Note: This article was originally posted on the Shifting Mists blog on April 27, 2016. In an attempt to collect as much community-based material in a single place, I’m going to slowly move all my introductory articles here, and then I’ll continue with the reviews of the preconstructed decks I began on Shifting Mists, which in the meantime will be re-purposed and dedicated to the Italian Ashes community. You can find the full announcement here.
For those who were already following Shifting Mists, please be patient, it won’t take long before I’ll release new content. To anybody else, I hope you’ll enjoy the reading!
So here we are, at the beginning of a new adventure. As my first blog post I’d like to start at the beginning and give a general introduction to Ashes: Rise of the Phoenixborn without getting too much into details like card analysis or strategy, which I’ll leave for later.
What is Ashes: Rise of the Phoenixborn?
To put it simple, Ashes is a competitive card game in which 2 to 4 players will face one another assuming the role of Phoenixborn, demigods of the world of Argaia who wield mysterious magical energies. The object of the game is to be the first to reduce the life of all opposing Phoenixborn to zero, which is achieved by casting spells and summoning units to attack the enemy.
Similar to other expandable card games like Magic: the Gathering, Game of Thones or Android: Netrunner, each player uses his or her own personal deck which includes all the spells and allies he or she wishes to play, and is constructed prior to the game by choosing 30 cards (with a maximum of 3 copies of an individual card) from the pool of all the available cards in the game.
A feature unique to Ashes is that the starting hand is not drawn at random, but is chosen by the player by picking 5 different cards from the deck (the First Five). This removes the frustration of having a match conditioned by a bad hand of cards, giving the players much more control of the early game and emphasizing opening moves strategies.
Another peculiar feature is the resource-generation mechanism, which is based not on cards included in the deck, but on a pool of 10 special 6-sided dice which dictate which resources you’ll have at your disposal each round. There are 4 types of dice in the base set of the game, related respectively to Ceremonial, Charm, Illusion and Natural magic (and yes, you can choose which dice you’ll bring to play when building your deck).
Each die has 3-in-6 chance of showing a Class symbol, which provides a resource of its type, and a 1-in-6 chance of showing a Power symbol, which is required to cast some of the spells in the game, but can also be spent to activate the dice power ability, giving players extra options besides the cards in their hand.
Structure of Play
Ok, cool, but how does it work?
After a setup, in which players announce the Phoenixborn they will use for the game, and choose their First Five, the game is played over a series of rounds, each divided in a sequence of three phases, which are resolved in order:
- Prepare Phase
- Player Turns Phase
- Recovery Phase
In the Prepare Phase, players roll their dice to see which resources they have available for the round and place them in their Active Dice Pool, then draw until they have 5 cards in hand, with the option to discard any number of cards before drawing to make room for new cards. There is no maximum hand size in Ashes, so if a player has more than 5 cards in hand the beginning of the round he or she doesn’t have to discard down to 5.
If a player’s deck is empty during the Prepare Phase, that player’s Phoenixborn will suffer 1 damage for each card the player was required to draw and wasn’t able to.
The largest part of the round will consist of the Player Turns Phase. Here, beginning with the First Players, players will take Turns until they both decide to pass. During a Turn, each player must perform a Main Action, and has the option to perform a Side Action (which can be taken before or after the Main Action for that Turn).
A Main Action allows a player to do one of the following:
- Play a card or activate a card effect showing the Main Action symbol (the majority of spells, allies and spell effects require this);
- Attack an enemy Phoenixborn;
- Attack an enemy Unit;
While a Side Action allows a player to:
- Play a card or activate a card effect showing the Side Action symbol;
- Activate a Dice Power by exhausting a dice showing the corresponding Power symbol;
- Meditate: the player discards any number of cards from his or her hand, Spellboard, or top of the deck in order to change the facing of dices in his or her Active Pool to a face of his or her choice.
Most cards and effects require the expenditure of a determined number of dice symbols (in addition to the Main or Side action cost): in order to play those cards or activate those effects, a player has to exhaust dice showing the corresponding symbols and move them from his or her Active Dice Pool to the Exhausted Dice Pool.
A Power dice symbol can always be spent in lieu of a Class dice symbol of the same class (i.e. you can use a Ceremonial Power symbol to pay for a card that requires a Ceremonial Class symbol, but not for a card that requires an Illusion Class symbol) and any dice can be spent to pay for a Basic symbol cost.
