Product-Ashes: Rise of the phoenixborn
Producer-Plaid Hat Games
Set-up/Play/Clean-up– 20-30 minutes (2 players)
TL; DR-Amazing game, but needs more story. 94%
Basics-There can only be one! In Ashes, players each play a different phoenixborn-humans born with extraordinary powers that they used to defeat the darkness. However, with the darkness defeated, the phoenix power wants to be in only one person, and the characters must battle for supremacy. To do this, each player starts with a deck of 30 cards. These decks can either be premade, drafted, constructed, or using the starting suggested decks. Players also choose a phoenixborn to play. This character has a power, life total, and how many spell and creature cards they can have on the field at one time. Here is where this game departs from most dueling card games. When building decks, player also select dice of various types. These dice provide different kinds of magic power symbols to power your spells (think mana from Magic: The Gathering). All dice have two generic symbols, four medium power die/magic specific symbols, and two very powerful die/magic specific symbols. Players start by rolling their dice, and the player with the most generic symbols is the first player. Players also choose their first five cards instead of randomly drawing them, setting up combos before the game even starts.
Turns are surprisingly simple. Each turn is two steps in any order: main action or side action. Main actions are attacking, playing or using a card that have a main action icon as part of their play cost, and pass. Side actions are using a die’s power, meditating, and playing side action costs on cards or to play cards. Of the above options, meditating and die powers are the newest additions to this part of card duel games. Meditating is how the game minimizes the randomness of the dice. As a side action, you can discard as many cards from your hand and field as you want and change the face of the same number of dice to whatever side you want. Each type of die also has a card showing its faces. These cards give you an ability where you can spend a die of the most power face to activate an ability like direct damage or adding to an attack. Players take turns doing main and side actions until both players pass, thus one roll of the dice may be five or more turns.
Attacking is also an interesting change. While the goal of the game is to eliminate the other player’s phoenixborn, who you attack is up to you. If a player declares an attack on another character unit, then only units that have a special ability can block or the phoenixborn can block him or herself. Also, being attack doesn’t automatically mean you can attack back. A unit must declare it is attacking back, and that unit gains an exhausted token if it survives the attack.
A final change of note for this game is conjurations. While a player has a small deck of cards, the player also has a stack of conjuration cards. Some spells that player casts are set on the field, and a player can only have so many of these spell activated at a time. These spell cards can be triggered again as long as they do not have an exhausted token on them. Some spells produce conjuration-units not drawn from the base card deck, but from the player’s deck of conjurations. These units work like usual units, but you can use your spell to conjure as many as you can field based on your phoenixborn.
After both players have passed as a main action, then players discard as many dice as they want, reroll all used and discarded dice, remove one exhausted token from each card in play, and change the first player. Players draw up to five cards, losing one hit point for every card they can not draw, and the first player starts the next series of turns. Last one standing wins!
Mechanics– I’ve never been a serious duel card game player, but this one makes me want to play again. Everything here feels right. The dice give just enough randomness, but keep the problem of slow starting turns at bay. I jump right into the fun with five cards I can use in hand, and a stack of dice to keep me going for fuel. The spells and conjurations are interesting twists. I love the use of a second deck of cards adds a new dimension to what’s here. This is all the best parts of Magic with all of the annoying parts trimmed away. The best analogy I have for this game is if Fantasy Flight and Wizkids remade Magic. 5/5
Theme– The comparison to Magic I made discussing mechanics continues into the theme. This game has theme, but not enough background to really tell me what the heck is going one. Are we on Earth? What happened before? Why does it look like some people are from different times? The basics of the story is something evil showed up and the phoenixborn kicked it to the curb. Now the phoenixborn are driven to kill one another to drive the phenyx power to one person like the Highlander. That’s not bad, but I’d like to know a bit more about any of the phoenixborn. The phoenixborn themselves feel like planeswalkers from Magic, but I know about those people. I don’t have much beyond three sentences to know these characters. That hurts the game’s theme and story for me. However, the cards do have theme and feel like they belong to one another. Each character mechanics all feel different providing you different experiences with each deck of cards. If this game gave me some more meat for the story, I’d be that much more into it. 4/5
Instructions– The instructions are all well done, and they teach you the game quickly. What’s more the book give you a QR code to watch a teaching video to help you learn as well. However, there are some minor details that I feel the game buries like turns are not just one main action and one side actions, but instead are back and forth until someone passes. It won’t keep you from playing, but it will keep you from enjoying your first game as you will quickly realise these small rules. 4.75/5
Execution– I love what’s in this box. The cards are great quality cardstock. The art is well done, and the game comes with enough components to make all the intro decks. And again, the Fantasy Flight and Wizkids analogy holds true as the dice are top notch and have their own well done shapes, and there is no shortage of tokens for a card game.Plus, BAGS! This game comes with enough bags to contain all the cards. That right there warms my heart! Want to see all the cards in the box? Check out our unboxing video here: https://youtu.be/VncDEkhdvW0 5/5
Summary– This game is solid mechanics and execution with only slightly problematic theme and instructions. I want to play this more, and the only problem I have is I want more words from this game. If you put web fiction out there, I’d be completely on your side. I want to know who the good guys are and maybe get a chance to play the bad. While the story is a bit lacking, the game isn’t. If you want to play a great card game, but don’t feel like having to put your house up for mortgage to finance a semi-decent Magic: The Gathering card deck, Ashes is the game you’re looking for. It’s an amazing game that more people need to play. 94%