My full review of Descent: Journeys in the Dark can be found here:
A full list of my board game reviews can be found on the same site here:
(Thanks to Dad's Gaming Addiction for the layout idea)
I was in a real funk at our last game night. The group wanted to play take-that style games such as Hex-Hex and Munchkin, but after having a particularly rough day at work I wasn’t feeling it. As I was browsing the shelves at the game store, I found that what I really wanted to do is play a dungeon crawler style game. I wanted to work with my friends instead of against them to help lift me out of this cloud I was in.
Browsing the shelves I notice a copy of Descent: Journeys in the Dark, a game by Fantasy Flight Games that for one reason or another I have passed up. The salesperson described it to me as a cooperative, modular dungeon crawler that could be played as a one-off adventure or strung together as a campaign. This seemed to be just what I was in the mood for.
Brandon suggested we give it a try. “It’s not my money, I’ve always wanted to try it out and I’ll be a bro and play it with you if no one else does.” I make the purchase and Brandon helps bring a few more people to the table to try this out. As I mentioned earlier, Descent is a cooperative dungeon crawler for 5 players in which players work together to overcome a particular quest. In our first adventure, three of us set out to protect the roads from a giant two-headed ettin and his cadre of vicious-yet-annoying goblins. The bad guys, known as the overlord, needed someone to control them and Brandon eagerly volunteered, providing an animated voice and personality to our foes.
It took us about 30 minutes to punch out the pieces, pick characters to play, and set up the first tutorial adventure. There’s 4 archetypes you can play which encapsulate the basic roles typical in a RPG: warrior, healer, Mage, and scout. I chose to be a knight, a protector of the group, soaking up damage and inspiring the group to overcome the odds. We also had a disciple who can heal and still get up in the front if needed and an arcane master whose arcane bolts would zap the enemies from afar. Each of these archetypes had two character options you could choose from to provide some variety. With the character I chose, I could have opted for more damage by choosing to be a berserker and even chose to be a dwarf instead of the elf I picked.
Onward to Adventure!
Our quest was clear: eliminate the ettin and his goblin minions before too many of them slipped past us. The group debated and we agreed to let me go first and I took my two actions on my turn. I rushed up to the center of the road so that I could prepare to block those pesky goblins. The disciple moved up close to me, but didn’t completely block the road. The runemaster found a spot nearby to search and picked up a neat potion. After each of us acted, it was the enemy’s turn. We misjudged the speed at which the goblins moved and they ran past me, forming a line to protect their master. A few took shots at me and all but one missed their mark, with the last burying the arrow into my shield.
After dispatching a few of the goblins, two scattered off down the road and we were going to give chase until the giant ettin charged forward. His heavy club slammed down on the runemaster, grievously wounding him then picked him up and threw him backwards, dealing the final damage that laid him low. Thankfully our runemaster healed him up and brought him back into the fight and it wasn’t long before our combined attacks took down the beast.
Favoring Fun over Rules
At first glance, Descent appeared similar to Super Dungeon Explore (another dungeon crawl game I’ve played). There was lots of pieces, minatures, and two rulebooks and visions of the many tedious SDE games we played rose up in my mind. Turns out I was wrong because the rules felt very streamlined. Each hero gets two actions on their turn of which they can do things such as moving, searching, attacking, etc. Attacking/defending is simply a contested dice roll using the special dice provided. Heroes have some advanced abilities that can be triggered once per adventure to help them out of a jam or finish off that last enemy. The enemies also have their own turn options that mimic the heroes, with some added monster abilities that were clear to understand.
We were playing the second edition of Descent and it felt very polished. Status effects and rules were clear and I believe we only looked up two things after we weren’t sure what the intent of the wording meant. Going back to Super Dungeon Explore, I can remember spending multiple 5-10 minute asides as we searched forums for an answer to a vague wording. While it took us about an hour and a half to play the short tutorial from setup to tear-down, a good 25% of that time was spent learning to play and we all felt that a more involved adventure could fill up to 2 hours of your time.
Bang for the Buck?
I liked how the map was a series of modular puzzle pieces, adding a bit of decorative flair to the adventure and I can certainly see this as a gateway for people to play tabletop RPGs such as Pathfinder and Dungeons and Dragons. As mentioned before, each of the adventures were designed so that you could either play them as a one-off, or chain them together to form a larger campaign. There’s a good amount of character options to choose from and, most importantly, the presentation value alone is worth the larger price tag for the base game.
The only thing I wasn’t really happy with was the dice. I love dice and enjoy collecting different types of dice, but these customized dice seemed kind of bland. Sure, you can buy extra sets of dice, but that doesn’t seem to be the problem really. What’s really missing is the flair; I mean I would totally be down for a set of frosted blue dice or smoked red ones to add to the appeal. Something to think about Fantasy Flight.
Descent: Journeys in the Dark helped brighten my day and it was just the game I was looking for. Brandon and I enjoyed it so much that we’re going to put our Pathfinder game on hold and play this instead and I’m already looking at expansions to bring new monsters, characters and more into the game. If you’re looking for an expandable co-op dungeon crawl game that’s simple to learn, has a high amount of replay value, and affordable expansions, then you should consider checking out Descent.
I'm looking at getting this as well for the dungeon crawling aspect as well I want to start my kids into the whole "Loot and level" aspect of gaming ... they are a bit too young for RPG's like D&D ... as they goof off a bit much with "I charm him to pick his nose" type stuff. But they easily enjoy playing games like Dead of Winter and chunkier games enjoying playing their character and see them on the table, this felt like the best of multiple roads.