Monthly Archives: August 2015

Analysis: Ascension One & Two rune cards

In our last segment in this series, we talked about the overall rune/power balance in Ascension: CotG:

In this segment, we’ll go into a bit more depth on the 1- and 2-rune cards in the set.

The cards are:

0 runes:
Apprentice* (add 1 rune, 0 honour) [factionless]
Militia* (add 1 power, 0 honour) [factionless]

1 rune:
Arha Initiate (draw one card, 1 honour) [Enlightened]
Lifeblood Initiate (add 1 rune and one honour, 1 honour) [Lifebound]
Mechana Initiate (add 1 rune OR 1 power, 1 honour) [Mechana]
Void Initiate (add 1 rune and may banish one card in hand or discard, 1 honour) [Void]

Starting with the 1-rune cards, reading, it says many things I’ve felt for a long time. The four cards here are not very balanced. I would even use stronger language, and say that the void initiate, if acquired early, can decide the game. I generally find that if I have two ‘banishing’ cards acquired early, I can winnow my deck down the just the essentials. This quickly becomes overpowering.

From a math perspective, one could assume the following (with no card drawing cards, assuming purchasing 1 card per hand):

No card banishing:
5,5 ->12 (2 completed turns ends with +2 cards, or 12 total)
5,5,2 ->14 (2 completed turns ends with +2 cards, or 14 total)
3,5,5,1 ->17 (3 completed turns, one carried over, ends with +3 cards, or 17 total)
4,5,5,3 ->20
2,5,5,5,3 ->24
2,5,5,5,5,2 ->29
3 (20 rounds)

With one card banisher in first two turns:
5,5 ->12 (2 completed turns ends with +2 cards, or 12 total)
5,5,2 -> 13 (2 completed turns ends with +2 cards, banish 1 card, for 13 total)
2,5,5,1 -> 15
4,5,5,1 -> 17
4,5,5,3 -> 19
1,5,5,5,4 -> 22
1,5,5 (20 rounds)

With two card banishers in first two turns:
5,5 ->12
5,5,2 ->12
2,5,5 ->13
5,5,3 ->13
2,5,5,1 ->14
4,5,5 ->16 (all Apprentices and Militia are banished now)
5,5,5,1 ->19
4,5 (20 rounds)

(Note that this may somewhat overstate the power of banishment cards, as we’re assuming perfect banishment, and being able to purchase two banishment cards in your first two turns. This has happened to me a number of times, though, so it’s not out of line as an assumption to make the math easier.)

So, with no banishment, you can get through your deck 6 times in 20 rounds. With one banishing card, you can get through it 6.5 times, which can be significant, as the later turns are much enriched in powerful cards, many of which can get you multiple honour points each. This strategy truly shines when you use two banishing cards, however. Note that your deck barely grows in size for the first half of the game. This allows you to go through your deck 7.5 times, being able to use your most powerful cards an extra time *each* more than even the one banishing card player.

With this in mind, barring further math, I’ll make the assumption that a banishing card is worth 1 extra rune for each turn you would have used the card it banished. (This assumes that you replace an apprentice with a mystic, which will probably overstate the banishment power in the early game, but understate it in the later game.)

This means that the Void Initiate gains you 1 + (5+4+3+2+1+0)runes/6** = 1 + 2.5 = 3.5 runes!
Assuming that you can always gain 1 honour (in cards) per two runes, this works out to 1 honour + 1.75 per play!
Working this in to the equations for the other 1-rune cards:

Void Initiate: 1 honour + 1.75 honour per play
Lifeblood Initiate: 1 honour + 1.5 honour per play***
Arha Initiate: 1 honour and -1 card
Mechana Initiate: 1 honour + 0.75 honour per play****

Now, on to the 2-rune cards.

2 runes:
Temple Librarian (discard one card and draw two cards, 1 honour) [Enlightened]
Seer of the Forked Path (draw one card and may banish a card in center row, one honour) [Enlightened]
Spike Vixen (draw one card and gain one power, 1 honour) [Void]

The two Enlightened cards here, in true ‘Blue’ fashion, are starting to show the control aspects of their faction. The Temple Librarian allows you to cycle your deck faster, and the Seer of the Forked path alternately allows you to swap out cards in the center row you don’t want for maybe one that you do, or even perhaps more useful, to get rid of a monster that your opponent will attack you with next turn!

I’ll cover these cards in more depth when I cover drawing cards in more general.

For now, remember that deck winnowing is powerful. My favourite corollary to this is from the board game ‘Age of Renaissance’:, which forces you to keep unplayable cards in your hand as an ‘unplayable misery burden’, which I think aptly describes low value cards in many deckbuilding games.

