I was disappointed in last year’s Ascension offering, Rise of Vigil. The energy/treasure mechanic made the set too insular when applied to older releases, and getting the most treasures seemed to have a direct correlation to winning more often than not. When its expansion, Darkness Unleashed, was released, my local store had difficulty getting a copy in and yet I made no effort to pick it up elsewhere. I just didn’t care for more of that kind of gameplay, so I let it slide by.
This year’s new set, Realms Unraveled, feels more like the Ascension I’ve come to love, to the point where it almost feels as basic as the original release, Chronicle of the Godslayer. Of course it isn’t quite that simple, thanks to some new tricks I’ll get to in a minute, but a lot of the extra additions from previous sets are nowhere to be found. Unfortunately that includes Trophy Monsters and Events, two changes I enjoyed, but you can’t have everything.
Realms Unraveled does feature one new mechanic: Multi-Unite. Previous sets have given the Lifebound faction bonus effects if you played another Lifebound Hero that turn, but now all of the factions are getting in on the cooperative action without being limited to just one bonus. The effect is exactly the same as that on Dandelion Witch from Return of the Fallen, just given an official name.
Since each faction is basically using the same gimmick this time around, the factions themselves have become more specialized than previously to help differentiate them from each other. Enlightened cards still like to draw more cards, but also emphasizes defeating or acquiring cards without having to pay for them in the normal manner. Void cards specialize in combat and banishing cards as usual, although they seem to have lost the option to banish from your hand and now just focus on the discard pile. Since they are usually the most combat-poor faction, Lifebound cards now gain honor directly much more often. This leaves the Mechana as the primary rune-generating faction, and their new Construct-related gimmick is now gaining bonuses when they acquire new Mechana cards.
To make Multi-Unite more interesting, however, Realms Unraveled taps into its creators’ Magic: the Gathering roots for its other new feature: multi-faction cards. Some Hero cards in the set represent more than one faction, and thus count as both for the purposes of any cards that are looking for that sort of thing. Along the same lines, some cards will let you determine their faction — or the faction of Mystics/Heavy Infantries — each time you play them to further maximize your dividends.
The only returning mechanic in Realms Unraveled is transforming cards, first introduced in Darkness Unleashed. These cards change form once you achieve their transform condition and remain transformed for the remainder of the game. If you are using opaque sleeves, these cards are represented by double-faced cards but individual cards for both forms are also included if you prefer to play unsleeved (or using transparent sleeves). Both methods have their positive and negative aspects, so just use whichever you prefer.
With all of this emphasis on the factions, something had to give and by process of elimination that means the monsters. On the whole, the monsters are kind of an afterthought in Realms Unleashed, mostly simply acting as ways to convert combat into honor with the occasional side benefit while blocking more rune-oriented strategies. Oddly, there isn’t even a way to force the destruction of other Constructs, which his probably made up for by Constructs being much less overpowering than in previous releases as well. I would expect the follow-up set to address these issues, but we shall see.
As the franchise moves into its fourth year of releases, Ascension continues to remain strong in the deck-building arena. Gameplay is still efficient and easy to comprehend, and a full four-player game still clocks in at under an hour. If I only have one opponent, these days I prefer the two-player focused Star Realms (whose design owes a lot to Ascension), but having Ascension for larger groups is always a solid choice.
Ascension: Realms Unraveled retails for $40.