7 things about life I learned from the game Ascension – Part 7

1 02 2013

7. Sometimes it really is just the luck of the draw

One of the things that you have to remember is that Ascension is a card game, and therein lies an inherent element of randomness. This can be mitigated and controlled to some extent but invariably there will be situations in which there are no good plays or there are amazing plays that materialize for the opponent.

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Sometimes this will happen, and sometimes it won’t happen for you.

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Take a deep breath, take a swig of beer, and lean back and bask in the absurdity of the thing that just transpired. Learn to appreciate that ridiculous mega-turn the winning player had. There’s always next time, and there’s always tomorrow for you to take a mega-turn and run away with everything.





7 things about life I learned from the game Ascension – Part 6

30 01 2013

6. Things have no inherent value; value changes as the situation evolves

What makes a “good” card? While there are a few objectively good cards that are always useful to any player, most of the cards in the game are applicable to a certain strategy or situation. With some planning and consideration, a player can leverage their knowledge to evaluate what is truly a worthwhile investment.

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There are a few cards which are always good to have, no matter what. Everything else can be quite subjective.

Some cards are practically worthless without other key components that play off of them. Try to avoid purchasing these cards until you have secured other parts of the “combo” that work by themselves.

Banishment cards are some of the most sought after assets in the game but late in the game, once all the banishing is done, they become worthless and are ironically themselves prime candidates for banishment!

There are certain cards that pay great dividends in the late game, but require your deck to develop and reach that high-gear end game state before they are truly worthwhile. Don’t snag these in lieu of more immediately useful cards if your deck is not yet matured enough to make good use of it.

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Void Initiate is highly desirable in the first few turns, however in the mid-late game it is a horrible buy, when you’ve either already done the majority of your deck-thinning or it’s too late to start. Conversely, cards like Tablet of Time’s Dawn and Twofold Askara are not especially helpful in the early turns but in towards the end of the game can be astonishingly effective.

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Certain cards are not as worthwhile until you have the resources to “fuel” them to their maximum potential.

Cards like Master Dhartha are always good…if they are in your deck; if they are in the opponents deck, they are very, very bad. Learn to banish power cards instead of holding out on the remote chance that you might afford it before a more focused opponent has an opportunity.

It is also important not to disregard the events that show up from the center row that will enhance the value of the cards of their associated faction. Always take these into account when weighing your options, but also remember that the event will probably phase out eventually…

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Certain cards get a huge increase in effectiveness when their favored event is out. Counting on those events to show up might get you in trouble, but when the events are actually out you have to pay attention to how much more powerful these cards become.

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And finally, going back to the awareness advice (part 2), always keep in mind that the game is won by way of honor points. Nothing else really matters as far as the rules go. At the end of the game in particular, keep that fact at the front of your mind when you are making the decision on what to purchase.

Having a little perspective and analytical thinking will help develop the wisdom on what is a good move or not taking into account the current strategic situation. One man’s filth is another man’s feast, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, and similar meditations on worth are all applicable and evident in this game, just like in the real world. Remember that the value of things fluctuate, and your needs will change with ebb and flow of the tides of time.





7 things about life I learned from the game Ascension – Part 5

29 01 2013

5. Know when to save and when to spend big

There are several kinds of cards that have a one-shot usage available after they are played or acquired, such as trophy monsters and certain constructs. Expendable assets that roll over from turn to turn can be much more effective when held in reserve than spent at the earliest opportunity. Knowing when to cash in these cards for a boost to your current turn can turn a good turn into a winning turn.

Most of the advice on getting “free” information on your turn (part 4) and paying attention to what’s going on in the game (part 2) applies to this as well; this is simply another consideration that needs to be at the front of your mind when you are weighing your options in a given turn. Having that awareness will determine if and how you “go nova” that turn.

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A few examples of cards that remain in front of the player and can be expended at discretion.

The most obvious instance to call your expendable assets into play is when there is a critical purchase or especially potent monster in the center row. If it seems like a very powerful card is just out of reach it is usually worth it to try and push to grab it. This is especially true if the particular card is also very beneficial to an opponent’s strategy; you had better give yourself the best chance to acquire it before it ends up in the wrong hands (no pun intended). As far as monsters go, it is sometimes worth making an effort to kill a monster if leaving that monster in the center row may be hazardous to your plans, such as an Acidic Crawler or Polaris Demon.

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If there is a monster in the center row that threatens your current strategy you would do well to make an effort to get rid of it…before someone else does.

Another thing to watch out for is when you may be able to trigger the end of the game with an exceptional turn. Remember that the end of the game is triggered by the emptying honor crystals, so this is typically done with power cards and killing several monsters. Because of the fact that in Ascension every player gets the same amount of turns in the game, it is usually best if you can end the game on your own terms and wrap up on a strong note, especially when opponents are unprepared to get the maximum potential out of their final turn.

