Guide to Descent 2Ed Overlord Cards
This article presents a complete review of all Overlord cards released as of now. It will hopefully get a certain mindset across, explaining how to use the OL cards mechanism to best effect. As such the individual cards review part of the list is more of a support document, the core of the article being the list header itself, which I’ll be using here to give my thoughts as an overlord player.
The intent with this guide is to help our fellow overlord players to make an informed decision when selecting their cards, and trying to build a reliable deck. The best you can do, however, is to make your own opinion about the cards as you play them. It will make you better at the overlord role, through analyzing what you could have done better, learning from your own mistakes and slowly trying to optimize your card play quest after quest off the back of your newly acquired knowledge and experience. My locale is likely not the same as yours, therefore you will inevitably find situations where your experience slightly diverges from mine with regards to certain cards.
This list may be useful to beginners, so they can get started on proper grounds, knowing what to expect with regards to playing overlord cards. Experienced players can also use this list as a baseline for discussions. We can expand on how any given card can be used, in which situation it can shine, possible synergies with other abilities, and so on. The goal, ultimately, is to identify aspects of the overlord play that could be interesting to try out, into discussing overlord strategy in general. Despite my extended experience of the game, I certainly haven’t explored the integrality of the possibilities the game has to offer.
OL cards in a nutshell
Overlord cards are the essence of the Overlord power, and I would even go ahead and say that they matter at least as much as the monsters you can use on the map. Why? Because they are the only parameter of the big Overlord equation the heroes cannot calculate nor reliably predict. They probably have a slight idea about what you may have in your hand at any point in time, based on your previous discards and how aggressive your play style normally is, but these cards are still hidden information in essence. Even if they knew what you were holding in your hand (there are a few ways for them to achieve that), they still wouldn’t know when exactly to expect a certain card to be played, as this decision remains yours entirely.
Now don’t make me say something I haven’t said, you will clearly lose if you have no monsters on the map to carry out your plans, and cards alone will not save you from that situation. Fortunately most quests do ensure a certain stream of new monsters coming back into the game, so you can hardly draw blank on that point. Monsters are instrumental to your way to victory. But cards are there to support them. Without the cards, clever hero players will outperform your monsters, and may even be able to tank your game, basically. It’s a bit of an overstatement to say it like this, but that’s how important these cards are. Now I would like to make clear that it is not only what these cards do as such. It is also the feeling for the heroes to have a sword of Damocles hanging over them, putting their plans into danger, and then ruining them, which is psychologically devastating. Have you ever been in workshops where you and your peers spent a decent amount of time getting to an agreement on something really complex, only to get your progress reduced to zero by a simple element of fact revealed to the team as you get out of that 4-hours meeting? Then you start planning again from scratch and try to build your next move on these new facts. Yeah, it definitely feels the same in our context. There is nothing worse for you than a team of confident heroes. You want them to plain out panic, or at least give them enough of a challenge so they keep switching focus on an often basis, into making mistakes. Let’s be clear here, you need these mistakes and misplays to win objectives. The opposite can hardly be said. Heroes knowing what they´re doing AND allowed to carry out their plans will crush any overlord regardless of experience if he/she is playing too conservatively. This is not a game where everybody is having his little individual race and then scores are compared to establish a winner, this is a whole or nothing kind of outcome, therefore what the heroes can do is your problem to address, on top of making sure they do not interfere too much with your own plans.
Another thing that is truly unique about your cards is that the heroes almost cannot interact with them. Besides very few abilities available to the heroes, they just have to suck it up and hope for the least worst of all possible outcomes. This feeling of being powerless contributes to the tension in the game. In fact many encounters are won off the back of overlord cards, with all the drama involved around it. There is nothing more deceptive than something really bad happening to you which you could do stone nothing about. How would you still want to play the heroes side after what I just wrote?
OL Cards and game balance
I believe the overlord player, often the person with the game, or at least one of the most knowledgeable player around the table with regards to game rules, has a big responsibility that is often overlooked. It’s basically the only person able to adjust balance between the two sides. When taking on the role of the overlord, you must first consider your opposition. Your heroes pick the best hero cards and the best hero classes available, and are all very well experienced? Don't pick Magus, then. Look for the best of the best, or you’re in for a treat. This type of game will punish you very hard unless you rise up to the challenge. You need to pick your options accordingly. On the opposite end of the spectrum, if your players are inexperienced or are trying out some obscure hero combinations, then feel free to play something in line with their choices. Reward your players for dumbing down some of the top-tier hero awesomeness by showing them that you too can play lower tiers. You can always adjust your selections afterwards anyway, this is not to say that you shouldn’t buy top tier cards at all, however you could at least consider some other directions as for building your deck instead of sticking to the good old winning formula.
