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Mr T.
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This review continues my series of detailed reviews that attempt to be part review, part resource for anyone not totally familiar with the game. For this reason I expect readers to skip to the sections that are of most interest.


Image Courtesy of cauzzel

Overview and Theme

With the eminent arrival of Descent 2nd Ed. on its way to thousands of fans all around the globe it may seem that I have somewhat missed the boat on reviewing this expansion so late in the piece.

So I regard this as something of a review for the fans as I for one think that 1st Ed. is anything but dead. Whilst my play group and I may have taken too many years to get off our butts and get Descent to the table, we are thoroughly enjoying the experience and will continue to play 1st Ed. for many years to come as we have hundreds of hours left to explore.

2nd Ed. may well be streamlined and 1st Ed. may have more loopholes than a run-down Evil Knivel stunt track but we still enjoy the experience and don’t let the rules get in the way of a good time.

What this review won’t do is look at the basic gameplay of the Descent System.

If you would like to know more about the basic flow of the game and the mechanics please refer to my original review –

Descent: Journeys in the Dark – A Detailed Review

What this review will do is outline the new additions brought to the system by the expansion, how the scenarios feel and play compared to the original and take a closer look at the new beasts added to the Overlord’s bestiary.

I hope you find it useful as a first time read or a nostalgic trip down memory lane for those that have already walked these halls.

Oh and I promise...for those even slower than me at playing 1st Ed. - no spoilers. - ixnay on the spoil the surprises tray. thumbsup

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The New Bits

As if Descent didn’t throw enough bits and pieces of chromey goodness at us in the base game, Well of Darkness ensures that we all but choke on cardboard crutons by adding in a bunch of new stuff –

Lava – Hot lava death is now possible thanks to tiles that are sure to burn the toes of any dim witted adventurer.

Mud – Speed is the death of all Overlords, so the inclusion of Mud helps to gank up heroic parties and ensure that monsters deal as much damage as possible.

Dart Fields – Well of Darkness takes the classic adventuring theme to a new level with the inclusion of Dart Fields that can cut and daze careless heroes.

Scything Blades – Descent meets Prince of Persia with the inclusion of wicked scything blades that can cause nasty wounds and the ongoing Bleed effect (more on that shortly).

Boulders – The homage to Indianna Jones is all but complete with the inclusion of Boulders and ramps that will see the heroes scurrying for their very lives. Fun times. mb

Power Potions - The Heroes can find themselves a new little bottle of potiony goodness in the form of Power Potions. Once inbibed, these green wonders will allow a hero to roll all 5 black Power Dice on their next attack. This can be really great if it is touch and go to finish off a menacing monster or if a hero has some good 'power surge' enhancement options.


Image Courtesy of harmengreven

New Effects

Bleed – Some monsters manage to take a chunk out of their target and it’s no surprise that some of those wounds bleed like crazy. For every Bleed token a figure has at the beginning of their turn the White Dice must be rolled. Any hearts rolled result in additional wounds and these ignore armour. Bleed is nasty indeed but thankfully they are discarded after a roll is made.

Bolt – The Bolt ability makes use of the new Bolt Template…a most menacing template if ever there was one. Longer than the forearm of a Hill Troll, the Bolt template is placed adjacent to the unit firing it and all figures underneath the template are affected with range becoming irrelevant. Unless a miss is rolled all such figures suffer the full damage of the attack.

Daze – Figures that become Dazed can become confused and lose some of their hand-eye co-ordination. As a result if a Daze token is not discarded it will result in the loss of a yellow, green or black dice, which is at the discretion of the player controlling the figure. If a figure is unfortunate enough to have more than 1 Daze token in effect then they will lose multiple dice. It’s not quite as bad as Stun but you’d rather not have it.


Image Courtesy of itchyrichy

New Abilities

Ironskin – Figures empowered with the Ironskin ability are as tough as nails. They are immune to Aura, Bleed, Burn, Pierce, Poison and Sorcery. They also suffer no ill-effects (damage) from Blast, Breath or Bolt attacks. Golems from the Well of Darkness have Ironskin.

Leech – Leech attacks target those last reserves of the soul. For every wound lost to a Leech attack the figure must also lose 1 Fatigue. If a figure has no Fatigue left they will suffer an additional wound. Master Ferrox possess this nasty ability and if it wasn't bad enough they also recover 1 Lifepoint for each wound inflicted!

