For the benefit of those who’ve skipped the description of this product, 'Ashes Reborn: Ashes 1.5 Upgrade Kit' in their excitement to read the Zatu opinion; I’ve prefixed this review with three warnings:
There is no single complete deck in this upgrade, nor is it an expansion - you will need to already have a “white box” first edition of Ashes - Rise of the Phoenixborn and optionally any of the corresponding additional decks. This box gives you cards to “switch in to” these existing 1st edition decks to bring them in line with the new edition.
The first edition - “Ashes - Rise of the Phoenixborn” is not a broken game, if you are a sporadic Ashes player - with no plans to add more expansions / or the new co-op campaign to your collection, then it’s okay to not perform the upgrade. You can still enjoy your game with anyone who also hasn’t done the upgrade.
There is one character this upgrade doesn’t replace, if you have a strong attachment to the original Jericho Kill take a deep breath now. This box instructs you to put all her cards in the bin and go and buy “ASHES REBORN: THE BREAKER OF FATE DELUXE EXPANSION SET”. This is a new Jericho with her own set of dice.
Great - now you are through the public service announcements and haven’t navigated elsewhere; let’s get into why you may want to spend a good couple of hours taking cards out of decks and replacing them with uncannily similar-looking cards.
If you have all the available expansions in the first edition, a 350 plus card by card upgrade is going to feel like a huge overhaul. It is not. Barring wording tweaks and simplification, the 1.5 upgrade can be condensed into 6 main updates to rules and spells.
You can no longer affect dice / bring dice back from your exhausted pool. All cards that previously allowed you to place any exhausted dice back in your active dice pool have either been changed; to only affect active dice, or to a completely new spell that doesn’t do anything with dice.
The “Illusion” effect has been completely removed from the game. All illusions have been either removed or replaced with real conjurations/allies.
N.b. “Respark” has also been removed, but on fewer cards, and in some cases replaced with similar keywords such as “undying”. “Dismount” has changed from a keyword to an explicitly explained ability on the cards. Contextually there is little change here - just how / where rules / abilities are specified.
Blocking and guarding units must counter. This is a rule change, not a card change. Designed, I believe, to speed up rounds.
All battles between units must be one versus one. You can still send multiple attackers against Phoenixborn, but yes, really, you can now only send one pitiful Mist Spirit against an Iron Rhino during any given action.
The number of copies of conjurations have been reduced for most Phoenixborn. There are a very large number of cases where this number has been reduced to one. Notably, there is now only one copy of the conjurations Seaside Raven, Emperor Lion and Iron Rhino.
Time–Magic added as an optional card cost to existing spells. This makes a big difference if deck drafting or building custom decks as you now have an option for which dice you will be using on the cards. It may open up combination options previously requiring a difficult spread of magic dice.
With no dipping back into the exhausted dice pool, less copies of conjurations, and no blocking without reaching for exhaustion tokens; the Ashes 1.5 upgrade does shorten game time. It’s also fractionally easier to teach with simplifications to attacking and guarding. Did it feel like a whole new edition? Honestly, no. Does it ruin an already very solid game? Thankfully, also no.
While clearly a lot of work has been done to update a lot of cards in an attempt to rebalance and simplify. When it actually comes to playing the new “Reborn” versions of these decks, the cards don’t feel significantly different at all. Apart from occasionally thinking “Huh, this spell is a bit different now” or “I swear this dice power used to be better”, the card changes pale in comparison to the update to blocking and guarding. With some characters, you could be easily forgiven for forgetting you are playing the newer version of the deck entirely.
This is because there are some decks that have changed a lot more than others. For example, there has been little to no update to Echo Greystorm and Rin Northfell, however Victoria Glassfire has undergone a complete overhaul and poor Harold Westraven has lost 5 starting health. One of the charms of Ashes is the unique magical play style of each Phoenixborn, this has not been lost with the changes. Each character, even those that used illusions, have still kept their personality.
I haven't listed every small change so if you have a homebrew deck and there are specific cards you would like to preview post1.5 upgrade; https://ashes.live/cards/ gives you an image of all the new and legacy versions.
The complete disposal of Jericho Kill was a bit of a surprise, but her new form looks pretty impressive so I can just about forgive this. The one overshadowing disappointment I have is that the rebalancing just doesn’t go far enough. I play my Ashes decks prebuilt, and yes asymmetric games can never be completely balanced, but! with the shorter and less cagey gameplay, you get a short sharp thrashing when there is disparity between the two opposing decks. This if anything highlights the still overtly present problem of some magic types / play styles being so much stronger / weaker against others.
I can see why Plaidhat have produced this upgrade pack as the changes from Ashes to Ashes: Reborn are definitely not significant enough to justify re-purchasing Ashes in its entirety all over again. If, like me, you plan on continuing to collect the new decks as they come out, including the co-op campaign, I’d strongly recommend this upgrade - if just for consistency of the new rules / keywords in the decks and the use of the new time dice. If you have no plans to extend your Ashes collection further, but are still wondering if you should do the upgrade, I suggest having a look through the main changes described above and if this fixes a gripe you have with your 1st edition version; go for it. Otherwise be happy that you and your 1st edition game are good enough just the way they are.