*I’m including Apprentice and Militia here for comparison for a couple of reasons. The most obvious is the correspondence with ‘Copper’ in Dominion. The second is that colourless cards in Magic: The Gathering are typically (slightly) less powerful than other cards at the same converted mana cost. Apprentice and Militia are listed as ‘0 runes’ because ‘Copper’ also costs 0, and it makes sense intuitively, but they might have slightly different actual ‘costs’, depending on how the math works out in later posts, when we work out how useful cards are, and give them fractional worth/benefit values.

**Yeah, I know. It’s not exact, and it doesn’t take into account the two-Void Initiate case.

***The high apparent value of this card under these assumptions suggests to me that the benefits of banishment are even higher than +1 rune each time a card that has been banished would have been played. Might be partially because +1 rune earlier is more important, as are runes >4-5 per turn…

****Assuming the flexibility is worth 0.5 runes per turn. In actuality, I’ve found that this card is seldom used, never mind used for its flexibility.

A Manual of Style for Satire I

I have always enjoyed reading satire. Ever since I picked up Monty Python’s Big Red Book, read my first Onion article, read my first mainstream news article as an adult.

This is my favourite Onion article. It combines political satire with intelligent art humour. The execution is also quite good, (mostly) transporting the reader into an alternate reality where the events described are normal.

That being said, there are a few places where I feel it could be better.

If I had to summarize this into a few statements, it would be the following:

1. You are writing as if the subject of your story is your (alternate) reality

This means that you should be writing in proper objective style, and making no judgements:

2. Make no judgements

You are a simple objective watcher. The humour comes from the juxtaposition between the seriousness of the writing style with the absurd situation.

3. Describe what the reader would see, instead of telling them what is going on

This will help with the above. You want to be like a good Game Master, describing what the reader sees, instead of telling them what is going on. You want to encourage them to make the connection themselves. They’ll enjoy it more, the comedic timing will work better*, and they will be more satisfied.

At the same time, when the people you are writing about are doing things that they could be describing themselves,

4. Use quotations instead of description when you can

This is even better.

Example from the Onion article above:

“Calling for the elimination of federal funding for the National Endowment for the Arts; the banning of offensive art from museums and schools; and the destruction of the “hoax of reason” in our increasingly random, irrational and meaningless age, the Republicans and Dadaists were unified in their condemnation of the role of the artist in society today.”

Note that the ‘Journalist’ is (possibly inadvertently) making a judgement here, when they could instead be quoting one of the Dadaists saying “the destruction of the hoax of reason in our increasingly random, irrational and meaningless age”.

An even stronger example is the below:

“Added nonsense-poet Hugo Ball, founder of Zurich’s famed Cabaret Voltaire: “…’dada’ (‘Dada’). Adad Dada Dada Dada.” Donning an elaborate, primitivist painted paper mask, he then engaged reporters in a tragico-absurd dance, contorting wildly while bellowing inanities.”

The description ‘nonsense-poet’ is reasonable. Even if the audience doesn’t know enough art history to understand exactly what a ‘nonsense-poet’ is, they can probably figure it out. It also sounds enough like a title that a person in our alternate reality would understand. Similarly, ‘founder of Zurich’s famed Cabaret Voltaire’ is a reasonable description. It is factual, and objective (you can reasonably check how famous a cabaret is, and who the founder was). The paragraph then continues with a quote (fine), but then becomes problematic. The descriptor ‘primitivist’ seems almost unnecessary, and presumes a knowledge of art history probably only shared by Onion writers. ‘he then engaged reporters’ is simple description, fine, but then ‘tragico-absurd dance’ is again too art history-jargony. ‘contorting wildly’ is again a judgement. Perhaps a quote from someone describing what he was doing, or ‘contorting his body’ for a more objective description. ‘bellowing inanities’ is telling the audience what is happening. A quote would be far better here, such as “yelling loudly ‘Shpma Protback Beep!'”.

The fixed paragraph:

“Added nonsense-poet Hugo Ball, founder of Zurich’s famed Cabaret Voltaire: “…’dada’ (‘Dada’). Adad Dada Dada Dada.” Donning an elaborate, painted paper mask, he then engaged reporters in a tragic dance, contorting his body while yelling loudly ‘Shpma Protback Beep!’.”

So that feels better to me, but could probably use more editing. (Perhaps the Onion chose scansion over humour smoothness scanning?)

The rest of the article was generally smooth, including such gems of description as:

“Dadaist leaders were even more strident than Helms, stressing the need for the elimination of not only art, but also of dada itself. “To be a Dadaist means to be against dada,” Arp said. “Dada equals anti-dada.” Urging full-scale rioting, the assembled Dadaists called for their own destruction, each of them alternately running into the audience to pelt those still on stage with tomatoes.”

