- BOARD GAMING CORNER: REVIEW OF ASCENSION AND CIVILIZATION - by Lee Wood (Views: 478)Wednesday 12th January 2011
Ascension: Chronicles of the Godslayer - Gary Games - £26.95
The flavour of the game is excellent. The separation between your world and the multiverse is crumbling and your world is being invaded by demonic monsters. However not all is lost as the power of the Old Gods has returned and with it have arisen Heroes to be recruited and constructs to aid and bolster your powers.
On first appearances Ascension ticks all the right boxes for a deck building based game. The rule book isn’t long and complicated, and the components list is nice and light. All you need is the deck of cards, victory point(VP) tokens and a board. I am confident that after a few plays the board becomes superfluous and is only included to justify the size of the box – meaning that the game can easily be carried around in a “Fat Pack” box and slipped into a bag.
The mechanics of the game are a cross between Dominion and Race. All players start with a deck of the same 10 cards, have a hand size of 5 cards, and play their cards in hand to “purchase” cards on the board. There are 2 commodities in the game - Runes and Power. Runes are used to recruit new heroes or constructs and Power is used to defeat monsters and send them back to the void from whence they came.
Unlike some other deck building games, not all the cards are available for purchase/defeating at the start. The board consists of 6 face-up cards from the main deck and a perennial supply of basic cards (vanilla Rune/Power producers and an infinite number of cultists to beat up). Once a card is removed from the row of 6 it is immediately replaced from the supply – meaning that a well tuned late game deck can combo off and go through a vast amount of cards and even help hinder another player’s strategy. All in there are three types of card - Monster, Hero and Construct. Monster cards are returned to the void once defeated and give the defeating player a reward, usually in the form of VP. However defeating Monsters can also have other effects – including destroying opponents’ cards. Heroes are added to a player’s deck and can do pretty much anything in the game; give you VP, add Runes, add Power, even draw cards! Constructs are a little different, they are originally added to your deck, however once played they stay in front of you providing a continuous effect (until destroyed...). There hero and construct cards are further broken down into sub types (eg Lifeblood) and these then can play off each other to give you bonuses.
The victory condition to the game is pretty standard – highest VP total at the end of the game wins. The game end is triggered by the VP token pool running out (the pool scales with number of players), then the current round ends, and all players count up the total number of VP they have earned. VP can be earned by both VP tokens and Hero/Construct cards with a VP value on them.
Enough with the preamble... how does the game play? In a word – excellently. In our first game (4 players, all experienced with similar games) we all chose slightly different strategies (myself ignoring power and just collecting high VP Heroes and Constructs) and no-one seemed hugely disadvantaged by their choice. The randomness of the 6 cards available means that you cannot go in with a fixed strategy in mind, you have to be ready to adjust to what is available and the other players' choices. The game is interactive as there are cards which destroy (put into that player's discards pile) constructs and also cards which allow you to remove cards from the face-up selection – thus disrupting another player.
The play of the game begins extremely fast paced as with limited resources each player has limited options and passes the turn quickly. As each player fine tunes their deck to further their particular strategy the game slows a little, but still remains at a good pace. It does later become possible to combo out your entire deck with a good smattering of draw card effects, and also to send the starting, lower powered, cards from your deck to the void. Of course comboing out your entire deck can be devastatingly powerful, however you do have to rely on the luck of the cards in the middle – you may combo out but only be able to buy a hand full of mediocre cards, then flip a powerful high VP card for the next player – however this all adds to the flavour of the game.
The game went on for what seemed a good amount of turns and our first game took around 40 mins (estimated play time 30-45 mins), so in all a good game to play either multiple times in a row or for the odd game here and there when at a convention/event. My only real criticisms of the game are the quality of the card stock (cards are not like Magic or Dominion and resemble the TCG Rage for those who remember). The cards are not going to fall apart fast, they seem durable, but do feel a little odd in the hand and do not riffle shuffle well. This would be easily cured by the addition of sleeves. The other thing which bugs me is the board – once you have got the hang of the rules all it is used for is to keep track of 6 face-up cards and all it does then is make the game less transportable. My advice? Leave the board at home.
All in all a great game, well thought out, balanced and has hours of replayability.
