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Subject: Descent: Broken? rss

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Todd Redden
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Reedo wrote:
Okay, as you can tell by my Geek Badge, you can tell that I am a firm supporter of Fantasy Flight Games and fantasy games in general.

That said, is Descent broken?

This is why I ask. No matter the number of heroes, my gaming group cannot beat me when I play as the Overlord. By the way, they are great gamers and are not making mistakes that I can see. At the very least, they are not making obvious and/or stupid mistakes. Furthermore, I doubt that I am doing anything totally awesome. I am a careful manager of cards and threat, but that's it.

Here's a good example as to why I think the game may be broken.

Last night, we were playing Quest Five of Alter...

In my starting hand, I had two crushing blocks and 1 skeleton spawn card.
I quickly dropped the blocks, no big deal, right? WRONG! For the rest of the game, I was able to spawn b/c in order to move forward, as this game necessitates that you do and do quickly, I could always spawn right behind the blocks. I was spawning nearly endlessly ending bad guys, right behind these blocks. What exactly are the heroes supposed to do about this?

FYI, they didn't make it out of Area 2! I was spawning ahead of them behind a block which the quest provided and behind them, again behind the blocks I dropped. In the these narrow hallways, I see no way for them to overcome these hordes of bad guys. They were attempting to move quickly, using lots of battles and guard actions. They even had leadership and the ghost dog. They had a great draw and a great party, one that we designed as what we thought was the best possible.

Please respond. I love this game, or at least, really want to, but it is no fun for anyone when the heroes have no chance.

Thanks,
Jeremy


I recently had a conversation with a gaming friend about Descent, looking forward to the new expansion. We saw the same problems with the game unbalanced in favor of the Overlord. I think the problem is a result of the need for the players to completely defeat one area before moving on to the next. If unable to complete one area, which is sometimes impossible due to the need to solve a riddle in another region before having the capability to finish the current "room", the severity is compounded as mosters follow you out and continue to engage you in addition to all the other upcoming threats. This overflow of onslaught is what makes dungeon design difficult to balance in the Descent arena. We finally both agreed that's what makes the game great, and what makes the rare victories for the explorers even more emotionally rewarding.

Proper design of the "dungeon" is the solution to this and all exploration games of its type, and is not a fault of the game itself unless you consider the predesigned maps that came with the game to be part of the "game design". If a trap is not provided a limited range or a means to disable it, then it should not be placed in a region where its use can utterly prevent the explorers from overcoming its results. Players should be given a means to avoid such a trap (ie - it should not be automatically sprung when entering an area, but should be protecting something of interest inside that area.)

The fact that the enemy's actions are driven by a player, the Overlord, truly engaged in his own desire to win, is clearly more worthwhile and dynamic than a system where the monsters actions are solely predetermined by the game.

- Todd
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Robin Ashby
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The only thing I can think of is if you're missing the one-spawn-per-turn rule.
That said, I don't really enjoy the scenario play, the dynamic's all wrong.
I truly believe that this game needs a simple, solid deathmatch ruleset. OL Vs. OL, or OL+hero(s) Vs. OL+hero(s). Or, a Mage Knight Dungeons or Dungeoneer style "Monster Phase" where everyone controls both their hero AND the monsters attacking other players. It shouldn't be that hard to implement, there's nothing really stopping you in the core rules.
Hmm, I'm gonna work on that this week. *plots*
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Mark Andrews
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As the game owner, I am always the Overlord when playing Descent.

I often play with the intent of crushing the puny heroes, and have won and lost with this goal in mind. But I sometimes play the game not to win, but to lose by the smallest margin possible, providing the most tense and nervewracking, then euphoric experience I could give the players. I found this an oddly satisfying way to play. So I quickly discovered that Descent seems weighted towards that very outcome. In our group, winning as the overlord took both luck and care*, yet losing badly was difficult. This impressed me, as one doesn't want the overlord to win so often in such a long game that the campaign is never finished, neither does one want the heroes to breeze through with such impunity that the nervewracking tension is gone. Thus, I felt Descent was very WELL balanced.