And, on a related note, if you know that a given turn will definitely be your last, always burn all of your expendable resources. There’s no reason not to.

Resources that are a one-time expenditure must be used carefully for maximum effect. The players who know when to hold their reserves and when to throw everything in will reap the best rewards.





7 things about life I learned from the game Ascension – Part 4

26 01 2013

4. Get the bigger picture and consider your options before you make commitments

Although there is no limit to the “actions” you can play on your turn in Ascension and the cards in your hand can be played in any order, players who understand that there is a best way to utilize the cards they have available based on the order they play them will have a distinct advantage. Sometimes referred to as “order of operations,”  there is a certain sequence you should play out your actions when deciding what to do on your turn, which makes the right thing to do more clear and can sometimes transform an average turn into a power-play. What you are essentially trying to do is get visibility on what your really have to work with before you start partitioning out your resources. To use another money analogy, Imagine that you have 50 dollars but you also have a bunch of sealed envelopes with money inside. Before you hastily spend the 50 dollars, wouldn’t it be smarter to open all the envelopes so that you know how much funds you really have? If you did, then you might find that you have funds that allow you to make a more significant purchase. Likewise there is a flipside to smart spending: You wouldn’t commit your purchase to the first thing you come across that matches those funds; you would probably shop around and evaluate a few potential options to make the best use of your funds. These basic principles are very easy to carry over to Ascension; make sure you have done all you can to reveal what your true options are before you contemplate what to do. Acquiring the best cards is a matter of both having the resources and making the cards turn up when you do.

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Even one rune can make a huge difference in the quality of the card you buy. Make sure you aren’t selling yourself short!

An easy thing to remember is to always play cards that give you free draws first. By playing any cards that cause you to draw before any others, you’ll have the full scope of your hand’s potential for that turn. Always make sure you get as many cards into your hand as you can before you make the commitment of discarding any. It’s a terrible feeling to have mindlessly thrown away an apprentice and later in the turn realizing that it could have made the difference between a 6-rune and a 7-rune buy.

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Always play cards that give you free draws first to get a better idea of what you should throw out when  you play cards that require you to discard or banish.

There are certain cards that have effects that are effectively random. These should also be resolved earlier in the turn (but after free draws) than later, so that you can be aware of the effect that you actually receive and can integrate that info into your plan for the turn. Remember that soul gems must be used during the turn they are gained but they do not have to be used immediately, therefore you can hold off on playing them until you have more information on what you are able to do.

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Make sure you activate your “random” effects early to know what you have to work with. Certain effects can drastically affect what you are able to do on your turn so know about them earlier rather than later.

After you have gone through the previous steps you can now move on to the next source of information; the center row. There are various ways you may be able to affect the center row and fish for the potential purchase/monster that you really need. As mentioned, half of being able to purchase/defeat valuable cards is having those cards appear in the center row, but you can improve your chances of having such a card appear if you have ways to get cards flowing through the center row. Always be mindful of the fact that even though there are only 6 cards in the center row at a time, often you are not limited to those 6 cards. Remember that some cards have a Fate effect that appears when they appear in the center row, and unlike other cards that are played you cannot “save” the effect for later in the turn; it occurs immediately.

High priority banishes:

-Cards that can harm you directly, such as Sea Tyrant and Noxious Soul that you are unable to defeat

-Cards that your opponents want and you probably cannot afford/use

Lower priority banishes:

-Cards that nobody wants

-Cards that your opponents want that you may be able to afford/use

Another thing that you can do to increase your options is to use your “secondary resource.” Except for very focused decks later in the game, you will rarely have a hand exclusively made up of runes or power. In such a case you can use your “weaker” resource to try and clear cards out of the center row to try and reveal a good pick-up for the better resource that you hold. Power is generally more favorably used this way since the cards aren’t added to your deck; there is usually never a reason not to kill a monster in the center row if you are able. Similarly, if there are no monster cards in the center row don’t default to beating up the cultist multiple times; try to make a few rune purchases first and a powerhouse monster just might show up.

Finally, as a last resort you can purchase cheap cards from the center row one at a time with the hopes that something more powerful and worthwhile for your remaining funds will appear. Just remember to be careful about buying too many cards that contribute to deck dilution. There are several cheap 1-rune cards that can be bought safely since they provide draws and do not contribute to dilution, such as Arha Initiate and Hectic Scribe.

Once you have addressed as many elements of uncertainty as possible, the necessary path becomes more clear. Having the best information that you can have when arriving at those decision points will direct you towards the optimal things to do and help you make informed decisions that create the best opportunities.





