Promise is a promise – here is the Descent: Journeys in the Dark review, which will focus purely on the game and not on its rules, which are easy to remember and follow. As you’ve already read, recently the only board game, which totally occupies our free gaming time, is Descent. Evgeni ordered it from Amazon, as it was still not available here in Bulgaria. As of now you can find it out for about £52 in UK- and about €60 in Germany- versions of Amazon – yes, playing board games is serious ‘business’, which is really not cheap.
More importantly – what do you get for your money?
- In my opinion this is one of the most famous and also really well made board games by Fantasy Flight Games;
- Quality of the product is fantastic – for the price you get beautifully crafted tiles, small figures, cards, dices, rule- and story/quest book;
- Hours of fun gameplay with your friends;
- The sweet opportunity to bitch-slap the Overlord when you lose or win (slap’s fun in both cases for the Heroes).
Descent is a game, mainly concentrated in completing different dynamic and I must say interesting quests/tasks in dungeons. You may find out that some quests are sending you to kill a specific monster, but it is rarity when this happens. Mostly Heroes and Overlord are concentrating in undertaking very specific missions, most of which are so to say time sensitive – as for example saving crops from Overlords’ goblins to prevent them from feeding their fat boss in order to become even fatter and harder in the second encounter of the quest. Almost all tasks (beside chapter introductions) consist of 2 encounters. It is a clever decision – you can play for an hour or so and next playing session you can continue with the second encounter. Also it prevents using large maps and saves place on the table and last but not least it brings another interesting element to the gameplay – who wins first encounter has a small bonus lead in the second part. Campaign consists of 2 acts, both having an introduction and 5 quests plus an epic epilogue at the end. From these of Act 1 players can chose only 3 in which they can try to oppose the Overlord. Winning 2 of them is enough for determining the final result of who wins the Act and which introduction will be played at the beginning of Act 2. It is also important as this will make only exact quests to be available then and scenario is different because of the outcome in Act 1 and who was the winner. Each quest usually lasts from 120 to 180 minutes.
Combat is fun, engaging and tactics must be considered before each move as a single mistake, bad move or attack could lead to winning or losing entire encounter, quest and why not an Act. It is actually one of the few moments, when game outcome may depend on luck, as each attack or measuring defenses is done through rolling dices. As opposed to some games there is no need to kill or grind Overlord’s minions and this is totally not encouraged – monsters’ kills do not give experience or loot and even could hinder Heroes’ play and slow them down.
… #^&*% oh, please exuse me guys, the mangy Overlord demands a word:
Tremble, mortals! – A few words from an angry Overlord
Ok, right off the bat I want to say that I don’t play very well as an Overlord. I haven’t played in the first edition of Descent and until much later in our campaign, I hadn’t really grasped the full complexity of monster movement and proper ability usage, Overlord cards, tactical figure placement and so on. Ok, I might make it sound a bit more complex than it really is, but the bottom line is this: Playing as an Overlord in “Descent: Journeys in the Dark” is much different than playing as a hero. How so? Well…
First of all, being an evil mastermind is a lonely job. Sure, you have all your minions, but they don’t really do much to encourage you, help with tactical advice, point out any mistakes you’re about to make or cheer alongside you when you kill a hero. No, all they really do is sit there, look menacing and stupid and wait for you to give them an order. So you’re on your own and you have this horde of monsters ready to throw their lives away at your will, but there’s a lot to do and a lot to consider.
As an Overlord, half of your arsenal is called “The Overlord Deck”. You have this neat collection of cards, supposedly giving you immense magical powers with which to crush any kind hearted buffoon with a sword that tries to thwart your evil plans. Ok, most of these cards aren’t capable of really crushing anything. It’s more like you use them to tap that aforementioned buffoon on the shoulder and distract them for a couple of seconds in the hopes that your evil plan can move a step further. There are some neat traps, mind control and various other things that you can use to make the heroes hate you even more than they already do. Then there’s also cards that you use on your monsters to make them more powerful. Overall, it’s a nice deck, but here’s the catch: you randomly draw cards from that deck and after you use them, they’re discarded. So there’s a large chunk of luck involved in dealing with the Overlord deck and you really have to think hard when and how you should use your powers. Here’s a bit of a hint for new Overlords: Build up your hand in the first encounter of a quest, so you can have a lot of cards available to you in the second encounter. That can really help you win the overall quest.
Moving on, let’s talk a bit about monsters. Well, there’s really not that much to tell. They’re stupid and weak, as any evil minions should be. They can’t be counted on to really inflict any serious pain to the heroes. But they can make a really good nuisance. For example, that dreaded large monster movement is a very important part of the Overlord game. Sometimes it might be crucial to have a dragon, who can move to a certain position and swing around just so that he blocks the path for the heroes. Granted, that won’t stop them permanently, because that dragon will then be chopped in a lot of tiny pieces, but hey, at least he managed to delay them for a turn.
