Join an epic battle between forces of light and dark, gathering your army to defeat new opponents from the shadows. The latest standalone expansion to Ascension adds new cards and unique gameplay.
|Ascension X: War of Shadows||Stone Blade Entertainment||Card Game|
In The Box
This is a unique moment for the Ascension franchise, a game we’ve seen evolve over the years in small increments. Ascension X: War of Shadows retains 80% of the familiar playing style but with completely new card designs. It’s a bold move considering the franchise has a relatively strong following, but this is the kind of creative approach that keeps things fresh for seasoned players.
A new enemy from the shadows has infected the game’s familiar factions, opposed only by the forces of light. Both the board and the card designs now have very distinctive markings to show the battle between light and dark. The board deserves special mention because it introduces for the first time a unique approach to organizing cards you draw from the center deck. Sliding a card up or down exposes markers and text to help visualize the balance between light and dark during play. This design makes it a bit trickier to combine War of Shadows with others, but we’ve found that the simplest approach is always to adopt the board of the newest expansion, or any expansion with a unique mechanic.
Longstanding franchises tend to release new features in small steps, so we were surprised to see that almost every card in Ascension X: War of Shadows has been overhauled. Don’t worry, the approach to art, flavor text, and the general layout of each card is intact. What’s new is that every card you’ll draw from the center deck has an icon in the top right corner showing alignment with light or dark. This is also reflected in the overall design. Light cards have light borders, and light-on-dark titles, while dark cards have dark borders and dark-on-light titles.
The other novelty in this set is the introduction of “Dual Cost” cards. We’ve seen in the past how some cards can be bought or defeated by a special exchange of Runes, Power, Honor and Insight, but this is the first time that cards have a cost that specifically requires both Runes and Power in combination. Much like the light and dark icons, this is a totally new mechanic, so watching a game of Ascension X in progress is noticeably different than previous installments, and that’s something to celebrate.
More difficult to determine is exactly how to mix these cards with those from previous sets, but that requires some explanation of the gameplay. War of Shadows is a truly unique step in the game’s evolution, which makes it a bit harder to predict reactions among fans of the franchise. At the very least it’s fantastic to see the creative minds behind Ascension aren’t resting on their laurels.
How It Plays
Ascension X: War of Shadows is a stand-alone expansion, which means it can be played forever with up to four players, plus there is a set of rules to convert it to a solitaire game. Each expansion reminds us why we fell in love with the original Ascension, with its approach to deck-building gameplay. In War of Shadows, as in all other versions of the game, you start with a weak deck of Militia and Apprentice cards that you use to purchase stronger cards, defeat monsters, and trigger events to help you and hurt your opponent. Cards you earn have value, and the same value (called “Honor” here) can be earned by defeating monsters. When the Honor Pool is drained, whichever player managed to grab the most is the winner. It’s a simple but addictive formula that makes the Ascension franchise a staple at our gaming table.
Ascension X doesn’t stray from the core formula, but the introduction of light and dark cards has some profound implications. The way it works is that whenever there are more light than dark cards on the board it becomes day, and conversely night when dark cards outnumber light. When you’re using this expansion only you’ll find that day and night are flipping constantly, even in the middle of your turn. This definitely adds to the excitement since cards in your hand and others you play that have ongoing effects (called “Constructs”) may have effects that are triggered by the day/night change. Mixing this deck with another set (for sessions with more than 4 players) lessens the chance that light or dark cards are drawn, which also has the downside of denaturing your special Ascension X cards.
The new Dual Cost cards mix in well with other sets and add a layer of strategy. Bringer of Hope costs 4 Runes and 2 Power but lets you acquire both a Mystic and a Heavy Infantry in exchange for banishing a card in your hand. Dual Cost cards have unique abilities, forcing you to decide if their value is worth more than what you could accomplish by using your Power and Runes independently. Light and dark cards are easy enough to integrate with other decks but only show their real value by day or night. Dark monsters like Aklys, the Scourge normally cost 10 Power but can be defeated with 5 power during the day. Legion of Aklys can be defeated at no cost when all center cards are dark, while the hero Ta’Hyr, the Sun can be acquired at no cost when all cards in the center are light.
We agreed after a few games that this expansion has a lot more going on than previous entries in the Ascension franchise. Keeping track of accrued and used Runes or Power while also accounting for frequent day/night switches can be challenging, then add effects triggered on light or dark cards you play and other effects triggered because of factions. Faction effects have been part of Ascension for a long time, generally rewarding players for investing in multiple Void, Enlightened, Lifebound, or Mechana heroes and constructs. Putting all these things together requires more mental math than ever, perhaps arguing for a companion app if the trend continues. For now, some counters or a sheet of paper can help.
It wasn’t as clear whether investing heavily in light or dark cards had quite the same impact as investing in factions. If you’re only playing this expansion–especially with just 2 players–the day/night changes come so fast that you’ll want to acquire cards with powerful effects, regardless of their alignment. Once you mix War of Shadows with another set it becomes easier to maintain day or night on the board, prolonging the effects of any light or dark cards you’ve acquired.
This tenth expansion (yes, that’s what the “X” means) would be an interesting place to jump into the Ascension franchise for new players. Technically it’s balanced enough to play on its own, but we decided that where it really shines is mixed in with at least one other set. Most games are lucky to see a sequel, much less a few releases. It’s incredible to realize that Ascension is celebrating its 10th release with a burst of new creative energy, design, and inventive gameplay.