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Subject: Descent 2nd Edition Review For Three Types of Players rss

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So, here it is at last. My store was fortunate to get an early copy of the game, and not only has it been played a lot at the store, I've had the opportunity to play it at home with my family. Here is a 3-audience review after several plays of this game. In the end, your opinion of this game may depend on who you are...

Overview, Components and Rules

I'm not going to get into the details of these aspects. You can read the rules, and you can see the pictures. But here are some brief statements:

Descent is, and always was, a tactical miniatures game with some traditional fantasy RPG elements such as a grand story that unfolds over many sessions, improving your character over time, and a progressively harder set of opponents. But it is not, and never was, a roleplaying board game. If you are looking for a dungeon crawling board game with a strong RPG factor, play D&D 4th Edition.

There is a map made of modular board pieces which represents a dungeon or a forest setting or some sort of place where monsters congragate and heroes traverse for the greater good. It is a "one vs. many" game, with one of the players (the Overlord) running the monsters, and the others in charge of the heroes. In each game, each side has their own objectives and victory conditions, which are usually not just about killing one another off.

It has a built-in campaign system which allows all the players to retain and upgrade their heroes (the Overlord gets more capable as well). Based on the outcome of each game (usually in the form of 1 or 2 encounters, or unique map setups) the "good guys" or "bad guys" are going to get special bonuses such as powerful equipment, plus a choice of what quest to play next. After about 9-10 of these quests/games, a definitive winner can be declared.

The rulebook is suprising well-written, thorough and relatively free of the vague-ness and errors found in many FFG rulebooks. This extends to the written components. There have been a few "I need a clarification" posts so far, but a lot fewer than I would have anticipated. In the end, you can usually rely on a rule or card exactly as written, which is not always the case with other FFG products. The ever-present FAQ will initially be a short one.

The components are top-notch, sturdy, well designed, and very, very pretty.

STEREOTYPICAL PLAYER TYPE ONE: THE TOTAL NEWBIE

If you have never played Descent 1e, and you are even remotely interested in a solid dungeon crawling board game, run and get this game. You'll love it.

The game is very easy to learn and even easier to teach. If I can be so presumptuous, I'd like to recommend that you download some player reference sheets I created, which make teaching the game even easier.

The game plays quickly, but not too quickly. In a 2 hour session you will easily get in a full quest, which are each unique and interesting for both sides. The game plays great with up to 5 players, and scales great all the way down to only 2 players, provided one person does not mind controlling 2 heroes.

Combat is fast and furious, and the tactical options are interesting because of the open-ness of the board. The Line of Sight system allows for many options when firing a ranged weapon even when your peers are locked in combat, but also leaves the monsters a lot of elbow room to get back at you. You'll be surprised how exposed you are, and you'll have to deal with that (on both sides)

The campaign system is crisp, varied, and it works. And is extremely replayable. Your character will not advance quickly, but he or she will advance in a way that ensures no one is ever overpowered or underpowered (except for the first introductory scenario, which is heavily favored for the heroes). The Overlord player will be able to pull lots of dirty tricks, but he'll never feel overwhelmed with too many options and choices.

Mostly, the game is fun, efficient and lets everyone cut to the chase, fight monsters, complete quests, and run an entire campaign in a reasonable amount of time (considering how little time most people have to play games). A 20-hour estimation to complete an entire campaign (effectively, ten 2-hour sessions to five 4-hour sessions) seems accurate. At least it was for me.

Buy it. Buy it now.

STEREOTYPICAL PLAYER TYPE TWO: THE FRUSTRATED FIRST EDITION PLAYER

If your description of Descent 1e is along the lines of "that game that seemed like so much fun but was such a slogging grind," then go out and buy 2nd Edition, plus the soon(?)-to-be-released conversion kit for all your old monsters and heroes, and don't look back. This game takes all the fun elements of 1e and rips off the barnacles that made the game so irritating.

I'm reminded of the cartoon version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, where the Grinch is describing all the crap he'll have to listen to on Christmas morning:

Quote:
They'll blow their floofloovers. They'll bang their tartookas.
They'll blow their whohoopers. They'll bang their gardookas.
They'll spin their trumtookas. They'll slam their slooslunkas.
They'll beat their blumbloopas. They'll wham their whowonkas.


