Ascension, by Stone Blade Entertainment, has been rather successful as one of the new genre of games, the Deck-Builder. Their most recent expansion, Rise of Vigil, came to me the other day (I was happy. I did a little dance). So here's my review.
And here we go with Ascension: Rise of Vigil.
Rise of Vigil is the latest expansion for Stone Blade Entertainment's Ascension deck-building game. The set continues the ongoing story of the world of Vigil and the struggle of good versus evil, the players picking up the mantle of heroes who must recruit others and acquire powerful constructs in order to defeat the monsters that threaten the populace.
While Rise of Vigil is an expansion to Ascension, it can also be played alone (just like all the Ascension expansions). Everything you need to play is included inside, including Honor tokens and a game board with new artwork on it from the previous sets. The “starter deck” cards as well as Heavy Infantry and Mystics also have new art, which is a rather nice touch.
Ascension is a deck-building game, a relatively new genre of games where players start out with a small, basic deck of cards and use them to buy other, more powerful cards to add to their deck. Other examples include Dominion and the Marvel and DC Deck-building games.
To get into a brief overview (before I dive into what's new in Rise of Vigil), players start out with an 11 card deck that contains 8 Apprentice cards, 2 Militia cards and 1 Energy Shard (the energy shard is new. More on it in a bit.). From that deck, players draw 5 cards to make their hand. In the center of the board are 6 cards drawn from a separate, communal deck. Players use their Apprentice and Militia cards to purchase and defeat cards from that center row. Heroes and Constructs purchased that way go into the player's Discard pile. Defeated Monsters are banished to the Void, never to return. A player can play all the cards they have in their hand every turn (though they don't have to if they don't want to... but that's a really rare occasion where that happens) and will always draw a new hand of 5 at the end of their turn. When they have no more cards to draw, they shuffle their discard pile and use it as a new draw pile. This way, heroes and constructs that are purchased into the deck get refreshed back into the draw deck and can then be used on subsequent turns.
Heroes and Constructs are worth a certain amount of Honor (printed on the card) and when you kill monsters, the player gains a certain amount of Honor tokens from the Honor Pool. When the Honor Pool is emptied completely, players total up the number of tokens they've gained plus the amount of honor their deck is worth. The player with the highest total wins. An average game takes about half an hour, but you can lengthen or shorten that by having more or less Honor in the starting Honor Pool.
Now, on to the new things about Rise of Vigil. There are two and the first is helped by the second. Those are Energy and Treasure.
Energy is a new resource type (the other two being Runes and Power). But unlike those, that you gain and spend during your turn (for example, if you have 4 Runes and you buy a hero worth 3, then you only have 1 Rune left to purchase other items, which there's not a lot of), Energy is more seen as a threshold. If you play cards to gain energy, then further cards you play that have an Energize ability that requires the same or less power than you've played trigger those abilities, no matter how many you have (for example, if you've gained 3 Energy during your turn, then any Energize 1, 2 or 3 abilities will trigger, no matter how many of those you play). It's a little like the Unite ability that some Lifebound heroes have in other sets. Though while Unite is retroactive, if you play a card with Energize 3 and don't have 3 Energy when you play it, you won't get that bonus, even if you gain 3 or more Energy later in the turn. The threshold is checked at the time you play the card.
The other new mechanic from this set is Treasure. Treasure cards are shuffled into the center deck at the start of the game. When one is flipped into the center row, you continue to flip cards until a non-treasure card ends up on top. When a player acquires or defeats the card on top, they get all the treasure that's underneath. From there, Treasure cards go into a player's deck and are played just like heroes. The only current Treasure card is the Energy Shard (which each player gets one in their starting deck as well). Energy Shard gives 1 Energy to the player and also lets them draw a card from their deck. This is the main way that players will acquire Energy during the game (though some heroes and constructs also give energy, as well as a couple trophy monsters). Treasure can make the choices of which card you buy/defeat in the center row more difficult. Do you go for the card that might mesh with your deck more as you've built it or do you grab the one with a couple Energy Shards under it? Do you kill the monster that's worth more Honor now or get the one with some Treasure cards they're protecting? Treasure adds another layer of strategy and planning to the game as you play it.
The expansion comes with a lot more Energy Shard cards than they recommend you play with a single expansion. This is rather nice, since as an expansion, you can play Rise of Vigil with any of the other Ascension sets. The reason for the extra Treasure cards is to make sure they don't get too diluted in the center deck. This is the same sort of forethought put into having extra “New Event” cards in a previous expansion and shows that Stone Blade Entertainment really does put design time and effort into their products.
As with any card game, the shuffle can have a lot to do with the way the game goes (much like die rolls in miniatures games). This can be mitigated by the strategy players utilize and the way they build their deck. But sometimes you just end up short the one resource point you need in order to get the stuff you want. These things happen. The Energy mechanic is interesting, though I do wonder how it works out in games where players have combined several sets together. Even with the increase in Energy Shards, the overall number of cards that benefit from Energy will be less, meaning those Energy Shards may just end up being extra cards in one's deck.
I have a confession to make, though. Since I was first introduced to Ascension by my good friend, Shavnir, at GenCon last year, it has been my favorite game.
Not just my favorite deck-building game or my favorite board game (which I consider deck-building games more categorized with, rather than card games), but just my favorite game. I like it more than my favorite minis game and favorite card game. There would be nights at my LGS that I'd bring up my Ascension set and we'd play literally a dozen games over the course of the evening. Ascension is super easy to learn, it's quick to play and resetting after a game takes mere minutes. Each game is different because you never know what's going to show up in the center row to buy/fight. A good player learns strategy by having a good memory of what they've put into their deck and what will help grow it the most, synergizing with their current cards.
The new set adds another dimension to Ascension. Energy and Treasure add more depth to the overall game and can make what were originally “no brainer” decisions about what to do on your turn a little harder. I eagerly look forward to playing more with this set and seeing what Stone Blade Entertainment comes out with next.
And there we have it. What do you guys think of Ascension? How about the latest set? Do you have a favorite deck-building game? Let us hear about it.