Swarm – A power to instill confidence in the black hearts of things that go ‘bump’ in the night. Swarm allows a figure to add 1 additional power dice (black) to an attack for every friendly figure adjacent to the target. Kobolds are not so bold…but in numbers they will Swarm!

Trickster – Drawing on the cunning of their underlings, the Overlord can pay 1 less Threat to play a Trap card for each monster with Trickster in the dungeon.

Unstoppable – These juggernauts are immune to Daze, Grapple, Knockback, Stun and Web. Combined with its Ironskin ability the Golem is pretty much immune to any fancy tricks…it just needs old fashioned pounding.

New Familiars

Familiars are as annoying to Overlords as panty itch is to runway models and Well of Darkness offers up one new foe to have the Overlord scratching at their panty line…

Furr the Spirit Wolf – Furr has a speed of 4 and can make one attack per turn using a White dice. The result of the attack ignores armour and this can be vitally important against high armoured foes.

New Skills, Treasures & Equipment

It might not seem like much but any Geek worth their salt just loves to see 'new everything' that can be added to the mix of what the base game served up. The Well of Darkness offers up 41 new Equipment/Treasure Cards and a further 12 Skill Cards. I can still remember how my eyes gleamed when I drew a card and it was something new! cool

New Mechanics

But the biggest alteration to the system of Descent from The Well of Darkness is the new Treachery System.

Treachery – The Overlord was something of a Gimp in the base game. By that I mean they just had to sit there and take it. Sure sometimes they dished it out but they really had few choices to make. There was some hand management to be had and the tactical nature of movement, but in terms of their Overlord Deck, they had to take what they were given.

With Well of Darkness a whole raft of new Overlord Cards (39 in all) are offered up but rather than simply being added to the Overlord Deck (which would affect the balance and bloat the deck, making it hard to suck Conquest Tokens from the Heroes for exhausting the deck) the new cards serve as options with which the Overlord can Deck Build.

Each card is worth a certain number of points and each quest informs the Overlord as to how many points they have to spend on customising their deck before the quest begins. The costs come in one of 3 colours (purple, green or red) signified by a gem at the bottom of the new cards and some quests will have a particular bent towards a given colour as they are linked to Traps, Events and Monsters etc.

Once a card is paid for it is simply added to the Overlord Deck and any one card is removed from the deck to make way for the new card. It’s as simple as that but it does give the Overlord the satisfaction that they are hatching plans to undo the do-gooders once and for all.

Should the Overlord not spend all of the Threat offered by a scenario, they can draw an extra card to start the game for every 2 unspent Threat points.

Righting the Wrongs of the Past

Anyone who is familiar with FFG or the Descent 1e system as a whole will be aware that the game has had many FaQ's released over the years.

Well of Darkness looks to rectify some of the wrongs present in the base game by listing a series of rule changes or clarifications and also provides some new cards that were misprinted in the base game, which simply replace the old cards.

Whilst the preference might have been for these errors to not exist in the first place, it is nice that FFG went to the effort of trying to make up for it with this content.

New Heroes

No expansion to a dungeon crawl would be complete without new heroes and Well of Darkness offers up 6 new adventurers to spice up your questing. Interestingly 3 of these new Adventurers appeared on the boxfront and rulebook cover of the base game and yet took till this expansion to make an appearance.

Nanok of the Blade

Tanks are the staple of a good dungeon crawl and Nanok adds himself to that list. He can't wear any armour but at a base rate of 4 armour thanks to his ability and a speed of 4 who really cares. Nanok = Good!


Image Courtesy of Jason McMaster

Laurel of Bloodwood

Laurel may be a little light on for life and armour but while she is alive she will exact a toll as she can convert unneeded range into damage at the cost of Fatigue. If she gets a skill or surge enhancer to range she can take down the biggest of foes, especially if she risks getting in close. Just make sure she has a Vitality Potion or two handy, make her look like the whino of the dungeon as she downs potions between firing arrows and she will have the Overlord cursing in no time.


Image Courtesy of Jason McMaster

Brother Glyr

This Dwarf is a little suspect in my opinion. Sure he has 3 armour (which can be extended to 5 with Chainmail) but his 8 life at a cost of 4 conquest tokens for dying is a little rich - given that damage can be done that ignores armour. His movement of 2 is poor and whilst offset somewhat by his 5 fatigue and ability to gain an extra 2 movement regardless of Action chosen (meaning he can move 2 and Battle), I regard him as more of a liability than an asset. Some will disagree I'm sure.


