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Descent: Journeys in the Dark (Second Edition)» Forums » Reviews

Subject: A short review after one full campaign rss

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We recently finished a full campaign, the report can be found under the session reports (much sneering and gloating) . This short review was initially in the end of that report summarizing my feelings about the campaign and the game in general but I moved the text here because the other post was already too long and this text was really not part of the session report.

In this review, I am not going to discuss the mechanics of the rules etc, instead I will give a brief overview of the goods and bads of the 2nd ed as I see them. I also offer some comparisons with the 1st edition. Beware, the review may contain spoilers, especially as regards the final fight!

The good
The components are top notch. The game looks nicer than the first edition, especially the dungeon tiles. I do not care much about the streamlining of the rules but I guess that it is an improvement: it makes the game easier to learn for new players. The quest “philosophy” is far better than the basic 1st ed Descent. The quests are much more manageable (take less time) and the objectives vary instead of being: kill the master boss! I also like the idea of breaking the quest into two connected encounters. Moreover, ensuring the tempo by building “the clock” into the objectives is far better solution than forcing the tempo by constant spawning. In my opinion, the quests are about as good or slightly better than the RtL miniquests, which I liked much more than the mammoth quests of the base game.

The basic 1st edition Descent did not have a campaign to speak of. This was later introduced by the RtL (and then “improved” by the SoB). I haven’t played the SoB (lucky me!) but I have participated in about 6 RtL campaigns one of them ending with the final fight (which the heroes won, of course). Admittedly I only played by the official rules the first two (abandoned) campaigns. The others were heavily houseruled. Noneteheless, I am certain that the 2nd edition improves the campaign. The RtL campaigns are probably more varied (you have several OLs to choose from, different plots, more varied upgrades etc), but the RtL camapaigns take too much time and fail in several other ways, e.g. Lieutenant encounters with treachery can be broken, gold level is too boring etc. Don’t get me wrong, I like to play the RtL campaign but I feel the 2nd edition campaign is superior. As an important bonus the second edition quests are tied together in a story. I am not big fan of flavour text (primarily because most of it is lost in translation) but it is still nice to have a coherent story instead of random collection of dungeons.

The bad
When does the FFG realize that people are buying their games in order to play them not discuss the rules? I am really tired of this. Yes, it is a complex game, you cannot possibly cover every issue but you can do MUCH better. The FFG really has no excuse. Do not get me wrong: the 2nd ed Descent is not broken. There just are too many ambiguities in the rules that detract from the gameplay. Also, I am not saying that the rules are more ambiguous than the 1st edition rules(but this really isn’t a praise, as any veteran of the 1st ed knows).

Edit: I am not saying that the rules are too complicated or that the game is impossible to play. However, many rules are worded so vaguely that there is more than one possible interpretation. Some of the rules are fundamental to the game. For instance, can you use a surge for recovering fatigue when your attack misses due to not having sufficient range? All the interpretations may be OK (none is necessarily game breaking), the problem is that you cant be sure which interpretation is correct. Vagueness of rules results in Descent sessions being constantly interrupted by rules discussion. I want to play the damn game not discuss the rules! Moreover, discussions end with a compromise - essentially a house rule - and you can't be sure that the ruling is accepted when playing with another group.

Second, the balance of quests. I find it hard to believe that all the quests are rightly balanced. Sure, my experience is limited: it is difficult to tell for certain because the encounters are generally very short and thus luck makes the outcome swingy. Nonetheless, several quests seem to favour OL too much. I am reading from the BGG threads that quests such as Cardinal Plight or Castle Daeron can take 6+ turns, which is long enough for heroes to win the quest. I can’t see it happening except when heroes have exceptional luck or the OL does not focus on the objective. This is compounded by the fact the OL can build up his hand for the second encounter. In other words, the OL can afford to lose the first encounter and still win the second with a strong hand of cards. So, arguably, the OL player should not fight hard in the first encounter because it does not really matter. He will crush the heroes in the second encounter instead. This means having two unbalanced encounters. Not good.