Now let’s be clear about one point here: you should never make subpar choices while playing the game (unless you are teaching the game to somebody) but you could always tailor your choices in terms of monsters or cards to your opposition. Not having the strongest team of heroes gives you the bandwidth to try out new combinations, skill trees, or individual cards you wouldn’t have normally considered at the first place. Always playing the same cards effectively bars you a good part of what the game has to offer, after all.
Building your deck
Picking a basic deck is the first thing to do. What choice is best comes down to personal preference, as both decks are equivalent in power. Basic II is slightly more complex to handle, as in more parameters to take into consideration, although not necessarily more rewarding than Basic all things considered. Basic is more of what I would call an absolute deck, with many cards having a fixed effect you can always rely on. On the opposite, Basic II emphasizes attribute tests so the cards are more random in nature. Now bear in mind each Basic deck has some fat in it, which is going to be the cards you will want to side out as soon as you purchase better ones. You should however never set aside cards “for good”, as you never know if a card could still be useful at some point depending on particular quest objectives or other reasons.
I happen to have a couple of rules of thumb, but please take them as indicators more than actual methods of selection. I´m thinking like this: Dark Charm is one of the best cards out of the Basic set. If all of your heroes are running 3 or more in Willpower, then the card is pretty useless, therefore Basic as a deck loses one of its top tier cards. Would I still pick Basic then? Similarly, if you are not facing a warrior with attributes stats so that you can gain 6 movement points out of Blinding Speed in a more or less reliable manner, then Basic II loses a bit of its appeal, in my opinion. You can see it the other way, which is if the hero party is very low on Willpower on average, then Dark Charm is going to shine and Basic becomes interesting just for that fact. Now obviously, one single card doesn’t make the whole deck better in any way, but you can apply the same reasoning to other cards and get a rough estimate at the overall usability of each basic deck based on similar arguments. With that being said, I would still recommend not to sweat it too much, since your deck is going to evolve anyway.
Specialize or Diversify?
What I´ve found from experience is that you generally want to have a broad set of abilities at your disposal so you don’t restrict your card play to only a few in-game situations. Your basic deck is designed to give you that kind of variety, and I think you need to keep building on it as you purchase new cards. Basically you want your hero players to feel like you could play a card in almost any situation. It might be thatyou can’t, because so much depends on your card draw anyway, but the trick is that your heroes don’t know that. If they know you´re close to 100% about combat, then they can roam the map without the fear to get trapped by something. The tension you impose by making them realize you have a possible play upon them searching or opening a door makes them nervous, into switching focus, into making misplays, into you having better chances to win.
Now even before looking into the various overlord classes you can choose your cards from, I think you should get a grasp of the campaign’s most represented objectives, for both hero and overlord parts. If the campaign emphasizes on killing all heroes, race quests, or a certain figure living long enough to get the quest to time out, etc. Although you cannot predict which exact quests are going to be played and how the heroes will be evolving as the campaign progresses, getting a feel of what awaits you can be a deciding factor for your future purchases and overall investment in overlord classes.
It is my belief that you should decide on a direction/strategy early on, as for which class(es) to invest in, so that you can make good use of your xp. That is, to get good cards you think will be useful, and also possibly facilitate future purchases as in unlocking 2/3xp cards. You cannot re-spec in this game (with a few exceptions) so all xp you have spent is gone and you get no refund for cards you don’t use. I recommend choosing a path right after the Introduction. You don’t really have time to cogitate, as your heroes won’t and you need your deck to get started on its evolution.
The next thing in my opinion is to decide whether you want to run servants or not. What’s so special about these cards is that they do not count towards the number of cards your deck should have, being available at all times. This is huge, and also a reason to always try to get these cards regardless of what cards you intend to spend the rest of your xp on. I would however recommend buying servant cards the earliest possible, since the servant is quite fragile and won’t stand much chance during Act II. Getting some help to win these Act I quests is a good way to keep up with heroes during Act II. The typical winning curve is in favor in the Overlord during Act I and in favor of the Heroes during Act II. It’s a gross exaggeration, but it emphasizes on the importance of winning Act I quests to grab the extra xp early on. Servants are good for many reasons so you cannot go wrong dedicating a xp or two to these cards.
Strictly speaking you could stick to level 1 cards and never buy any level 2/3. There are so many good level 1 cards, sometimes outperforming level 2s, so you could in theory spend your xp immediately once gained to get one more card straight into your arsenal and get the best training curve you can get as the overlord. It’s a proven strategy. Now admittedly, you´d still be tempted to get some of these level 2/3s anyway, but just so you know that doing so wouldn’t necessarily be a suboptimal choice to make, all things considered.
