Usually in center-line deckbuilding games, the center line of cards is simply that. It’s a line of cards that players can fight, buy, or interact with in some way but that’s about it. Occasionally, a game will have a twist to its gameplay that make the positioning in the line of cards important in some small way, but that’s about as far as it goes. Ascension X: War of Shadows takes the center line and makes it the single most important aspect of the game, adding new layers of strategy and complexity to Ascension’s tried and true formula.
The core Ascension foundations that War of Shadows is built upon remain the same; cards generally provide some amount of Power or Runes, and players can use those resources to fight and acquire new cards from the center row, gaining points and adding ever more powerful cards to their deck as the game progresses. Players compete for Honor, and the game ends when the Honor pool has been exhausted. What really ramps up the depth and complexity in Ascension X is the day/night cycle, which is determined by the composition of the cards in the center row. Each card in the set belongs to either a Dark or Light aspect. If there are more Light cards in the center row, then it is day, if there are more Dark cards, it is night, and if there are an equal number of cards, it is neither day nor night.
On the surface, the day/night cycle is a simple enough distinction, and it’s easy to tell at a glance whether it is day or night, but things really start to get interesting when you look at the cards themselves. Many cards, and many monsters, have special abilities, powers, and rewards based on whether it is day or night when you play, acquire, or defeat them. This means that players are actively incentivized to manipulate the composition of the center-line in order to get the most out of their cards. If you draw a hand full of cards that power up during the day, you may end up needing to buy or banish cards you wouldn’t have otherwise in order to make the most out of the cards in your hand. It can also be a viable strategy to try to leave your opponent with day/night or even neither if you know that they’ve been focusing on one particular aspect over the other. There are also a few cards that have very powerful effects, and even incredibly tough monsters that can be defeated, if every card in the center line is either day or night.
The constant change from day to night makes each disparate piece of the game feel more directly involved than past sets, even excellent sets such as Dreamscape, that introduced fun and exciting mechanics in their own right. You really need to pay attention to the game-state as you play cards, and it can really pay off if you time your card play properly. This is certainly an Ascension game, but it feels like the most complex form of Ascension yet, at least among the sets that I have played, and therefore it takes more careful consideration to really make the most out of your cards. There is still the unavoidable luck-of-the-draw involved, but being rewarded for paying attention, and the incentive to try to manipulate the center line in your favor makes the game feel like the players have more control over the way that the game plays out. At the very least, it makes the most mundane aspect of the game important and interesting.
A note on “chrome”: Once again, Stoneblade Entertainment has released a quality product with excellent production values. The art is even more consistent than in previous sets, the rulebook is laid out wonderfully and makes learning the game a snap, and the box insert holds everything comfortably.
The bottom line:
Ascension X: War of Shadows takes the most boring aspect of center-line deckbuilding games, the center-line itself, and flips it on it’s head, making it the most important and exciting aspect of the game. The day/night cycle is awesome, especially because players can attempt to manipulate the cards in the line not simply in hopes of a better card showing up, but in order to make the cards that they already have more powerful. There are cards that can be acquired for free under the right conditions, and it can feel a bit cheesy when it happens out of the blue, but it can also feel glorious when a player manages to actively manipulate the center-line and pull it off. This is a great standalone Ascension set, and it feels more complex and involved than many others. War of Shadows still plays well when mixed with another set, like Dreamscape that preceded it, although the day/night mechanic can quickly become too diluted if you mixed it with more than one other set. War of Shadows really shines as a standalone, which means it’s also an excellent place to get into the system if you’ve never played an Ascension game before, although the added complexity means that it may not be the best place to start if you’ve never played a deckbuilder before.
Get this game if:
You enjoy other Ascension games and want to add a fun, new mechanic to the mix.
You enjoy center-line deckbuilding games.
You want to try deck-building games but don’t know which game would be good to start with.
Avoid this game if:
You dislike deckbuilding games.
Ascension X: War of Shadows introduces the excellent day/night cycle to the game, turning the center line itself into the most exciting and important aspect of the game.