This week I had to delay participation in the game's night to the last minute, due to a parent's evening. As I arrived I couldn't believe my eyes: the room was completely packed, with hardly any empty floor space between tables. I had never seen so many of our members together. There were four 4-player games of Seafarers of Catan for this year's Eurogames tournament, a 3-player game of Agricola, another 4-player game I wasn't able to see what it was, and Michael, Mark and Graham waiting for me to start a game of Those Pesky Humans!
Michael, the game's owner, explained us the rules, which are fairly simple. One player (Michael in this case) plays the monster lord and its minions, while each of the other players takes the role of a human: Mark was the brave knight in shining armour, Graham was the attractive female thief, and I was the old hapless wizard. The game is played on a board depicting a dungeon, the monsters aiming to kill the humans before they find three treasures — aah, the good ol' universal themes of greed and survival. Each character (human or not) can move a certain number of hexagons per turn, and has a certain number of attack and defense points. Whenever two characters are adjacent, they can battle: the attacker throws a die, adds it to the character's attack points, and the total is compared against the defender's die throw plus defense points. If the attacker wins, the defender takes one hit. Each character can take a certain number of hits before it's dead. Moreover, there are cards that give extra defence or attack capabilities, recover from hits taken, bring new minions on the board, etc.
As one can see, the game is neither original nor complex, but it's good fun. As the cover image indicates, the game doesn't take itself too seriously, poking fun at the usual Dungeons&Dragons-style conventions. The illustrations and text on the cards are quite funny, and whacking Goblins, Orcs & Co. is always a good pastime. Nevertheless, the game is quite challenging: it's very hard for three humans to defeat all those monsters that just won't stop coming into the dungeon. Our valiant knight bravely took many monsters on his own and was the first to bite the dust. Graham had to leave and so Mark took on the thief role but by then we were surrounded by monsters and it was a matter of rounds until it was over. At least we earned the 'pesky' adjective and dispatched several monsters into oblivion. On hindsight, we should have moved more quickly at the beginning, to collect all special defence and attack bonuses before battling the monsters, and we shouldn't have spent so many of our cards so soon. Oh well, there's always a 'next time...'.
We then played another game Michael brought, the pompously named Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer, which is basically a Dominion-style game, with three types of cards: monsters, heroes and constructs. Each hero and construct card costs a certain number of runes to acquire, and provides zero or more strength points, which are required to defeat monsters. Each defeated monster brings the player a certain amount of victory points. Construct cards, once played from the hand, remain on the table and hence in effect every turn.
The image shows one of the constructs I had: it cost me 4 runes to acquire (upper right corner), it brought me two VPs at the end of the game (lower left corner), and it gave me every turn one strength point and the ability to acquire 3 VPs for 4 runes. A very handy card that I often used whenever I had not enough strength points to defeat a monster that would bring me more than 3 VPs. This was possibly the card that enabled me to win the game with 64 VPs, against Mark's 53 and Michael's 50 VPs. I suppose the sentence at the bottom of each card is just to make us feel all 'kung-fuey and mystical', in the words of Po, the kung-fu panda.
Ascension is a rather easy game: use all the runes and strength points that you have in your hand and table cards to defeat monsters and acquire further cards; put all those cards into your discard pile; take another 5 cards from your draw pile for your next turn; if your draw pile is exhausted, take the discard pile and shuffle it; repeat ad nauseam, as in Dominion.
There are three major differences with respect to Dominion. First, VPs are kept separate from the cards' abilities, which means that obtaining VPs doesn't weaken your deck. Second, there is only a limited choice of cards that can be acquired or defeated at any time, each card taken being immediately replaced from a shuffled draw pile, while in Dominion all cards are known and available from the start. Third, there is no limitation on the actions that can be taken in each turn: just look at the available heroes, constructs and monsters and try to spend all the runes and strength points you have on them. This makes Ascension a very light game with hardly any tactics or strategy as far as I could see. Add to this a useless board, an irrelevant 'theme', an even more automatic game play than Dominion because there are few tough choices, and you know I'll try to avoid playing this again. Sorry, Michael.