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

Subject: A Strategic Dungeon Delver rss

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Ian Lippert
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Intro

As a player who loves games like twilight imperium I have always enjoyed the hack and slash games my game group plays from time to time but always felt like they lacked the strategic depth that I look for in board games. After a play through consisting of the starting quest and two act one quests I have to say that descent second edition is now my favorite dungeon delving game of all time. Admittedly I never played first edition but have played most of the major dungeon delving games throughout the years such as hero quest, war hammer quest, ravenloft, world of Warcraft the board game, etc.

The Good

The core mechanics revolve around a rather simple and intuitive combat system that finds the players rolling to see how many hits they get while the opponent rolls to see how many defense he gets to subtract. One of the characteristics of good game design is the ability to pull complex and deep strategic gameplay out of simple and easy to understand rules, the danger is always that simple mechanis will stay simple and end up with no strategic depth allowing the players to figure out the system in short order. In Descent the complexity is layered onto this simple core system by the abilities that players gain throughout the course of the campaign. What starts off as simply moving and attacking quickly turns into a game of managing you limited amount of energy to use the best abilities at the best times to counter the variety of monsters and cards that the overlord throws at you. It feels a lot like a tabletop miniatures game of magic the gathering, with a lot of back and forth between the players and the over lord.

The second thing that I loved about this game was the scenarios. No longer is the goal simply to wander around a randomly generated dungeon killing monsters and collecting loot (all good fun but not as engaging as games with strategic depth) but both the players and the overlord have specific goals to accomplish. This makes each encounter it's own unique obstacle that the players must figure out the best way overcome using the tools they have available to them.

It is these two great designs that form together to create something I have never had in a dungeon delving board game, strategic depth. Not only did the players have to figure out an overall strategy for the encounter but I found that from turn to turn we had to strategize to figure out the best way to overcome the lay out and abilities of the overlord monsters in a way that would further our overall goal. Most dungeon games have a basic strategy, move forward and kill. Our session of descent saw the players spend lots of time trying to figure out the best ways to combine their abilities to solve the problems that arose from turn to turn. As a strategic gamer this made me totally fall in love with the game.

Some other good things, the character designs are great. Each class has its own feel and each archetype has the ability to play two totally different roles in the game. The warrior archetype can go either suicidal berserker or defensive tank, the scout archetype can go either deadly archer or lightening fast back stabbing thief. Although each class won't have a ton of abilities by the end it seems like each new ability adds an important new dynamic to that players gameplay, the class decks are not filled with a bunch of marginal abilities.

The Bad

I do have a few minor complaints. First, the scenarios we played always seemed to be some kind of race mechanic, do x before the overlord. While this is ok once in a while I hope there are more quests that have a more explorative feel to them. The bad thing about the race mechanics is that it never feels like you have any time to waste. I posted a thread in the strategy forum about the problem we had of never having time to search. It seems like without collecting gold the players might fall behind.

Second the movement and line of site system is a little wonky. You are going to be able to do things that don't make a lot of sense. I think the best way to deal with this is just to understand that everything is happening at once so while it looks like your hero shouldn't be able to squeeze through a diagonal between to figures it could be viewed that everyone kind of arrives there by clambering over each other. I understand how this would bug people though and it takes some time to get used to. The players in our session lost at least one game because the overlord miss placed a monster and we were able squeeze through and reach our goal. The advantage of inexperience went to the players in our first game, for while we were all equally inexperienced the players had 3 people to figure out the weird movement system while the overlord only had himself.

Third, while I actually consider this a positive many might not, loot and leveling is rarer than most games. During the course of the game the only loot you can find is basic stuff that will modify your basic characteristics like health and energy, some stuff gives you a one use defense buff or rerolls. You only get geared up in between quests and the gear is hard to come by. On average we probably only received 2 pieces of gear for a party of 3 so by the end of two full quests I only had one new weapon that was a pretty marginal upgrade to my base axe. I actually like the fact that the heroes must struggle as a raggedy band of adventurers because it will make you appreciate it a lot more when you receive that one awesome item but I think if people are used to games that are loot fests they might feel things dragging on a bit. Same goes for abilities, the first thing you notice is how small the class decks are. Luckily all of the abilities are game changers and have significant impact on the gameplay so this might not be as big of a problem as first glance suggests.