Now, Doom with 1 or 3 marines....angry


*Granted, I don't think I ever tried anything that might "break" the system like the block trap + spawn trick mentioned above...
 
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Karl
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What number of heroes are you using?
Are you playing with the Expansion cards mixed in or base game only?

Or just play against me. No matter what side I am on, that side will win...
 
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Tony Wai-kit FUNG
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An Overlord in Descent is so different from a GM/DM in an RPG. A GM/DM should be a host or moderator (or said to be a director) in a RPG session. He should play a neutral role, unless you want to torture your adventurers. An Overlord in Descent is however actually a player, competing against Heroes.
 
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Niko Ruf
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Judging from my own experience, the base game is ok in terms of balance. But the expansions add a few tricks to the overlord's repertoire that make it too easy for him. E.g., a sundered glyph in the right place can make most scenarios unwinnable for the heroes. And some of the optional monsters are too good to pass over (master sorcerers!!!).

It may sound strange, but it helps me to think of Descent as a game of logistics. The important questions for the heroes are "when/how often do I go back to town to shop", "when/how often do I rest", and "should I heal this character or let him die and respawn". All these are time-critical decisions. If the overlord can mess with the lengths of the paths in the dungeon (usually from one glyph to the next "hot" room the party is trying to clear), the heroes are screwed.

I think that Descent with all expansions is more of a toolkit for building your own dungeon crawl game. But you have to make sure not to include everything to get a fair and enjoyable experience. Shorter scenarios wouldn't hurt, either.
 
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Christine Biancheria
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Here are some of the house rules I've been playing with on the expansions, and it seems to have rebalanced it very nicely (P.S. I didn't think all these up, but I have been using them):

(1) Potions give you 4 not 3 hearts;
(2) If you are webbed, you get two dice from the third and fourth roll onwards (this is more to prevent player depression than balance);
(3) You can go negative on conquest tokens as long as you end in the positive (the OL should announce if and when this becomes impossible);
(4) Take the card Evil Genius from the OL deck, and put it on the bottom of the OL deck after shuffling the rest;
(5) There are 3 extra tough cards in the game. Heroes can trade in a skill for 1 of the tough cards (you can show this by turning a skill card upside down or something).

Try it. I've played bunches and bunches of expansion games now this way, and they come out pretty close.
 
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Paul
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tigerAspect wrote:

I truly believe that this game needs a simple, solid deathmatch ruleset. OL Vs. OL, or OL+hero(s) Vs. OL+hero(s). Or, a Mage Knight Dungeons or Dungeoneer style "Monster Phase" where everyone controls both their hero AND the monsters attacking other players. It shouldn't be that hard to implement, there's nothing really stopping you in the core rules.



That sounds really great, particularly if some form of moster phase that you describe was included.

If the OL deck could be incorporated into each players turn in some simple fashion (and perhaps with a simplified OL deck) it could be great.

I for one would be extremely interested in a simple workable rules variant such as that.


tigerAspect wrote:
Hmm, I'm gonna work on that this week. *plots*



I hope that you mean it
 
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mark sellmeyer
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I don't know about the altar expansion, but we are working our way through the well expansion, and they are tough. it takes us 3 or more tries to get through them. Try letting your players pick heroes and skills.
 
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Matthew M
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Descent is certainly not broken. The expansions make the game MUCH harder on the heroes, but still not impossibly so.

-MMM
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Colin Hunter
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Octavian wrote:
Descent is certainly not broken. The expansions make the game MUCH harder on the heroes, but still not impossibly so.

-MMM

Agreed, some of the missions are tough, but it is not impossible. I pride myself as a good overlord player, I have 23 games as an overlord and my player range from average to good. Most are average, when they play well it can be very tough for me to stop them and while I would guess that I win more games on average than they do, it is often a very close call. If they are struggling in a mission (it takes more than a couple attemps) I will gladly offer them advice on how to try and beat. Eventually they do it, or at least so far.

