Constructs in the other, and gave players the options to pull from one or the other whenever they have an opening in the middle.

Inevitably, the game will draw comparisons to Dominion.  How do I feel about the two side by side?  Honestly, for me, this is no contest.  I much prefer the deeper gameplay and sense of control in Dominion.  Ascension plays better as a 2-player game for me than 3-4, simply because the more players you have, the more the luck of the center draw can affect the game.  At least with fewer players, your opponent may not snag that card you need which gives your deck a bit more synergy.

In Dominion, the synergy is much easier to come by, and Dominion plays as well with 5-6 as it does with 2 (especially in our group which suffers very little down time due to extremely fast play, but your mileage may vary).  I find myself missing that kind of synergy in Ascension which is only achieved in a much narrower percentage of games than Dominion.  Ascension’s areas where it beats its predecessor, its quick and easy setup and its richer theme (arguably), are not enough to ever make me want to play it over Dominion.

RATINGS

Components/Presentation: 6/10 – I, for one, really like most of the artwork on this game, though the cards seem to be the opposite of robust.

Theme: 6/10 – Fairly standard dark fantasy world that may become more fleshed out with expansions.

Mechanics: 5/10 – The game rarely leaves me with the feeling that if I’d played better, I may have won; rather, I get the feeling that if the right cards had come up on my turn, I may have won.

Replayability: 6/10 – I’ll be interested to see where the expansions go and if they will compound my issues with the game (more cards in the center deck will seemingly make synergistic decks more difficult and further increase the probability that one card type is very under represented.)

Fun Factor: 7/10 – Ascension is breezy, light fare which is fun in a mindless sort of way, given the lack of control.

Overall: 6/10


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Thoughts on Top 10 Lists – Or How my Top 10 Favorites Got Halved

October 11, 2010

Some friends were over playing Thrones last night (LCG) and we tossed in a couple of games of Castle Ravenloft there at the end.  We started talking about our favorite games shortly thereafter.  One of them questioned why Game of Thrones the card game wasn’t in my top 10 list, which I thought was a very good question.

Recently, I pared down my top 10 favorite games (here at least, haven’t updated the Geek yet) to top 5.  It is a very difficult thing to quantify.   I found that there was  a large traffic jam after the first 3-4 slots, a bunch of games I very much enjoy, but no clear standouts from the rest of the pack in that second tier after the first few.

I know one thing – Descent is the most complete game experience for me, recalling the same feelings I had growing up playing Shogun and Axis and Allies.  This may be an odd comparison for some, but the level of strategy and tactics, combined with its setting and components, are spot on, for me.  I know the game isn’t perfect, of course.  But what an experience, unlike any other.

Dominion has risen for me to number 2, which is probably no surprise given my love of  and history with CCGs.   After Descent and Dominion, the number of hours I’ve put into any one game aside from Chess and CCGs drops off considerably.  But I still think of Dominion as a “board game,” separate from my current CCG I’m playing competitively.

Game of Thrones LCG is certainly one of the best games I’ve ever played.  But considering the amount of time I put into Thrones, thinking about it, preparing for tournaments, etc.,  it’s almost unfair to compare it to board games which I play occasionally for fun, even something I play as often as Dominion.

Either way, maybe Game of Thrones LCG should go in my top 5.  It is very much deserving.

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Update

October 1, 2010

Yeah, it’s been a while.  I have been playing games, though, and lots of them.  I am hoping to get back to posting here regularly, however.  Lots of my time has been spent working with FFG in various capacities with their LCG of A Game of Thrones, including designing my own card for winning the 2009 Melee World Championship. 

I also worked on some beginner decklists and the write-ups for the inserts on the new house expansions for the game:

FFG recently announced their upcoming cooperative LCG based on Lord of the Rings, and I’ve been playtesting that as well, which has been a blast. 

So it’s been a busy year, but we still work in a board game here and there. Lots of exciting stuff that I’m wanting to review or discuss, including Summoner Wars, Dungeonquest,  Arcana, Glory to Rome, Tobago, gaming with a 6-year-old, designing my own game with a friend, and much more.  We’ll see if I can’t be a little more timely in the future…

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Cleopatra and the Society of Architects

March 18, 2009

From the designers of Mr. Jack, Bruno Cathala and Ludovic Maublanc, Cleopatra and the Society of Architects plays in about an hour with 3-5 players, ages 10 and up.

