Sunday, March 31, 2013

Descent: Journeys In The Dark (Second Edition)

For those who aren't familiar with it, Descent: Journeys In The Dark is a tabletop dungeon-delving board game with a strong story-driven element, released by Fantasy Flight Games.  I would like to state that while I did play the First Edition of Descent a couple of times, I'm not overly familiar with it and do not have any "First Edition bias" when looking at Second Edition.  However, to help give readers a point of reference I'm going to recall my many fond memories of HeroQuest, which provided much enjoyment in my youth and served as a sort of "gateway game" into this genre.

The quality of all the game components is excellent.  This is exactly what I expected from Fantasy Flight, and they didn't disappoint.  The cards and the heavier tiles and tokens are all very solid, and all have very vibrant colors.  The miniatures are plastic and though they aren't as good as those you'd purchase for wargames, etc., they have good detail for a board game and are fairly solid.  I haven't decided if I'll try to paint them up or not, or if I'll look for alternative miniatures to replace them.

The map tiles are all double-sided, which is a brilliant idea.  Generally they have an "indoor" side and an "outdoor" side, which lets the tiles serve double-duty while maximizing the number of tiles you can use simultaneously.  Also, every tile has a number and a letter, which lets you quickly locate the tiles necessary to set up the map for a particular quest.

The game plays very smoothly.  Each hero is allowed two actions per turn (such as Move or Attack), and any abilities which require an action to use are clearly marked.  Also, all rules for effects are included on the appropriate card, so there's no flipping pages in the rulebook to find out that a Wooden Shield can add one defense if exhausted (for example).  I've read that this "streamlining" was a big part of the changes between the First and Second Editions of the game. 

Monsters, controlled by the Overlord, are all activated by type.  For example, all Goblin Archers are activated together, and they must all act before another type of monster is activated.  This helps keep track of which monsters have acted for the turn.  In addition, the Overlord gets to draw Overlord cards, which allow him to play various tricks and traps (such as tripwires to slow heroes' movement, or dark magic to reroll dice) and keep the heroes' on their toes.

Heroes and monsters are pretty close in stats.  Obviously, heroes outclass lesser monsters like Goblin Archers, but the latter help make up for it in numbers.  This surprised me, as I recall in HeroQuest where even several Orcs couldn't hope to take down the Barbarian.  I'm curious if this balance will hold out as the game progresses, but given that monsters all get buffed to tougher versions for Act II during the campaign in Descent, I suspect they will continue to be a challenge to the heroes.

A couple of the players in our group have commented about how easy the game is to pick up and play.  While they've both play board games before, they're not regular board game players.  This is one of the reasons I enjoy and highly recommend Descent, as it's complex enough to satisfy veteran board gamers but still accessible for new players.

In addition, the Overlord player has his own goals.  This adds a lot to the game, and differentiates Descent from similar games where the player controlling the monsters is really just there to slow down the heroes.  In Descent, the Overlord is trying to achieve a goal that may or may not be in opposition to what the heroes' goal is.  For example, in the introductory quest ("First Blood"), the heroes' goal is to kill Mauler the Ettin, while the Overlord's goal is to escape with his goblins.  This gives the game a very dynamic feel and makes for some tense battles, as strategy comes into play and combat isn't necessarily the focus for victory!

I wholeheartedly recommend this game for both veteran board gamers and new players alike.  I know some fans of First Edition don't care for the new edition, but so far it's been a lot of fun and my gaming group is looking forward to the next gaming session!