Crushing block is one of the more powerfull overlord cards, partly for the reason you have just explained and partly because you can ruin their plans for the turn with it. Oh and it does damage. Firstly you could easily put your success down to your particular hand. often as mr skeletor points out, you have to push on and ignore the threat to you rear. Choke points where monsters can be spawned close are by far the toughest points to clear, so there is no easy answer.
 
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Bobb Beauchamp
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can't really comment on what in particular might be going on in your games...too many variables that you don't list. Number and which heroes, skills, equipment, etc. Turn by turn summaries. Video evidence.

I look at the harder quests this way...they're stacked in favor of the OL. While Descent is meant to be competitive, remember that both expansions were designed under a near avalanche of comments about how easy things were for the heroes. I think this shows that the quest designers were encouraged to really test the heroes by making things harder...harder to cover LOS every turn, harder to rely on the tactics that had worked in the past, etc.

I don't know what hero players want...the illusion of challenge, or real challenge...but not TOO hard of a challenge. But it reminds me of the comments on the OOP Dungeon Quest...a hard game that players were lucky to have their characters survive, let alone win. The reason why Descent gets rapped for essentially doing the same thing, especially after the expansions, is because it's not the game beating you, it's your buddy the OL. But if players understand that many quest favor the OL, it should only make any wins they get that much sweeter.
 
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Matthew M
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Four heroes means more lines of sight that can be maintained. You can't spawn in that hallway if they've got someone staring down it, and any group of heroes worth their salt will make sure they've got as much ground covered as possible.

-MMM
 
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Simon Lundström
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Remember that monsters don't break line of sight in this aspect, meanng you can't spawn monsters behind some monster that a hero can see, claiming it's not in his line of sight. So if the heroes are careful, they can rarely or never be blitz-attacked.

I can't see how you can trap heroes in the corridors. Spawn cards give you 3 mobs per turn. Are you saying your 4 heroes can't kill 3 mobs per turn? I have had ONE hero killing all 3 of my spawns in one go with some good skills.
 
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Reedo wrote:

Also, spawn cards are only like 4 or 5 threat. What makes you guys think that they are so hard to pay for? I mean, with four heroes, you get 4 threat per turn. Each turn pays for its own summon, a lot of the time anyway.


I bought Descent during the summer and have given it several sessions so far.

I have played 6-7 games using three of the official JitD scenarios and one of my own devising.
I have always played the Overlord and the heroes have varied in number and have always been played by twenty year veterans of boardgaming, CCGs and miniature wargaming.

I have to say that so far my experiences have been similar to Reedos.

I find that the OL seems to have huge amounts of threat to bog the players down with spawns and the like. Obviously when the heroes start to get better weapons it becomes a bit easier for them to kill their opponents but the game still seems hard for the heroes.

Perhaps my players are not co-operating efficiently enough but, as I say they are all gaming veterans so I am unsure why the overwhelming concensus on BGG seems to be that JitD is too easy on the Heroes while the expansions are too hard.

I find it a little puzzling. I very much doubt that my Overlording abilities are game-breakingly good.

The only thing that I can think of is that perhaps JitD more or less only works with 4 heroes and no less. If this is the case it bothers me a little as I had hoped that the game would function well at 2 heroes + OL level (and that is how I have tailored our house rules to benefit).




Reedo wrote:
Also, the whole, "keep moving, don't kill everything" is good and all until I spawn in a 2 X 10 hallway on both sides. Such narrow spaces seem to ALWAYS trap the heroes and they simply cannot kill as many as I can spawn.



This was my experience too. I am pretty certain that I am using the spawning rules correctly too.

Anyone have any observations regarding this?
 
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Gilles Duchesne
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I have a few (a dozen?) sessions of Descent under my belt now, always playing the Overlord, although with slightly different people now & then.

I've ran scenarios 1 to 7 of JitD, plus "The Chase".

