Why? Because I am so familiar with the physical game that the review kept turning into a description of the physical game rather than the iOS version.
Then it hit me.
Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer is a competent enough port of the game to allow the app to be judged on the merits of the game being played, and not the typical difficulties usually associated with playing card games on a smaller screen. Ascension is a relatively new game in the ever-growing world of card games, having released in 2010 as the deck building game genre started to really become noticed.
Deck Building Games? Isn’t that just a fancy way to say “games like Magic?”
No little Johnny, a deck building game takes the best parts of “games like Magic” (deck building and card interactions) and gets rid of the worst parts of “games like Magic” (spending tons of money to keep up and then having to face off against decks from 10 years ago when you play with you friends.)
The key difference in a deck building game is that all the cards you are going to use to play come in the box ready to go. Instead of coming to the table with your friend and decks ready to go, you build your decks as you play. The genre was popularized by games like Dominion and Thunderstone, as well as popular newcomers Resident Evil Deck Building Game and Nightfall.
In Ascension, you begin the game with a 10 card deck containing 8 “Apprentice” cards (currency), and 2 “Militia” cards (combat power). Both players shuffle their tiny 10 card decks and draw 5 cards. A few cards are flipped face-up in the middle of the table from a 200 or so deck of cards, and each of them has either the combat or money symbol in the upper left hand corner. If you have enough currency for a card that has the currency symbol, you announce you are spending that much and purchasing the chosen card. It then goes in your discard pile.If you have enough power for a card that has the combat symbol, you announce you are defeating that card and send that card to a discard pile next to the big deck in the middle of the table and do whatever it says on the card.
After you have spent as much as you want, and fought all the creatures you can, your turn ends. You discard your hand to your discard pile, then draw a new hand of 5 cards. Your opponent’s turn begins. When your deck runs out of cards, you shuffle your discard pile and use it to make a new deck, so all those cards you purchased you can now draw and use their effects. The game continues on until a set number of points have been reached. (shown on cards as a number within a star.)
A full game usually takes about 20 to 40 minutes, depending on how familiar you are with the game and the cards.
The iOS version plays nearly identically to the paper game, except there is a lot less setup and no worry about if a card is being played properly or not. One concern I had was if I would want to play the paper game any more after playing the digital version. My concerns were unfounded. As much fun as this version is, the paper game is a great game to play with local friends. The iOS app is really a way to play and try new ideas when you don’t have time to pull out the box or have friends over.
Ascension iOS features asynchronous online play, and you can have a few multiplayer games going at once, which is nice since not everyone has the same amount of time they can dedicate to playing online. Unfortunately I have had a number of my opponents forget or choose not to return to a game, but that is sadly a common issue with asynchronous multiplayer games in general.
The developers are putting together the first iOS expansion which should mirror the “Return Of The Fallen” set which added a ton of new cards and some new features to the physical game.
Even without the expansion, you get quite a bit of replay out of Ascension iOS since no two games play the same. You often need to build your deck differently due to your opponent’s choices and skill level, not to mention the same cards are not going to come up at the same time every game, so your best strategies can go out the window in a second’s notice.
The rating I gave Ascension iOS is what it is because the game is as perfect a port as anyone can ask for. The game plays well on my iPod Touch 2g, without any real screen clutter issues. I can imagine the game would look simply brilliant on an iPad, with even more space to play.
Is there room for improvement? Yes. The omission of Game Center and Leaderboards is slightly disappointing, but the game itself is exactly what a fan of the game would want, no matter how picky they are in their digital card gaming habits.
Do yourself a favor and try out the lite version of Ascension. Get your head around the rules and if this is your type of game, pick it up. It is a great addition to your digital card game collection and hopefully will inspire more companies to bring their deck building games over to the format. I would personally love to see Dominion or the upcoming Star Trek deck building game on iOS for gaming on the go.