Continuing our summer theme of amusing bagatelles, Brian Croxall reviews Ascension for ProfHacker. Prof. Croxall, you may recall, burst on the scene with his memorable MLA paper Absent Presence, which explained why he was not attending the conference at which he was presenting it.

Croxall focuses on game mechanics.

What sets Ascension apart from other deck-building games–yes, it’s an entire genre–is that the cards that you can purchase from the center of the table are constantly changing. Since there are only two or three copies of a card in the deck of 100+ cards, if another player buys the card you want on their turn, you might not see it again during the game. The result is a game that is tactical rather than strategic and that has proven maddeningly addictive to me as I’ve played it more or less nonstop for the last three months. I keep trying to see if I can perfect a better strategy with whatever cards I get to choose from.

This makes sense, because the game mechanics for Ascension are, in fact, mildly interesting. He’s very generous about the parts of Ascension where the implementation is less good: the clumsy art, the misuse of animation, the inept AI, or the slow-footed writing.

Croxall concludes that

I can deal with the art, and I’ve got more than my money’s worth out of the app and the three expansions to the game that are available as in-app purchases.

When did professors of English decide it a good idea to write criticism in terms of value for money? The price of an app is so low that it’s swamped by the value a few minutes of your time, even if you’re an unemployable child. No one cares about the $0.99; we care about the time we’re going to spend.

In my opinion, this game would be improved significantly f it (a) omitted the artwork entirely, (b) eliminated all the spinning card animations, (c) tore out the entire pasted-on swords-and-sorcery pretext, and (d) replaced it with whatever dyad walks past the developer’s window in the next ten minutes. Substitute "Ron Paul supporters” for wizards and “Super-PAC donors” for swordsmen, and you might have something. Or “Red Sox players” and “Boston sports reporters.” “High school seniors” and “college admissions officials.” The thing writes itself.

There’s nothing wrong with swords and spells if that’s what you want to do, but it’s clear that in Ascension, as in many games, it’s an afterthought. That’s the real lesson of Angry Birds; if you want to dress up an abstract game mechanic, the eternal war of pigeons vs. pigs will do just fine.