So I drop by my FLGS this past weekend and I get the itch. You know the one? It starts on the shelves and reaches into your wallet. Before you know it you’re walking out with a plastic wrapped box wondering what the rules are like, if you made a good choice, and if the five dollars left in your bank account will get you through a week and a half of ramen. Yea, that one. That itch led me to ASHES: Rise of the Phoenixborn by Plaid Hat Games.
Ashes is, on the surface, an LCG/CCG (that would be Living Card Game/Collectible Card Game). Inside the box are six preconstructed decks representing a Pheonixborn with their powers and allies. Pretty standard fare for an LCG/CCG. But then there are these colored dice. Then you notice the rules for drafting decks next the the rules for customization. Suddenly this is something a little bit different.
In the mechanics of so many fantasy games there’s a power system for casting spells or summoning creatures. While they vary widely, Ashes opts for a system that relies a bit on chance. Your dice pool is made up of ten die, five from each affinity associated with your Phoenixborn. The faces of the die represent three different levels of magical energy ranging from basic magic to epic power. The dice are rolled and viola!!! Instant pool of energy for casting. But that’s not the only thing they did right.
Your starting hand in most games comes after shuffling the deck, letting your opponent cut, then drawing up. Ashes says, “Go ahead! Search through and find that perfect starting combo and just place it in your hand.” Yup, that’s right. Each player gets to pick their five starting cards. I mean… wow. That’s kind of huge. But then you remember that to power those cards you are reliant on a randomized pool of dice. Suddenly you have a choice to make. Do you risk not rolling well enough to play that massive direct damage? Or do you go with the ready spell that gets you a creature on turn two?
Speaking of, creatures in Ashes (for the most part) are cast using ready spells rather than coming from a random draw from your deck. Ready spells sit out on your spellboard, an area much like a battlefield of creatures in most games, the size of which is determined by your Phoenixborn. Once a ready spell is cast and out it can be powered up to allow you to put a creature in play on the battlefield. Like the spellboard, the battlefield also has a limit determinted by your phoenixborn. Other spell types exist as well and each serves a purpose familiar to anyone who plays CCG, TCG, or LCG.
I could go on and on about the mechanics but there is one critisism I do have, and it’s not about the game. Over the years I’ve noticed that Plaid Hat has a nasty habit. They create some awesome games with great twists and artwork that really sucks you in. Backstories and Worlds that tempt your imagination. And then… nothing. It all just kind of falls flat, like they got bored and decided it was time for a new project. Then a couple years later you’ll get a random expansion or a couple of new characters that are really cool and add a new twist. But then the glimmer is gone again.
Ashes: Rise of the Phoenixborn is, overall, a pretty cool game. It will give you some fun with your friends and looks great in the collection. Sadly though, like so many Plaid Hat games, it will probably not be a top tier game due to a lack of support and attention.
I’m not much for giving out ratings, but in this case I’m going to make an exception. Ashes gets a C+ for the same reason you did in junior high. The potential is there but they just aren’t putting in the effort.