There’s something special about opening a new board game. It’s different for everyone. Some rush through the packaging to get to the game, some take time with each individual component and tactile sensation. So it went with my opening and first play-through of Ascension: Storm of Souls.
The plastic wrap is removed with care, not torn at like a hungry animal. The fragile seam at the corner is plucked, and a finger (not a knife, it could damage the box) is dragged along the perforated edge. The plastic is wrapped around itself, balled up, and set aside.
The box itself is admired. The artwork, free of the dingy look the wrapping gives it, pops with vibrant colors and bold lettering. The cardboard is wrapped with a smooth paper, presumably to give the box a glossier finish while keeping costs down. By contrast the original game, Chronicle of the Godslayer, and the smaller expansion, Return of the Fallen, has a coarser feel, almost like vinyl, that I prefer. The paper molded to the Storm of Souls box is peeling around the corners, a regrettable but easily forgivable lapse in quality.
Something most people do not note, and nearly nobody talks about, is the smell of a new game; new car, new cologne, food fresh from the kitchen, and sometimes a new hard-bound book, but not a board game. But I take the time to enjoy that musty smell of new cardboard, plastic and ink. Most games have that earthy, slightly synthetic smell, but certain games have a distinct bouquet based on their components. The most striking game I’ve ever smelled was the reprint of Titan. Strong ink and chemical odors complement the bold colors and thick card stock and polyurethane used to make the components.
The cards glide against each other, as smooth as they’ll ever be in their lives. Lots of people put protector sleeves on their card games, and I see the point; you want to preserve your game. But the feel of the cards throughout the life of the game, from crisp and smooth, to slightly worn to faded and pliable, is something to be appreciated, like the aging of a friendship. Seeing the cards for the first time is like meeting new friends. The artwork, a new style for game artist Eric Sabee, has a distinct mural feel, with flowing lines and almost primitive imagery, lending itself to the story of the game; tales told by children and those connected to the land of a looming Nemesis poised to claim the land.
I’ve known people who are serious enough winning that they’ll digest as much information as they can before even playing. I have the opportunity to read the cards beforehand. A couple of them prove too interesting to resist, but I refrain from it for the most part. I’m looking forward to getting to know these cards, these new friends, through regular play. At least I know I won’t have to wait long; Josh is set to show up in 15 minutes. Just enough time to acquaint myself with the board and the layout.
In owning and opening a game, you become its ambassador. It’s on you to know the rules, explain the game, and setup the components. Storm of Souls has a few new mechanics from the original game, and a new board to orient them. As an expansion, seeing the new rules and updated artwork is akin to meeting an old friend after a year or two, and you’ve both grown up a little. Even the new fanatic cards look endearing in their own maniacal way. Josh arrives, and I explain the new mechanics, Fate, Events, and Trophies, as best I can. Josh insists on rifling through the deck to get an idea of the events available. He prefers to have a more thorough knowledge of the game, its possibilities and potential pitfalls, before we begin. I can respect that.
We play two games. It’s enough to get a sense of the general thrust of this expansion. Return of the Fallen introduces us to a deck-building game with fewer restrictions; it’s accurate enough to say the game is “like Dominion, but with unlimited buys and actions.” It gives us the potential for lengthy combos and a few strategies. Storm of Souls amplifies the options and potentially powerful moves available to you. Some monsters give one shot effects in the form of trophies that can be exchanged immediately or at a key point in the game. The four factions lend themselves to specialization a bit more, and events can provide benefits to people who have the right faction distribution in their deck. The aforementioned fanatic gives an event trophy dependent on the event in play, if any.
I win the first game. Josh has focused on a heavy Mechana construct strategy that doesn’t seem to pay off; the mechanics driving constructs this expansion seem to revolve around playing, discarding, and replaying them, and he isn’t able to get them moving. I recognize the prevalence of monsters in the center row, and am able to get good deck thinning with the Void and enough attack to push the win, 61 to 92.
Josh wins the second game. It’s close, but Josh builds his deck well, grabs the constructs that give great synergy, and makes a big push in the endgame to win 89 to 80.
I like the expansion, or at least what it tries to accomplish. There are more powers, more tools, and more avenues to grab points. The fanatic/event setup is neat, but a little under-used. There are so few events, and if we were playing with the base set and expansion they may never have come up. There are lots of opportunities to throw down a massive combination of actions and buys. The expansion felt longer than the base set, though that could be because I haven’t played it in so long.
I’m looking forward to playing again. I’d like to try combining the base set and expansion, and see how well the two mesh.