Overall Score: 6.3/10.0
Civilization - Fantasy Flight Games - £42.95
For those unfamiliar with the Civilization brand here's a quick scope of what one should expect when playing any Civilization game. You control a race of people, starting as a simple tribe, and using the natural resources around your villages you build an empire to take over the world with. Now taking over the world doesn’t just mean defeating everyone else with force. There are other ways to dominate the world, in fact there are four. The board game has four victory conditions which emulate the win conditions from the computer game series. The most obvious is a military victory – take another player’s capital city by force and you win – enough said. Military force not your style? Not a problem, why not go down the science route? Be the first to develop Space Flight and you win! Ok, you don’t like the idea of the hard work required to make technological breakthroughs or in raising a large invasion force. Want to just sit back and produce fine works of art? That’s fine too! You can win by becoming the greatest cultural influence in the world. All of the rest sound like a waste of money, just want to sit and watch the bank balance accrue? Then I have the winning strategy for you! Just build up the largest economy in the world and you win (by purchasing it I presume).
The game is played in rounds with each round consisting of phases. Each player takes actions in a phase in turn, with the start player rotating round. Players can explore the map, pillage unruly villages, battle other players' troops, build new technologies, construct buildings, simply sit back and produce fine art or any mix of the above. As each city only draws income from the 8 spaces around it, building additional cities is definitely a must for all game tactics, as this allows you to collect more resources, be they trade, currency, culture etc. Each player needs to carefully balance progressing towards their end goal and ensuring they are defended well enough against potential attacks.
Each player plays as a different civilization from the selection available. This may be by random distribution or the players may each choose a civilization to play as. Each civilization starts with different technologies and other bonuses - these can affect what strategy the player goes for but does not pigeon hole them. Players place their capital city on their corner of the board and then it begins – the race to world domination.
To begin you have a small force with 1 scout who can’t fight but can settle new towns. With a limit of 3 towns per player the scouts are vital for success. It is from here a player needs to decide what they are going to try and do. Each player has a deck of technology cards (each player's is identical) and so they can see what technologies they can make, which have requirements and what they all do. There are 5 levels of technology, and they must be built as a pyramid with level 1 at the base, meaning you can't just shoot right on up to high techs, you have to build the base. If you manage to discover the one level 5 tech (Space Flight) world domination is yours! Of course this is all well and good, but if you focus fully on this goal all it takes is 1 small army to come and massacre your towns, and you simply won’t have the resources coming in to discover anything. The same is true if you just sit there making beautiful works of art - you don’t gain the resources needed to discover new techs or build new troops. You may have the best collection of artwork in the world, however your pointed sticks and mud huts aren’t going to protect you from the enemy spears and arrows!
All this being said about balance you do not need to be exactly equal in all things. You can quite happily never make a level 3 or 4 tech and still win. Each strategy has its own advantages. Technologies allow you to use your resources much more efficiently, meaning you can easily pump out a little bit of military to hold the invaders at bay. Being a culture based civilization is the only way to obtain culture cards. These are one shot effects from random decks of cards (one for each of the 3 cultural ages) which become more powerful as you move up the decks, and can range from giving you resources to helping fend off enemy forces. Military forces come in three basic flavours – Infantry, Ranged, Mounted, and each can be improved via technologies. Then for the most tech savvy military players there are Aircraft. Having more advanced troops makes you more likely to win in battle, however a win is never guaranteed due to the small random factor in combat.
The combat system looks extremely complicated in the rules but after a couple of dry runs it becomes obvious how it works. There is some randomness as the exact battle values of your troops is random and what exact forces you get from your available deck is random, but you control what type of troops are in the pile. This slight randomness means fights are not foregone conclusions, however a well planned selection of available forces does have the edge. Once all the fighting is done, work out the remaining strengths, highest value wins!
The game we played was a 4 player game. We muddled around reading the rule book for a while, with constant referring to it during other players turns, however part of this is that when playing a 2-4 hour game for the first time you want to be sure of things. As we played most of the rules were obvious, the noticeable exception is combat – this can be tricky to get the hang of from reading alone, so I would recommend some dry runs. Each of us tried a slightly different tactic of winning. After 2 players built up a sizable army they set to work on being the first player to take another player's capital. The other two players had neglected to build much in the way of defences and once we got into the end game it did finish quicker than I would imagine subsequent games will.
Despite our game finishing with 2 large military forces I feel that without people totally neglecting defence all the strategies are viable, maybe with the exception of the Economic victory – this seems the hardest by a long shot – but hey buying the world is not cheap.
All in all for a long game I personally find it a little lacking, however as a simulation of Civilization it works and it is definitely enjoyable.
Overall Score: 5.5/10.0
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Lee Wood - Lee@xtremetrades.co.uk
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