Finally, in the Recovery Phase, Units in play will heal damage based on their Recover Value, exhaustion tokens will be removed from cards in play so that they could be used in the following rounds, and players will choose which unspent dice to keep in their Active Pool for the next round and which to move to the Exhausted Pool so that they could be rolled in the next Prepare Phase.
Cards and Dice
There are 6 types of cards in Ashes:
- Allies are a type of Unit that can played in a player’s Battlefield and can be used to attack the enemy Phoenixborn or their Units, or to defend against attacks. Each Phoenixborn has a Battlefield Limit that dictates the maximum number of Units he or she can have in play at a given time.
- Ready Spells are played in a player’s Spellboard, and provide effects that can be activated multiple times (usually once per round) by paying their price. As for the Battlefield, each Phoenixborn has a Spellboard limit, which shows how many different Ready Spells that Phoenixborn can have in play – multiple copies of the same Ready Spell can be played during the game and only count as a single spell for the limit, this is called Focusing a Ready Spell.
- Many Ready Spells allow players to put conjurations into play. These are Units that are not found in the players’ decks, but come in a separate Conjurations Pile that is built alongside the main deck and includes all the conjurations your spells can bring into play.
- Action Spells are one-time effects that require a Main or Side Action to be played, and are placed in a player’s discard pile after they are resolved.
- Reaction Spells are another kind of one-time effects, which do not require an Action to be played, and thus can be played “for free”, but only when the conditions stated on the spell are met (and with a limit of one Reaction Spell played per Turn by each player).
- Alteration Spells are played on other cards to modify their properties, commonly increasing or decreasing the stats of a Unit or giving it additional abilities. Some Alteration Spells have a Respark cost, which can be paid when the spells leaves play in order to take it back into its owner’s hand instead of discarding it.
Included in the base game there are four types of dice, that will be used to play or activate the effects of the cards, or to activate their special Dice Power:
- Ceremonial Magic works around manipulating your own Units to your advantage, sometimes by sacrificing some of their Life or by getting beneficial effects, like dealing damage to the opponent or bringing extra units into play on their destruction. Its Dice Power allows you to take back allies from the discard pile into your hand, providing a way to recover powerful allies your opponent might have destroyed or to bring cheap “cannon fodder” units back into play to delay the enemy attacks.
- Charm Magic manipulates gameplay options, both yours and your opponent’s, to your advantage, giving you the chance to ready exhausted units, to render a unit temporarily unblockable or to search your deck for a card you need. Its Dice Power works as a temporary boost to a Unit’s Attack and Life Values, getting the most out of them.
- Illusion Magic provides resources control by giving players the power to modify the dice to a facing of their choosing and to draw additional cards. It also helps controlling enemy Units without damaging them, either through exhaustion or the negation of their special abilities. Its Dice Power forces the opponent to exhaust his or her Active dice, giving you control over what and how many cards they can play during the round.
- Natural Magic is probably the most straightforward type of magic, allowing a player to gain and maintain board presence, both by bringing into play and boosting powerful Units with Alterations, and by destroying enemy Units with lots of damage. Its Dice Power is simple but effective, as it allows you to deal damage to Units in play.
One of the most common ways to deal damage to the enemy Phoenixborn is to spend a Main Action to launch an attack with your Units. When attacking, you choose any number of your unexhausted Units and choose their target, either an enemy Phoenixborn or an enemy Unit.
The opponent has now the option to defend, with slightly different rules depending on the target of the attack:
- If you are attacking a Phoenixborn, the defending player can block your attacking Units with his or her own unexhausted Units on a one-by-one basis. Each blocked Unit will engage its blocker in a battle, while unblocked Units will deal damage equal to their Attack value to the enemy Phoenixborn.
- If you are attacking a Unit, the defending player has the option to guard that unit with either his or her Phoenixborn or with an unexhausted Unit with the Unit Guard ability. Note that when guarding against an attack directed to a Unit, the guarding Phoenixborn or Unit will suffer damage equal to the sum of the Attack values of the attacking units.
When an unexhausted Unit is attacked, blocks or guard, its controller has two options: he or she can just have the Unit suffer the damage, which will leave the Unit unexhausted (if it survives the attack, of course) or he or she can exhaust the Unit in order to counter, and start a battle.