Along the way, I've seen the following patterns emerge:
1- The heroes completely control the scenario, never coming close to defeat, and utterly whoop my butt. (I haven't seen that since I got AoD, however.)
2- The heroes win on their first attempt, although they have a tough time.
3- The heroes have their butts handled to them, realize they've made bad strategic choices ("Bah, they're just beastmen - let's run through them!") and try again knowing better, moving to #1 or #2.
4- The heroes have their butts handled to them because they don't have matching skills for the scenario. They get fresh characters and/or skills, and with their existing knowledge of the scenario, move to #1 or #2.

That was pretty much the pattern... Until "The Thing in the Pit", scenario 1 of AoD. All that scenario has done so far is to piss off my players. In fact, I'll probably start a new threat on the AoD forum just to ask about it. shake
 
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Matt Shepherd
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Well, after seven or eight games with highly intelligent and experienced gamers against a highly intelligent and experienced overlord, the heroes have won twice: once in the first game ever, and once in our most recent game, when the Overload decided to grant us an extra skill each seeing as the heroes, er, never won the game.

The usual pattern for the heroes is easy going for the first room, tougher for the second room/corridor/whatnot, and then absolute devastation before we quite make it to the Big Bad. Most of the time, this is a rout. This is playing Descent + WoD, with no house rules and pick-two-choose-one random characters.

The most recent win was due to having an extra skill each, and 3/4 characters that drew pretty much "perfect" skills to complement their natural abilities, or a set of inter-complementary skills.

Overlord tactics that have destroyed us routinely:

- clever use of creatures with Command, maximizing their usefulness while keeping them behind meat shields;
- spawning Kobolds ad nauseum at the far end of the map, then whomping us with nearly-free traps;
- harrying the weakest hero in the party;
- saving threat in "easy" rooms and giving the heroes some respite at the very beginning, when there isn't much to be gained, in order to lay down the über-cards as early as possible.

We all love the game and clamor to play it, but we all scratch our heads over people that say the game is weighted overwhelmingly in the heroes' favour -- if you're not house-ruling any advantages for the heroes and if you ARE playing with WoD, it seems you need exceptionally lucky heroes (with skill draws as well as on the dice) and/or an exceptionally dunderheaded Overlord for the heroes to succeed.

[edits: Well of Darkness, not Altar of Despair, I think]
 
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Carl Hanson
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The thing about Descent is that it might actually be harder for experienced miniature or RPG players than for players who have never played a dungeon-hack type of game, because it defies all of the normal rules for dungeon crawl type games.

In my experience, most gamers who have played a lot of tactical miniatures games play very cautiously. In most of these types of games, especially RPGs, time is on the heroes' side; meaning that they can and should move very slowly, clearing all threats and gathering all treasures from an area before moving on. The worst thing that can happen in most dungeons is for the heroes to find themselves in a losing fight and unable to retreat because they rushed past some lesser enemies on the way in.

This mindset will cost you the game in Decent every time. At least one of the people that I play this with is a 20+ year D&D veteran who insists on the slow and steady strategy. He insists on killing every monster in an area before opening treasures (because if there is a threat around then the best action is to deal with it as a top priority), and refuses to open a new door until every monster on the board is dealt with (because he does not want to be trapped with no retreat). Needless to say, his track record as a hero is not very good.

The short version of all of this is that it will probably take a few games for hero players to figure out the unique strategies necessary for Decent, while the Overlord strategies are straightforward and intuitive in comparison.

Your post didn’t mention how many games your group has played, but if you haven’t played the hell out of the base game I wouldn’t play any of the expansion quests or use treachery for a while (the new heroes, skills, items, and non-treachery Overlord cards should be OK), not until your heroes are regularly winning the base quests.

Oh, and in my experience, the expansions are just plan painful for the heroes.
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Simon Lundström
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I played Scenario 2 (which basically is "needed treasure behind invincible boss/baddie" times 4) as an overlord when one of the heroes had "activate glyph 6 spaces away". I was purely owned. They kept one meatshield in town, ran forward to activate glyph behind boss/baddie, ran back, meatshield teleported in behind boss/baddie, got rune/treasure, withstood attacks or died (activating glyph and taking chest in one round still earned them more points even if the meatshield died), back to town, rinse and repeat four times. They ended up with 20 conquest tokens. By the time they met the final boss, they were so boosted the magic swordswoman made about 20 damage in one roll. OK, I might not be the best overlord in town, but I don't consider myself as a tactical failure. I could do nothing.