Image Courtesy of Jason McMaster

Lord Hawthorne

Tank #2 for this expansion and not a bad option. Whilst he will give up 4 Conquest Tokens at the pearly gates and only has an armour of 1, he moves well and has good fatigue levels to enhance that. His ability to Reach can also enable him to get at adversaries on the other side of lava, pits and mud pools.


Image Courtesy of Jason McMaster

Runemaster Thorn

The Runemaster is quite possibly the pick of the new heroes in my opinion. At a cost of 5 movement (his base movement) Thorn can effectively teleport to any empty space within a straight line and within his line of sight. This enables him to thwart many a well laid plan of the Overlord and cause them to be more conservative in their actions.

The trade-off is that Thorn has no natural armour rating and if he takes a rune (likely given his 3 skill in Magic) then armour won't be allowed. This is compensated for by his 2 rating in relation to lost Conquest Tokens if killed, which is pretty generous given his 12 Life.


Image Courtesy of Jason McMaster

Cetherys

Cetherys is something of an Elven Assassin as she can change the target of her attack after her roll is made. This can be handy when adjacent to multiple foes of varying life levels but her weakness is possessing only 1 natural armour and she gives up 3 Conquest Tokens if slain.


Image Courtesy of Jason McMaster

The Quests – No Spoilers

The base game offered up 9 Quests and the Well of Darkness offers up 9 more - which is great value as most games don't tend to match the content of the original offering. This is great given that the Quests are really the true meat of any Dungeon Delving game.

When you consider that the base game really threw up a 'Heroes can't loose' affair with the first quest, which really feels more like a tutorial, Well of Darkness rates pretty well.

But what about the quality? Thankfully Well of Darkness gets the thumbsup here too.

The base game can be looked at with a little scorn as the majority of its Quests were nothing more than monster bashing exercises. Hmm...majority...err...try all 9 Quests being 'kill Monster x to be victorious'. One of the Quests has a nice little twist to it, another is something of an escort/rescue mission and several require particular items to be found. But essentially it is all pretty basic stuff but we forgave it as the base game.

We would not be so forgiving if the 1st expansion threw up more of the same.

Thankfully it doesn't...well almost. Yes 6 of the 9 Quests do require a monster to be defeated but you have to do it in style because often there are secondary things that must be done as well.

There are at least 2 rescue missions, a couple of fetch quests (find relics and the like) and then there are a couple of Quests that require the heroes to act in order to stop certain things from happening or to destroy key locations. Time is also used as a mechanic on at least one occasion whereby the heroes have to keep moving at a brisk pace. One Quest also sees the heroes separated from the get-go, which poses its own set of challenges.

But the goals of the Quests are one thing. What really makes Well of Darkness a worthwhile expansion is how those quests feel.

They really do mix up the action from what was seen in the base game. The Quests feel more dynamic and the Overlord has more weapons at his disposal thanks to new monsters in the bestiary and they can have more control over their deck to better match the features of each Quest.

The end result is an expansion that keeps the hero players on their toes and a general increase in the difficulty of the Quests. The base game all but went to mush as soon as the heroes got some good silver items or just about any gold items.

Whilst they can still turn the tide in Well of Darkness, they do so less often as the Quests themselves throw up hurdles that can't always be bested with blade, arrow or rune. Yay to that.

From what I've read it would appear that the Well of Darkness is considered to be extremely hard, perhaps too hard for the average player. Our group didn't find that to be so. We ended up winning 4 and losing 5, which we were pretty happy with given 1 of our losses could have gone either way. So I think the balance for both sides is pretty good if all players know what they are doing.

My one criticism would be that 1 or 2 Quests seemed to be quite tough for the heroes because they were not really informed as to the nature of the threats that faced them - having to make estimated guesses. This did feel like the heroes were being punished for a lack of prior knowledge and that they would fare better on a return to the dungeon - which I guess gives the game some added re-playability.

Time Factor - The time required to play some of the Quests really does blow out from what we were used to in the base game. By the last few Quests of the base game we were managing to crank them out in 3-3.5 hours.

Well of Darkness will most likely see the majority of game groups needing to set aside a good 4-5 hours per Quest.

If you love your delving then this will likely be seen as time well spent (we do). Others though may well see this as too much of a commitment in order to have a good time.