7 things about life I learned from the game Ascension – Part 3

23 01 2013

3. To make optimal use of your best assets you must cut the chaff

One of the most efficient things a player can do is to remove cards from their deck permanently through banishment. This is sometimes a difficult concept for players to grasp at first; “If part of the game is acquiring new cards for my deck, isn’t my deck more powerful the more cards it has?” they ask. Players who see the effectiveness of banishing cards from their deck soon realize the true benefit and it becomes an essential component of any game plan.

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Banishing cards from your deck is the specialty of the Void faction, but there are other cards that provide this benefit as well, even a few monsters.

Once a card of a given effectiveness is purchased, all of the other cards in your deck less effective than that card are now hurting your deck. The reason for this is that the more cards you have in your deck, the less likely and the less often you will draw the very important and powerful cards. This is called deck dilution, and it’s something that experienced players try to avoid as best they can. Imagine that you have a jar full of pennies. You can use the jar to buy things and you get refunded, but only draw 5 coins at a time are drawn from the jar to make a purchase, and the refunded coins return to the jar after they’ve all been used(messy analogy but this is basically how Ascension works). Now let’s say we get some nickels to go into the jar. Now we have the chance of getting a more valuable hand of coins when we draw randomly from the jar, since we now have the chance of drawing nickels as some of the 5 coins. We could increase the chances of getting a valueable hand by adding more nickels, however equally as effective is to remove pennies from the jar, which makes it more likely that a given draw from the jar will contain one (or more) nickel. This is why as soon as you purchase even 1 Mystic, it is time to start getting rid of your Apprentices, who are now actually decreasing the chances of you drawing the Mystic! This is also why you must be wary about buying cards that don’t support your deck in a useful way; doing so also contributes to deck dilution.

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Banishing just a few starting cards can mean the difference between seeing hands like this…

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…and hands like this.

All strategies benefit from banishment/deck optimization. What you are basically doing is ensuring that you draw and use your more powerful cards more often. Consider that a card is only as useful as the number of times it is played; if you are lucky enough to buy an 8-cost card, but end up never playing it…it was basically a waste of 8 runes except for the honor that the card was worth. Conversely, if you manage to play a card like Nairi, Henge Queen 4 times instead of 2 it’s the difference between pulling in 20 honor instead of 10, and if you have a slimmer deck, you’ll be seeing her more often. The best banishment cards tend to be the ones that allow you to banish from your discard pile, since doing so doesn’t diminish the effectiveness of your current turn.

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Your most powerful cards are that much more effective if you are able to play them more often, and you will be able to if you have less “junk” cards to draw through before they show up again.

Another thing you can try to do if you can’t manage to banish many of your unwanted cards is to “cycle” your deck. You can cycle your deck by getting cards that allow you to draw multiple cards from the deck, even if you have to discard most of them. Basically if you know you’ve played your best cards from your deck already, you can “fast-forward” through the crappy ones that remain just by exhausting your deck as quickly as possible, since reshuffling your discards into your deck frequently also translates into getting your powerful cards more often (just make sure to pay attention so you don’t fast-forward through your good cards. See Part 2 about paying attention).

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Cards that allow you to plow through your deck are also effective at enabling you to play your best cards more often if used carefully.

It’s easy to analogize this to your waking hours in a day or your effort and energy divided amongst all the things we’ve included in our lives. How much better would we doing if we invested more of our potential into the things that are the most effective and produce the best results? When was the last time we had a good “banish turn” on our lives?





7 things about life I learned from the game Ascension – Part 2

22 01 2013

2. Have an awareness of your environment and situation

One of the most subtle but important things you can do is simply to pay attention. Pay attention to what has been showing up in the center row. Pay attention to what players are purchasing, and how much runes/power they are averaging per turn. Pay attention to what cards are getting banished, and which are being left alone. Pay attention to over-talkative players who trumpet their good hands and announce their intended next plays. All of these aspects are sources of information that can be helpful guides to your decisions and help you make the best choice to help you in the long run. Even though there is a fairly low amount of interaction in Ascension, the game is not played in a vacuum. The cards that players purchase and banish are made unavailable to the others, and the cards that are in demand by certain players will likely continue to remain in demand for the entire game.

