Fanaticus was lucky enough to receive a pre-release copy of Descent 2nd Edition a week ago and we tried it out at our last game day. These are our thoughts on the game.
A Small Disclaimer:
Descent: Journeys in the Dark is first game that showed me there’s more to boardgames than Scrabble and Monopoly. Though I will try to keep to my usual review style, some comparisons with the original may seem confusing to new players.
Descent: Journeys in the Dark is a fantasy board game in the style of Dungeons and Dragons, but without the complex character sheets that go with playing an RPG. Recently Wizards of the Coast have released a few D&D boardgames, but Descent was the pioneer of this game style.
Firstly an encounter is selected, usually from the Quest Guide but there will eventually be other encounters available. If you’re playing a campaign (discussed later) this will indicate what encounter you’re playing. The board, which is modular, is then built up from tiles as described in the Quest Guide. Each player, except for the Overlord player, chooses a character. If you’re playing a campaign you will continue playing the character you started with.
Here is where it starts to differ from the original. Each character has an archetype, the classic choices of Tank, Healer, Rogue, etc. Within that archetype the player selects a class, further fine-tuning the character they want to play and the abilities available to them. Once your character has played a few encounters the abilities and items level up to become stronger and other weapon and armour can be purchased.
The Overlord player (like the Keeper in Mansions of Madness) plays against the other players, attempting to thwart their plans. The Quest Guide lists which monsters are available to the Overlord during this encounter, and what their abilities are. Overlord cards are also issued that allows the Overlord to manipulate events during play.
Basics of Play:
Descent 2nd Edition has been slimmed now quite a lot from its predecessor. On a character’s turn they may perform any two actions from a list of possible actions. These include moving, attacking, opening or closing doors, searching a room or even reviving a fallen comrade. You can even play the same action twice. During this phase, the Overlord can play cards to interfere with the character’s plans. When all the characters have played, the Overlord may perform two actions with each of the monsters on the board. These actions are attack (though only once per turn), move, open or close a door, or perform their special ability as listed.
When characters and monsters engage, combat is resolved using dice. Depending on your weapons or armour certain dice are selected and rolled. The number of hearts rolled minus the number of shields rolled equals the amount of damage done. Simple. Surges, a little lighting bolt on certain faces of the dice, trigger special conditions as dictated by each weapon. Sometimes this increases the amount of damage dealt, other times it may offer armour piercing. Each item is different.
Something we sorely miss from the original Descent is the ability for characters to Guard at the end of their turn, preparing for an imminent attack from a monster nearby. Though it was a vital part of the original game, the lack of it actually makes combat more balanced in this edition.
Descent 2nd Edition is designed to be played over several sessions. To this end, the individual encounters are much shorter and concise. Once a certain encounter is completed the characters have an opportunity to buy and sell items, and to use their gathered experience to improve their character. The Overlord may buy new cards to offer him more dangerous tricks. Then the players consult the Quest Guide to see what their next quest will be. Depending on their successes or failures, an interlude might be played followed by another encounter. Eventually this all culminates in an epic finale.
A little booklet included in the game allows for the campaign to be logged, so players can continue their campaign whenever they have time, without having to leave the game on someone’s dining table for days or even weeks.
A worthy successor to the game that got many people including myself into board games. Though more simplified, the streamlined gameplay dramatically reduces play time. No longer will a single encounter take an entire evening to complete, though you can always play through an entire campaign if you so wish.
Components: Though manufactured in the same way as the amazing figures in Gears of War, assembly leaves much to be desired. Gaping seams are visible on the figures, and in our demo set an ettin was actually missing his hind-end. Other than this, the monsters and characters look stunning and are easy to distinguish.
Gameplay: Easy enough to explain in a few minutes without being too simplistic. The classic “easy to learn, hard to master.”
Complexity vs Depth: Though great fun to play, the simplified play style has removed a certain amount of depth. Sessions are not as intense as in 1st Edition, but still offers great entertainment.
Theme: Every time I play a game in the Runebound Universe (Dungeon Quest, Rune Age, Rune Wars), the world becomes richer and stronger. In my mind Terrinoth is a real place, much like Middle-Earth.
Overall: Though I prefer the original Descent, the ease of play and shorter play time means Descent 2nd Edition will hit the table much more often, and is accessible to more and younger players.
When Descent 2nd Edition is released, a conversion kit will be available for owners of the original to bring their copy up to date. It is still unclear whether the 1st Edition expansion packs will work with the conversion kit.