Arena Review: Ascension Immortal Heroes

I love Ascension. I honestly don’t think there is any game I play more than it. The combinations of deck building, card drafting and battling all happening simultaneously (and super easy to clean up) makes it my go to game whenever possible. But there is one catch:

No one will really play Ascension with me anymore.

The iOS version of Ascension is my go-to game. Waiting for the bus? Play a game. Riding the bus? Play three games. Sitting in my car waiting to pick someone up? There’s another game. I play a lot. And this means that when I get the chance to play the physical game, my friends quickly grow tired of the competitive battling and prefer more co-operative games. Then I force them to play more.

Suggested Ages: 13+
Suggested Players: 1 to 2 players (5-6 players when combined with Ascension: Storm of Souls)
Playing time: 30 minutes
Contents: 184 cards, 30 honor tokens, full-color rulebook, storage tray
Retail price: $29.99 available at Amazon.com

The latest Ascension expansion, Immortal Heroes, ends block two of the game. A continuation of Storm of Souls, Immortal Heroes is a smaller set like Return of the Fallen and expands upon the concepts played out in Storm of Souls along with some new ones. Here’s what is in the box:

  • 184 Cards, Including:
    • 69 New Center Deck Cards
    • 40 Soul Gem Cards
    • 2 Personal Starting Decks, Each containing 8 Apprentice and 2 Militia cards
    • 35 “Always available” cards (1 Cultist, 2 Fanatics, 16 Mystics and 16 Heavy Infantry)
    • 20 New Event Cards
  • 30 Honor Tokens (15 red, 15 clear)
  • Full-Color Rulebook
  • Storage Tray

If you’ve played Ascension before, the contents shouldn’t surprise you. The honor tokens are the same white and red gems you expect (and I now have an absurd amount of these things). The rule book does a great job explaining new concepts and some FAQs, but give you complete rules to play the game. As for storage, the box is on the smaller side so it is easier to just put everything in a long box… except Immortal Heroes marks the point where a fully sleeved set of Ascension doesn’t fit in an 800 count box! Then again, I probably don’t need 12 starter decks and nearly a hundred Mystics and Heavy Infantry each.

In Immortal Heroes, 184 cards are included. 55 of them are the same as Storm of Souls with the revised Apprentices, Militia, Cultist, Fanatics, Mystics and Heavy Infantry. They are still major upgrades from the original set but Cultist is showing his age (and how much better Eric Sabee has gotten as an artist over the last few years).

The next 20 cards are identical as well and address a major complaint with Storm of Souls: the events. Five event cards were included that changed the way the game played out, but if you combined Storm of Souls with any other sets, the events rarely came up or rarely changed during the course of the game. To remedy this, 20 “New Event” cards are included. To use these, you remove the events to their own pile, like Mystics or Heavy Infantry, and just play the top card of the event deck when a New Event card comes up. It’s simple and more than enough are included to keep the events rotating.

Five new events in Immortal Heroes help add some new life into the game. Each event is tied to a faction and give the Fanatic Event Trophy more stuff to do. The combination is solid, but the new events feel like they were made more complex for complexity’s sake. But part of that might just be a result of them being new.

For the center deck, 69 new heroes, constructs and monsters have been created. All four factions expand upon the themes seen in Storm of Souls, while still staying true to the essence of each faction. Void is insanely good at banishing, Lifebound fans of unite will be thrilled with some new spells. Mechana continues the trend of smashing everything in sight and Enlightened presents some fascinating new heroes.

They expand upon the Trophy mechanic from Storm of Souls with the new Ongoing Trophies. These monsters go from a Monster to effectively a construct when defeated and give you a long term benefit. It’s simple but works well… except there is no way to destroy a trophy monster once someone has it. It is the same concept that Samael had in Return of the Fallen, just better thought out.

In some cases though, an early Ongoing Trophy can really swing a game in one player’s favor. Too many Growmites in a row spell game over for the opposing player and not being able to put a stop to Kythis, Rebel Godling means the game will wrap up in a turn or two.

Speaking of Kythis, there is another new mechanic: Soul Gems.

Soul Gems are weird.

All the Soul Gems are reprints from the first two sets, but done in a new frame, new card back and as a new card type. Originally coming from the first two expansions, the Soul Gems feel like a greatest hits in a way and offer some fascinating choices in terms of game play. Cards in Chronicle of the Godslayer are suddenly much different to evaluate when you only use them once, have to use them the same turn, and don’t get any honor for acquiring them.

The concept of them is great and visually, the gem frame is striking. But as someone with a limited gaming budget, spending $30 and getting only 69 new cards is a tough pill to swallow. But from a game play standpoint, I love how they work. Druids of Stone Circle isn’t a card I always want, but getting a single use is nice.

Once the sticker shock has worn off for long time fans, Immortal Heroes is a great expansion that really has a unique feel. Ascension really isn’t a game where you can just smash together everything and get a good experience. Storm of Souls and Immortal Heroes combined make for a much more interesting experience. Between the events and Soul Gems, there is a strong element of randomness that needs to be played around carefully, but if I wanted a game with almost no randomness, I’d be playing Dominion.

Pros
Ongoing Trophies keep pressure on
Soul Gems drastically change in-game evaluation
New Event cards a must
Additional extras improve the center deck
Adds more randomness

Cons
$30 for less than 70 “new” cards
Doesn’t really work as a stand alone
Continues adding randomness
Major deja vu