Units engaged in a battle will simultaneously deal damage equal to their respective Attack values to each other. When a countering Unit is engaged in battle with multiple attackers, its controller can distribute the damage dealt by the countering Unit’s against multiple attackers as he or she prefers. After a Unit has attacked or countered, it receives an exhaustion token.
Each point of damage inflicted on a Phoenixborn or Unit is marked by a Damage Token. After receiving damage tokens equal to its Life value, a Unit is destroyed and goes to its owner’s discard or conjuration pile, while a Phoenixborn is defeated, and its controller loses the game. In the Recovery Phase, each Unit will remove a number of damage tokens equal to its Recover value.
Building your Deck
The Ashes: Rise of the Phoenixborn base game comes with six Phoenixborn cards, each with its ready-to-play preconstructed 30-card deck (don’t worry, I’m going to talk about each of the preconstructed decks in a not-so-far future series of posts), but you can also create your own custom Ashes deck by following a really simple set of rules:
- Choose a Phoenixborn;
- Create a deck with the following restrictions:
- Each deck must consist of exactly 30 cards;
- Cards featuring the image of a Phoenixborn in the lower-right corner can only be included in a deck if you are playing that particular Phoenixborn;
- A maximum of 3 copies of any card can be included in the deck;
- Conjurations cannot be included in a deck, as they are brought into play by other cards’ abilities.
- Create a Conjuration Pile by collecting a number of copies of each conjuration the cards in your deck allow you to put into play equal to the Conjuration Limit Value of that card.
- Choose exactly 10 dice, in any combination.
And that’s it. You have your own personal Ashes: Rise of the Phoenixborn deck.
Of course, easy as it is, choosing which cards to include in your deck is a huge part of this game. One of the topic I’d like to examine in the following months will be various strategies and deckbuilding options, so stay tuned.
The rulebook also provides a set of rules for drafting cards and dice, allowing up to 4 players to participate with just a single base set.
Currently Released Products and Future Plans
At the present time the following Ashes products have been released by Plaid Hat Games:
The base set, containing 40 dice and featuring 6 Phoenixborn, each coming with a 30-cards preconstructed deck requiring two types of dice:
- The Mist Guardian (Nature/Illusion) – Aradel Summergaard
- The Iron Men (Ceremonial/Nature) – Coal Roarkwin
- The Bloodwoods Queen (Ceremonial/Charm) – Jessa Na Ni
- The Snakes in Silver (Charm/Nature) – Maeoni Viper
- The Shadows of Viros (Illusion/Ceremonial) – Noah Redmoon
- The Cloudsea Siren (Charm/Ilusion) – Saria Guideman
Four expansion decks, each featuring a new Phoenixborn and his own preconstructed deck, requiring 10 dice of a single type (note that dice are not provided in the packs, you’ll need a copy of the base set to play with these):
- The Children of Blackcloud (Ceremonial) – Brennen Blackcloud
- The Frostdale Giants (Nature) – Rin Northfell
- The Roaring Rose* (Charm) – Leo Sunshadow
- The Duchess of Deception* (Illusion) – Victoria Glassfire
* Leo and Victoria have been pre-released at GenCon 2016, and would publicly released in October
Three exclusive Phoenixborn (aka Promos), Dimona Odinstar, Lulu Firststone and Orrick Gilstream, each coming with 3 copies of their unique cards, are also available on the Plaid Hat Games website. In order to obtain them you can either (a) purchase them on the Plaid Hat Games web store, (b) purchase any other Ashes product from the PHG web store: an exclusive Phoenixborn of your choice will be included for free with each purchase, or (c) get them as participation gifts in official Ashes tournaments.
As for the future, Plaid Hat Games officially announced here they plan to release:
- A new boxed set with 4 new Phoenixborn and 20 dice of 2 new types (Divine and Sympathy Magic) around the end of the year;
- 2 new decks every 3 months in 2017, each providing a combination of these new dice types with those in the base set;
- A new promo Phoenixborn with each new expansion release.
That is quite a bunch of stuff in the works, and it will keep us busy for the next year and a half. As far as I’m concerned, that’s not bad.
That’s it, for now. Sorry for the lengthy post, but I thought it was better to have it all in a single run rather than splitting it in two parts. Next time we’ll start analyzing the six preconstructed decks from the base set, beginning with Aradel Summergaard, Phoenixborn of Evermist Valley.
See you soon.