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Ashes Reborn: Rise of the Phoenixborn

RRP: £49.99
Now £36.69(SAVE 26%)
RRP £49.99
Expected Restock Date 01/03/2024
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Ashes Reborn: Rise of the Phoenixborn Master Set features version 1.5 updated rules and cards. Choose from six Phoenixborn in this set, using imaginative cards and custom dice to summon faithful allies, combine powerful spells, and outwit your opponents in a fast-paced back and forth barrage of well-crafted magic and strategic skill. Ashes Reborn: Rise of the Phoenixborn brings a p…
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Awards

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You Might Like

  • Straightforward core rules with emergent complexity
  • Huge variation in card powers
  • Active tournament scene

Might Not Like

  • Only competitive play (in core set)
  • Not particularly thematic
  • Hard to play with someone of very different skill level
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Description

Ashes Reborn: Rise of the Phoenixborn Master Set features version 1.5 updated rules and cards.

Choose from six Phoenixborn in this set, using imaginative cards and custom dice to summon faithful allies, combine powerful spells, and outwit your opponents in a fast-paced back and forth barrage of well-crafted magic and strategic skill.

Ashes Reborn: Rise of the Phoenixborn brings a pile of unique twists to the customizable card game genre, putting the control of the powerful Phoenixborn into the hands of the players. Here are a few stand-outs:

  • Choose your first hand! The First Five mechanic allows players to start the game with five cards of their choice giving them a solid footing in the direction they intend their deck to work.
  • Use dice as resources! The Dice Pool mechanic gives players the resources that they need to bring out powerful spells and creatures moments after the game begins, while still offering an interesting array of powers on their own.
  • Unique back and forth gameplay! The Player Turns system allows players to choose their targets carefully and consistently plan their strategy around their opponent’s upcoming actions. Turns consist of short actions that keep players engaged and allow for adjustments in play as the round progresses.

Ashes also offers 3 exciting ways to play, giving players endless variety inside 1 box:

  • Choose a deck and jump right in! 6 Phoenixborn included, each with a pre-built deck and assigned dice, lets you start playing quickly.
  • Build your own deck! With over 200 cards and 40 custom dice included, this box alone contains billions of build options.
  • Draft a deck! A group of players can build customized decks together in minutes with the deck drafting rules.
GAME DESIGN: Isaac Vega
ARTISTS: Fernanda Suarez

 

 

 

When the Red Rains swept over Argaia, the monstrous Chimera followed. They slaughtered armies and destroyed towns, until the Phoenixborn arose to beat them back and bring on a new golden age. But power calls to power, and now the Phoenixborn are driven to fight against each other in the Ashes.

Ashes Reborn, designed by Isaac Vega (also known for Dead of Winter and Forgotten Waters), is a deck-construction duelling game, normally for two players. By casting spells and summoning creatures to fight for you, you’ll whittle down the opposition’s powers and eventually defeat them. A game typically lasts 30-60 minutes.

Many duelling games have sprung up since Magic: the Gathering first came out in 1993, and most of them want to be “lifestyle games”, the ones that get all your gaming time; as someone who plays lots of games a little bit each, I’m looking for a game that’s also friendly to casual players, and this is the one that I’ve played most.

How To Play

Each player chooses a Phoenixborn, a magician with an innate power (there are six in the core box), and then builds a deck of 30 cards: each Phoenixborn has a standard pre-constructed deck, including a few cards unique to them, or you can mix and match (though never with more than three copies of any specific card, and the core box has three of each card). You’ll also choose a pool of ten dice, each associated with a particular style of magic (Illusion, Charm, etc.).; the standard builds take five dice from each of two styles. You then choose your starting hand (no more than one of the same card).

Play proceeds in a series of rounds, each of which consists of alternating turns for each player. At the start of the round, you roll all your dice, and gradually spend them over the course of the round, which ends when both players pass in succession.

On your turn, you can take a major and a side action. Launching an attack with summoned creatures is a major action; activating the innate power of one of your dice is a side action; but more commonly you use the abilities on the cards in your hand and in play, each of which specifies what sort of action is needed to use it as well as any cost in die faces or exhaustion markers.

Each die has three different symbols of increasing power, with the top-level one giving you a specific effect (e.g. you can spend a top-value Charm die to reduce an opposing unit’s attack value by 1 until the end of the round). You can also “meditate”, discard cards from your deck to set your dice to different faces: this brings on the end of the game sooner, since when you run out of cards you start to take damage every time you’d draw one, but lets you do more before it happens.

Fans of Magic will see that land cards are entirely replaced by die faces – meaning that you never end up with lots of power and nothing to spend it on, or lots of spells but nothing to power them. But separately from the game-mechanical element, there’s a pleasant tactile effect to rolling and spending the dice.

The cards you play may go straight to your battlefield as creatures to fight for you, produce an immediate effect, or modify a creature you’ve already summoned; or they may go to your spellboard, to allow you to use them repeatedly later (another way of summoning creatures, which in that case come from a separate deck that can be recycled when they’re destroyed).

