Ascension is a classic deckbuilder with a wealth of content and active online user base, but the app isn't without its flaws.
Android & iOS
# of Players
1 - 4
Ascension is a two to four player deckbuilding game pitting players in a race to accumulate as many points as they can before the common point pool is depleted, which usually takes 10-30 minutes, depending on player count. The game has been around for awhile and never really found a massive market compared to some other deckbuilders. However, the app is wildly popular thanks in part to its freemium model. You get a solid game with full features for no cost (the base set is named Chronicle of the Godslayer), additional expansions are available as in-app purchases if you get hooked, but aren’t necessary to play a fun game. Except where specifically noted, I will only be discussing the base game in this review.
Ascension is a standard deckbuilder. If you’ve played one of the many games in the genre, you know what you’re getting into. Each player starts with a common set of ten cards (drawing the standard five at a time) and uses those to purchase new cards from a common board and eventually gain points towards victory (dubbed Honor). Ascension has two main card abilities: Runes and Power, which provide purchase and attack abilities, respectively. You use Runes to purchase cards to make it easier to acquire new cards, generate Power, or generate Honor. Cards available for purchase are either Heroes or Constructs. Heroes get played once when they enter your hand and provide some benefit, while Constructs remain in play and provide ongoing benefits. Both Heroes and Constructs provide additional Honor points at the end of the game. Build your engine until to earn Honor until the Honor pool depletes and the game ends.
Ascension cards come in one of four factions, each faction playing to their own strengths. You will often get benefits if you combine cards of the same faction, but the benefits aren’t there on every card and often aren’t super powerful. There is certainly benefit to grabbing certain cards of the same faction, but you can still win without limiting yourself to one or two factions which isn’t always the case in some deckbuilders.
The Power ability is one major aspect that sets Ascension apart. You don’t attack an opponent, but rather Monster cards which turn up in the common pool among the standard Hero and Construct cards available for purchase. Monsters are often tough to defeat but usually provide a significant reward for doing so. A pile of Honor and forcing opponents to discard some subset of their Constructs is a common reward for defeating a monster. That the Monsters show in the common pool makes it a bit of a race to defeat them or even use other card abilities to banish them before your opponent can defeat them. The ratio of Monsters to Heroes/Constructs makes things interesting as well. There are roughly as many Monsters as there are cards from each of the four factions, so you will play games where you see relatively few Monsters. Thus, going for a Power heavy approach might not always work. (There is a never-ending supply of weak Monsters to defeat, so your power won’t go to waste, but the reward is a measly one Honor).
Another really engaging aspect of Ascension compared to some other deckbuilders is the card power and pricing system. Some games will make the top level cards truly tough to afford either by pricing them very high or limiting the ability to generate purchase power. Ascension does neither. There are an abundance of Runes available to add to your deck and many cards which provide extra draws so combining Runes usually isn’t a problem. This coupled with the fact that some of the cards are really quite powerful make the game a lot of fun. Things can change quickly if a powerful card shows up and you are able to quickly grab it and get it in play.
There is a reason Ascension is so popular, the game is fun. The small tweaks to the deckbuilding genre lead to interesting choices and produce the impressive staying power this app has seen over the years.
Barrier to Entry
Ascension contains a tutorial game and a rulebook. The rulebook is a nice, quick overview of the main aspects of the game and the app. The tutorial holds your hand through a few turns, going into detail on each option available just as you’d expect. The tutorial and rulebook both do their jobs well. In the end, if you are a deckbuilder veteran you will pick up Ascension quickly. If this is your first dip into the genre you should have enough of a footing to get going after the tutorial and rulebook.
Beginning of a game
Plenty of online games to join
Look and Feel
The app is entirely functional, but does feel a bit dated and lacks some polish. Waking up your device from a locked screen or otherwise opening Ascension to a previous state results in a “Loading...please wait” message and a blank screen with a long load time. You will have to login to online play quite frequently, the app stores your credentials so you just have to hit a button, but it’s still an annoyance that we don’t see in many apps. The Android app also keeps the soft buttons on the screen at all times which is common in older apps, but is another indication that the app may be due for a makeover.
Other than some minor issues, the app does the job. The controls are simple for zooming to see card details and perform actions. You can see the current game state at a quick glance from the play screen, and zoom in where you want to get more details. Card art looks fine, not eye-popping. A small complaint here is that there was no attempt to let you see what your cards do without zooming, as the text/ability portion of your hand is cut off. Once you know the game well this becomes a minor issue, but new players should expect to zoom frequently.
