Reviewing card games is always tricky for me. As I've mentioned in previous card game reviews, I've been playing Magic: The Gathering on a competitive level since the earliest days of the game which gives me an entirely different perspective on card games from most gamers. People on our forums are having a fantastic time with Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer [$4.99 / Lite], and from a technical perspective it's absolutely fantastic, but all this really does is make me wish that we could finally get iOS ports of some of the better card games out there.

From a technical standpoint, there's really not much more you could ask for. First off, the game is universal and plays great on both the iPad as well as smaller iOS devices. I find myself preferring it on the iPad since the increased screen real estate really lends itself to games like this, but it's just as good on the iPhone. The touch interface works great with card games, as anyone who has basically played any card game on an iOS device could tell you, and Ascension is no different. There's options to make the game run as fast (or as slow) as you'd like, multiple levels of AI, and even online multiplayer via Game Center.

The actual game of Ascension is a somewhat refreshing spin on fantasy-based card games in that instead of building a specific deck that you use in battles, you're building your deck on the fly from game to game. Players start the game with identical basic decks of ten cards consisting of two militia cards which provide the "power" resource and eight apprentice cards which provide the "rune" resource. Using power and runes you're able to interact with a common pool of cards to either acquire new cards for your deck or defeat monster cards. Most actions you do in the game award different amounts of victory points, and at the end of the game, the player with the most victory points wins.

Like most card games, Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer is infinitely easier to explain visually. The good news is, Ascension started its life as a physical card game, so there's no shortage of incredibly detailed videos on how the game works. Here's a particularly fantastic one from Tom Vasel of The Dice Tower:

There's some things that I really like about Ascension. Similar to Dominion, it's really cool how each game starts off totally fresh. Unlike games where players have decks they've built themselves, no one can enter a game with a stacked deck filled with the best cards. Everyone has access to the same card pool, and there's a decent amount of variety in the deck building strategy you can try to follow from game to game. If you have an opponent that did something interesting with how they built their deck, you can try doing something similar the next game. As someone who has invested thousands of dollars into specific Magic decks that I've been more or less locked into playing through entire set rotations, this is just awesome.

But with the good, there's a hefty amount of bad. First off, the card art is laughably terrible. It seems like placeholder art that just never got refined, and some of the card art flat out looks unfinished. I'm not sure if this is intentional or not, but there is an incredibly odd contrast between how great Ascension is as an iOS game from a technical perspective and how poor the art is. It's easy enough to overlook, but the art totally jumps out in your first moments with the game which leads to some incredibly mediocre initial impressions.

While I really like the nature of these types of deck building games, Ascension is entirely too random, especially with more than two players in the mix. It's virtually impossible to follow any kind of deck building strategy, as you're faced with two layers of randomness: The cards you draw, and the cards that are drawn off the communal deck to replace other cards that have been acquired/defeated by other players. Instead of being able to follow a game-wide strategy, you're faced with focusing on tactics on a turn by turn basis resulting in often disjointed decks and just buying/defeating whatever cards you can that turn.

Lady luck can be a cruel mistress, and sometimes the seemingly awesome deck you've built can be rendered entirely useless based on a series of horrible card draws to the common pool. For instance, one viable deck building strategy involves focusing on cards that generate power to spend slay monsters which can generate a considerable amount of victory points. However, if you hit a unlucky streak of cards in the common card pool with other players being slow to acquire them to get fresh cards on the field, your whole deck stalls out without any substantial monster cards to kill. Also, the high levels of randomness can often let one player in a game get an incredible lead in victory points, making even attempting to finish the game bordering on fairly pointless.

Asynchronous online multiplayer seems incredibly promising, but Ascension is faced with the same problem that so many similar games fall victim to: It can be difficult finding people to play with, especially people of equal skill. I've managed to get a few games going, but a (seemingly) small player base combined with the length of the individual games doesn't lend itself at all to available random matches with people that will play games to completion. When the stars align and you do get into a four player online game, it's a ton of fun, but as soon as a single player becomes unresponsive the entire game grinds to a halt.

