Half a year later Europe finally got Rise of Vigil as well. I sold some Magic cards, tokens and foils to the LGS and got this game for it. It was time to try the game out.
If you are not familiar with Ascension the Game you can read my previews post about Ascension or rather the first one that describes how the game works.
The overall look of the cards is actually pretty dark which quite surprised me. The novelty in this game are Energy Shard cards and Energize mechanic. Few months ago when we were watching the spoiler for this set we disliked many of the cards. We thought that in this set it might be pretty difficult to build a deck we would want to play. But well still we would get the game and try it out. Without that we can't judge the game.
So what are the Energy Shards? Energy Shard is a Treasure Card. A Treasure card when played produces 1 Energy and you draw a card. Each player starts with one Energy Shard in their Personal deck. Then there are Energy Shards in the 'center deck'. The recommended number of Energy Shards is 30 for a big set and 20 for a small set (meaning that if you have a cube and would want to put Shards in it, it would mean adding a lot of them! 130 for all sets put together). You acquire Treasure cards by acquiring or defeating a card under which there are some of the Energy Shards (as shown in the photo). I suppose you wonder what for the cards can be used apart from drawing a different card? Certain cards in the set have Energize X keyword. If Energy X is achieved the card's effect can be used. The effects are sometimes really INSANE. (reaching Energy X will allow you to use all cards' effects requiring Energy X and less)
One of the cards we hated the first moment we read it (when it showed up in the center row) was Loamspeaker Druid (Fate: When this enters the center row, for each treasure under this add 10 honor to the honor pool)/ Gain 3 runes). We are fine with cards that speed the game up but cards that can prolong it this way are simply too much for us. Building an aggressive deck in order to end the game sooner than a control deck can take over used to be a valid strategy. In this set it is a risk. We like the normal early/mid/late game stages and if something completely messes with those we don't like it since then it favors certain types of decks. For example if I'd want to play green aggro this card ruins my whole attempt at not allowing a Mechana control player to get to the late game. The card's effect when you play it would be awesome in the previous games but in this game the card is rather meh.
Some cards that are very powerful are for example Righteous Templar that can defeat anything when you have 3 energy and more. Oziah seems even overpowered. There are many cards that show in the center row and a race of who acquires them first begins. Often who acquires the card first wins the game. This is not always true. For example if you acquire such a card in the late game it won't have that kind of impact because you may not even be able to play the card even once. But if you manage to get the card on turn 3 it's often an auto-win for you.
There's not too much board control in general. There are not so many cards that can remove cards from the center row and there are only 4 cards that work as a Construct hate. The problem is that these cards do not shop up often enough to have the impact on the game one needs. There is only one card that destroys all Constructs your opponent controls. I really miss Mephit and Fettered Soul in this set. I will need to get used to that - playing without these cards.
We are still not sure if a person without enough Shards can win a game. Power strategy seems pretty viable if you are able to get energy up to 3 when beating the monsters. I managed to have a deck with three energy shards in total and I got about 83 honor points in the end while my opponent being able to get energize 11 got 89 in that particular game. The first games we played were really strange though. I usually got some cards I wanted to build the deck around and most of the time Starcaller Leotan and Nyxian Spiritcaster allowed me to end the game pretty quickly. The difference in points in our games the first day and majority of the second night were about 40 points in difference. Something seemed not right because when we play a game of anything older or cube the difference in points is usually about 1-5 points at most. There are games in which one of us simply conceded the game because we knew that there is no chance that we could catch up with our opponent. For the time being we wonder if this is because we play badly or the game is simply capable of this with higher probability. It certainly felt very swingy and often we knew the outcome of the game and didn't see a reason why to continue.
As for my decks usually beating Serpent Siren and Vault Sphinx helped me to have some really crazy turn at some point of the game. In which I usually got a LOT of points. Same goes to some cards like Tablet of the Dreamer (can defeat or acquire anything for 4 energy) or Righteous Templar (can defeat anything for 3 energy). There is also a Lifebound hero that can acquire anything for 2 energy but that card did not see much play in our case. My opponent after the 2 nights we played the game started going heavy pro-Mechana and that worked wonders and when all that you have in front of you triggers you can really feel good and it is pretty rewarding (it takes a while to set that up). This requires Energy 4 quite often in order to make the constructs work. Still acquiring Constructs is good as this does not really flood your deck unlike hero cards do.
Certainly high picks for us are Voidfeeder, Dark Walker and Monk of the Lidless Eye. You can see what we like. Anyway some cards get priority as those cards can get insane (and you really have to hate pick them). These cards help shape our decks. Many times playing the game hardly felt like deck-building compared to previous Ascensions even though we both had always some kind of strategy how to win. What I observed is also the fact that sometimes there is really nothing you want to buy and it is the viable option. With so low number of cards that can banish cards from your deck or draw cards it is really bad to buy a card that does nothing in your deck and just takes a slot of a card you would draw. It's really bad. It is better to get Mystic or Heavy Infantry instead but the number should also stay relatively low so you could still get some Energy Shards in your hand. The cards' values are also something that changes with Energy Shards and the cards you already have in your deck. That is very interesting but for the time being I'm not entirely sure if I like that or not. We'll see about that.
So far we spend two nights playing the game and we encountered many frustrating situations for us that we didn't like. Looking at your hand many times says completely nothing. You just have to draw the cards on your turn and then see what happens. Cards from the personal deck are always a pain to see. Anyway in majority of the games it still felt like playing a game of Ascension and that was actually pretty nice.
Maybe there is one more thing to address. I realized this when playing for the first time but it did not seem important to me. If you are not familiar with previous Ascension games you don't need to be afraid to buy this one. Even though that playing this game feels completely different in some ways than the previous games the game is not complex or more complex than the previous games. The card text is simple and even mechanics that are from previous games only do something with the new card type (Fate and Trophy).
Ascension the game is actually being released in blocks. There is always a base set + an expansion that form a block. The cards and mechanics work well and the environment of each block is relatively unique. This also means that the game does not get too complex and is still easy to grasp for new players. Rise of Vigil does not build up on previous games and will get its expansion later.
I can't rate this game yet because my thoughts on it are too chaotic right now. I need to explore the game more to see if I appreciate the change or not. It feels like solving a big puzzle. The primary problem I have is that the game is very swingy and often it doesn't seem like there is any kind of interaction between you and your opponent. That is something I do not like and for that I'd give this game a low rating (2.5/5).
Solitaire for the game is actually quite challenging compared to the previous games where it was really easy to win. Comboing off is not that easy as well so it can be quite rewarding when you manage it.