On to the overlord classes now. All of the older overlord classes have the blatant inconvenient of only proposing two level 1 cards for your purchase, one of each (if not both) being really bad. That often means going for the same card twice before getting a level 2. Now purchasing two Web Traps is certainly a good choice to make, but I don’t personally field more than one Blood Rage or one No Rest for the Wicked in my deck, which means for me to be able to get a level 2, I have to force myself to buy a card I don’t want. This heavily contributes to the older classes being quite bad in general, because the game does not encourage you to invest in these trees at all. The level 2/3s are generally not worth that kind of sacrifice anyway.
Newer classes (all smiling now again) give you 4 unique cards to choose from, servants being on top of that. Out of these 4, there are certainly a couple of them that are good enough for you to allow you to dig deeper to level 2 and even below. It is not uncommon to see that most level 2/3s invested by players are from these classes, as recent design decisions clearly made these more interesting/powerful. Now it is my personal wish that the older classes get a redesign so the additional copies are replaced by two new cards instead. That would make a new incentive for exploring these trees again. One can dream.
Some of the overlord classes require focused investment for their cards to be good. You could absolutely buy a single card from Infector or Soulbinder, and witness the card performing okay, but effects stack better if you´re focused on your purchases. Servants-based classes are good to invest on, not only because the servant gets stronger the more abilities you unlock, but because it opens up new plays from your servant.
Should you aim at getting a level 3 card? That’s a tough question. Mathematically speaking, for a full-length campaign, you only get to do that during Act II; how early depending on how much extra xp you could grab from your precious wins. In the vast majority of the cases, that means you get the last 1-2 quests to use your level 3 card, which you also might not be drawing anyway (admittedly the risk is slim). Therefore, if you haven’t won any quest during Act I, then you could possibly give up on the idea to get a level 3. You could still go for it technically, but you´ll have to do the math first. You have to remember that a level 3 card costs 3xp, requires 3 additional xp to be invested in the same class as a prerequisite (often 4xp instead of 3 if you go 2x level 1s and 1x level 2 as many players do), implies that you cannot get a new card between at least two quests just to save up the xp (therefore not evolving). Now compare this to 3 top tier level 1 cards you can buy for that same cost, minus the pre-requisites, with instant access as you unlock the xp. That’s a lot to consider. For me personally, there is no choice here. As much as I find some level 3s to be tempting, I’ll take the three level 1s instead especially if I’m playing competitively. But sure, these level 3s beg to be tried out so go ahead with that if you feel like you have the bandwidth.
Overlord cards listed as rewards cannot be acquired unless you win the corresponding quest awarding these. That’s just how it is. Now the problem is, that if you think like me that Rumor Quests should be avoided at all costs (for balance reasons), then the consequence of that decision is that you end up with a bunch of cards you will never get to play - ever. And even if you’re ok with playing Rumors, OL card rewards are really not “rewarding” enough for you to play the rumors in my opinion. Now back to what I was saying earlier regarding balance, feel free to play rumor quests if your heroes need a boost, and get the card as a reward of your kindness
In all other situations, making these cards available for purchase is the only solution I have to remedy this issue. A nominal cost of 2xp is generally how I tackle it, but you could also set an individual price tag on every one of them since some cards are clearly not as useful as other ones anyway. Let’s be clear here: this is a house rule. It also may be more appropriate to run this house rule whenever you feel like you need the additional influx of cards, in other words if your opposition is strong and requires you to get the extra help. You can always negotiate that type of thing with your heroes.
Selecting your cards
You should never have more than 15 cards in your deck, period. Doing otherwise hurts your capacity to recycle your cards quickly enough, and finding the right card at the right moment can become an issue the more cards you throw into your deck. You will be drawing 4 cards to start with, then one per turn. It's a very slow draw engine.
Read the quest objectives first before choosing any of your cards. Select the cards that have a direct impact on your strategy for winning those objectives. Similarly, some of your cards could make things harder for the heroes to win theirs, so these cards are good too on equal basis. Then see what monsters you will be using for each encounter (select your open groups prior to selecting your cards), and depending on their abilities which cards you want to field to support them. For instance, do you really need cards giving extra surges if your monsters don’t have any surge ability (like Elementals). I would normally recommend putting a certain amount of Trap cards into your deck, because these are highly disruptive and unpredictable. Maybe not always disruptive in how powerful their effect is, but they do force the heroes to switch focus and reconsider things, which is valuable for you as an intimidating force.
