So, currently we don't have to complete all levels to ascend. We just need to beat Europe Huge to ascend.
Today, I clicked ascend just before I finished the Afroeurasia level. After I actually finished the level, I realized that all levels up to Afroeurasia are unlocked, as if I've used a bunch of skip levels after ascension to play Afroeurasia directly.
So if your goal is to ascend as much as possible, maybe you can just restart Europe Huge each time before you click ascend. In that case you only need to play one level per ascension.
And if you have enough AP so that you can complete Europe Huge consistently within 24 hours, ascending once per day is totally possible!
@Mathematician You were right, if you restart Europe Huge before clicking Ascend, you can start there right again and have all levels unlocked (without any skip powers or advancements) - i.e. ascend again and again from this level without completing the other levels.
I tried the same with Hardened Europe Huge and it works similarly, i.e. you can resume this level after ascending, however, the other levels remain locked. So after completing Hardened EU, you have to start from scratch again / beat the other levels before ascension is possible.
The Hard levels don't really count towards any unlocks, they are effectively sideroads off the main path. So while HEH may appear to be the final level, it's actually just a sideroad off of EH which is the true final map on the main path, albeit finishing it unlocks HEH, making it the final level you can play.
So what is the optimal ascension? (note OPTIMAL, not quickest). I would certainly think skipping Trisk would be good since it is a righteous PITA b/c of the anti-JS factor, it always gives me more hassle than the other levels in the vicinity.
So maybe like this: Ascend, pay 100AP Play China, Afro, USA, EU Play all Hard levels Repeat?
Yeah Triskelion sucks. I'd say EU and EU Hardened currently give the best payoff (in terms of AP/active time) per ascension. But as I'll run out off powers soon (from the hardened EU level), I will probably replay the other hardened levels (but Trisk), too, before ascending.
I play basically any level with over 1400 AP (except the triskelions), restart Europe Huge, then ascend again when it's close to done. The skip levels are still nice but not necessary. I am about to ascend for the 9th time.