Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Descent 2nd Edition

Yesterday, I managed to catch up with some old friends I don't see enough of anymore for a board games evening, wherein we ate pizza and played Descent: Journeys in the Dark (second edition), a sort of Fantasy Flight updating of the classic Advanced Heroquest concept.

Descent is a scenario-based game with a modular board consisting of about 25-30 sturdy, reversible card tiles. On one side of each tile is a dungeon section, on the other is wilderness. Coupled with entrance and exit tiles and a range of connectors and 'dead ends' to cap off unused junctions, these can be assembled into who knows how many possible variations. Each scenario - the game provides plenty, but you could easily write your own - has a map showing which tiles to set up, and what other bits to include.

Naturally there are bits, it's a Fantasy Flight game. The bits which you set up on the board include, but are not limited to: Search tokens, Objective tokens, Villager tokens, Lieutenant tokens and monster miniatures.

There are also hella cards, but we'll get to that.
As an Advanced Heroquest descendant, Descent includes actual plastic minis in the box. There is one for each of the eight hero characters, and a whole bunch of monsters. For reference, assuming you don't paint them all, the heroes are dark grey, the regular monsters tan and the boss monsters red. Aside from the goblins, there's little chance of mistaking the monsters for your characters, however, as the rest of them are all either spiders or simply immense. They are pretty nice miniatures, and those what paint could probably have a good time just gussying them up to look extra shiny on the tabletop.
Down the middle: Movement, Health, Endurance and Defence.
At the bottom are Attributes. On the right are your ability
and your feat.

Each hero also has a card detailing their abilities (each monster has the same, although theirs are half the size because they pretty much just move and attack.) In addition to a picture, the card gives the character or monster's movement rate (in squares), health and defence (represented by a die or dice,)  and any special abilities. Heroes also have endurance and attributes, and a special heroic feat that they can use once per encounter.

The game can be played with up to five people: One Overlord, controlling the dungeon and the monsters, and up to four players, each controlling a hero. The base set has eight heroes in four classes - fighter, scout, mystic and healer, I think they were. You aren't supposed to double up classes, and you customise your character by picking one of two decks of starting equipment and skills for their class (scouts, for example, can be 'thief' or 'wildernessy type'*.)
The hands at the bottom indicate how many hands are
needed to equip the thing. They're all left, indicating
that heroes in Descent are probably southpaws.

Once you get into the game, there are cards for searching, cards for further equipment, cards - and matching tokens - for being stunned, immobilised, poisoned or something else; possibly cursed. The Overlord gets a deck of cards that he draws from once per turn and that can be played to do bad things for the heroes or good things for the monsters. Rather than just killing everything in sight, you have an objective for each mission, which typically feeds into the next encounter in the scenario.

In play, each hero has a turn, followed by the Overlord. Each model gets two actions, which can be chosen from options including, but not limited to, move, attack, search and rest. Heroes can also take extra movement or use some skills by accruing fatigue, limited by their endurance. Resting clears fatigue, and is a more important action than you might think, because you build up fatigue at quite a pace and once you hit your endurance it starts becoming damage.

Dice, dice, baby!
This being a fantasy quest game, combat is the meat of the thing, and is done with dice. Each weapon allows you to roll the blue die and one or more of the yellow and red power dice. As you can see from the picture, each side contains a mixture of symbols: numbers are range, and a ranged attack has to accumulate enough of this to reach the target. Hearts are damage, while the lightning bolt is a surge, which can be used to activate special abilities (usually increasing damage or range, although Jon's character's hero ability meant that we could spend them to heal, which was very important.) The defender rolls one or more defence dice - brown, white or black in ascending order) which are marked with shields which cancel damage. Damage is your goal, but attacks may have other effects; in particular 'stun' was very important to us in the intro games, allowing us to tie up big opponents while we whittled down the little attackers.

This is a later and larger scenario than we played, with the
heroes in  a strong defensive position, yet simultaneously
A key difference between this and Heroquest (Advanced or otherwise) is that the entire dungeon and its denizens are laid out to begin with, which means that everything starts to converge on you early. In addition, there is often something you have to stop happening which means that the slow and steady kick-and-search approach is rarely practical. This makes for a pacy game, as the heroes hurry to wrangle the Overlord's forces.

As an observation, fuck goblins. They run like greased pigs, can't be blocked, and invariably need to run somewhere in the scenario, which is something that you basically can not stop from happening, as they tend to be in and out of your line of sight in a single turn, or to have done what they needed to do before you can even get to them. Fuck those little bastards.


A final aspect of the game is progression. Heroes gain experience which allows them to buy additional skills from their class-type deck, and any equipment they pick up from searching can be retained or sold for gold which can then be used to buy more equipment. This is matched against Overlord XP and more powerful monsters and decks of Overlord card to create escalation.

On the basis of the first few scenarios, Descent is a nice little game with a lot of room to grow, even without the inevitable expansions. We - the players - won through the first few scenarios, but it was a close run thing (and mostly happened due to a) blessed stun lock, and b) James forgetting his trap cards during our turns,) which is pretty much what you want in a game like this.

* One of these two may not be the official name on the cards.