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An Introduction to Every Major Ascension Expansion

Introduction to Ascension Expansions

Ascension is one of the first deck-building games designed, combining polished deck-building mechanics with a unique fantasy theme, distinctive artwork and compelling strategy. The success of the original game is such that designer Justin Gary has since created eight major expansions (with a ninth on the way in June), three minor expansions, a team expansion, a stripped back 'Apprentice' version and three collector editions. That's a lot of gameplay.

Knowing where to start with a game of this scale might seem pretty overwhelming, but the good news is that you can buy any major expansion and have a great Ascension experience reminiscent of the base game. If you decide to dive in with an expansion rather than the base game (as I did, and didn't regret it) then my hope is that this guide will give you the information you need to make a good decision as to which one to buy.

Ascension Expansions

Storm of Souls (2011)

The first major expansion, Storm of Souls retains a lot of the original's theme and features, but adds a few new mechanics to spice things up. Notable mechanics include Fate (cards with Fate do something when they enter the centre row), Events (cards that sit in a separate slot with ongoing effects) and Trophy Monsters (Monsters that a player gains when they're defeated, giving additional bonuses).

These new mechanics all have the ability to create new options and game states, increasing the variance of the game and the number of viable strategies. It's essentially a slightly more polished, well-rounded version of the base game, and can be paired with the Immortal Heroes minor expansion for an even better experience.

Rise of Vigil (2013)

Rise of Vigil introduces a new type of card - Treasure - which takes the form of Energy Crystals. These additional resources randomly appear under cards in the centre row and can power up various abilities on cards that care about them. Crafting an energy-centric deck is part skill and part luck, but the benefits of doing it well can be huge.

This expansion does introduce more randomness than many of the others, as the distribution of crystals can be uneven, but it also rewards players for intelligent deck-building and many of the cards have great combo potential. If you like building up an engine that can do crazy things, this might be the expansion for you.

Realms Unraveled (2014)

Realms Unraveled is the first expansion to play around with the four factions of the game: Enlightened, Lifebound, Mechana and Void. It does this with double-faction cards, each of which counts as two factions, and mechanics that care about playing others of the same faction. For those who like deck-construction to be a little clearer, or like the idea of allied abilities that feel reminiscent of Star Realms, Realms Unraveled could be a very satisfying experience.

It is also the first major expansion to include double-faced cards that transform from one side to the other at various points, though these were actually introduced in Darkness Unleashed, the minor expansion that works with Rise of Vigil.

Dawn of Champions (2015)

The main difference with this version of the game is that each player starts off with a character card representing a major hero from one of the four factions. These characters have abilities that can be unlocked when you reach a certain reputation level, and each one gains reputation in a different way. Dawn of Champions is the first expansion to introduce asymmetry from the start of the game, and it's stronger for it.

The characters encourage you to follow new strategies and reward you for doing so. They also do a good job of bringing these iconic characters to life and giving them even more of an identity. Fans of asymmetry and compelling theme should try this one.

Dreamscape (2015)

Ascension's fifth major expansion introduces a new purchasing mechanic, allowing players to buy cards from their personal Dreamscape by paying Insight, a new resource shown in an orange oval. The third resource introduces new focuses for some of the core factions, with some being better at acquiring dream cards than others.

This expansion is perfect for players who love the purchasing side of Ascension and other deck-building games, but it lowers interaction (due to each player having a personal Dreamscape) and reduces the overall prevalence of combat. I love it, but I know that not everyone will.

War of Shadows (2016)

This expansion was actually the first one I bought, though I'd played the game digitally and with friends beforehand. Its central mechanic is the duality of day and night. Every card is either a day card or a night card, and the board is considered to align with whichever time has more cards in the centre row. This adds a very interesting dynamic where you might buy cards or remove them from the centre row in a bid to turn the board into day or night, as you might be playing cards that get stronger at a particular time.

This expansion also introduces cards that require both runes and combat to acquire them, which makes having an unfocused deck less punishing than in other versions of the game. It's a very forgiving expansion for new players, but also has some really interesting decision-making processes once you get into it.

Gift of the Elements (2017)

Unlike many of the other expansions, Gift of the Elements lacks a single defining core mechanic. Instead, it reintroduces some of the mechanics from other expansions, most notably events and double-faced cards, by combining these mechanics in powerful event cards that transform into heroes when they're acquired (normally by paying eight runes).

Because of the lack of a defining mechanic, this expansion feels less flashy and distinctive than some of the others, but the gameplay is phenomenal. It's an expansion that will really appeal to long-time fans of the game, but isn't as good for brand new players.

Valley of the Ancients (2017)

Largely due to its newness, this is the one expansion I haven't actually had the chance to play (yet). The core mechanic here is encapsulated in three temples - Life, Death and Immortality - that are always available and switch between players when you use a corresponding keystone (a new resource) or a card effect.

As control of these temples can switch fairly easily, this expansion looks to introduce a new kind of expansion that hasn't been seen in Ascension before, which will appeal to players who like more competitive gameplay. I can't speak from experience to say if this expansion is good, but it looks fairly accessible and really interesting. I'm definitely keen to play it.

Delirium (2018)

Although Delirium hasn't been released (at the time of writing) I have to include it because there's a very real chance that it will be the best expansion yet. All I know is that this expansion will see a return of Dreamscape's central mechanics, but with a twist. Along with dreams, there will also be nightmares, and amazingly there's also a die being introduced for the first time in Ascension history that will have some involvement in unlocking powerful delirium abilities on certain heroes.

I'm getting excited just typing this section. I missed out on Valley of the Ancients last year, but there's no conceivable way that I'm going to let Delirium pass me by. If future Ascension games continue to look this good, then long may they continue.

Read our review of the original game!