Ascension: Darkness Unleashed is a game by Justin Gary, published by Stone Blade Entertainment. It is a stand-alone game for 1-2 players but can be combined as an expansion for Ascension: Rise of Vigil or any of the previous sets to support up to 6 players. There are only a few minor adjustments that must be made to use this expansion in that way. In this review, I will only be covering it as a stand-alone game. The object of the game is for the players to build their decks by acquiring heroes and defeating monsters. The player who is best able to do this will be the winner.
To start, each player is given 8 apprentice, 2 militia and 1 energy shard card. Those cards are shuffled together and the player draws 5 cards. The Heavy Infantry, Mystic and Cultist cards are placed on the side of the play area for easy reach. The rest of the cards are shuffled together and form the center deck. The game also comes with transform cards. Depending on whether you use sleeves for your cards or not, will determine which set that you use to be shuffled into the deck. The first 6 cards are drawn and played face up in a line. If a treasure card, like an energy shard or dark energy shard is drawn, another card is drawn until a non-treasure card is drawn. All the treasure cards are placed underneath the new card. Next 15 large red Honor tokens and 15 of the small white tokens are placed on the table. Play can now begin.
On a player’s turn, they will draw 5 cards and then play those cards from their hand in any order to gain runes, power and energy. Runes will allow them to acquire more powerful heroes. Power will allow the player to defeat monsters which will give Honor. Energy is used to activate special abilities and is stackable. When a player plays a construct hero, these cards will remain in play and provide abilities once the proper conditions have been met, usually by playing enough energy cards or hero cards that provide energy. Sometimes monsters will have a special reward ability called Trophy. This allows the player to hold onto the special ability from that card till they decide to use it. These are the basics of game play.
Integrated into this Darkness Unleashed are two new mechanics, fate and transform cards. Some cards, like the new dark energy cards have an ability called Fate. When these cards are drawn and placed in the lineup, there fate ability takes place before any new cards are drawn. For example, if a dark energy card is drawn from the deck and placed out in the line, before a new card can be drawn to be played on top of it, it’s fate ability occurs. The ability for this particular card allows players to banish a card from their discard pile. These abilities only happen if the card is placed in the center row from the deck and not when played from the player’s hand.
The other new ability is transform. Earlier I mentioned that there were two types of transform cards included in the game. One set is double sided and one has only the transformed side. If you choose to use the one sided transform cards, like I do, you’ll set these cards to the side of the play area. What these cards do is when certain conditions are met on some cards, usually when a set amount of energy has been played, it allows that card to transform into a more powerful card. This is represented by banishing that card and pulling out the proper transformed card from the stack as indicated by the card. That card is put into your hand and is able to be used. The previous powers from the original card are disregarded.
Once the player has played all of their cards and can no longer acquire heroes, defeat monsters, power up or transform any more cards, they will end their turn, discarding all the cards they played and drawing five new cards to replenish their hand. Play then passes to the next player. This continues back and forth until the last Honor token has been earned. This signals the end of the game. The player finishes their turn and now the game is over. Players then add up the star points from the bottom left hand side of the cards in their deck and the Honor tokens that they collected. The player with the most points wins.
There are 196 cards included in this expansion. It has enough starting cards for 2 players as well as 16 mystics, 16 heavy infantry and the cultist cards. There are 13 transformation cards that are double sided which I didn’t use when I played. I chose to use the single sided and set aside the transform cards to be added to my player deck as necessary. There are plenty of energy shard cards and 10 of the dark energy shard cards. In other words, there’s plenty of really great cards included in the box. The artwork is really great. It has a really unique look that I’ve only seen in other Ascension titles. The cards are great quality and are easily shuffled and played with. The Honor tokens are nice sturdy plastic gemstones. They are great and are a clear indicator of who’s probably winning the game just with a quick glance at the other player’s stash of tokens. As with previous versions of Ascension, I love the components.
10 out of 10
The rulebook is very well done and fits nicely into the smaller box. Everything is easy to read and understand. The new card types are explained properly and clearly. There are several pictures and examples of the different card types that looks very nice. There’s an explanation of how to integrate these cards in with other versions of the game like Rise of Vigil. There are 2 pages of F.A.Q. with a web address for any unanswered questions. All in all, the rules for this are as great as in previous versions.
10 out of 10
This game is great. I really enjoy playing it. The addition of the transformation cards is a really neat idea and adds a new depth to an already great game. The deck building mechanic truly shines in every version of Ascension that I’ve played. This is no different. I really like the fact that it can be played solo or two player, as well as adding it to other versions for a 6 player game. The game is really easy to play, teach and learn. The game plays fairly quick and is something that teens can play very easily. I really find that this expansion made me love Ascension even more than before.
10 out of 10
Ascension: Darkness Unleashed is a light to medium weight deck builder. It’s great fun and is a game that I truly love. The artwork is unique and beautiful. I would definitely recommend this to anyone that likes deck building games. It is something that can be easily taught and can be a great introductory game into the deck building mechanic. It will work great as an expansion or as a stand alone game. The only problem is, if you don’t already know how to set up and play Ascension, you’ll have to download the rules from the website. Of course, after reading this review, you pretty much already know how to play. I really love the transformation cards. They are a great addition to an already great game. For Ascension fans, this game is a definite must own. Get ahold of a copy for yourself and you’ll love Ascension as much as I do.
10 out of 10
For more information about this and other great games, please check out Stone Blade Entertainment at their site.