So, here’s the deal. You’re never going to play this game in a school setting – it’s wildly inappropriate. But I played it while I was at GenCon and I feel like I would be remiss in my responsibilities to you if I allowed you to suffer the same fate.
Fair warning, there’s going to be very little in this post that is positive.
Alliance is in essence a deck-building game, as you may have surmised from the title. On paper, it even has some interesting ideas and twists such as the player powers that unlock as you defeat monsters. The weapons look pretty nice art-wise, particularly compared to the character’s cards, and appear at first blush to do some nifty things. The addition of one “souped-up” version of each weapon into an otherwise static marketplace is an idea that sounds great in theory.
In practice, however, it all falls together into a messy heap of nonsense that doesn’t fit together in any way at all. The concept of a cycling deck of monsters (the “mansion”) with the game-ending final boss randomly shuffled into it is inane – it explicity discourages trying to fight monsters without being prepared, which in turn leads to several rounds of people doing nothing but vomiting out their gold cards and buying more weapons. There is absolutely no pressure to push through the deck or make risky plays, which makes for an incredibly dull experience to begin the game.
The thrills continue though, as there are events within the mansion that punish you for having too high of an attack value. That’s right, I had a pretty good turn and mustered 60 damage-worth of bullets, only to draw a card that hit me for 40 if I had an attack of 60 or more. I died. People often complain about random marketplaces in deckbuilders, and having that randomness apply to your encounter and punishing players for overpreparing is far worse than the shifting marketplace of Ascension.
Now, there are mechanics to mitigate the randomness. For example, one gun allows you to draw from the bottom of the deck (where all the unvanquished monsters go) and know exactly who you’ll be fighting. Which is great, as long as you can beat that monster. Which is still ok, until an event gets shuffled back into the deck. Then it’s totally useless. Another tactic for mitigation is the dual purpose currency cards: ammo is also gold, and vice versa. Only… you can’t use them for both, of course, and you can’t see if using ammo is worth it until you commit to doing so.
Let’s go back to the “sounds great on paper” things I mentioned earlier. Those unique weapons are more expensive than the normal versions, so if one pops to the top of the stack early in the game then you’re going to be stuck without whatever it’s blocking. At least until someone bites the bullet and manages to save up for it, most likely before they’re ready to start using it. The player powers are based on kills, unlocking as you defeat more monsters from the mansion. Sounds great, except it’s the very definition of “win-more” – the power is almost never going to make a significant difference for you once you’re racking up the kills because the game encourages you to power up hard before you even start hitting the mansion deck.
Please don’t waste your money on this game.