Which I think strikes just the right level of description and quotations. It also shows an important point, that the ‘journalist’ can describe what the ‘person’ is saying, as long as it’s immediately followed or preceded by a quote.

The following almost works:

“Centered in Berlin, Paris and Zurich, the Dadaist movement was launched as a reaction of revulsion to the senseless butchery of World War I. “While the guns rumbled in the distance,” Arp said, “we had a dim premonition that power-mad gangsters would one day use art itself as a means of deadening men’s minds.” ”

I would put ‘senseless butchery’ in quotes. Perhaps the ‘journalist’ only wanted to put quotes around actual quotes said by dadaists?

“When told of Arp’s comments, Helms said he was “fairly certain” that he concurred.”

Let me know in the comments below other humorous articles you wish me to dissect!


*See a later post that I will write about the theory of puns, and other forms of verbal warfare.

Some things I read and found useful while writing this article:

Writing Satire Is Harder Than You Think

This article wrote around the edges of what I was speaking to above:

Some things I found not so useful (too general, more of a 101 instead of actually helping you write well):

I tried to find online manuals of style, but they all cost money or only talked about technical details about whether you said ‘one’ or ‘1’.

Chicago Manual of Style basics

Analysis: Ascension Runes vs. Power

So, as you’re playing Ascension, you have a number of choices to make. One of the more important ones is how you balance your purchase of cards which give you runes vs. cards which give you power. (Myself, I enjoy the slower build and feeling of game mastery by playing a 120-point* game, so I tend to err on the side of runes.)

On first blush, it would seem that power would be the better (and simpler) strategy. You can purchase heavy infantry for two runes which will give you two power every time you draw them, vs. having to spend three runes for a Mystic which will give you a (seemingly) similar two runes.

There are more complex issues to get into, such as how each card you purchase affects your average draw and the histogram of your draws, but for now, we’ll focus on the list of cards in the first set, ‘Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer’.

Some people have very kindly made a list of all of the cards in this set, including the manufacturer:, and some people on

We’re going to start with some basic statistics about the cards in the deck:

There are a total of 100 cards, 18 in each of four ‘colours’, and 28 ‘monsters’.

Looking at the monsters first, there are:
– 10 monsters costing 3 power
– 8 monsters costing 4 power
– 6 monsters costing 5 power
– 3 monsters costing 6 power
– 1 monster costing 7 power

A simple test for the maximum effort you should put into cards which give you power is what is the maximum number of honour points you would expect to gain from that? You can always trade two power for one honour (cultist), but given that that is the default, you shouldn’t expect it to be the optimal move very often.

Assuming you go through the entire deck, and your opponent kills no monsters:
– 10 monsters costing 3 power give 1,1,1,1,1,1,1,2,2,2 honour, for a total of 13 honour
– 8 monsters costing 4 power give 3,3,3,3,4,4,4,4 honour, for a total of 28 honour
– 6 monsters costing 5 power give 3,3,3,5,5,5 honour, for a total of 24 honour
– 1 monster at 6, 1 monster at 7, for 3 and 4 honour, respectively, for a total of 7

So, that’s a total of 72 honour from center-row monsters, plus however many from cultists.

So that seems reasonable, 72 honour to compete with between you and your opponent. However, at the same time, you have to compete with the center row cards which cost runes:
– 12 cards costing 1 rune each
– 8 cards costing 2 runes each
– 13 cards costing 3 runes each
– 17 cards costing 4 runes each
– 11 cards costing 5 runes each
– 6 cards costing 6 runes each
– 4 cards costing 7 runes each
– 1 card costing 8 runes

And give you honour:
– 30 cards which give you 1 honour
– 20 cards which give you 2 honour
– 12 cards which give you 3 honour
– 4 cards which give you 4 honour
– 6 cards which give you 5,5,6,6,7,8 honour (all mechana constructs)

for a total of: 30+40+36+16+37 = 159 honour possible from purchasing center row cards.

So, including cultists (and a few other cards), you would expect to get twice as many honour points from rune-requiring cards as power-requiring cards.

This suggests to a first-order approximation, that you may be able to ignore power-requiring cards, but you very likely cannot ignore the rune-requiring cards.

Next time, we’ll discuss 1-rune and 2-rune cards!

*120 honour aquirable honour points at the start of the game. The standard game has 30 points per player, so for the two-player games I usually play, that would be 60 honour points. The game doesn’t end up twice as long, as the number of honour points you acquire per turn is closer to exponential than linear**.

**Don’t quote me on this, I have not mathed it out, yet.