Getting Better: Ascension, one card at a time
This is a column that helps you get better at your favorite games. Whether it's knowing the odds to draw black trains that are left in the deck in Ticket to Ride, or understanding the ramifications of picking a Rocket Courier X-99 early in a game of Ascension, if you're looking to gain an edge over your friends, this is the column for you.
If you're a fan of Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer, you know that it's a wonderful game with a staggering amount of replayability. Ascension: Return of the Fallen is the first small expansion, with Ascension: Storm of Souls on the way. In the world of the iPad, however, where you can rather delightfully play the game all day and all night against players from around the world, the game is back at base camp, using the original set of cards found in Chronicle.
If you've played a lot, you know that even getting past the first level of AI can take some time, and the second level of AI can be a real challenge. Then you find yourself going out into the online community, and unless you're a TCG champion, chances are you spend a long time getting destroyed by people who appear to be playing a completely different game to you. It's fast, it's brutal, there are very few mistakes, and you soon realize that there's an awful lot to learn.
This article series is designed to help improve your game. It won't deliver you every answer, but if you're relatively new to the world of deck building games, or are finding winning at Ascension a bit of a struggle, you're in the right place.
Fundamental to success in the game is an understanding of what each card is, and does, and can do for you. It might be helpful to read this with your iPad open, as I'll be wading through the card gallery to talk about the cards as we go along. Let's start with the Common cards:
(R - Runes, P - Power, H - Honor)
Militia - 1P
Heavy Infantry - 2P
Apprentice - 1R
Mystic - 2R
Cultist - Monster. 2R, Reward: 1H
Militia and Apprentices make up your starting deck, and are cards you're going to be happy to get rid of very early in the game, as they quickly become roadblocks to getting powerful hands, and therefore powerful turns. You only have two Militia to start with, and these are usually the first to go, unless there's a heavy Monster presence on the center row. You will often have a choice early in the game when you have 4R / 1P as your resources, leaving you to choose between two Heavy Infantry costing 2R each, or spending 3R to get a single Mystic and then 'wasting' the fourth point. This is generally a choice about where the center row is right now, or where your deck is heading in the future. If you've got a couple of constructs on the early turns - perhaps a Burrower Mark II and a Rocket Courier X-99, then you might want to get a Mystic to up your Rune count. If there are a couple of juicy monsters, something like a Wind Tyrant (which usually is a big early turn), you might prefer the Heavy Infantry route.
Let's move on to the ten Enlightened cards:
Arha Initiate - 1R. Enlightened Hero. Draw a card. 1H.
Arha Templar - 4R. Enlightened Hero. Defeat a Monster that has 4P or less. 3H.
Clearly, if the opening center row has three or four cheaper Monsters, then getting one of these is a really efficient way to generate early Honor points. It's also pretty efficient in the final tally, getting you 3H for your 4R investment. Of course, it's never entirely wasted, since even if there's nothing on the center row to target the Templar will still kill the Cultist for you. Nonetheless, that always feels like a disappointment, and that's why it's rarely good to have more than one of these in your deck, even early in the game.
Ascetic of the Lidless Eye - 5R. Enlightened Hero. Draw two cards. 2H.
As a guide, a quick two player game could take 12-14 turns, an average game 15-16, and a long game be 17-18. Going lower than 12 or higher than 18 is rare, but that still leaves a huge range in terms of the tempo of the game. The reason it's important to understand how the game is proceeding is it allows you to work out how much value you're likely to get out of cards like Ascetic of the Lidless Eye. Since it costs 5R, it's possible to acquire on the first turn. That's frequently a very good play, as you'll be able to draw past some of your unexciting cards early, and get to your best cards later.
With each passing turn, the Ascetic becomes less exciting. Buying this on turn ten is rarely the best use of your 5R. It could be, of course, but at that point in the game you might only get to use it once before the game ends.
Master Dhartha - 7R. Enlightened Hero. Draw three cards. 3H.
Where Master Dhartha shines is when you can get him early, and combine with cards that let you filter away the Militia and Apprentices from your deck. At that point, he becomes the focal point of a small deck that you can draw entirely every turn, making it a complete 'engine'. This doesn't happen very often, but when it does, it's an extremely good feeling.
Oziah the Peerless - 6R. Enlightened Hero. Defeat a Monster that has 6P or less. 3H.
In a Power-heavy deck, Oziah is much less exciting, but in a Rune-heavy deck, it's absolutely tremendous. If you're focusing on Power, you should take the opportunity to banish Oziah as soon as you get the chance - he can really ruin your day.
Seer of the Forked Path - 2R. Enlightened Hero. Draw a card. Then you may banish a card in the center row. 1H.
Tablet of Time's Dawn - 5R. Enlightened Construct. Banish this Construct to take an additional turn after this one. 2H.
Of course, pushing the button comes at a cost. You've lost the original 5R you spent to acquire it. You've lost the card in your hand the turn you draw it. Then you lose the 2H you would get from it at the end of the game. All of that happens before you get to take an extra turn, so your 'minus' is quite substantial before you try to find the 'plus'. It's possible to play this very aggressively, taking an extra turn in the mid-game. You'd do this for a couple of possible reasons. First, you might want to clear the center row of something your opponent badly wants. Second, you just want something for yourself. So, you might get this one turn, The Grand Design the next, and then use your Tablet to let you get something like Watchmaker's Altar on the 'same' turn.
The time when you absolutely feel you've got the best card ever is when the game is tight. That's when even a moderate extra turn right at the end will almost certainly tilt the game your way. That's a great feeling, and feels a little bit like cheating, because it's that powerful. For the most part, though, the Tablet is a curious card that will often leave you less excited than you feel it probably should.
Temple Librarian - 2R. Enlightened Hero. Discard a card. If you do, draw two cards. 1H.
One note of caution - if you have something that's going to draw you a single card, don't use the 'Play All' button, as drawing the Temple Librarian as your card won't let you play it, since you'll have nothing to discard to it. There's very little wrong with the card, and if you can get two of them on your first turn, you're well on your way to some powerful mid-game turns.
The All-Seeing Eye - 6R. Enlightened Construct. Once per turn, you may draw a card. 2H.
At that point, you're on to something of a losing deal. So, see how early you can get hold of this, and work out whether spending a whole turn on it is going to be the value. Part of that is dependent on how aggressive your opponent is being. If they're killing Monsters a lot, you're going to have fewer turns, and that's also true for you. This works best in a deck that wants the game to go long, and that means not taking Honor out of the pool, which in turn means banishing Monsters rather than defeating them, and taking Rune cards wherever possible. The All-Seeing Eye and Power decks rarely work well together.
Twofold Askara - 4R. Enlightened Hero. Copy the effect of a Hero played this turn. 2H.
In essence, the issue with the card is that most of the things it will get to copy are at a same or lesser value than you're notionally paying for. Copy a Runic Lycanthrope, and you get the effect for four Runes that you'd get for three if you had an actual Runic Lycanthrope. There aren't many cards where you get to scale up the Twofold Askara, copying a Landtalker, or maybe an Oziah. Still, if you can do it, that's good news.
That's the Enlightened cards taken care of. Next time, we'll look at the Lifebound cards. In the meantime, enjoy the game, and see you next week.