And that's how you feel when playing 1e. It's just such an awesome concept of a game, but dragged down by all the noise.

Quote:
And then! Oh, the noise! Oh, the noise! Noise! Noise! Noise!
There's one thing I hate! All the NOISE! NOISE! NOISE! NOISE!


Here is a short list of all the things 2e eliminates:
- Threat Counters
- Destiny Tokens
- The Town
- Shopping during an adventure
- Transport Portals
- Respawn Cards
- Named monsters that bleed coins
- 4 versions of each monster
- Treasure chests full of fabulous wealth
- 3.7 cubic meters of cardboard bits
- About 2-3 hours of game time per map (lesser with Road to Legend)

And adds:
- A campaign system
- Mix-n-Match character archtypes and classes, each with a unique upgrade path.
- Defense dice
- Moderate search goodies
- 2 versions of each monster (easier and harder) with the quantity changing based on the number of heroes.
- A limit to how many monsters can be on the map
- An easy win for the Overlord if you play like you did in 1e

And some significant changes:
- Much more forgiving Line of Sight
- No random skill cards, but a structured upgrade path
- Simplified Large Monster movement
- Fewer, tougher monsters
- Fewer monster reinforcements, or none at all
- Variable, but limited, monster placement
- Defeated characters are only temporarily knocked out, and must spend time "shaking it off" and standing back up again (ain't never gonna keep me down). They are not teleported to town and brought back to a respawn point.

It also adds an "Epic" variant if you want to play a tougher game with better-equipped heroes but don't want to play through a campaign.

This type of player will probably love, love, Love, Love, LOVE this version. It's fast, efficient, and a game (or 2 or 3) will end in an evening.

Buy it. Buy it now.

STEREOTYPICAL PLAYER TYPE THREE: IF IT AIN'T BROKE, DON'T FIX IT

If you love every single aspect of Descent 1e, then you may want to play a few games of 2e before buying. This game will not feel the same. It may feel loose, a bit too open-ended, and perhaps a bit less "epic" than 1e.

Upgrading your character in 2e lives and dies around its campaign system, and as such the characters won't get those sweet equipment upgrades by opening a gold chest. You have to wait, and build up over time. Slowly. It may even feel a bit boring, and (ironically) over too soon. However, the epic variant may be a balm for that.

Some things you may not like:
- The new Line of Sight system
- The slower upgrade paths
- The speed of play
- The smaller maps
- And all the rest of those things that are listed above.

This type of player may want to try the game out a bit. See if your FLGS has a demo copy (mine does).

Understand that you may not like 2e. But also understand that this is not a problem with 2e! It's just a different game that has been expressly designed for a wider audience. Understand that this Descent is not the old Descent, for better or worse.

Instead, embrace it for what it is, rather than belittle it for what it is not, and never would have been.

Give it a shot. Then buy it. Buy it now. Because it's awesome.
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What a clever, informative review. Thanks, Bryan! I like the format of addressing different audiences particularly.

Count me in the newbie category; here is a question from that point of view. Do you feel that the game can be enjoyed with intermittent play, pulling it out once every two months or so (a "one shot" in D&D terms)? ...or is the game really made for campaign play? My group likes to rotate games quite a bit.
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Brother Jim wrote:
Do you feel that the game can be enjoyed with intermittent play, pulling it out once every two months or so (a "one shot" in D&D terms)? ...or is the game really made for campaign play? My group likes to rotate games quite a bit.


Definitely. You can pick just about any quest and play it out of the box. And with the included campaign tally sheets, you can do the campaign over time as well, with time in between quests. Just store up your characters in their current incarnation, and start back up where you left off. You can also easily play an "epic" game where you "level up" your characters before starting any single quest. Lots of choices!
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Brother Jim wrote:
What a clever, informative review. Thanks, Bryan! I like the format of addressing different audiences particularly.

Count me in the newbie category; here is a question from that point of view. Do you feel that the game can be enjoyed with intermittent play, pulling it out once every two months or so (a "one shot" in D&D terms)? ...or is the game really made for campaign play? My group likes to rotate games quite a bit.


