Ten years ago today I sold the first copy of Ascension.

Eighteen months before that, I quit my dream job as game designer for Upper Deck Entertainment. I’d recently finished the World of Warcraft Miniatures game, a huge project that took me three years to bring to life. I spent countless late nights trapped at first in a tiny grey cubicle, and eventually, in a windowless grey office. At the time, getting that office was a big deal, but I think back to the white walls and generic office cabinets now with a sense of wonder that this self-imposed prison was considered a prize at the time.

I walked out of Upper Deck’s lobby, a huge place covered with expensive sports memorabilia, thinking: am I making the right choice? Filled with fear and doubt, I chose to take fate into my own hands. My goal: create something awesome. My problem: I had no idea what that would be.

Distinguishing between an entrepreneurial game designer and an unemployed person sitting on the couch, can be tough. I spent the next few months sleeping in late, playing games, and making quickly discarded prototypes. I began to question myself.  Did I make the right decision?  Am I good enough to make it on my own? 

One day, Rob Dougherty, who came to town supporting his own entrepreneurial venture called the Epic Trading Card Game, invited me to visit Orlando for a weekend of gaming.


We had an amazing time playing games, lounging by the pool, and chatting about design ideas.  I told him about my idea of making a deckbuilding game with an ever-changing center row of cards and showed him the prototype. Rob, with a twinkle in his eye, said: “You have the ball. Run!” 


Rob’s validation of the concept opened the motivational door for me. I spent the next three months relentlessly iterating and playtesting. Back then, I didn’t have a team, so I paid friends in pizza and beer to give me feedback. By August 2009, I had a game that friends no longer needed to be bribed to play. This is when I decided to make Ascension real.


I didn’t have much money at the time, and couldn’t afford to hire traditional artists. So, I called my good friend Eric Sabee, who, a decade earlier, lived down the hall from me in a Boston brownstone. I loved his art and asked if we could work together to build an aesthetic for the new fantasy-themed game.


He agreed and Ascension was born.


I invested the remainder of my life savings in the first print run, half joking that I would need to build a house out of Ascension boxes if it didn’t sell.  


On August 4th 2010, Rob and I set up our tiny booth in the back corner of the Gen Con convention hall. Beside us was the giant, professionally designed Upper Deck booth with demo tables stacked high with games, an army of staff, and huge character sculptures peering down at our humble booth like gods. 


The doors opened the next morning, August 5th, and attendees poured in—the whirlwind began. To our surprise, the demo tables filled quickly, with people enthusiastically buying copies of Ascension. Some took the game and set it up on open tables nearby, playing and demoing Ascension just because they enjoyed what we had created.


All our hard work paid off; it was quite a rush. We sold out of the rest of our print run before it even arrived from the factory.


Now, 10 years later, Ascension has over 15 sets released. The game exists in digital form and in virtual reality. We have players with tattoos of Ascension characters, players who have gotten engaged over a game of Ascension, and fans cosplaying our characters at cons worldwide.


I’m proud to have a full-time team of incredible people who work everyday to bring joy to millions. And, in the next 24 hours, we will finish a new chapter in Ascension’s history, bringing to life beautiful 3-D sculpts with Ascension Tactics.  


Thank you so much for being part of a worldwide tribe of Ascension players. This milestone would not exist without the willingness to take a risk, the support of incredible friends, and you, our fans.   


Here is to an incredible 10 years and more to come!


-Justin Gary