An Overlord’s Guide to the Bestiary of Descent

This little addition is meant to serve as a guide to help budding new Overlord’s come to grips with the forces at their disposal. To see a write up of the base game monsters please check my original review. After writing all of the expansion reviews I will put together a combined bestiary.

Ferrox


Image Courtesy of Dave Davies

The Ferrox are probably the most nasty of the new creatures. When playing with the max players they will need 8 (standard) and 10 (Master) wounds to take them down completely, which can be quite a task with store based equipment. Unless you are a tank sporting an Axe and have a bonus to damage thanks to skills Ferrox are likely to last longer than a single attack.

But what really makes them nasty is their Bleed skill. If a Ferrox inflicts a wound on a target it is given a Bleed token to represent the severity of the slow healing wound made by those nasty, infected claws. A hero then rolls a white dice at the start of their turn for each Bleed token and suffers a number of wounds equal to the hearts rolled. This damage ignores armour!

Consider that an Overlord may attack a single target with multiple Ferrox and a hero could be looking at suffering up to 9 extra damage if they have 3 Bleed Tokens. wow

And this is on top of the fact that Ferrox roll a green and a red dice to attack. Move over Beastmen...there's a new bad-ass in town. devil

Thankfully after the Bleed rolls are resolved, all tokens are discarded.

But the Master Ferrox only make matters worse. With 4 Armour and 6 Life they need a whopping 10 wounds to take down, meaning most parties will need at least a double team to take them out.

But it gets worse still, as they also have the Leech ability. Leech sees a hero lose one Fatigue for each wound inflicted and if a hero has exhausted their fatigue then it reverts to wounds. In addition each wound inflicted by a Master Ferrox will heal it of 1 wound.

This pretty much makes a Master Ferrox a 'kill on site' proposition...but you'll need to kill it before it gets to act unless you want to see that deep gash you inflicted begin to regenerate.

The one weakness of the Ferrox is that they are slow - with a movement allowance of only 4. This can allow the heroes to try and pick them off from a distance but ranged attacks may have some trouble finishing them off in a single attack if using store based equipment.

Golem

 

Image Courtesy of Styfen

Golems are in my opinion the 2nd beast monsters from the Well. If playing with the full 5 players, Golems will need 13 wounds to kill a standard and 15 wounds to kill a Master. Those numbers are big enough but with Armour ratings of 5 and 6 respectively, some heroes may only find themselves inflicting only 1 or 2 wounds in an attack...if they are lucky.

Golems have the Ironskin ability, which pretty much makes them immune to most types of special attacks, including the Sorcery skill. Quite often heroes can become dangerous due to special powers like Burn, Peirce or Blast. But none of these (plus many others) will have any effect against the rockskin of the Golems.

In addition to Ironskin, Master Golems also have Unstoppable. This skill makes them immune to Daze, Stun, Knockback, Grapple and Web. Many of these skills are monster-killers for the heroes but the Master Golems will have none of it. They simply need to be killed with good old fashioned blows.

Fortunately Golems are even slower than the Ferrox with a movement of 3. So often it is best to simply outrun them. Just don't get caught in a dead end passage!

Kobold


Image Courtesy of Dave Davies

Kobolds are easily the weaklings of the Well. They have the same Armour and Life stats as Skeletons (4 and 6 wounds needed to kill each type...), which is nothing to be proud of and even the most feeble of heroes will likely kill a standard Kobold (no armour) with their eyes closed.

They have the Swarm ability, which allows a Kobold to roll an additional black dice for every other monster figure adjacent to the target being attacked. If a hero can be surrounded by figures a single Kobold can be a problem as those black dice are added to its red dice attack.

The trouble is that Kobolds are slow...everything is slow in the Well...with only 3 move. Thus Kobolds are best used in dungeons with lots of hidey holes that make it hard for the heroes to spy all spawning points. Spawn them around the corner from a hero and then go for 'stacks on'.

But Kobolds are not really about a lethal fighting force. They are more of a tactical unit as the Master Kobolds have the Trickster ability. This ability allows an Overlord to reduce the cost of Trap Cards by 1 Threat for every unit with the Trickster ability still in the dungeon.

Hence the Overlord wants to spawn those Masters and keep them safe long enough to play as many Trap Cards as possible. Given traps are one of the easier ways to thwart the heroes...this can be a lethal combination if executed well and with the right timing.