If you've got a gaming group that is mostly the same, it's easy enough to play a campaign. The only things you need to take note of are:

-Which heroes are being played
-Skills and items purchased by the heroes
-Cards purchased by the overlord
-Any relics earned, and who earned them
-Which quests were played, and who won each of them
-How much XP and gold both the overlord and the heroes have remaining

For the first four, just have two ziploc bags, one for the heroes and one for the overlord, and store the hero sheets, purchased skills, and purchased items in one bag, and the overlord's cards in the other, and store the relics in the bag for whoever managed to win them. For the last two, the game comes with a notepad of quest tracker sheets that list all the quests, and also have a spot to record everyone's exp and the hero's gold.

Alternatively, if you want to be able to "take apart" the campaign and play the game with a different group, you can write everything on a sheet of paper or type it up in Word and print it out.

If you don't want to stick to campaign play, the game does admittedly feel a little flat sticking to just the basics, but the rules do include a way for both the heroes and overlord to start a quest with more exp and gold, which really opens up a lot of options for both sides. Personally, if I play the game as a one-shot with people who are familiar with it, I'm always going to use one of the epic variants.
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Ben Michels
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Great review. I fall into your second category for the most part and am definitely looking forward to the second edition. I really enjoyed playing in the demo that you ran, so thanks again.
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bryanwinter wrote:
2e lives and dies around its campaign system

I sincerely hope not! I don't know until I've played a couple more quests following the advanced Epic rules, but if this game only plays well in campaign mode, then FFG has seriously messed up. What's the point of "streamlining" a game if it requires 20 hours to play?!?

-shnar
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shnar wrote:
bryanwinter wrote:
2e lives and dies around its campaign system

I sincerely hope not! I don't know until I've played a couple more quests following the advanced Epic rules, but if this game only plays well in campaign mode, then FFG has seriously messed up. What's the point of "streamlining" a game if it requires 20 hours to play?!?

-shnar

I think there's a difference between streamlining a game's mechanics, and the length of the game, especially if that length isn't meant to be done in one sitting.

That being said, I do agree that if it's only really "good" in Campaign Mode, that's going to be a bit of a disappointment. I don't mind if Campaign Mode is the focus, but it does need to work as standalone quests as well.
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shnar wrote:
bryanwinter wrote:
2e lives and dies around its campaign system

I sincerely hope not! I don't know until I've played a couple more quests following the advanced Epic rules, but if this game only plays well in campaign mode, then FFG has seriously messed up. What's the point of "streamlining" a game if it requires 20 hours to play?!?

-shnar


Let me clarify that statement in that particular context (which is the rest of that paragraph). Unlike 1e, where you pretty-much max out your character within the course of a single game (as exemplified by the progression of bronze to silver to gold chests as you proceed), in 2e you don't really upgrade at all within a single game (unless you draw the chest while searching). That is because the upgrading happens as a result of the campaign system. And as a result, hardcore 1e fans may find that aspect a bit lacking.

The entire game does not live and die on the campaign mode, but the upgrade system does. Unless you shortcut it with the epic variant.

I've edited the statement in the review accordingly.
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sigmazero13 wrote:
That being said, I do agree that if it's only really "good" in Campaign Mode, that's going to be a bit of a disappointment. I don't mind if Campaign Mode is the focus, but it does need to work as standalone quests as well.


It absolutely does. The game excels within each encounter, which is the heart of the game, and where the fun resides. But if you are hoping to buff out your character within a single session, like you do in 1e, you will be disappointed.

Additionally, you have to play each game with the assumption that what you have during this encounter, is what you get. There is no chest of goodies to help you along the way. Fortunately, that chest of goodies is also not a necessity, as it can be in 1e.

It's simply a different game with a different dynamic. One that hardcore 1e fans may not appreciate.

You can have just as much fun playing a series of one-shots as you can with a campaign. Frankly, the game encourages campaign play - it's easy, fast, and it works. You'll find yourself wanting to do it. But it's certainly not necessary for fun.
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bryanwinter wrote:
You can have just as much fun playing a series of one-shots as you can with a campaign. Frankly, the game encourages campaign play - it's easy, fast, and it works. You'll find yourself wanting to do it. But it's certainly not necessary for fun.

It's not a matter of "want" but rather "can". I simply cannot play a 20hr game these days, heck it's hard for me to play a 2hr game. If I could play a campaign, I'd probably continue the Sea Of Blood campaign my group was playing. When I played a single quest at Basic level, I was very disappointed not just by the lack of growth but by the limited options we had as heroes. I'm hoping the Epic variant will change this, but only time will tell.

