Review: Ascension: Storm of Souls
“The storm looms. Who among you will stand before it?”
– Ascension: Storm of Souls, Rule Book
A while back, I reviewed the iPad game Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer and its expansion, Return of the Fallen. Developed by Gary Games, Ascension was originally a tabletop card game in the tradition of Magic, the Gathering and Pokemon. Chronicle of the Godslayer, first in the Ascension series, was coded into an iPad/iPhone game, and after that, the expansion Return of the Fallen was added as an in-app purchase. This latest expansion, Storm of Souls, has yet to be made into an app, but probably will seeing the success of its predecessor. This review, therefore, is of the physical card game, and even though cards from the previous series can be combined with this expansion for deeper gameplay, I will just be scoring Storm of Souls as a stand-alone.
Ascension: Storm of Souls can be purchased at your local gaming store or through their website and retails for $39.99. The set comes with the box, of course, a game board, a rulebook, 50 plastic honor beads, and 200 cards, which includes 4 starting decks, the 59 “Always Available” cards and 101 cards for the center row. Storm of Souls is intended for 1-4 players, and up to six players if combined with the other expansions.
To review the basics, in Ascension, players use cards from their hand to gain either Runes or Power. With Runes, players acquire more cards to enhance their decks, and by using Power, they can defeat monsters, winning Honor. The player’s ultimate goal is to collect more Honor, from a set pool, than their opponents. It’s not exactly that simple, but those are the raw basics.
The Storm of Souls expansion brings a pair of exciting new mechanics to the Ascension series. The first new feature is the addition of Events to the gameplay. Events are cards that appear like any other, except it immediately goes to its own place on the game board. Events change the rules and alter the parameters of gameplay for all players. Depending upon the flow of the game, Events can have little to no impact, or they can change everything.
The second new feature is the Trophy Monster. When a player defeats a Monster, they are awarded a certain amount of Honor for the task. Now with Trophy Monsters, once defeated the player not only receives the Honor award, but the Trophy Monster has an additional benefit the player can use immediately or at a later time. Instead of being banished, the Trophy Monster card is transferred to the player’s area waiting to be used.
Another option worth mentioning is that Storm of Souls has a Solitaire gameplay variant. In the Rulebook, there is a set of variant rules that allow the player to play alone, against an invisible opponent referred to as “Nemesis.” While not as exciting as playing against a live opponent, this feature is unique to Ascension and really sets it apart from its peers. This Solitaire mode allows players to test out new strategies, or just become more comfortable with the gameplay. It’s a special feature that demonstrates a player-first focus to the game design.
Mechanics are at the heart of games like Ascension, they either work smoothly to the player’s delight, or they can bog down play, losing the player’s interest. Even the original Ascension was not a simple game, and each expansion has expanded the mechanics. All the rules and gameplay elements can seem very overwhelming to the new player. This is where the gaming app actually had an advantage as the computer calculates and keeps track of everything and will not allow the player to make “errors.” Overtime, however, as the players grow accustomed to the mechanics and player turn-times shorten, the elegance and balance of the gameplay really shines through.
Game Mechanics Score 4.5 / 5
Compared to video games, card games have fewer resources when it comes to the ambiance department. What Storm of Souls does provide the player is a nicely designed boxset, which is both attractive and efficient. The box itself is eye-catching and details all of the set’s elements. Everything fits easily into the box, and one of the nice features is that there is room for extra cards making this box capable of carrying the other series as well. The game board is solid and details not just card placement, but contains some nice artwork. Most card games that provide a “layout” for the player merely include an easily-ripped folded piece of paper. That is not the case here. The cards themselves are not flimsy, but can still be shuffled with ease. The artwork on these cards is by far the best looking yet.
While Storm of Souls goes very far to bring the player into its world, there are a couple minor missteps in its design. While the game board is well-crafted, all players must access the board during play and this can lead to cramped dynamics. The game board is by no means small, and since there is a lot occurring during each player’s turn, a sizeable amount of table space is required to play comfortably. The players need to spread out, yet maintain a reasonable distance from the board to not feel left out. This can lead to some awkward seating arrangements.
The last issue doesn’t really distract from the game, but would make it easier to play. The game box is little smaller than a regular board game box, but is a number of inches thicker. There is not any great way to carry the box with you. The best, perhaps, is the under arm tuck, but the box art is so brilliant it’s hard to sully it with perspiration. If the box came with a few clips and a small handle; this portability issue would be solved.
Overall, Ascension: Storm of Souls is a handsome boxset. What few improvements could be wished for doesn’t diminish the wonderful gaming experience.
Ambience Score 4.2 / 5
Ascension: Storm of Souls delivers a wonderful experience to its players. Once new players get past their initial intimidation concerning the rules and mechanics, they will comeback wanting more. When playing this game in public, a number of people stopped at our table and would inquire about the game and even watch us play. After playing a number of games, there were still cards neither player had seen emerging from the deck. This kept play fresh. Combining all three expansions could really keep any player from predicting what sort of cards might appear.
The Solitaire rule variant, as mentioned before, is not as exciting as real opponents are, but most games are more enjoyable with other people. The variant could have been left out of the game, but its inclusion just adds to the fun factor here.
Fun Factor Score 4.8 / 5
In the Storm of Souls, boxset is a 14-page rulebook. The pages are 8.5” x 11”, glossy and with full color. This book provides the player with an introduction, general overview, layout, card descriptions, a breakdown of the gameplay, rule variants, glossary and a faq. That is a very large amount of information to try to cover comprehensively in a mere fourteen pages. The book helps returning players understand the new features of this expansion, but if the player is brand new to the Ascension series, the rulebook is more likely to leave them confused than excited to play. Ascension can be an involved game and the rulebook could use to be a bit more sizeable to cover all aspects. There is a downloadable rulebook and faq available from their website.
When exposing my friends to this game, it was easier to remember the rules from the earlier expansions than to refer to the rulebook.
Guidance Score 3.5 / 5
The iPad/iPhone version of Ascension received some of the highest scores I have ever given a game. Even though it is not an app, Storm of Souls would be the closest a game has ever come to those original scores. I have thoroughly enjoyed this game and will continue to play it will friends and on my own. I hope Gary Games takes the next step and folds this expansion into another app for the iOS.
Final Score 4.25 / 5
Written by Andrew