The Final Word

What is there left to say? The Well of Darkness is a pretty good expansion really. It does all of the expected things well - adds new stuff (all of which fits in the base game box easily), fixes old bugs, mixes up the Quest structure somewhat and offers something like 45-60 hours of new game play and that's only if you play each Quest once!

If you are a Descent fan then you'll want to get The Well of Darkness, if you're not then steer well clear of this. Of course 2e is out now so for many this may be a moot point. But no matter how much I like 2e (when it arrives at my door) I'll always have a little bit of love for The Well of Darkness thanks to the memories I have of our great victories and harrowing defeats.

This is ultimately what should define any Dungeon Crawl experience...the depth of the memories you have with the game. For me they are positive regardless of our outcomes and I share those with my Dungeon Delving Pals...and for that reason it is a winner.

Till next we meet may your line of sight be clear and your back be covered!

Resource Links

I only discovered this awesome website dedicated to Descent when writing this review...thanks to the searching of a Descent pal that I play regularly with.

I highly recommend it as a wonderful resource and one that may even help find answers to in-game questions quicker than looking up BGG because it lists all its content alphabetically...unlike our beloved Geek with its hundreds of pages for Descent.

Descentinthedark.com

Review Links

For a full list of my 300+ reviews in a search-able Geeklist -

My Review Geeklist for Easy Reference

Here are some direct links to several other fantasy adventure games that you may find interesting -

Claustrophobia - A Detailed Review

Descent: Journeys in the Dark – A Detailed Review

Runebound 2nd Ed. - A Detailed Review

HeroQuest - A Retro Review

World of Warcraft: The Adventure Game - A Detailed Review
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Dave's Running Club
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Fantastic writeup Neil. thumbsupthumbsupthumbsup

Neil Thomson wrote:
I only discovered this awesome website dedicated to Descent when writing this review...thanks to the searching of a Descent pal that I play regularly with.

You're welcome. Glad you found it as useful as I have.
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Bryce K. Nielsen
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Excellent review, and where'd you find that amazing Golem paintjob?!?

-shnar
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Jim Patching
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shnar wrote:
Excellent review, and where'd you find that amazing Golem paintjob?!?

-shnar


That's the work of my mate N/A

As you can see, he's a very good painter. He actually had one of his models appear in one of the Blood Bowl living rulebooks.
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Sean Franco
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Good write-up. You did miss one of my favorite parts: the fairly wimpy Skeletons and Beastmen from the base game get stronger versions, which make them a lot less like butter when it meets a warm knife. They are still bottom tier, but respectable.
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Mr T.
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shnar wrote:
Excellent review, and where'd you find that amazing Golem paintjob?!?

-shnar


I found it posted in the Well of Darkness image gallery. If only I could paint like this.
 
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Mr T.
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logopolys wrote:
Good write-up. You did miss one of my favorite parts: the fairly wimpy Skeletons and Beastmen from the base game get stronger versions, which make them a lot less like butter when it meets a warm knife. They are still bottom tier, but respectable.


This is interesting Sean. Do you mean they totally modified them or just corrected them - because that's all I was aware of.

Skeletons got corrected to have Pierce from memory and Beastman got the Damage +1 and +2 for Masters I think.
 
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Sean Franco
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Neil Thomson wrote:
logopolys wrote:
Good write-up. You did miss one of my favorite parts: the fairly wimpy Skeletons and Beastmen from the base game get stronger versions, which make them a lot less like butter when it meets a warm knife. They are still bottom tier, but respectable.


This is interesting Sean. Do you mean they totally modified them or just corrected them - because that's all I was aware of.

Skeletons got corrected to have Pierce from memory and Beastman got the Damage +1 and +2 for Masters I think.

The rulebook doesn't say anything about corrections; replacement seems like a closer term.

Skeletons and masters gain Pierce 1 and 2 respectively; otherwise the same.
Beastmen and masters replace Pierce 1 and 2 with +1 and +2 Damage respectively; otherwise the same. This has the same effect against anyone with armor, but actually gives a bump when attacking people without armor or with Ironskin.

Whatever the purpose, they certainly make the game much more balanced in the little ways in the favor of the OL.
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J F
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Great write up! I've only just discovered these Descent reviews, and they are spot on.

As a side note - my base Descent game must be a later printing, since it has an updated rulebook with corrections from the FAQ (eg, includes the missing text about the Overlord drawing 3 cards to start), and includes the updated base set cards from this expansion (eg, the updated Skeleton and Beastmen cards).

- J
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