At the end of the day, the developers did an absolutely fantastic job porting Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer to iOS devices. I'm not sure what if anything they could have been done differently to make the game better, as all of my issues with Ascension are directly linked to the source material and are shared with the physical version of the game as well. I almost think it's biggest downfall is how precise of a port the game is.

Regardless, if you're interested in fantasty-based card games I'd highly recommend at least giving the lite version of Ascension (which is also universal) a try. As mentioned at the start of this review, I'm fully aware that my outlook towards card games in general might be a little more hardcore than most out there, so you might find my complaints to be not much of an issue for you. Either way, the lite version will give you a great idea whether or not the game of Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer jives with you, if it does, definitely grab the full version.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • The9quad

    This review reminds me of someone who  loves soccer reviewing a basketball game. No matter how great the game is, it wouldn't matter because it isn't soccer.

    • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

      Except I love card games and have spent my entire life playing them?

      • The9quad

        First off, I wasn't criticizing you.

        That is just how your review reads to me> You say you don't like the source material, and you compare it to a completely different type of card game (magic). It's like saying you have a lifetime of experience with soccer, and since soccer and basketball both have nets and a ball...

        I hope that doesn't offend you, but that is how yoru review comes across.

        On a side note, I really like ascension, but I think alot of your negative points are valid (how lucky it seems at times, playing with 4 people increases that luck factor etc..). The art though I love( and so do other reviewers), btu that is purely subjective..

      • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

        Well, I've played Dominion extensively which is a similar type of game that has (almost) none of the faults of Ascension. If you like this, you really need to give Dominion a try as it is absolutely fantastic.

        Not offended at all, your comment was just confusing because you probably won't find someone who reviews iOS games that loves card games as much as me. :)

      • The9quad

        When they get an ios version I hope to, I just hope it is as well ported as this. Thanks for the review and the suggestion.

      • The9quad

        First off, I wasn't criticizing you.

        That is just how your review reads to me> You say you don't like the source material, and you compare it to a completely different type of card game (magic). It's like saying you have a lifetime of experience with soccer, and since soccer and basketball both have nets and a ball...

        I hope that doesn't offend you, but that is how yoru review comes across.

        On a side note, I really like ascension, but I think alot of your negative points are valid (how lucky it seems at times, playing with 4 people increases that luck factor etc..). The art though I love( and so do other reviewers), btu that is purely subjective..

  • Tommi654

    I think the review is fair. The only thing i can not agree with is that there are no people to play with... I always find someone 30 seconds after creating a new game. Every time of the day... People from Asia, Europe, USA... I have no idea how you had problems with that. 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_JWMR5DSATTJX7T6WSUPOVDRQ64 TheWatcher

    Difficult finding a game? In what reality is THAT happening? In addition to the ease of starting games via GameCenter invite, I've never spent more than 90 seconds in the online lobby without beginning a new game. And I'm usually playing in more like 30 seconds.

    And someone needs to explain to some of you that "randomness" does not equate to "luck." The shifting tableau in Ascension is actually the game's greatest strength -- it forces players to react, to adjust, to think quickly, and to have more than one strategy in mind. It's why Ascension is 50 times better than the multiplayer solitaire known as Dominion, where nothing is allowed to interfere with the nerds building their perfect efficiency engines. It's like watching a bunch of shut-ins write Excel macros.

    Finally ... you really went after the art? Really? An experienced reviewer who doesn't realize that art is incredibly subjective? I quite like the art, for the record, as do many others I know who have played the physical card game. I also think it evokes the theme of the game perfectly.

    Maybe we could just call that a "laughably terrible" part of this review.

    • http://twitter.com/Xelor Caleb

      Agreed. For one thing as a fan of Ascension that has played the game a LOT, there are ways to overcome what appears to be seen as "luck" in the game which is to have a BALANCE between gaining runes and power. Leaning over one side of "income" like mentioned in the review is how you've experienced this. Perhaps someone should play a bit more.