Third, the trap options in the campaign. When you start the campaign you should be aware of the rules for the second encounter of the finale. Otherwise you are probably not making optimal choices. For instance, the willpower of heroes is much more useful than it initially appears due to the Dark Charm effect of the finale. As another example, it does not matter much for the finale if the OL wins Death on the Wings and the follow up quest. If he wins there will be the dragon lieutenant in the first encounter of the finale, if he does not, there is a monster group. In either way it does not matter because the 1st encounter of the finale is over before Mr Dragonman can do anything meaningful. (The only difference is in the reward of the Act I quest: the Shield of the Dark God but this doesnt have a significant impact on the balance of the finale) On the other hand, if heroes manage to win the quests against Merrick or Eliza there is one lieutenant less in the second encounter of the finale. The OL does not even get a replacement monster group. This is a big swing in balance! In other words, you have to know the rules for the finale when choosing quests because all quests that are not played are assumed to have ended in the OL’s victory.

Finally, I have not played enough normal quests (outside campaigns) but have a nagging feeling that not having any real character advancement within a single quest can be boring. Maybe the 2nd edition focuses too much on the campaign? I hope that I am wrong, though.

In short, the 2nd edition is not perfect but it is certainly an improvement over the first edition. Sure, I miss some elements of the first edition, such as feats and true treasure chests, but I hope that some of the elements will be re-introduced in expansions to the 2nd ed.
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Lothar Neu
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Played Cardinal Plight two days ago.

I have to say balance is really a problem in my opinion.
Got all 4 zombies out in the first encounter.

2 heroes had no chance in the second encounter against the 5 zombies beating the crap out of the cardinal.

First of all there is no balance between number of heroes and search tokens or the use of the alter.

You have to check 3 search tokens regardless of the amount of heroes.
Same with the use of the alter, you may use it successfully once per turn which means 1 of 4 actions in a 2 hero game and 1 of 8 actions with 4 heroes in the best case.

If the heroes do not play perfectly in the first encounter they don't have a chance in the second one anyway, which really sucks.

Also all race quest seem to be balanced around the heroes not wasting any turns.
Cleaning of the first room and then going forwards seems to be the totally wrong decision, you just have to ignore all monsters and just race for the objective.

Maybe the problem is only non experienced players, time will tell.
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There are two different finales based on who win the most level two counters I think.
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j0nezn wrote:
There are two different finales based on who win the most level two counters I think.


Good point. I have not thoroughly examined the Questbook (that would ruin part of the experience, in my opinion) although it is technically public information. So, my advice to heroes would be: if you are going to lose Act II, try to score a win against Merrick or Elisa.

And general tip would be: if you are playing competitively then read through both versions of the second encounter of the finale before starting the campaign.
 
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Cruelsader wrote:
When does the FFG realize that people are buying their games in order to play them not discuss the rules?


Not just FFG, every board game I own has a series of FAQs and forums filled with rules questions. (Not to mention errata... sigh)

There should be a rule. When the publisher is ready to publish the game, sit down a group of newbies with the rulebook and have them actually read it and play a few games on their own.

Then compile the list of questions and fix the rulebook. Repeat once or twice. Ta-da, most of the problems would be gone.
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How the hell is this a complicated game? Most questions asked on forums are stupid. Maybe the rule should be pass an IQ test before you buy the game. Or don't be so god damn anal about the rules.

Also what the hell is balance? I keep hearing this word yet no one seems to be able to define it. Currently it seems to mean winning the game without device need to develop any experience or skills.
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Which side winning the game? There are plenty of examples out there why a game where one side always wins unless the other side is good enough is a bad idea. Even worse, when a scenario, almost independent of player actions, would win itself. The games that do manage this kind of gameplay well are often designed around that concept from the ground up.

Either "good enough" turns out to be an unrealistically high barrier which keeps certain players from enjoying the game, or, if the quest is sufficiently one-dimensional, it swings the other way once players figure out the perfect strategy, and now suddenly the "advantaged" player cannot win anymore.

If it is indeed true that some quests are default wins for the Overlord unless the heroes play perfectly and get lucky, that's bad game design, particularly in a campaign setting where the outcome of a quest has ramifications for future quests as well.

