Overview: The Ascension saga continues in this second expansion. Storm of Souls is a stand-alone expansion, with its own set of basic cards so you don’t need the base set to play it. Two new types of cards enter the game, but otherwise the rules are similar to the original.
Players: 1 to 4 (or up to 6 when combined with previous sets)
Ages: 13 and up
Playing Time: 30 minutes
Rating: Better than the original; still not my favorite deck-builder, but definitely one of the quickest to set up and start playing.
Who Will Like It? If you enjoyed Ascension and the Return of the Fallen expansion, you’ll like the new twists added in this game. For deck-builder fans who like the monster-slaying theme and don’t mind a bit more randomness.
Storm of Souls continues the story, although (as with most deck-builders) the story itself isn’t necessarily the reason for playing the game. After the fall of Samael, the land of Vigil is threatened by an underworld in turmoil, with the undead no longer kept at bay by the Gatekeeper.
I’ll confess that I don’t find the storyline of Ascension particularly compelling, although I do like the way the different factions (Mechana, Void, Enlightened, and Lifebound) have varying strengths, so that focusing on one particular faction’s cards brings certain bonuses.
The game includes:
- 1 game board
- 25 small clear gems
- 25 large red gems
- 200 cards
The cards are broken down as follows: 4 starting decks (8 Apprentice and 2 Militia each), 59 “always available” cards (1 Cultist, 6 Fanatics, 26 Mystics, 26 Heavy Infantry), and 101 center deck cards. The center deck is made up of Heroes, Constructs, Monsters, and Events.
I wrote in my review of the original game that I didn’t really like the artwork on the cards, because they’re sort of a sketchy, hand-drawn style. Eric Sabee’s artwork is a little more stylized this time around, and I think it’s an improvement — it looks like a scratchboard etching rather than pencil drawings, and visually it’s more appealing. For some reason, despite the fact that there’s new art for the starting cards, the Heavy Militia, and the Mystic, they re-used the original art for the Cultist. It’s the only thing in the new set that hasn’t been redone, which is kind of odd.
The board is like the old one, but with a few new areas outlined — a spot for the new Event cards, one for the new Fanatic monster, and an area to place your Honor tokens. Noticeably absent is the turn summary which was on the original board — it does make the board cleaner, but with the size of the board there was certainly room for it. But, again, you’ll use the board the first couple times you play, but then you’ll probably just play without it. Nobody needs a board for Dominion.
The basic rules are the same as in the original — again, you can read that here. In short, you draw 5 cards from your own deck, use them to purchase new cards and battle monsters from the center row or the “always available” piles, and then discard everything at the end.
The Return of the Fallen expansion added “Fate” cards, which are present here as well. Cards with a black band (like the “Nook Hound” pictured above) have an effect which takes place once immediately when they appear in the center row. After that, they have whatever effect is below when they are played.
Storm of Souls adds two other changes. First is the Event cards. There are only five in the entire deck, one representing each of the four factions, and then a fifth one for the monsters. When the Event card is drawn from the center deck, it goes to the side of the center row, replacing any event cards that were already there. The Event gives that particular faction a bonus of some sort — for instance, the Hedron Rising lets you consider all constructs to be Mechana (which typically will give you various bonuses when using Mechana heroes and constructs). The Rise of the Cult event makes Cultists and Fanatics a little harder to kill, but also gives more Honor points when killing them.
Each Event also has an “Event Trophy,” which brings us to the second change: trophies. Some monsters have a “Trophy” effect listed on them. When you kill a monster that has Trophy text, you place the monster in front of you (like a construct). At any time you can banish the monster for the Trophy effect, which might be drawing cards, getting more Runes or Power, and so on. The Fanatic’s Trophy effect depends on what Event is currently in play, but you can only have one Fanatic Trophy at a time.
The rulebook also includes variant rules for Team Play and Solitaire, plus a few explanations on how to play a 5 or 6 player game by combining Storm of Souls with previous sets.
I like the idea of the Event cards and Trophies, as well as the more stylized artwork on the cards. That said, Ascension is still a little too random for me. The single combined deck means that it’s easy to set up, but also that there is no guarantee that certain cards will show up in the game. Unlike most deck-building games, where you’ll have some stacks of cards out on the table to be acquired, this one has just a few “always available” cards, and the bulk of it will depend on what six cards are in the center row when your turn comes. If you decide to try going for Lifebound heroes and constructs early on, but then they just happen to be at the bottom of the deck, that can really screw up your strategy. Another example is with the Event cards — they’re pretty cool, but there’s just five of them shuffled into a deck of 101 cards (not counting combinations with other sets). They might be evenly spaced throughout the deck… or not. You may (like I did in one game) cycle through more than one Event card in a single turn.
I know there are players who really love Ascension, and I think it’s a fine deck-building game if you like the mythos they’ve created and you don’t mind the heavily luck-dependent nature of the game. The single combined deck makes it a cinch to set up and start playing, and gameplay is pretty fast and furious. However, I prefer the more limited amount of randomness that comes from shuffling the deck you built yourself, rather than the more complete randomness of the cards that will even be available to you at all.
Wired: Better artwork, new Event cards and Trophy Monsters add a fun twist.
Tired: Inherent randomness doesn’t allow for strategic planning.
Disclosure: GeekDad received a review copy of this game.