Our continuing series on tabletop games that are fun and accessible to the video game crowd continues with our look at Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer. Previous installments featured games like Tannhäuser, Castle Ravenloft, and Yomi that share mechanics familiar to video gamers. While the deckbuilding style of Ascension might be less familiar, the simple rules, fast-paced gameplay, and fantasy styling make the game easy to pick up and share with new players.

It’s no coincidence that our recommendation comes at the time it does. With the holidays upon us, a lot of video gamers are likely to be headed for some big family gatherings. Ascension makes for a great pick to bring along; it’s simple enough that you can get your family and/or friends playing quickly, but you’ll dig the deeper strategy and fiction that the game provides.


Ascension is built around a popular mechanic in the tabletop world commonly called deck-building. Popularized by another excellent game called Dominion, deck-building games generally challenge players to start with a standard desk of relatively weak cards, and then purchase new cards over the course of the game.

Ascension follows Dominion's mechanic pretty closely, but changes things up through the presence of monsters that must be fought, heroes that can join your cause, and special artifacts (constructs) that can permanently boost your abilities on all future turns.

Two to four players (up to six with the expansion) can compete against each other, and the game adjusts the victory conditions for different sized groups. Unlike many games with multiple potential player group sizes, Ascension plays well with any size group we tried.

As you play, you’ll be juggling three basic resources. Runes allow you to purchase new cards. Power gives the ability to defeat monsters. Honor is earned for defeating monsters and for having good cards in your deck, and this final resource determines the winner at the end of the game.

Each turn, you’ll draw cards from your growing deck, kill as many monsters as possible, acquire as many new cards as you can afford with your runes, and then draw new cards to plan ahead for your next turn. Over time, many of your acquired cards will have interactions with one another, so a big part of the game’s strategy comes through stacking your deck so that strongly related cards are more likely to show up in a given hand.

Gary Games CEO Justin Gary demos the deck building game to fans


While Ascension is definitely not a narrative game by any stretch, the game makers at Gary Games have done a great job of providing a cool fictional backdrop to the game, and some gorgeous art to help sell that fiction.

The short version is that you play a powerful warrior out to defend the world of Vigil as the barriers between dimensions begin to break down. The fallen god Samael is sending hordes of monsters through the breach, and you’ll summon your own army of heroes from across the dimensions to combat the threat.

Each card has flavor text that helps flesh out the world in cool ways, and you rapidly begin to get a sense for all the different factions and dimensions that exist out there in the multiverse. From strange mechanical constructs, to dragon-like elemental tyrants, and on through powerful primal heroes in animal form, the world of Ascension feels rich and well conceived.

Unique Features

Ascension’s high production values really set it apart. Beyond the attractive art on every card, the card stock itself is thick and the coating glossy. Though it is not strictly necessary if you’re hurting for play space, the base game comes with a board that has designated slots for every card you’ll lay out during a game. You’ll also get some fun little plastic gems to act as counters for your honor points.

The game’s other most intriguing element is the interaction between different cards. Hundreds of cards can show up in a single game, but buying cards that will benefit each other in future turns is often the key to victory. Along with the strong fantasy battle vibe, the unique interactions between individual cards help Ascension stand apart from other deckbuilding games on the market.

[NEXT UP: The price of simplicity, and the video game version]