If you really dive into Ascension, multiplayer is likely to be your primary game mode. The game plays cross-platform and you can specify a timeout from 10 minutes to 28 days, games are 2-4 players. The timeout clock ticks when it is your turn, whether you are playing or not. You create or join games via a lobby. When creating a game you get to choose the timeout and which card sets to use, the game will notify you when your game is full and ready to begin. During normal daytime hours there are always a large amount of games available to join, although at this point almost all of them use expansions so you will likely need to create your own game if you just want to try out the base set (I tried creating a game with only the base set and had no problems finding a playing partner). You can also add friends via username and create games with them directly. Overall, the online game creating/finding system is simple and works really well.
There aren’t a ton of extras in online play. The game tracks your basic stats,most notably your record in 2, 3, and 4 player games. The only minor gripe here is a lack of an online leaderboard. A nice touch is the easy, one-click ability to request a rematch immediately after a game ends. The game also offers pass-and-play as a local game is two to four players and any number of those can be human controlled.
Like many other games, Ascension’s online features are frequently blocked by school and corporate networks.
Multiplayer in Ascension is straightforward and it works well. You can play near real-time or asynchronously, we haven’t had any issues with the notifications coming through. It lacks rankings or leaderboards, but absolutely delivers a fun, easy to use multiplayer experience.
Single player is straightforward in Ascension, you can play against 1-3 AI opponents each of with can be assigned an easy or difficult AI level. The easy AI becomes too simple once you are familiar with the game while the harder AI manages to hold its own for a while. Ascension has built quite the online user base, so AI games will likely be rare for long time players, they will either get hooked on online play or stop playing the app. There are no bells and whistles here, but there is enough to get new players going and challenged for a while.
AI taking a turn
These are the available expansions
A closer look at one of the base set hero cards
Ascension offers a strong base game for free with the hopes that it converts you into a fan and you start buying the wealth of expansions and promo packs the app offers. As of the writing of this review, there were nine full expansions and five promo packs available. They also have one bundle which offers three expansions and three promo packs together at a discounted price.
The expansions each add a unique new element to the gameplay along with a number of traditional cards to add to the game. The new elements can come in the form of completely new card types which have their own rules, or cards which add on a previous element in a new way. There are way too many new features added by the expansions to go into depth here, and there are websites which have done a great job of explaining them, so we’re going to stop short on the details. The important thing to note is that there is a massive amount of additional content for this game should you enjoy it enough and want to dive into something deeper. The expansions are best added slowly so you can adjust to the new rules, but add a significant amount of variability and replayability to the game through both additional cards and new game mechanisms.
The expansions are priced between $0.99 and $3.99. The newer expansions carry a heavier price but you can currently pick up seven full expansions for $0.99 each. The size of the expansions varies, most add about ten new cards of each of the five types (four factions and monsters), some more, some less. The promo packs each add one new card of each. In total, if you purchase everything available there are 100-115 unique cards available for each of the four factions and monsters. That’s an impressive amount, the base game plays with about ten of each, for reference.
The Wrap Up
At the end of the day, if you are familiar with deckbuilders, you know what to expect out of Ascension before ever installing the app. The gameplay is strong, the fun comes from the slight tweaks to the formula Ascension offers. It is tough to argue for this above or below other deckbuilders simply because it ultimate comes down to personal preference. If the Rune/Power/Honor system and the card abilities appeal to you, there is a lot in this app to love and the possibilities really open up when you start considering the numerous expansions which add a lot to the game. If you prefer the different gameplay variations offered by another deckbuilder, you likely won’t be swayed to switch to Ascension.
All of this makes rating Ascension tough as it is such a personal choice. My score is going to be lower than I gave Star Realms, but mainly because I think Star Realms as an app is more complete with a robust campaign mode and online leaderboards wrapped in a more polished app. When it comes to actual gameplay, that’s a true toss-up as both games play extremely well, it is in the eye of the beholder as to which gameplay is preferable. When it comes down to it, the Ascension app is good enough that it won’t dissuade players who prefer the gameplay from playing. It isn’t as polished as others, but it does the job.
Ascension offers great gameplay coupled with a large online user base and a wealth of expansions to keep online play fun. It lacks offline modes, online leaderboards, and some polish as far as the app goes. If you are a fan of deckbuilders you certainly owe it to yourself to check out Ascension, there is good reason it is so popular and the free base game offers a full look into the gameplay and online options.