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(images courtesy of www.daysofwonder.com)

RULES SUMMARY

In Cleopatra and the Society of Architects (hereafter to be known as Cleopatra), players attempt to help Cleopatra build her palace by gathering resources (at the market where they draw cards) and using those resources (at the quarry) to choose varying palace pieces to add to the structure. 

When picking cards at the market, players choose from one of three stacks and then refresh each stack with one card each.  Some of these cards are face-up, aiding in the process, but the face down cards add an element of chance to the game. 

In the quarry, some pieces are more valuable than others, but when all of a particular kind of piece is gone, Cleopatra advances one step closer to her inspection of the palace which will end the game (when she gets to space five shown below).

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One may be tempted to use corrupted resources throughout the game – in fact, it will become necessary at times to do so.  These resources (typically offering double the amount as a normal card), along with character cards which give special effects, come with a price: corruption tokens.  Which aren’t so bad, really.  Unless you end up with the most corruption at the end of the game.  At which point you are fed to the crocodiles and cannot win. (Live crocs sold separately.) 

You can get rid of some corruption in various ways, one of which is in forming a garden when building mosaics and placing one of your two statues there to claim it as your own.  Then at the end of the game, you are allowed to put one corruption token per square in your gardens and hopefully avoid being crocodile dinner.

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Another way to minimize corruption involves managing your hand of up to ten cards.  Corrupt cards count against you at the end of the game, so one way to reduce them is to build over your maximum limit and discard down to ten.  You have to take a corruption for doing this, but one beats the five or six you may get stuck with down the road.

GAMEPLAY ANALYSIS

Cleopatra has more than one thing going for it, but one thing can overshadow all else: she’s a beauty.  Days of Wonder outdid themselves on the components, not an easy feat with some of the spiffiness in their lineup.  In fact, it may be the prettiest game I’ve ever seen.  The bottom of the box forms the base for part of the palace, making it impressively three-dimensional.  Luckily, the gameplay measures up for the most part.

There are really only two choices each turn – market or build.  This streamlines the rules nicely, and coupled with the excellent player aids, makes for a short learning curve.  After instituting a house rule that players must refresh the markets with new cards before examining their hands and new goodies, we found that the game moves along at a fast clip.

You may have to think about which piece to build, as a throne section will give more points than a sphinx, for instance, but your selections in the market can be deterministic, allowing you only so many options.  This adds a fair amount of luck to Cleopatra.  Sometimes you really need to build an obelisk to maximize the potential of your hand, but you just can’t get that last stone necessary to build it, which is frusrating.  Most of the time, however, you are able to manage what you have and be competitive.  

Another possible complaint is the lack of player interaction.  While it is true that very few ways exist to directly affect your opponents, I would argue that this is less of a factor than in other games because the turns are so fast and Cleopatra doesn’t have any headache-inducing decisions that could lead to analysis paralysis. 

RATINGS

Components/Presentation: 10/10 – Possibly the most aesthetically pleasing game I’ve ever seen.

Theme: 9/10 – The marriage of Egyptian culture with the fantastic components makes the game come alive.

Mechanics: 7/10 – The possible deterministic nature of the face-down cards you draw in the market and light player interaction are the only real negatives here.

Replayability: 8/10

Fun Factor: 7/10 – Plays in just the right amount of time for a game of this weight, and makes for an enjoyable hour.

Overall: 8/10

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Mr. Jack

March 5, 2009

A strategy/deduction game for 2 players, Mr. Jack is designed by Bruno Cathala and Ludovic Maublanc and recommended for ages 9 and up.  Plays in about 30 minutes, published by Hurrican/Asmodee. 

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Race for the Galaxy

February 27, 2009

Race for the Galaxy is a card game for 2-4 players that plays in about 30 minutes with 2 players, 60 minutes with 4 players.  Designed by Tom Lehmann with a recommended age of 12 and up.  Published by Rio Grande/Abacus Spiele.

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Neuroshima Hex!

February 26, 2009

Neuroshima Hex! is a tactical wargame for 2-4 players, published by Portal/Z-Man Games.  Design by Michal Oracz, playable in about 30 minutes.  Ages 12 and up.

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