That aside, I do believe it's *way* too early to discuss game balance right now. For reference, the videogame Starcraft 2 has been out for almost 2 years now, thousands of pro-level games and millions more regular ones have been played and still many consider the game too young to make conclusive statements about game balance. One or two playthroughs of the Descent campaign seems a bit meager evidence.
Certain statements such as "the outcome of quests seems to swing" are not too drastic, though, and seem to be supported by logic and other reports.
 
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cody_au wrote:
Not just FFG, every board game I own has a series of FAQs and forums filled with rules questions. (Not to mention errata... sigh)


Are you seriously saying that Descent has the same amount of rules questions than, say, Incan Gold? OK, maybe you do not own Incan Gold.

It would not be fair to compare Descent with Incan Gold, of course. Nonetheless, in my opinion, FFG stands out for producing games with ambiguous rules. BTW, I am not measuring the ambiguity by the number of posts on rules in the forums. My assessment is based on the personal experience in playing the game.

thijs_schipper wrote:
That aside, I do believe it's *way* too early to discuss game balance right now. /../ One or two playthroughs of the Descent campaign seems a bit meager evidence.
Certain statements such as "the outcome of quests seems to swing" are not too drastic, though, and seem to be supported by logic and other reports.


It may be too early to make definite statements about game balance but it is not too early to discuss it. Certainly everyone who has played a particular quest is entitled to have an opinion on the balance of the quest. Especially when you clearly state that your opinion is based on one playthrough,
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Mr Skeletor wrote:
How the hell is this a complicated game? Most questions asked on forums are stupid. Maybe the rule should be pass an IQ test before you buy the game. Or don't be so god damn anal about the rules.


I am not saying the game is complicated. I am saying that the game is relatively complex and this requires complex rules, which in turn means that rule issues are more likely to come up than in a simpler game. Compare Incan Gold with Descent. Are the rules of the same complexity? Consider it a test question.

Mr Skeletor wrote:
Also what the hell is balance? I keep hearing this word yet no one seems to be able to define it. Currently it seems to mean winning the game without device need to develop any experience or skills.


Here is my special running contest for reanimates. My favourite reanimate has to run 10 metres other skeletons have to run 1000 metres. If you have issues with the setup ask Mr Skeletor who is the judge. Not that it would matter: he will invariably tell you that all complaints about balance are meaningless - you just have to develop your skills harder.
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Cruelsader wrote:
I am not saying the game is complicated. I am saying that the game is relatively complex and this requires complex rules

O.K., I have to admit, this seems entirely nonsensical to me. Could you please explain(or rationalize) for us how complicated is not equal to complex?(Complex is a synonym for complicated, btw) You seem to be playing both sides here.

 
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PKDuke wrote:
O.K., I have to admit, this seems entirely nonsensical to me. Could you please explain(or rationalize) for us how complicated is not equal to complex?(Complex is a synonym for complicated, btw) You seem to be playing both sides here.


I thought that the words are not the same. Rules can be complex, that is intricate, but not complicated, that is hard to learn. Maybe I thought wrong - I am not going to argue with native speakers of English.

Complex
adj.

Consisting of interconnected or interwoven parts; composite.
Composed of two or more units: a complex carbohydrate.

http://www.answers.com/topic/complex

Complicated means difficult to analyze or understand; advanced, hard.

http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_is_the_meaning_of_complicated
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Cruelsader wrote:
PKDuke wrote:
O.K., I have to admit, this seems entirely nonsensical to me. Could you please explain(or rationalize) for us how complicated is not equal to complex?(Complex is a synonym for complicated, btw) You seem to be playing both sides here.


I thought that words are not the same. Well, I am not going to argue with native speakers of English what is the difference between the words. Maybe there is no difference.

Complex
adj.

