This week Stoneblade Entertainment released the 11th set of its #tabletop deck-building game Ascension. Ascension: Gift of the Elements “empowers” the original game with 107 new cards and two new primary mechanics.
First-time fan friendly
Ascension: Gift of the Elements is playable by itself right out of the box, unlike traditional board game expansions that require a base game. It can also be played with any of the previous Ascension expansions, although it feels most at home with the original Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer set.
The new mechanics in Gift are logical developments from the base rules introduced in Chronicle, whereas other expansions brought more radical changes to gameplay (like a third resource and a separate deck to manage in Ascension: Dreamscape, or cards that had different effects based on a night and day mechanic in Ascension X: War of Shadows).
For the uninitiated player, Ascension is a deck-building card game for 2-4 players. Each player starts with a standard deck of ten basic cards and draws a new hand of five cards each turn. These cards generate resources that players use to acquire powerful cards for their decks and defeat monsters to reap rewards. Players acquire or defeat cards from a shared pool of options that constantly changes, so each game offers a unique set of choices.
Cards are divided into four color-aligned factions — green Lifebound, brown Mechana, blue Enlightened, and purple Void — each with its own strategy and style. For example, the Lifebound faction cards have a “gang up” style with cards being more powerful when you play other Lifebound cards the same turn; Void cards focus primarily on building up attack power to defeat powerful monsters.
Players can choose to build their deck around a particular faction, or mix-and-match, depending on the cards that are available.
Gift of the Elements enhances the base game with two main mechanics: Infest and Empower. Infest allows players to toss defeated monsters into their opponents’ decks, creating potentially useless cards and neutering the competition.
Acquiring a card with Empower lets players “banish” (eliminate from the game) a card that they’ve already played that turn — this is a change from past expansions where players could only banish cards from their hands and discard piles.
The two mechanics add a new dimension to the game and work cooperatively. Empower gives players the chance to banish infesting monsters from their decks. Banish has always been a strong mechanic in Ascension games, and Empower takes that to a new level.
Be careful, however, as early overuse of Empower can prematurely thin out your resources and stunt your ability to acquire good cards. A small, weak deck is especially vulnerable to infest, since monsters are generally dead cards when drawn.
This set also includes a small added spice in the form of events and transformed heroes. Each faction and the game's monsters are represented by a set of five event cards. Events slightly alter the game by reducing the costs of certain actions — for example, the Void event makes monsters cheaper to defeat. The events are well-balanced and affect all players equally, and they appear randomly as part of the main deck.
For a high resource cost, players can transform events into powerful faction leader cards. These are quite powerful and can be game-warping if somehow acquired early. The good news, however, is that events are rare (five in a deck of 107) and acquiring the transformed version is not easy (each one costs eight resources).
The transformations add a touch of extra variability without destroying the game, and they can easily be removed from the game if preferred.
Complex but refreshing
The first few games of Gift of the Elements will feel complicated and confusing at first, given the new focus on banishing cards that you have already played but haven’t placed them into the discard pile yet.
Even veteran players will need a few games to get acquainted to this new zone of relevance. Play order matters more than ever, especially for monsters that let you Infest your opponent’s deck after they’ve already infested yours; there is often a dramatic difference in effect depending on whether that monster is in your hand, discard pile, or the played zone.
After several expansion sets that added dramatic rule changes and wacky mechanics, Gift feels like the original game with a few added components. I recommend first playing it on its own, and then adding it to the base Chronicle of the Godslayer game for an amplified experience.
It’s a gift for everyone
Like the sets that came before it, Ascension: Gift of the Elements is well-designed and offers a unique experience each game. Whether this is your first Ascension set or your 11th, it presents strategies and opportunities for all play styles. Grab a friend or three and empower your gaming life with Ascension: Gift of the Elements, available now.
What do you think of the new expansion? What is your favorite Ascension set?