      I'm not entirely a fan of the art either though, but my father says it's pretty simplistic and neat to him. So yea, subjective topic that shouldn't be reviewed on without saying that the whole matter is just the matter of opinion.

      Otherwise however, the review is neat.

      • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

        This review is the product of me playing the iOS version of the game for nearly two weeks and I've played the physical game many times with friends since it was released last year. I'm honestly not sure it would be possible for me to play more.

      • http://twitter.com/Xelor Caleb

        Just realize that it may affect a certain amount of readers that may have been looking for a card game that wasn't heavily based on card draw like most card games do. This game I can assure you isn't one of them if you know how to play against that. I was hoping for a review that would be slightly better than this, so more people may check up on it and check out this amazing game.

        All I want is some edits here and there to give a more "accurate" review of the game, whether you feel reviews should be mostly subjective or not. That includes the online portion of the game, where it actually is very easy to start a game.

        Overall, I have to mention it's still not a bad review. I just like it to be more accurate.

    • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

      An inexperienced reader apparently doesn't realize that reviews are subjective. :)

      • The9quad

        Especially with phrases like "But with the good, there's a hefty amount of bad" which is followed up by a purely subjective criticism of the games art as "terribly bad"..

        You'd think a review would say something like:
        " while some might find the hand drawn artwork too simplistic or amatuerish, others might find it a refreshing change from the clinically clean stereotypes of other card games, personally I fall in the former group"

        here looky a picture of a card, judge for yourself.

      • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

        Reviews are subjective opinion pieces. I'm not sure what happened to make you believe otherwise.

    • Nickjost

      You, are, an idiot.  I guess that's entirely subjective though so you shouldn't take offense.  The lobby is ill designed when compared to say Carcassone's great lobby.  I really don't care to see people's names.  I don't care to understand the difference between a created game or not.  I'd like to be matched with someone of my skill level.  The whole thing just smacks of lack of polish.

      And, yes, the art is awful.  Get over it.

    • LeeDot

       How is commenting on the quality of the art any different than any other game review that talks about the quality of a games graphics? Graphics and art go hand in hand so I really don't see how this is out of the ordinary. 

       Also, as stated by others below all reviews are subjective and represent that reviewers opinion which is why if someone wants a balanced view of a game they should probably read more than one review. Alternatively they could also just try the light version as Eli suggested and form their own opinion. 

  • Donalddumptruck

    Where's the Orions 2 review? Why the inequitable treatment?

  • http://twitter.com/nicholsonb Brad Nicholson

    I HATE YOUR OPINION YOU ARE WROONG THIS IS UNBELIEVEABLE ELI. TOTALYL UNBELIEVABLE.

  • Drifted

    To call the art laughably bad is in such poor taste that you really should take a moment to understand what art is.

  • Nickjost

    I think you were tookind.  The matchmaking is seriously flawed.  The game itself is delightful, but it even advertises as a deck building game, which it really isn't. It also has an extremely low card count which is reducing replayablity (in combination with the lack of ability to actually build)

     I'd love to see a deck building component and a seriously reworked internet game interface that wasn't built for five good friends hooking up online.  Carcassone did a good job of this, Ascension did not.

    • http://twitter.com/Xelor Caleb

      First of all, matchmaking is when you are randomly put into a game. This game has it to where you can join a specific person's game. Kind of lobby-esque, but not an actual lobby.

      Second, it advertises, LITERALLY, a deck-building game. You build your deck DURING gameplay. That is a strategy within itself, and you fail to see that without playing it enough, or you just don't flat-out don't like the game. You're not suppose to be decked out with strong cards like in most typical card games nowadays. It's a different concept you failed to grasp.

      The card count I agree on though. There's enough for quite a bit of gameplay, but not enough in the long run.

    • The9quad

      Nick, whats wrong with the matchmaking? (serious question). If i want to play with a GC friend it's easy to set up and if I want to create a game with a random opponent it's easy as well. I can get get 4 or 5 games goign in under a minute and play them all at the same time. What does carcassone do different?