Consisting of interconnected or interwoven parts; composite.
Composed of two or more units: a complex carbohydrate.

http://www.answers.com/topic/complex

Complicated means difficult to analyze or understand; advanced, hard.

http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_is_the_meaning_of_complicated

You say you aren't going to argue but then post links....come on! O.K., I can play that game....
Merriam Webster: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/complicated
(complex listed as a synonym for complicated)
Answers.com: http://www.answers.com/topic/complicated
(complex listed as a synonym for complicated)
wordreference.com:
http://www.wordreference.com/thesaurus/complicated
(complex listed as a synonym for complicated)
dictionary.com:
http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/complicated
complex listed in the definition of complex

If I might offer a compliment, your grasp on English appears strong so I don't think you have trouble expressing yourself on these forums or grasping the language . That being said, I think some of us simply disagree with your assessment of the rules. It appears to me that most people aren't as troubled with, or finding the rules as complex/complicated as you seem to(see http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/836990/descent-2-0-rules...).
 
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PKDuke wrote:
You say you aren't going to argue but then post links....come on!


I posted the links to demonstrate why the words seem different to me. However, if you could know the exact meaning of a word by just looking up a definition you would not need professional translators: machines could do the work better. This is obviously not the case. So, I am not going to argue if you and other native speakers of English are saying that the words have the same meaning.

PKDuke wrote:
That being said, I think some of us simply disagree with your assessment of the rules.


I was trying to address Mr Skeletor's confusion. I do not expect him or you to agree with me.
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[q="Cruelsader"]

I am not saying the game is complicated. I am saying that the game is relatively complex and this requires complex rules, which in turn means that rule issues are more likely to come up than in a simpler game. Compare Incan Gold with Descent. Are the rules of the same complexity? Consider it a test question. [\q]

Neither game is complex.

Quote:

Here is my special running contest for reanimates. My favourite reanimate has to run 10 metres other skeletons have to run 1000 metres. If you have issues with the setup ask Mr Skeletor who is the judge. Not that it would matter: he will invariably tell you that all complaints about balance are meaningless - you just have to develop your skills harder.


I have no idea as to what it is you are talking about???
 
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Mr Skeletor wrote:

Neither game is complex.

Quote:

Here is my special running contest for reanimates. My favourite reanimate has to run 10 metres other skeletons have to run 1000 metres. If you have issues with the setup ask Mr Skeletor who is the judge. Not that it would matter: he will invariably tell you that all complaints about balance are meaningless - you just have to develop your skills harder.


I have no idea as to what it is you are talking about???


He is saying that even if a game was overtly, absurdly unbalanced ie a race game where one side ha to travel 100 times as far as the other there are some people who would maintain that it was due to a lack of playing skill & understanding on the part of the players.
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Cruelsader wrote:
PKDuke wrote:
You say you aren't going to argue but then post links....come on!


I posted the links to demonstrate why the words seem different to me. However, if you could know the exact meaning of a word by just looking up a definition you would not need professional translators: machines could do the work better. This is obviously not the case. So, I am not going to argue if you and other native speakers of English are saying that the words have the same meaning.


As a native speaker I tend to use those terms interchangeably but recognise the two different meanings.

I do not think the game is conceptually difficult & it did not seem to me to have enough bits & pieces to it to be considered complicated either.
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Pickles wrote:
Mr Skeletor wrote:

Neither game is complex.

Quote:

Here is my special running contest for reanimates. My favourite reanimate has to run 10 metres other skeletons have to run 1000 metres. If you have issues with the setup ask Mr Skeletor who is the judge. Not that it would matter: he will invariably tell you that all complaints about balance are meaningless - you just have to develop your skills harder.


I have no idea as to what it is you are talking about???


He is saying that even if a game was overtly, absurdly unbalanced ie a race game where one side ha to travel 100 times as far as the other there are some people who would maintain that it was due to a lack of playing skill & understanding on the part of the players.


So balanced means everyone has to run the same distance?
 
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Mr Skeletor wrote:

So balanced means everyone has to run the same distance?


It seems like you're being intentionally obtuse.

Most people take "balanced" to mean that if all players have equal (or close to equal) skill levels, each player should have an equal chance of winning.

I think the biggest issue with Descent (in regard to balance) is that you've got a very open-ended game, which makes it inherently hard to balance, and to accurately gauge balance. In any given scenario you've got a ton of variables:

- The adventurer group makeup
- The skills/equipment of that group
- The OL monster choices
- The specific makeup of the scenario

And this is further complicated if players have access to the conversion kit.

