Combining the graphic design of collectible card games with the fast pace and accessibility of a board game, the iOS version of Gary Games' Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer is a godsend to fans of card-based gaming.
Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer is a combination card / board game designed by a crack team of collectible card game veterans, including Magic: The Gathering Pro Tour Champions Justin Gary, Rob Dougherty, and Brian Kibler. Their aim was to create a game that appealed equally to board game players, collectible card game junkies, and non-gamers alike. While I can't speak for the non-gamers, they hit those first two targets where it hurts.
The game takes place in Vigil, a world that has been protected for millennia by the Great Seal, keeping the realm free from whatever. The story never really came into play during my time with Ascension, and I'm perfectly fine with that. Let's games that require you spend hundreds of dollars on booster packs concern themselves with a deep and involved story. If I wanted to read a novel I'd download one. I just want to play cards.
Ascension satiates that need quite nicely.
The rules seem complicated, but that's an illusion that shatters once you're actively playing. Both players start with a deck of basic cards that provide Runes, used to recruit cards into their deck, and Power, used to defeat creatures and gain honour. Each player takes turns laying out their hand, using the amassed resources to add more valuable cards to their deck or defeat creatures. A standard two-player round begins with a pool of 60 Honor; once it's depleted the game ends, and the player with the largest total of captured cards plus honour wins.
There is strategy here beyond just earning the most points. Along with a cache of three basic units in the top left of the board, the field features six advanced cards that either player may banish or recruit during their turn, each with special powers. Some offer additional Power or Runes. Others are artefacts that provide beneficial effects each round after being put into play. Knowing when to grab which middle row card can mean the difference between victory and defeat.
Like I said, it seems complicated, but in no time at all I found myself breezing through single-player games in minutes. In fact, in the time it took to write this I could have finished off an AI opponent twice.
As the AI opponents become less challenging it's time to move on to human beings. Playing face-to-face with another human on the iPad (it's an universal app) is where Ascension truly shines. It's the sort of board / card game you want to drag along to every party, only now you don't have to.
There is online multiplayer as well, but the odd play-by-mail style turn exchange system implemented here kills the game's charming immediacy. Stick to face-to-face battles and you can't go wrong.
Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer is one damn fine deck-building game. It's smartly designed, enormously accessible, and at only $5.49 you might even be able to afford the $40 physical box set of the original, now the frontrunner on this year's edition of the Fahey Christmas list.