-shnar
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Hmmmmm! You haven't got a category for me!

I absolutely loved Descent 1e. I loved the epic marathon length sessions and didn't mind that on some expanson quests the game would last for well over 6 hours. I also loved the 1e campaigns for all their shortcomings - yes Sea of Blood I'm talking about you!). Descent 1e is a vast labyrinthine behemoth of a game and I love it and given the chance it is still my go to game of choice.

BUT, I am already hooked on Descent 2e. The shorter gameplay means that the game is likely to get played far more often than Descent 1e did, and a lot of the time it would be a solo play or just 2 of us - handling 4 heroes for six hours was a real brain stretcher! The newer shinier chromier pieces are just gorgeuos to look at. OK, so there are fewer pieces than in 1e, but I'm not complaining about that, I still think it provides great value for money.

Does this make me a Descent fanboy? Probably, yet despite this I can see the pitfalls and shortcomings of 1e and will hang on to my copy - I still can't quite believe how many players have sold their copies off to make a quick buck. Come the day and time availability, I will still be up for a Descent 1e marathon. For me 2e will just give me more opportunities to play these fantastic games.

So, I still don't know which of the categories I fit? Does this mean that I'm going to avoid 2e, absolutely not. Can I suggest adding a 4th category for Descent Fanboy Savant (I.E. players who will pretty much buy anything Descent related. Players who fully recognise all of the complexity, inconsistency and vageuness of the original game but regardless still play it regularly and have a real blast. Players who are champing at the bit for Descent 2e to hit the stores (online and Bricks & Mortar). Players who will finally be able to bask in the glow of new Descent goodness).
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shnar wrote:
bryanwinter wrote:
You can have just as much fun playing a series of one-shots as you can with a campaign. Frankly, the game encourages campaign play - it's easy, fast, and it works. You'll find yourself wanting to do it. But it's certainly not necessary for fun.

It's not a matter of "want" but rather "can". I simply cannot play a 20hr game these days, heck it's hard for me to play a 2hr game. If I could play a campaign, I'd probably continue the Sea Of Blood campaign my group was playing. When I played a single quest at Basic level, I was very disappointed not just by the lack of growth but by the limited options we had as heroes. I'm hoping the Epic variant will change this, but only time will tell.

-shnar

For Descent 1e we got "Road to Legend" to enable the campaign. For Descent 2e maybe we'll get "Tiny Trail to Legend" to disable it
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slaphead6 wrote:
Can I suggest adding a 4th category for Descent Fanboy Savant (I.E. players who will pretty much buy anything Descent related. Players who fully recognise all of the complexity, inconsistency and vageuness of the original game but regardless still play it regularly and have a real blast. Players who are champing at the bit for Descent 2e to hit the stores (online and Bricks & Mortar). Players who will finally be able to bask in the glow of new Descent goodness).


You got it. Player Type 2.5. cool

And Shnar can be the poster boy for Player Type 3.
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I'll have to pick this up when the conversion kit is available, then try and find time to paint 1e base game + all 3 miniature filled expansions + 2e base game, dreadfleet takes priority though
 
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Here is a new sub-category, the unfortunate newbie that bought 1e (with a couple of expansions) and never found time to play it. It sounds like the new version is much more likely to get played because of its shorter play time. So, if I buy the 2e, what do I do with my unplayed 1e set? is it worth keeping for the miniatures? Does any of 1e translate over (e.g. are scenarios usable with the 2e rules)?
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Yep, I'm type two. Total slogfest. Sold it after two aborted plays. This review has pretty much sold me on the second edition.
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From what i,m reading it seems you don,t collect loot. Powerful magic items etc. I hope i'm wrong. Surely that would be like Diablo without the loot gathering. Some aspects of the new edition really appeal. Especially if it cuts out fighting hordes of monsters. But from what i have read so far the words baby and bathwater spring to mind. So far i believe i belong to audience 2. I will buy this game and conversion but may adapt it in favour of first edition. Own all the expansions so time and money invested in first ed is huge. Not to mention painting all the minis.Starting to think i'll get 2nd ed just for more varied monsters for first. What is the expected release date now, i heard July. Thanks for the review Bryan. Just feel a little deflated by what i have read. Hope i'm proved wrong.
 