Looking over the forums at boardgamegeek.com I was surprised to see that the prevailing opinion was that the Overlord was really powerful (though not necessarily overpowered) and that he won most quests in other people’s gaming sessions. So I realized that, having been beaten time and time again, I wasn’t very good at being bad. But here’s the thing – when you play different single scenarios and the heroes don’t really get tougher and tougher each time you play, then it’s significantly easier for the Overlord. In a campaign, things go a little bit different. After every quest, heroes get experience and gold, then they proceed to buy a bunch of new skills and equipment and by the next quest they’re already a lot tougher, while the Overlord’s monsters don’t get any stronger, they don’t increase their count. No, all the Overlord gets is to maybe buy one new card for the Overlord deck and even then he’s able to use that card only once (most times) and that’s only if he draws it into his hand. And even though things look a little bit brighter (or darker, ‘cause, you know, we’re evil) at the start of act II, they quickly turn around again as the act II shop items come into play. But then again I might just be really bad at this.
Overall, being an evil bastard is fun (if you’re ok handling a bit of abuse from the heroes at times). And even though it might be harder to bring about the destruction of the world than it is preventing it, in the end it’s worth it. So when you finally beat those self righteous heroes to a bloody pulp in your games, come and leave a post below and tell me about it, so I can join you in the evil laugh.
Oh, sigh, please don’t mind him, he’s mad with frustration…
Anyway, game’s really good and fun, and below you might find my ample list of why this is so:
The thumbs go up for:
– Quality of the product – superb well fitting and painted tiles, gorgeous art of the cards, supreme mini-figures for the Heroes and Overlord’s minions;
– Story – campaign is interesting and well made;
– Quests – variety of tasks, located on a nice world-map, travelling between them leading to random events with good or bad outcome for the Heroes;
– Character development – choosing from eight heroes, each having 2 distinct specialization, each with different skills and talents. Be knight or berserker, healer or necromancer, thief or ranger. Strengthener your Hero skills or gear, upgrade your most used skill – character development is really well paced and rewarding;
– Replayability – game definitely has a lot of potential to be played again as every quest would progress differently every time even with the same Heroes and Overlord. For now it has 2 released expansions – Lair of the Wyrm and Labyrinth of Ruin. Both are adding new playable Heroes, new monsters and miniatures, Overlord cards, tokens and 30 new map tiles;
– Custom adventures – easily the game could be played with self made of fan-made adventures;
– Fun factor – Descent is really a fantastic fun board game, in which you can spend dozens of hours with your friends. We’re playing a 4-men game against the Overlord and it is actually our first coop board game. Until now we’ve played only competitive games as Game of thrones and Small world. It was a nice change, because now we can hate only one guy (the unworthy Overlord) and sessions do not turn into mass fights at the end.
… but unfortunately Descent also has some shortcomings:
The thumbs go down for:
– Large monsters’ movement – really, this drives me and the other guys crazy. To the point where Overlord’s wellbeing in real life could be threatened. It is part of the rules, which is exploited every time by the mangy Overlord – monster figures, which occupy more than one space on the map may change the orientation of its base relative to its starting position. This means that a dragon having 3 movements points ends with 5, because it stops at the last square, lifts on its front pawns and lands its heavy ass 2 squares further. The rule known among us as the ‘big ass spinning’.
– No mini figures for Overlord’s Lieutenants – with all Heroes’ and monsters’ figures it is strange that in box you will find out plain pasteboard tokens for them. No idea about this Fantasy Flight Games’ decision. (They are actually selling this figures separately, made from metal for the price of $10, which is not that cool.)
– Line of sight – it is really not well explained and might lead to controversial situations in which Overlord or Heroes must yield.
– Balance – game is actually pretty much well balanced. However there are several difficulty spikes at the beginning of each Act, when Overlord’s power is too much for the Heroes’ lack of gear. Tables turns in middle to end of an Act, when Overlord might be totally dominated. Also, I still have no clue, why rewards for playing introduction of Act 2 is gear from Act 1.
At the end I must say that beside these setbacks (which could be totally fine for you of course) Descent: Journeys in the Dark is a gem. If you are into board games, if you love fantasy setting and have couple of hours to spend with friends playing, you should definitely try it out. Specially if you have a friend, who doesn’t mind to be hated or beaten or even enjoys it, you have the perfect fitting Overlord.
My final verdict for Descent: Journeys in the Dark: 10 out of 10.