When attacks happen, you can go after one of the opponent’s creatures or after their Phoenixborn; their creatures can try to block, and fight back, and may produce other effects.

This is clearly a very flexible system, a lightweight framework to let cards have very different effects from each other. The pre-constructed decks certainly have flavours of their own; some give you a few powerful creatures, some give you a horde of weak ones, while others concentrate on leeching the enemy’s power or causing them to exhaust their deck.

While a lot can happen in a round, individual turns go very quickly: a player may have several options, but can only do two things, so you never end up waiting a long time for the opposition.

Most duelling games are focussed on tournament play, and certainly there’s a lot of that in Ashes, but I’ve found the community also very welcoming to casual players like myself, who mostly play with the same group of friends rather than going out to fight strangers.

The game can handle up to four players, but there are very few cards that take advantage of having more than one opponent, and particularly with just the core box available you may find yourself running short of playable combinations.

Components

The cards are the major part of Ashes, but there are also cardboard tokens for wounds, exhaustion, and special-purpose markers, as well as the magic dice. Cards and tokens are well-made and solid, though if you’re concerned about wear on the tokens you can put them in 19.5mm coin capsules. There’s no need for a specialised playmat, though it’s important to keep your various components in a standard layout so that your opponent can see what’s going on.

Art in the core set is mostly by Fernanda Suarez, and it gives the game an energetic and colourful style. These aren’t grim fantasy post-apocalyptic warriors: they’re having fun with their magic, and one feels they might even have lives away from the battlefield. (And this isn’t a game I’m ashamed to play with my female or non-white friends.)

Editions & Expansions

Any duelling card game with a tournament element needs a constant flow of expansions or it will be pronounced “dead”. This one has died once before: the original Ashes: Rise of the Phoenixborn was published in 2015 and cancelled in 2019 for undisclosed reasons, but then, after Plaid Hat Games was bought back by the founder Colby Dauch, Ashes Reborn was launched in 2020 (with an upgrade pack to allow players of the previous version to bring their sets and all old expansion content up to date with the Reborn rules and cards). So there are twenty or more Phoenixborn available outside the core box; but the options with a huge card pool can be excessive to take in all at once, so it’s worth playing just with the core box to start with and then slowly adding expansions.

Most of the expansions add a new Phoenixborn and their pre-built deck, which you can then mix and match with the cards you already have (similarly to FFG’s Living Card Games, you always know what you’re buying and there are no randomised box contents). Some of them also add more dice in a new power style, and provide convenient small boxes in which you can carry a deck with all necessary cards, dice and tokens to a tournament. The Red Rains expansion adds a solo or cooperative play mode against an automated boss enemy.

Rising From The Ashes

Isaac Vega’s design in Ashes has stood the test of time, producing a game that can be enjoyed in casual play as well as in tournaments. One concern is that there’s relatively little randomness in play, and it can mostly be mitigated: if you play someone much more skilled than you, you are very likely to lose consistently, which may be a problem in some gaming groups. Another is that, as in most duelling games, when card A provokes a reaction B which then allows someone to use power C, the order in which to resolve events can be complicated to work out. But all in all this is a game without a pool of tens of thousands of cards, but with plenty of variation and tactical depth even playing with just the core set.

 

It is with a lot of love that I dub Ashes Reborn as “Magic: The Dice Game.” It is a game where, like Magic, you assume the role of duelling spell casters (Phoenixborn), able to summon an array of magical creatures to aid you in the battle. Also like Magic, Ashes has a dedicated fandom who will no doubt be uncomfortable with this analogy, now onto Rise of the Phoenixborn.

I bought the first edition of Ashes in 2017, solely for the phenomenal artwork. At the time I picked up the box I had never heard of a ‘Living Card Game’. As the term has been trademarked by Fantasy Flight Games, and Ashes is published by PlaidHat, let’s pretend you haven’t either. Unlike old style deck duelling games which required you to build your own battle deck, Ashes is much friendlier to the casual gamer. Ashes cards are sold in pre-built decks of spells, allies and summons with a Phoenixborn to match the style of magic/play. In the base game there are 6 such decks which provide plenty of replayability and a broad range of magic use. However, if you love the game and like collecting things, there is some good news. There are currently, not including some fan built decks, 22 additional Phoenixborn with prebuilt decks you can purchase to add to your collection. You can think of these like player vs player, Marvel Champions Hero Packs.

Gameplay

In Rise Of The Phoenixborn, choose your Phoenixborn and deck, select the dice corresponding to the types of magic your deck requires, then take a seat opposite your opponent. The great thing about ashes is that it’s easy to get started. On a given turn you will be playing cards (spells and allies) or attacking your opponents Phoenixborn and ‘units’ with your own spells and ‘units’. Everything each card does is written on the card and there is a handy reference for everything else. Spells and Allies have a magic cost which you will pay with your dice, so depending on your roll at the beginning of the round, you will need to be selective of what you play to maximise the effects of your limited pool of magic.