Conclusion

All in all I had a ton of fun playing it. It had the fun mechanics of looting and leveling while at the same time provided a level of strategic depth I have not seen in many of these types of games. I think there is a lot of depth that will still be revealed as the players and overlord level up and I am very excited to see what kind of expansions FFG comes out with. I think if you are a player critical of the game you should give it some time to accustom yourself to the level of strategy required for this game and to get used to some of the quirks that require certain strategies to be successful.
I would conditionally rate this 8/10 it could go down if there is less strategic depth than at first play through and it could go up if they come out with a road to legend expansion which was the one expansion that always had descent first edition on my radar.
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Peter Cruickshanks
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Good review, but I don't immediately see how you could make a quest containing two opposed goals seem like less of a race. And this mechanic is by far my favorite improvement in d2e.

If the OL/heroes are trying their hardest to win, and thus reach their goal, the other party is by definition on the clock. Without removing the opposed objectives, and e.g making it a "kill each other" type thing, I don't see how you'd get away from it. You could make missions longer but it'd still be a race to the finish, just taking a bit longer. Any ideas?

If that is in fact what you meant by "a race"?
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Emmanuelle S
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Nice detailed review! I feel the same about the game. Can't wait to get my copy
 
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Christopher Senn
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im a strategic gamer as well. And even most standard wargames like M44, TOI, and Battlelore i found incredibly dull and shallow. Basically move forward and roll and hope.

From the video ive seen on the playthroughs it seems player must juggle a whole bunch of decisions. Which to me is a plus. Really every move should have a benefit/consequence and you must think short and long term. The player must decide to sacrifice exhaust points, or block a player, use special abilities, go for the objective, teamwork attacks, etc. I loved Defenders of the realm for this reason.

i myself HATE how the diagonal movement works past corners and how the LOS works as well. But i think the movement might be due to most of the maps ive seen are small and narrow. It would be too easy to block a pathway if not for corners rule. LOS rules i still dont like.

I like low xp and low leveling. I hated in video game RPGs where loot is basically 90% of the game. And everyone had glowing swords and fire swords. The more basic the weapons were the more i liked everything.
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Håvard Sommerseth
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Grove123 wrote:
im a strategic gamer as well. And even most standard wargames like M44, TOI, and Battlelore i found incredibly dull and shallow. Basically move forward and roll and hope.


With TOI did you mean Tide of Iron? I don't get how you would put that in the same category as M44 and Battlelore. It's a much deeper game with a lot more decisions IMO.
 
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Ian Lippert
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Grove123 wrote:
im a strategic gamer as well. And even most standard wargames like M44, TOI, and Battlelore i found incredibly dull and shallow. Basically move forward and roll and hope.

From the video ive seen on the playthroughs it seems player must juggle a whole bunch of decisions. Which to me is a plus. Really every move should have a benefit/consequence and you must think short and long term. The player must decide to sacrifice exhaust points, or block a player, use special abilities, go for the objective, teamwork attacks, etc. I loved Defenders of the realm for this reason.

i myself HATE how the diagonal movement works past corners and how the LOS works as well. But i think the movement might be due to most of the maps ive seen are small and narrow. It would be too easy to block a pathway if not for corners rule. LOS rules i still dont like.

I like low xp and low leveling. I hated in video game RPGs where loot is basically 90% of the game. And everyone had glowing swords and fire swords. The more basic the weapons were the more i liked everything.


It like in a link to the past when you finally got the master sword (your first weapon upgrade) you felt like a total boss
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