Set aside anything that doesn’t make it into your top 15. Cards doing a trivial amount of damage, cards relying on a failed attribute test your average hero would be good at passing, etc. And yes, don’t forget your servants if you have any!
Playing/Managing your hand
It is my experience that the overlord has the best chance to stay in the course for meeting the encounter objectives if he/she is careful about playing overlord cards. Only play a card when it actually contributes to advancing your position. You don't play Web Trap for the amusement of seeing one hero being caught by it; you play it because you have a thought out sequence of actions following that play. It is all about efficiency, since your card engine is not really refilling you quickly enough for you to expect isolated card plays to do much in your favor. Let me expand on that: heroes can quite easily recover from the effect of one of your cards, even if that involves several revive actions, however it is much harder for them to come back from a sequence of abilities being played against them.
Playing cards carefully does not mean playing conservatively. The latter is more about not taking risks, while the former is about finding the sweet spot for maximizing your card play. Being conservative earns you no glory in this game, and doesn’t generally cut it. The Overlord needs to take a certain amount of risks to even stand a chance against a highly competent team of heroes.
Hoarding cards becomes a necessity if you want to go big. You don’t have to play a card every turn. You don’t have to empty your hand in one big bang either, actually sitting with only one card or even none in your hand is a situation you should try to avoid at all costs. There is nothing worse than your hero players seeing that you have no cards in hand, therefore gaining confidence and enthusiasm as they no longer see impediments to their actions. You want them confused and afraid of your plays. Actually it is a valid strategy to simply gather cards during the first encounter of a multiple encounters quest so you start the last encounter with your deck in hand. We´re into dirty tactics here, and probably why newer campaigns only provide single-encounter quests, or at least special rules deciding how many cards can be carried forward between encounters. It still has to be mentioned, though.
Another aspect of card management is your ability to handle the heroes’ attempts to force your card play. That’s something you need to be able to read at all times. They can and will trick you into playing your cards to get them out of the way. Heroes will want to minimize the risk from getting hit by your cards when they carry out critical action sequences play, therefore letting a hero bait you and take the hit from one of your cards can be a bargain compared to seeing the card being played in key situations where your card play is out of their control. Your best play here, is not let them do that, by using the information of them knowing about you having the card against them, through trying to make them think they can control your card play. You don’t fabricate bait situations like these without sacrificing some other things. Let them struggle with the set up of their trap and then simply ignore the temptation to fall into it. Or even better, whenever you see the opportunity, deliberately fall into their bait and then bounce back with a second card play the heroes were not expecting.
You also have to think about what heroes or hero classes are played against you. Elder Mok has a heroic feat allowing him to peak at your cards and force a discard. There is not much you can do to counteract this (except running Kyndrithul’s Dangerous Knowledge to punish him, although that doesn’t make you keep the card). I would therefore recommend not buying cards like Unholy Ritual or anything you would normally play on turn 1 - if you know they´re going to be stripped from your hand at the very start of each encounter. A strategy that seems to pay off against Mok and effects of this kind is to keep talking about how a given card is a game changer, imprinting how awesome this card is on your heroes head so this card becomes their prime target when forcing you to discard. It doesn’t matter what else is in your hand, their brain will automatically tag this card with a big red flag thanks to that sneaky work of yours. You still get to lose a good card, but that also protects other cards in your deck, which is the point here. In general don’t speak at all about your cards as this gives hints to your hero players as for what to except and prioritize as a target for such effects.
Playing against Marshall class can be difficult. You need to constantly have an eye on his stamina, and play the bait and switch game over and over. That means card disadvantage, since you have to throw a card to bait him to get to play a second card right after. Dangerous Knowledge can help you dissuading the Marshall player from using this ability, and other cards in the same plot deck can force him to pay more to activate his ability. No Interference can be a good card to play as well, although it throws out a big warning flag to the heroes. All in all, Kyndrithul’s plot deck is the only set of tools currently available you can use to minimize discard effects from Marshall.
Now should you get a card or a threat token from a kill? I think you should always take the card, up to the point where you know who is winning, which is where you’d want the threat instead. You cannot pass on the possibility to draw extra cards, and threat is rarely equivalent to one card in that respect.
There are various ways to enhance your OL card play, as plot cards or monsters sometimes have abilities synergizing with it. Using these abilities may improve your capacity to use your OL cards to their best effect. There are a few interesting plot cards to begin with, with such affinity to OL cards:
- Verminous' Always Watching allows you to Scry 1 (reveal top card, put it back on top or bottom of your deck) at the start of your turn during the entire quest, all for 1 threat (besides initial investment). This is huge. Being able to see what comes next in your deck can help you drawing the right card in time, or at least getting rid of something not critical at this point in time. Treasure Hunter does that with the search deck to great effect, after all. A must-buy if you´re into this plot deck.
