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Four years of bite-sized card battles later, Ascension still feels fresh

Illustration for article titled Four years of bite-sized card battles later, Ascension still feels fresh

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I first downloaded the Ascension: Chronicle Of The Godslayer iPhone app in August 2011 for a Sawbuck Gamer review. I’d played the original card game several times before with a group of hardcore Magic: The Gathering players who routinely crushed me, and I hoped having the chance to play on my own would sharpen my skills. After learning the basics against computer opponents, I decided I was ready to face off with other players. That’s when I got hooked.

Whether in physical or digital form, Ascension is not an especially interactive game. You do your thing on your turn, and then your opponent takes their turn. Some cards can impact the other player, forcing them to discard a card from their hand or destroy one of their “Constructs”—cards that stay on the board turn after turn, imbuing persistent benefits—but they can never interrupt your turn the way a Counterspell in Magic can. When playing online, there are time limits on each turn to make sure your opponent doesn’t just abandon a game, but these can be as long as two weeks, letting players make their moves whenever they have a spare minute rather than sitting down for a more traditional head-to-head match.

When I first started playing, I stuck with mostly shorter matches to replicate the physical card game experience. And I did achieve my goal of honing my skills—so much so that none of my friends will even play the card game anymore. As I memorized all the cards, Ascension became perfect for a quick break. I could take a turn while waiting to checkout at a grocery store or on hold for a phone call. You’re always going to be better at games when you give them your full attention, but I still win plenty of matches with my hop-in strategy.

Every time Ascension starts to feel too familiar, Stoneblade Entertainment drops a new expansion to master. Some have just affirmed my guiding strategy of focusing on Constructs and cards that let me draw more cards, but the latest expansion, Dawn Of Champions, puts an emphasis on building decks around one of the game’s four card colors. I’m still trying to wrap my head around what my new priorities should be. That game-changing wrinkle and the batch of fresh cards has me paying close attention again, but I know that soon I’ll be comfortable enough with the new additions to make it my preferred way to spend just a minute-long break.