Reason #284 why I love Ascension

, | Games

I’ve often said that asymmetry is inherently interesting. So is randomness. Eventually. In Ascension, a tabletop and iPhone card game for two players that a few of us on Quarter to Three have written about fondly, players compete for cards in a middle row to build up your decks. Whoever earns the most victory points wins. You get these victory points by either using military power to kill monsters in the center row, or “spacebucks” to add more cards into your deck. Sometimes you can do both at once! Some monsters also give you spacebucks to buy more cards.

But there’s one card — only one! — that can earn you points in three different ways. Xeron, Duke of Lies. Not to be confused with an Intel processor or a noble gas. He hates that. He’s a monster who gives you victory points for banishing him and for adding another card to your deck. But Xeron can also earn you victory points a third way, because the card you add to your deck is randomly taken from the other player’s hand. So you’re earning victory points for the act of kiling Xeron, by adding another card to your deck, and by reducing the other player’s victory points when you steal a card from his deck.

This doesn’t always work out well, because you might draw one of the common worthless cards from the other player’s hand. Oh, look, an apprentice worth zero points. Big whoop. That’s Xeron for you. He’s not called the Duke of Lies for nothing. But sometimes — sometimes! — it works out slightly better than that. And then there are the times you involuntarily make a loud whooping sound before you even realize it.

I’m not sure who Crazy Puck is, but in the game we’ve been playing, I defeated Xeron and then drew a card from Mr. Puck’s hand. The card I got was the Hedron Link Device, which is worth seven points. That means a 14 point swing in our relative scores in a game that is often won or lost by a few points. Of the roughly 250 cards in the game, there is only a single card that would have been worth more points (the Hedron Cannon is an eight pointer). The combination of conditions that had to come together for this to happen is unlikely, to say the least. The device had to bubble up out of the 250 cards in the deck, Crazy Puck had to acquire the device, I had to defeat Xeron on the turn he’d drawn it, and then I had to pick it from his hand instead of one of his other cards. And it’s a real shame I don’t know Crazy Puck, and that we’re playing on the iPhone instead of in person, because it was one of those quintessential game moments that randomness and rarity make all the more special when you know the victim.