- Zachareth's Sole Purpose allows your deck to go down in size to 13 cards. Your deck recycles much faster the less card it contains, which is normally a good thing especially if you specialize in Infector or other classes where finding the right cards as soon as possible is crucial for making said class work as a whole. 13 cards also allows you to pack the strongest cards and let the fillers stay in the game box, which can be pretty huge once you start toying with these 2/3xp cards. Hitting these high-power cards a bit more often is a chance you don’t want to pass on.
- Belthir's deck (multiple cards) is built to increase the effect of your Basic cards (core game Basic). It slightly enhances the effects of these cards, which makes them more valuable and impactful. My personal stance, though, is that the “boost” is kind of out shadowed by what brand new cards can give you instead. You are also put in a tricky situation, where you can no longer easily decide what cards to side out without shooting yourself in the foot.
-Kyndrithul's Dangerous Knowledge punishes heroes forcing you to remove overlord cards from your hand. It is a must buy if you are facing this type of effect, assuming the test on Knowledge can reliably fail (possibly backed up by Befuddles if need be).
Monsters can also help you - in several ways. Firstly, you need to play your monster actions so they can fully benefit from your cards. Positioning a master Hybrid Sentinel for an additional Firebreath attack, forcing heroes to chase a monster and later get caught in a trap, etc. Your cards complement your monster actions, and vice-versa. You need to use the physical locale on the map to get the heroes/monsters into direct range of your cards for best effect.
Secondly, a few monsters do have a global affinity to OL cards:
- Master Changelings alter attribute values, which can be extremely useful in conjunction with cards basing an effect on attribute tests, which is... many cards indeed. Changelings, besides being a solid choice of an open group in most situations, can be relied on whenever you need to find ways to make these attribute test failures happen.
- Dark Minotaurs are especially good at netting you infection tokens, as long as you can position them correctly amongst the heroes - and keep them alive. You need the Adaptive Contagion card out for this to work, obviously.
- The Verminous lieutenant allows you to recycle a card from your hand on a surge result, which is a good way to dig for these top tier cards attack after attack.
From a general perspective, monsters with AoE attacks are good candidates for extra attacks, in order to maximize your damage output. Monsters with high speed, or large monsters, are good candidates for extra movement actions, in order to maximize your added range. This does not mean you should never play cards on monsters which do not fall into these categories, but it is an indication of how you should normally select your targets for the strongest possible effect.
On to the individual cards review
Most cards are situational in essence. Their effect can therefore be rated everything between poor and excellent depending on how and why you use them. You will always find players speaking high of a [bad] card because they saw it in action once and were really impressed by what it did. The question you need to ask yourself however is if this was based on a course of events you can reliably reproduce. If so, then the card is probably a good one. But if the stars first need to get aligned, and your opposition needs to be really unlucky for your card to do anything, then you can probably exclude that particular lucky event from your evaluation. How to evaluate that situational aspect then? Well, what is important is that you cannot afford sitting with cards in your hand that you cannot use at all. You need to assess how realistically you can play any given card in your deck.
The ratings below reflect the ability of the card to advance your board position, as opposed to playing abilities that do close to nothing to help you on that point. In that respect it is difficult to rate deck manipulation cards; because they are essentially -1 card you (card disadvantage) even in the eventuality when you get to dig out exactly what you wanted. If that makes you win an encounter, then good for you, otherwise this disadvantage remains for the remainder of said encounter. Cards that pack a strong capacity of reaction to powerful hero abilities are also rated higher than others. You really want to dissuade your heroes from using their best abilities, and punish them when they choose to do it anyway. Finally, cost does matter. Not only the price in xp, but also everything involved to get to the point where you can actually purchase the card, and eventual drawbacks the ability may be listing.
Please note these ratings are only provided for informational purpose. I recommend that you consider every single card when building your deck, even the bad ones, and then setting systematically aside the ones you think you no longer need to consider for the remainder of the campaign. I personally use a program to help me sorting the cards, although there really isn't much a difference between doing this and simply browsing the physical cards. Whatever practice suits you the most will do the trick, as long as it doesn’t get in the way of your enthusiasm for taking the time to strategize. That preparation work is very important.
I personally like to run a short list of cards covering a broad range of options for future consideration, and then re-evaluate that list as the heroes unlock items and abilities. The opposite is also true, where you can see a card you had set aside earlier becoming more interesting as heroes start using effects said card has a chance to interact with.
Feel free to read my review of plot decks here:
- [+] Dice rolls