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.

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