      • Nickjost

        It has nothing to do with "finding a friend".   If you are a developer and you think "finding a friend" is the issue you have misthought the problem.  The problem is "finding a comparatively rated player and having a challenging and interesting game and doing so quickly and with one click".

        As an aside someone downstream suggested Kard Kombat.  Its a decent game that's horrendously overpriced and a worse interface.  I haven't tried MP yet.  I'm afraid to.

  • Nickjost

    I think you were tookind.  The matchmaking is seriously flawed.  The game itself is delightful, but it even advertises as a deck building game, which it really isn't. It also has an extremely low card count which is reducing replayablity (in combination with the lack of ability to actually build)

     I'd love to see a deck building component and a seriously reworked internet game interface that wasn't built for five good friends hooking up online.  Carcassone did a good job of this, Ascension did not.

  • JammaTal

    Hello Eli, you say you love card games, but that does not come across. You just keep straining how hard life is for a Magic-Pro to fuzz with other inferior card games. You just behave as kind of an Holy Temple of Magic Guardian who has to fight off Intruders. I remember your Shadow Era critics sounding quite the same.
    I have played MtG on competetive level too and own tons of cards (complete Fallen Empires Edition eg) but i really like to play other card games as well without ever complaining "oh but it's not as good or deep as Magic".
    Your opinion regarding the artwork: You just can't say the artwork IS laughable only because you dislike the style.
    Online Community is growing very fast. No problem to make a series of fast running games.

    • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

      Where in this review do I ever say it's not as good as Magic? I think the closest I even get to comparing it with M:TG is referring to it as a "refreshing spin" in comparison?

    • http://twitter.com/Xelor Caleb

      Eli has a point here. He barely compares to Magic. The rest of the points were already discussed though.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=555040102 Andy Greenbaum

    i don't understand all the trolling - he thinks this a good implementation of a fun yet flawed game - as for the art its subjective - the art style is poor but not offensive this is fantasy art not Gaugin 

  • Rex

    As an old school magic player / big dominion fan (have all the expansions) / and player of numerous other card games (Nightfall/Thunderstone/warhammer: invasion etc) I have to begrudgingly agree with a lot of this review. That said I do really enjoy playing this game, however many of the thoughts in the review are the same things that have prevented me from purchasing this game in it's real boxed format.

    One quick note on the random factor though, I don't believe it's so bad that good players can not consistently win games. However you will from time to time lose a game due to luck.

    Finally I think despite the games flaws its still a really good time, and rewards players who take the time to figure out the strats to minimize the luck factor.

  • Rex

    An additional note the guys who brought this game to iOS are now bringer another real world card game to iOS.

    Summoner Wars. This is a game I have in my collection and really enjoy. Check out reviews for it on YouTube.
    With the quality the developers brought to ascension going into a card game as good as summoner wars, I think we are in for a real treat.

    • Tommi654

      porting GOSU would be great, too

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Josh-Putman/589880398 Josh Putman

    Is it 4 player in pass and play as well? Or does that only apply to online multiplayer mode?

  • proto

    Good review Eli, keep up the good work. :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/ashton.green Ashton Green

    I'll probably be picking this up when there's a price drop. The physical version is a fun game, but I already own a copy of it.

    I'd really like to see an iOS version of Nightfall though.

  • Dan

    Fair review. Like you say, give the game a go if you like card cames. Personally I think "draw a card" is undercosted, and the honor value of mechana constructs is too high, to the point where I will always build a card-draw combo deck, or a mechana construct deck, or a hybrid of the two, depending on what comes up. Although that is literally a first impression from playing it for a couple of days. At the moment there aren't enough cards in the pool to have enough deck-builing options for it to hold my attention long-term, and I have moved onto Kard Combat already.
     
    That said, it is a really slick iOS implementation, and you can't go wrong giving it a try.

    • https://me.yahoo.com/rekzkarz#a0df5 REkzkaRZ

      I played it a bunch, and I deleted it.  Cool game concept, nice implementation -- but I didn't find it very fun over long-term.  I did not play the expansion.

Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer Reviewed by Eli Hodapp on . Rating: 3.5