On the other hand, I'd say it's also fair to say there are a lot of players who see "blowout" victories for one side or the other and immediately (and erroneously) think a game is unbalanced.
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crackbone wrote:
Mr Skeletor wrote:

So balanced means everyone has to run the same distance?


It seems like you're being intentionally obtuse.

Most people take "balanced" to mean that if all players have equal (or close to equal) skill levels, each player should have an equal chance of winning.


So the OL should have a 20% chance of winning a 5 player game?
If you base it on teams, it's 50, but that is still stupid. You aren't taking strategies or tactics or learning curve or risk management or anything into account. The game may as well be 1 50/50 die roll if that is your definition of balance.
 
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Mr Skeletor wrote:
crackbone wrote:
Mr Skeletor wrote:

So balanced means everyone has to run the same distance?


It seems like you're being intentionally obtuse.

Most people take "balanced" to mean that if all players have equal (or close to equal) skill levels, each player should have an equal chance of winning.


So the OL should have a 20% chance of winning a 5 player game?
If you base it on teams, it's 50, but that is still stupid. You aren't taking strategies or tactics or learning curve or risk management or anything into account. The game may as well be 1 50/50 die roll if that is your definition of balance.


What I want is a game where I have a chance to win a scenario. How balanced do you think the Masquerade scenario is? The Overlord won on turn three where we played an almost perfect game (only one hit stunned the target instead of killing it). On turn two he had already 3 out of 4 out of the map. We didn't even play the second part of the scenario because it was absurd. There was absolutely no chance for us to win it. We've lost every other scenario we've played except the intro one. Maybe the game isn't balanced for 4 players but the rating this game should have is half of what it currently has.

This is a game I'll never play again. I want to have at least some fun while playing a game and that's not the case for this game. I can admit defeat if it's because of the rolls I got but not when it's useless whatever I do.

If I'll ever want to play a dungeon crawler I'll put on the dungeon master hat and prepare a D&D 4ed campaign. I'll have a bit of fun as the DM but my purpose is to make the people around the table have a great time. The purpose of the OL in this game is to prove how powerless and useless the players are.
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Mr Skeletor wrote:
So the OL should have a 20% chance of winning a 5 player game? If you base it on teams, it's 50, but that is still stupid. You aren't taking strategies or tactics or learning curve or risk management or anything into account. The game may as well be 1 50/50 die roll if that is your definition of balance.


You are being intentionally obtuse. Nobody has said that balance means having equal chance at winning regardless of skill. You, on the other hand, seem to be saying that with enough skill you can always win. In other words, if Mr Bolt can't run 100 meters faster than Mr Skeletor can take 1 meter step then Mr Bolt is a sad loser. The setup of the contest has nothing to do with Mr Bolt losing.
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NorthFury wrote:
...How balanced do you think the Masquerade scenario is? The Overlord won on turn three where we played an almost perfect game (only one hit stunned the target instead of killing it)...


My team only rescued 1 guest, but it was the right guy! I'd say it's pretty balanced...
 
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Cruelsader wrote:
Mr Skeletor wrote:
So the OL should have a 20% chance of winning a 5 player game? If you base it on teams, it's 50, but that is still stupid. You aren't taking strategies or tactics or learning curve or risk management or anything into account. The game may as well be 1 50/50 die roll if that is your definition of balance.


You are being intentionally obtuse.


Nope. Why don't you two try actually answer the fucking question properly.
 
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Mr Skeletor wrote:
Nope. Why don't you two try actually answer the fucking question properly.


wants to *drink* but *shrugs* isntead


You have been answered.

crackbone wrote:
Most people take "balanced" to mean that if all players have equal (or close to equal) skill levels, each player should have an equal chance of winning.


For the record: I am not saying that Descent is broken, totally unbalanced or anything like that. However, it seems to me that some scenarios are favouring OL too much. That is, the setup/rules of the quest are such that when both parties have the same skill level then OL wins unless the heroes are very lucky. Nonetheless, this is not a final conclusion: as the title of my review suggest I made the statement after one play through of the campaign.
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