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Thursday, September 10, 2015

Ascension Dawn of Champions

In the middle of the year StoneBlade Entertainment released a new set for Ascension the Game. It is named Dawn of Champions and it is an expansion set for Realms Unraveled. Since I did not really like the previous block and I really enjoyed Realms Unraveled I really looked forward playing this game. But since I know that I'm incapable of playing something (for the first time) in digital form I tried to acquire a physical copy of the game. I did not manage that though because the distribution on this continent is not that awesome and it also takes half a year to get the game here for some reason (why? one would ask Stoneblade)

At Grand Prix Prague I was asked if I play Dawn of Champions and that it would be nice to bring the game to the GP and play some games. Even though I completely forgot about bringing the game it was an impulse to come back to Ascension and play it. And it was a nice change after the GP.

Dawn of Champions introduces Champion cards. Each faction has one Champion card. Each of those cards has 4 abilities.

  • Whenever you acquire or defeat a card of the Champion's faction you may put one renown (erm.. reputation?) counter on the Champion.
  • You can pay 2 runes (once per turn) to put one counter on the card.
  • When you reach 4 counters you acquire the Champion as a card that is put in your deck (discard pile).
  • When there are eight counters on the Champion card whenever you acquire a card of your faction you get to Rally.
Rally [faction] is a new mechanic in the set. It allows the player to acquire an additional card or defeat a monster that matches the faction of the card with Rally.

Since this is an expansion of Realms Unraveled there are still multi-faction heroes but not only that. This time around, there are also multi-factioned Constructs and Monsters making acquiring or defeating a card with Rally is actually quite possible even though it is very random. It can mean acquiring an overpowered card or a one that a player does not even want in his or her deck.

Playing with the Champion card is not obligatory and even if one plays with it he or she does not need to stick with that faction but one needs to be aware that the Rally ability is actually pretty strong and can swing the game and thus getting up to 8 counters is a good thing and should be done before the game gets to its 'late game'. In late game one can buy anything of a faction and gain value and does not really need to fear to draw those cards. A player has thus the choice to either follow the Champion's faction to gain the counters or ignore it and pay runes to put the counters on the Champion. I personally don't like to be limited in deck building and I don't like to hate pick cards that are dead in my deck and that is why I don't like the Champion idea at all. It certainly can help those who begin with deck building card games to see what deck building is about. It makes the game way more easily accessible.

What else is new in the set? Nothing much I would say which is the first time I can actually say this about an Ascension set. The set feels to be really small. There are 193 cards in total including 26 Mystics and 26 Heavy Infantries but it seems to me that there is a really small amount of distinct cards (too lazy to count them) for each (multi)faction. There are many multi-faction cards with a similar effect from earlier sets as well. Not that I would be against that, but there should be some kind of balance between new effects/cards and old cards/effects. For example there is a card named Rootscryer. It is Enlightened/Lifebound Hero for 2 that lets you reveal the top card of your deck and put it in your hand. If the card is Enlightened or Lifebound you gain 3 Honor. Sound familiar? Great-Omen Raven? Same goes to a Hero copying card or the fact that the cards giving 2 Runes cost 4 Runes except Shepherd of the Lost that costs 3. A novelty though is a cycle of 1 Rune costing constructs that give you something if you play 2 cards of the same faction that turn (Void gives 2 Power, Mechana 2 Runes, Lifebound 2 Honor, Enlightened Draws a card).

Within the set there isn't much one can do except drawing extra cards, putting some cards on top of the deck and rallying. The game is fast paced and one can generate a large amount of runes fast. Even though it does not seem that there would be too much Power in the set the game ends usually pretty fast (for me too fast) even faster than in Rise of Vigil.

When this set is played with Realms Unraveled though the real fun begins because it adds a way more variety and complexity. Since there are some really broken cards in Realms Unraveled there can be turns that will take ages. Both Multi-unite and Rally can lead to seemingly endless loops. Both sets played together feel right unlike the Dawn of Champions played alone which I don't find that fun (if at all). It just feels like there is something missing. One plays the game and follows instructions on the cards rather than figuring out how to build a deck and what to do with it. There are interactions that can win the game and working with the cards is not that simple as it might seem but still it does not feel like 'deck building' and 'playing the deck' to me (the Rally mechanic is too broken). Since I like playing interesting decks and decks that contain cards I like thus I probably am not such a fan of Dawn of Champions.

The screenshot above shows a game in which I had 6 Honor points collected by turn 12. I played one overpowered card - Surya, Light's Sword- and took 4 additional turns. When the game ended I got 1846 Honor Points. It could have been more most probably because I refused to acquire more cards that I could draw later. That's what happens when some broken cards end up in one deck.

There are cards I really like and I would like to put them in my cube but there are cards that will certainly be banned because I don't like games like the one above. Surya is sure to be banned.

Verdict
While I'm not a fan of the expansion alone the whole block turned out well and it is nice to see a set that comes back to the original Ascension roots. But the randomness starts to get ridiculous and I am one of those who consider this as a downside not an upside. I prefer a well balanced games without utterly broken cards. Dawn of Champions is a simply and fast game that is perfect for an introductory game in my eyes. The level of complexity compared even to Chronicle of the Godslayer seems to be lower which can be a good thing if one does not want to concentrate much and wants to have some fun but on the other hand when one wants to play a complex game and enjoy the complexity Ascension offers it is not the best set to play (as a stand-alone game). Many of us playing Dawn of Champions played all the other games and are familiar with other card games, deck building games or board games so our points of view can be skewed.

Rating: 3/5