One of the most basic applications of monitoring your opponents is having an awareness of “competitive analysis.” Remember that the center row is a communal and all players make purchases from this same source. It’s open information on who buys what cards from the center row, and the purchases your opponents make can be indicative of their game plan. Also realize that there are only so many copies of given cards in the deck, and some very valuable cards have only one copy, so it is very possible for player to accidentally or purposefully cut into each other’s strategic niche by wanting to buy the same kinds of cards. If you see that the opponents are going for a strategy favoring runes or favoring constructs, for instance, there are two ways that you can react: You can imitate their strategy to try to compete with them directly, but this will sometimes result in both you and the opponent performing poorly due to the shared demand for cards that support the strategy leaving the other players (if playing with more than 2) at an advantage. Alternately, you could consciously avoid going into the strategy of your opponents and identify what they are neglecting and specialize in that; the “do the thing that everyone else isn’t doing” approach. If you take this approach, you’ll often find that this path gives several advantages: The in-demand cards of your opponents will have a high turnover rate and the center row will have a better chance of being populated with cards that reward your strategy, and those same cards will be ignored by the opponent even if they are powerful simply because it does not ascribe to their chosen strategies. Using the above example, you could react by going for a power-based strategy to clean up all the monsters that your opponents are neglecting to kill with their rune/construct strategies.

The other side of the coin is “denial.” As its name would suggest, the denial tactic is simply to be aware of what the opponent needs the most-what their deck/strategy is sorely hurting for-and make sure that they don’t get it, either banishing it from the center row or even purchasing it for yourself as a last resort. Remember that the game is a direct competition in the end, so sometimes you need to evaluate whether a play that hinders your opponent can be more valuable than a play benefits you in the grand scheme of things. If you pay close attention, you’ll have a better awareness of when this is the case and you can know when there is an opportunity to cripple the opposition in lieu of making a marginal gain for your own deck.

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Enlightened cards have the majority of the effects that banish from the center row. They are very effective for denial by players who monitor their opponents.

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Would you know which one to banish from the center row? Have you been paying attention?

The other very basic consideration that players should always keep en eye on is the approach of the end of the game. When the pool of honor crystals begins to dwindle, that should be your cue to change your perspective on what kinds of things you should be investing in. This is the time when your one and only focus should be getting as much honor (victory points) as possible, as quickly as possible since you will have only 3-4 turns remaining. At this time you should be looking at the cost-to-honor ratio of the things you are considering buying; Mechana constructs typically give the best cost-to-honor at a 1:1 ratio and in the end game, they should be purchased if possible even by players who are not playing a Mechana strategy.

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Mechana constructs have the best cost to honor ratio and are coveted by all players in the end game.

If you pay as much attention on your opponents’ turns as your own, and monitor the other happenings within the game, you’ll get a great amount of useful information that will help you make the best decisions when it is your turn to play. A little observation, analysis, and foresight can go a long way: Just like in real life.





7 things about life I learned from the game Ascension – Part 1

21 01 2013

1. Have a plan but be flexible

A generally good beginner’s strategy is to concentrate exclusively on runes or power right from the beginning. The basic theory here is that if you concentrate on one resource only you have a better chance of purchasing/defeating good cards of that resource on a given turn than you would if you “split” your strategy and end up being mediocre in both areas.

Specialization can be very powerful, but it is limited by the circumstances of what is available. While someone who specializes can run away with the game if the right cards show up, they are equally likely to be stuck with nothing useful for their one-and-only strategy in the center row.

Another common trap is over-commitment to an arbitrary strategy. Some players as soon as they buy their first Lifebound hero with Unite get this stubborn self-enforced doctrine of only buying Lifebound cards that appear from that point onward.

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It is tempting to chase a given strategy with cards like these.

Rather than thinking of it in terms of Plan A and Plan B, think of your potential paths in slightly more indistinct terms. I like to conceptualize the “Plan A, Plan B” model as “Plan Red, Plan Yellow,” but what I am really wanting to end up with is a “Plan Red” and a “Plan Orange.” That is to say, ideally my secondary plan can feed off of the things that I’ve already put into place for my primary plan, at least in an indirect way. A great example of this would be a Mechana/Runes strategy where if the Mechana cards I want aren’t showing up then at least I have the rune-heavy buying cards that I’ve been stocking up on in order to buy those Mechana constructs.

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These cards very potent with the right combos, but are still useful by themselves; a good example of versatility and being able to transition to different strategies.

On the other hand, you also need to have a keen awareness of when you really are committed to a given strategy and also have an awareness of when taking a certain action will commit you to a strategy. If you’re already 12 turns deep and have several cards that basically do nothing without comboing with other cards of the specific strategy, it is only going to hurt you to try and change course then.

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There are some cards that are pretty worthless without accompanying combo cards. If you are stranded with several of them already you had better make a point of pursuing those combos or they will be useless for the entire game.

Goal-oriented decision making can sometimes corner us into difficult situations where we hit an unexpected hurdle and end up stagnating if the situation is not optimal for that particular goal. It is often better to set more than one goal such that you will be more likely to have a productive path towards meeting one or both given what is immediately available to you, especially if those goals are complimentary to each other in some way.