Since it debuted, Ascension has quickly become one of my favorite games. It perfectly hits the balance of a card game and Magic, with just enough resource management to make me constantly want more. So when Ascension Online was announced, I backed it without a second thought – especially since it included a physical copy of the newest expansion: Rise of Vigil.
Suggested Ages: 13+
Suggested Players: 2 to 4 players (5-6 players when combined with any other Ascension)
Playing time: 30 minutes
Contents: 259 cards, 50 honor tokens, gameboard, full-color rulebook, storage tray
Retail price: $39.99 available at Amazon.com
Between the two core sets and two expansions, Stone Blade Entertainment has really begun experimenting with the core of Ascension. The same basic game principles are there: using runes and power, you fight monsters and acquire new heroes. But there is a twist: there is a new resource, called Treasure.
Want to win a copy of Rise of Vigil? Well, we’re giving two sets away along with some other great prizes!
In this set, there is only one kind of treasure: Energy Shards. Unlike traditional cards, Treasures draw some inspiration from Kythis, the Gatekeeper and the Rat King in how they work. The Treasure cards are shuffled into the center deck like any other would be, but when one would be placed in the center row; you continue placing cards on top of it until a non-Treasure card is placed there as well. Usually, this just means a card might have an Energy Shard or two beneath it, but sometimes they might get a half dozen – or none!
The Energy Shards drastically change how the game plays out. While the game includes 60 Energy Shards (in addition to an additional 6 for modifying your starting deck, that’s right, your starting deck is now 11 cards), the game recommends including 30 Energy Shards in the center deck for each large set and 20 for each small. For those of you doing math, that means energy will be very scarce if you shuffle up all your Ascension cards.
But these Energy Shards completely change the game in more than one way. With Treasures being so limited, players will be forced to take less than optimal cards at times just to get energy. This is especially true since Energy Shards are not worth any honor at the end of the game! If you like making choices with limited information, Rise of Vigil gives you plenty of chances to do it.
Unlike Runes and Power, Energy isn’t spent. If you have four energy, you have four energy that turn. Some heroes have additional benefits when you hit certain thresholds and some constructs require a specific amount of energy to “turn on.” It’s a fascinating change, and fundamentally changes all four of the Factions in different ways.
Enlightened is still about drawing cards and banishing cards in the center row, but Treasures don’t get banished alongside the cards, so they’ve become sneakier. Void has lost some of its banishing skill, which is a major change to the game. Players accustomed to Chronicle of the Godslayer or Return of the Fallen will be in for a major surprise when decks regularly get 40 cards in a single game.
Lifebound fans will probably be disappointed since Unite is gone, but the energize mechanic allows for some Unite-like cards in the set. Mechana takes the biggest hit though and has gone back to its roots with assembling the most Mechana constructs possible – but without energy, many of the constructs don’t do anything!
In many ways, Rise of Vigil feels like Chronicle of the Godslayer version 2. Many of the cards feel like the past cards, but tweaked. The rebuilt Mechana machine is slow and lumbering, while many of the monsters feel like fixed versions. Specifically Terrus, Paragon of Strife is a less vicious Xeron, Duke of Lies, but it all works.
The most interesting cycle of cards in the set though have to be the Fate triggers. Each faction has one card that cares about how many treasures are under it. Omnicron may be my favorite since it can add whole new cards to the center row. Loamspeaker Druid is also hilarious since it adds 10 Honor to the Honor pool for each treasure under it. The little change of going from a 60 Honor game to a 70 or 80 can be drastic – and fun. Want to see all the cards in the set? Check out our Rise of Vigil Visual Spoiler.
But Rise of Vigil isn’t without some issues. Strategizing is much more difficult since you might have a hand with three Energy Shards in it – so figuring out your next turn is a challenge. But as a whole, it suffers in a similar way to Storm of Souls before Immortal Heroes came out: it doesn’t feel like a complete experience. Also, the energy resource is also a challenge since the only way to acquire it, is from the center row. So if no energy comes up, players will get sub-par decks or if one player is completely denied energy, they will probably lose to the luck of the draw.
The rest of the game is much of what we’ve seen before. The Apprentices, Militia, Mystics and Heavy Infantries have gotten new artwork while the Cultist is yet again the exact same card – and really showing his age. Eric Sabee’s artwork is greatly improving with each card having unique art that is bright and colorful. The board is fine, but can be awkward when an Omnicron explodes and the Honor tokens are more of the same.
Rise of Vigil is clearly the set that shows how Stone Blade Entertainment has grown. The product values are better, the cards are more unique and they’ve clearly taken the lessons they’ve learned from the first two blocks and put them into action. If Storm of Souls or Immortal Heroes left you wanting more, give Rise of Vigil a try. The game will always have some variance, but it works much better than the Events and Soul Gems of the last block.
New resource means new ways of thinking
Feels like a whole new experience
Great production quality
The factions are changing and growing
Really could use like 20 more Energy Shards
Cultist needs a facelift!
No energy? Too bad.