Spells, Allies, Summons, and your dice themselves all have unique effects and abilities you can use together against your opponent. This gives a huge variety of things you can do on any given turn, so if you like strategy, or duelling games, Ashes is definitely worth trying. I like to take it on my travels as you don’t need the full box to play each game, just a deck , 10 dice and a handful of tokens. The set up, when using the preset decks, can be done in under 2 minutes.

Despite the ease of getting started with Ashes, as you play it more and more, you will learn the best individual play style of each Phoenixborn. Due to this, a veteran player will thrash a newbie, so choose your gaming group wisely. On the box, Ashes is listed as a 2-4 player game, however it is best enjoyed at 2 players. If you have 4 players – do a tournament as this will last about as long as a 4 player all v all and will be much more engaging.

Theme

Theme is where this game absolutely shines. If you play with the preset deck; the spells and magic used are tailored to your character and their play style and it feels very intuitive. The artwork is beautiful and your chosen Phoenixborn will feature in the artwork on many of the spells in their associated deck. The spells and strategy are believable for that character and the dice are great quality.

Replayability & Expansions

With 6 preset decks in the base game and any expansion decks you’d want, there are a great number of “match-ups” to try out. Plus even if you played the same two decks each time, you won’t be rolling the same dice results or drawing the same cards. I’ve been playing Ashes now for over 5 years and, while I have decks I prefer to others, I have not yet tired of the game. It also takes a good few plays of a character to play their deck ‘well’, so you get a lot of mileage with this game.

There are, in the Rise Of The Phoenixborn rule book, two alternate setups; a deck building option and a draft. These are for if you want to start combining spells from different Phoenixborn in one deck. For the former I’d suggest using the preset options on Decks – Ashes.live as they have been tried and tested and the dice required to play them is also listed.

For the draft option, it drastically increases the playtime, which for a 2 player game with pre built deck, sits at just under an hour. You have to be very careful that the spells you draft use the same dice, as you will find yourself very limited if you stretch your 10 dice over too many kinds of magic. I’d recommend having a maximum of 4 different dice types in your pool. Ideally only 2 or 3. I don’t feel Ashes was made for deck drafting. You lose the immersion as the spells no longer tie up to your character, different Phoenixborn have different life values so you may struggle to get balanced decks, and there are no symbols on the cards to help you sort them back out after. If you are solely after a deck drafting game; I’d look for something else.

Lastly, there is now a co-operative/solo expansion which will give you a boss deck to battle solo – some promo cards and one new full deck that uses ‘ritual’ magic. This will appeal to the Marvel Champions fans, (although you won’t find synergy between the phoenixborn decks as they are originally built for pvp). I’m excited for this expansion as co-op would be a better way to play Ashes with a gaming group with varying experience of the game. I’m guessing that, like in pvp, the co-op game boss deck will be weaker against certain phoenixborn, so if you do get thrashed by it, try a different deck.

New Edition

Ashes Reborn – Rise of the Phoenixborn is a new edition of the original game Ashes – Rise of the Phoenixborn. There have been a lot of tweaks to the wording on cards, and some of the rules, with the intention of making the games play faster. Changes include.

  • Blocking units have to counter
  • All unit attacks must be 1 v 1 (You can still send multiple attackers against a Phoenixborn)
  • Respark and Illusions have been removed
  • The number of copies of summons have been reduced for most Phoenixborn
  • All spells that allow you to re-roll or use already spent dice have been removed

Final Thoughts

Ashes has the potential to be phenomenal. It’s highly strategic but with a very fast set-up, it is very immersive with fantastic artwork and has a lot of expansions for replayability.

Unfortunately, there is a major drawback, the decks are wildly imbalanced. Due to the range of different spells and abilities, and different magics, balancing the decks is an almost impossible feat and while the new edition attempted this, it hasn’t helped much. Some Phoenixborn are much stronger/weaker against others.

So while the rulebook, packaging and artwork suggests a gateway duelling game where you can pick up any character and play (such as Dice Throne or Villainous), the reality is some matchups will lead to disappointing games. I wish Plaid Hat would publish the best matchups (so no-one would have to suffer like my husband in last week’s Saria Guideman vs Jessa Na Ni three round annihilation). To get the best out of this game you need to play a lot of it (so the above case is a rarity), which moves this game out of casual, into the hobbyist genre.

In conclusion, if you like magic duelling or collection games, this is a very enjoyable one with lots and lots of expansions (inc co-op) with immersive themes and artwork. However you will need to be prepared for games in Rise Of The Phoenixborn where a Phoenixborn that is weak against your opponent, and a bad run of dice rolls will negate even a brilliant strategy. Does this bother me – yes, will I continue buying all the beautiful expansion decks as they are released – also yes. With the addition of Ashes Reborn: Red Rains – The Corpse of Viros, I will then have Ashes; The Magic Money-Pit “Cooperative” Dice Game.

 

Zatu Score

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You might like

  • Straightforward core rules with emergent complexity
  • Huge variation in card powers
  • Active tournament scene

Might not like

  • Only competitive play (in core set)
  • Not particularly thematic
  • Hard to play with someone of very different skill level