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jflight1 wrote:
Here is a new sub-category, the unfortunate newbie that bought 1e (with a couple of expansions) and never found time to play it. It sounds like the new version is much more likely to get played because of its shorter play time. So, if I buy the 2e, what do I do with my unplayed 1e set? is it worth keeping for the miniatures? Does any of 1e translate over (e.g. are scenarios usable with the 2e rules)?


All your plastic will upgrade. You'll need to purchase the Descent: Journeys in the Dark (second edition) – Conversion Kit (no ETA on that yet), which will have new cards for all the monsters and heroes and lieutenants that have ever been released (even promos).
 
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Tiddleydwarf wrote:
From what i,m reading it seems you don,t collect loot. Powerful magic items etc.


Not during a single game, within the game. There are some times when you get a lucky search, in which you find a Treasure Chaset, and get a free draw from the Market Deck. And that's pretty darn exciting when it happens.

Other times a quest reward will be a powerful relic, but it may go the OL (and his lieutenant) if he won the quest. There are other times when you get to pull something cool. But mostly, you're going to get the cool stuff in between games, while shopping.

But you need to think about why you want to play the game. If it is to collect trinkets, then this may not be your game. If it is to kill monsters, it may be.
 
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slaphead6 wrote:
The newer shinier chromier pieces are just gorgeuos to look at.

I'll agree here, those boards look really good, and their unique pieces make for some very interesting dungeon layouts. However, that and the figures are about the only new chrome that is cool, hell it's about the only new chrome there is. Everything else is cards or very unimaginative 'generic' markers.

-shnar
 
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bryanwinter wrote:
And Shnar can be the poster boy for Player Type 3.

You just don't get it. I want to like this game, I want this game to be great. I wish it was branded differently, but aside from that, I really, really hope it is a great game. But from my one play and from everyone's review, it's a poor game unless you play campaign, and that's very, very unfortunate.

-shnar
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shnar wrote:
bryanwinter wrote:
And Shnar can be the poster boy for Player Type 3.

You just don't get it. I want to like this game, I want this game to be great. I wish it was branded differently, but aside from that, I really, really hope it is a great game. But from my one play and from everyone's review, it's a poor game unless you play campaign, and that's very, very unfortunate.

-shnar


I get it, and certainly didn't mean to offend. I'm trying to convince you that it's not a poor game if you don't play the campaign. The epic variant absolutely lets you play a beefed up game, as if you've already been through part or most of the campaign. You auto-upgrade your dudes and play, simple as that. But it sounds like you won't believe it until you experience it for yourself. Which is understandable.

So, I see you in the "give it a shot before passing judgement" farm.
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Quote:

Understand that you may not like 2e. But also undertand that this is not a problem with 2e! It's just a different game that has been expressly designed for a wider audience. Understand that this Descent is not the old Descent, for better or worse.


Perfect explanation of how 1E fans should look at this game. Thank you!
 
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Hmm, it seems I'm a 2.75. I mostly liked everything about Descent except the classic scenario format, and only really enjoyed the game during our RtL campaigns. I'll certainly fold and get it once it's published in French, but I'm afraid some of the streamlining might be really disappointing for us 1st edition veterans
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reddish22 wrote:


Quote:

Understand that you may not like 2e. But also undertand that this is not a problem with 2e! It's just a different game that has been expressly designed for a wider audience. Understand that this Descent is not the old Descent, for better or worse.


Perfect explanation of how 1E fans should look at this game. Thank you!


Yeah, definitely. You're right and I look at the game this way exactly. But why have "I-love-every-single-aspect-of-the-first-edition" fans needs to complain about this game? Because it's called Descent: Journeys in the Dark Second Edition, which strongly evocate (and is meant to evocate) upgraded version of their so beloved game... and this based-on-title expectation don't have to be fully satisfied here. If it would be called Special or Streamlined Edition or there would be found some completely new title for it, it wouldn't cause any complains at all, I'm sure...

It's a business, I know, the first edition wasn't probably worth a reprint but Descent is almost legendary trademark, which sells much more copies than some completely new title... However I haven't try 2E yet, I think that couple of complains of first edition lovers are only logical when this way of marketing was chosen and it can be even positive thing: some newbies could notice that First Edition was not some predecessor only but is a very different game which may be for some of them even more enjoyable...

Very nice review, by the way. Thank you very much for it!
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