Ashes: Rise of the Phoenixborn

Posted on October 2, 2018

… is one of my favourite card games, and criminally underrated.

Ashes is an “extendable card game” (what would be known as an lcg if it was released by fantasy flight) by Plaid Hat Games, and it’s great.

Its a 2+ player card game of direct combat between fuarking wizards, it has custom dice and nice templates and awesome art and a slick ruleset.

PHG’s advertising is on par with Level 99 Games (that is, far less than it deserves) so think of this as a quick introduction to the game and hopefully we can get some more players.


we can talk theme for days but what really matters is the mechanics of the game, thats the thing that keeps us playing.

at first glance, ashes is a standard dude smasher. you play your dudes, you turn them sideways, you deal damage, you win (or lose, if you’re me), this is technically true, but it misses a lot of what makes ashes special.

the turn slash round structure is built on two principles:

  • you get a single main, and a single side action a turn
  • you alternate turns until both players consecutively pass, which moves to the next round.

the important part of this is:

your tempo matters, a lot. obviously tempo is important in every game, but in ashes the tempo of your deck is one of the most important aspects. if you’re too slow, you’ll get overwhelmed, but if you’re too fast, you’ll run out of things to do before the next round. its a fun balancing act that you don’t see in a lot of other card games.

theres another very unique part of ashes, and like every ex-mtg player who sees diesel when they start netrunner, it really amazes and baffles people who arent used to it.

you get to choose your opening hand in ashes

there are caveats, you’re not allowed more than one copy of each card, but it adds a lot of strategy in choosing your opening based on what you expect your opponent to choose, and reduces variance in deck building a lot. suddenly your one-ofs can be guarenteed to be seen from the first turn, which leads to less games decided by lucky draws. i like it a lot.

its kept in check with the action system too, as unlike MTG, which would break with this ruling, in ashes you can’t really assemble game breaking combos from your hand. you gotta play honest.


ashes uses dice as its resource, and does it really nicely imo.

there are six different colours of dice, which equate to colours of mana in mtg or factions in netrunner. they each have three symbols on them (one shared between all dice, and two unique to that colour) which act as costs for cards, with higher up symbols being able to be used as the ones below.

you would think this leads to not being able to play things based on an unlucky roll, but thankfully it doesn’t. deckbuilding so as to not include a tonne of costs that require high rolls goes a long way, and most importantly (to the dismay of anyone who plays Star Wars Destiny) you can set a dice to any symbol by milling cards from your hand, deck or field.

each colour of die also has an ability tied to it that can be activated by spending the highest symbol, plus a side action. these base abilities give many decks an out to certain cards, and mean your dice are never useless.

its a fun addition to the game and im glad its there, don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.


the feel of the game, how it flows, is something some people take for granted.

this might sound odd, but the game that reminds me most of ashes is competitive pokemon.

not the card game, the video game, hear me out.

team synergy is important in pokemon, but arguably far more important is knowing what you’re up against, and making sure you have an out for everything your team can’t handle itself. making strong reads that will pay off later, and knowing how you’re going to win.

ashes is not magic. you can’t grab every card that says goblin, sleeve it up, and win off the explicit synergy.

ashes is about making positive trades and levereging that incremental advantage with some nice reads to put yourself ahead.

ashes is a game that in a lot of ways has no set up. you start with all of your resources avaliable (your ten dice) and the exact cards you want in hand. you’re essentially starting a game of magic from the midgame, and seeing who can last the tear-down the longest.

its a very unique feel, and i think anyone who hasn’t tried it is missing out.

final thoughts

please give ashes a go. its very underrated and it doesn’t deserve the level of obscurity it currently has.

if you’d like to ask any questions or discuss the game, check out the slack channel.

the game is played online on tts, so if you own that then give someone a yell in the discord.

and most importantly, spread the word! its so great to get new players, and thats the only way we can.

summon owl, summon dove, your turn