Way before Ashes: Rise of the Phoenixborn came out, I got to chat with the creator of the game, Isaac Vega, at Gen Con 2014. One of the things that excited me the most about the game was that Isaac said the game was made very much with women in mind. In fact, four out of the six Phoenixborn (aka main characters) are women! Isaac and Colby Dauch, the founder of Plaid Hat Games, talked a lot about feminism and board games, which you can check out in my previous article.
With just a few days to go to Gen Con 2015, my pre-ordered copy of Ashes showed up at my house. You’re playing as one of the Phoenixborn, extremely powerful people who saved the world, who are now facing off against each other to claim god status.
It’s a expandable, deck-building card game that uses dice as a power resource. Your decks have spells, allies (or units), and ways to summon creatures from your conjuration deck. The game takes about 15 minutes per player. For a quick overview of how to play the game and an awesome intro into the lore of the world, check out this video:
To start, the game is absolutely beautiful. The art by Fernanda Suarez is stunning. Suarez also illustrated Plaid Hat’s Dead of Winter.
The cards themselves are thick and durable. The 4 sets of 10 dice are unique and really cool looking.
One of the things I love about the game is that even though the rules seem a bit complicated, once you get into actually playing the game, it’s pretty simple. Normally in deck-building games, your starting hand can handicap you if you draw poorly. But in this game, you get to chose five unique cards to start the game. That puts the control and strategy firmly in the players’ hands (literally! Get it?).
The mechanic of using your dice as a power pool adds another layer of strategy to the game. In order to fuel your cards’ abilities, you have to use dice to activate them. Each player only gets 10 dice, so you need to use them carefully. Also, there are three sides; the most common is the least powerful and the rarest is the most powerful.
Now, you may be thinking that if you roll poorly, it could ruin your game. Well, Isaac thought of that. You can use your third tier dice as second level or first level, and you can use your second level as a first level. There are also card abilities and a core mechanic that can change the facing of the dice. So even if you only roll mostly first level sides, you can mitigate that.
There are multiple ways to play the game too. You can use their recommended starter decks, you can draft cards, or you can choose the cards to put in your deck.
Just trying the game out, I played two games, each time using their starter deck suggestions. The decks are fun and really well balanced against their opponents. I definitely suggest playing a few of their suggested decks before trying to draft or build your own.
Each Phoenixborn has their own feel. For instance, Aradel Summergaard is made to summon lots of units to do battle for her. Her special ability also lets her do damage directly to her opponent’s units, which can really help clear the battlefield.
Whereas Saria Guideman is really good at getting opponents to run through their draw pile, by either drawing them or discarding them. Her special ability lets her draw a card and then makes another player discard the top card of their draw pile. This can get particularly painful for her enemies, because if a player ever has to draw cards and can’t, they take damage.
I’m really excited to try drafting the cards and building my own deck. There are just so many options of how the decks will end up, and it gives the game good replay value. Personally, I’ve only tried the two-player version, but I’m interested to try out three- and four-player games. The rules don’t really change, but I assume players will have to employ different strategies to deal with the increased amount of enemy players.
I highly recommend Ashes: Rise of the Phoenixborn. It’s quick, fun, and has awesome replay opportunities. I had high hopes for the game, and I wasn’t disappointed. If you want to grab a copy for yourself, you can order one here. If you order the game through Plaid Hat, you’ll get a promo Phoenixborn!