Point? That some small skill can totally unbalance everything, all depending on scenario. I have never felt the balance is totally in the OL's favour, then again, I have only played scenario 1 and 2 a couple of times each.

The impression I've got so far of the rules is that Descent is the kind of game you can't trust being balanced for every mission, any combination of heroes and any combination of skills. Some small details about the mission or whatever can totally unbalance the whole thing. But I don't really care; Descent is the kind of game where I always adapt the rules. I'm inclined to double the HP for some bosses as they get mostly one- or two-shotted.
 
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Rob "Bodhi" Wolff
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Sorry, I might have missed something.

Can't Crushing Block can only be played in an empty space, with no other obstacles next to it? So you can't make a pseudo-wall using it, and thus it doesn't completely block line of sight. There must be at least one space around each of the crushing block drops, right?

That being said, each block is going to significantly cut down the LOS to the squares behind the block when you consider angles, and having two of them means that, yes, you are going to create some interference squares and dead sight zones further behind the area. Not directly behind of course (as you can't make a "wall" with them), but further behind, say one turn's movement away.

It might be a niggling point, but it also might be one that your heroes could benefit from?

///////////

All that being said, I do not think that Descent is broken.

I *do* think that the expansions significantly increased the difficulty for the heroes. I think that the original balance was swung about 80 percent in favour of the heroes (i.e. too easy), and that the expansions swing the favour into the Overlord's lap.
 
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BodhiWolff wrote:
Sorry, I might have missed something.

Can't Crushing Block can only be played in an empty space, with no other obstacles next to it? So you can't make a pseudo-wall using it, and thus it doesn't completely block line of sight. There must be at least one space around each of the crushing block drops, right?


Well, you have it right in a way. Obstacles are things like pit and water tokens. So you can't play crushing block next to those. Walls don't count. So in a narrow hallway crushing block can effectively create a nasty bottleneck.
 
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Rob "Bodhi" Wolff
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I believe you are mistaken. Crushing Block makes you place an obstacle - a rubble token - and cannot be played adjacent to any other obstacle. You can't place the second crushing block adjacent to the first crushing block, since it cannot be placed next to an obstacle.

Thus, in a hallway, you can't create a wall, only a bottleneck of sorts.

The most you could do is place them to create LOS interference spaces.

Like So
1234567
00X0000
0000X00
1234567
Now, granted, looking straight down the hallway, you can't see the end. Thus, standing at column 7, you can't see column 1, and the Overlord could spawn in there.

However, you still can't create a real wall. You couldn't place two crushing blocks next to each other directly.

I just wanted to make sure that the original poster was playing it correctly.
 
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Simon Lundström
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Reedo wrote:
Now, I love long games, but only those with satisfying endings. I don't know about you, but "winning" a game after 4 hours by turning someone into a monkey or by making him attack himself seems rather unsatisfying.

For a hero, winning the game by finally revealing the last boss and then one-shotting him isn't very satisfying either…

From the post here, it would seem that this game suffers from severe balancing problems. In many games, either the OL is in vast favor or the heroes are.
 
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BodhiWolff wrote:
I believe you are mistaken. Crushing Block makes you place an obstacle - a rubble token - and cannot be played adjacent to any other obstacle. You can't place the second crushing block adjacent to the first crushing block, since it cannot be placed next to an obstacle.

Thus, in a hallway, you can't create a wall, only a bottleneck of sorts.

The most you could do is place them to create LOS interference spaces.

Like So
1234567
00X0000
0000X00
1234567
Now, granted, looking straight down the hallway, you can't see the end. Thus, standing at column 7, you can't see column 1, and the Overlord could spawn in there.

However, you still can't create a real wall. You couldn't place two crushing blocks next to each other directly.

I just wanted to make sure that the original poster was playing it correctly.


Heh, that's pretty much what I said, but in more detail.
 
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