In this edition of the blog, we’ll be looking at a remake of a still very popular game:
Descent: Journeys in the Dark was originally published in 2005, designed by Kevin Wilson and published by Fantasy Flight. The new edition was done by Corey Konieczka, Daniel Clark, and Adam Sadler. Descent is a modular dungeon crawl game for 2-5 players aged 14 and up. One player takes the role of the overlord, controlling all the monsters and trying to accomplish certain objectives, while the rest of the players are adventurers trying to thwart him. The redesign attempts to pull together the base game with ideas presented in some of the original expansions, particularly Road to Legend which introduced campaign rules.
Full disclosure time – I was involved in the playtesting of this game. Now that the rules are out, I can talk about the game – I just can’t talk about the prototype. I’d also like to point out that I’m not an employee of Fantasy Flight at all. End of disclaimers.
The new edition of Descent contains 8 hero figures and sheets; 31 monster figures (Zombies, Goblin Archers, Cave Spiders, Flesh Moulders, Barghests, Ettins, Elementals, Merriods, and Shadow Dragons); 9 six-sided dice (1 blue attack, 2 red power, 2 yellow power, 1 brown defense, 2 gray defense, and 1 black defense); a campaign pad; 84 class cards; 20 Act I shop item cards; 14 Act II shop item cards; 16 condition cards; 12 search cards; 6 relic cards; 40 Overlord cards; 18 monster cards; 12 lieutenant cards; 10 travel event cards; 4 activation cards; 48 map tiles; 45 damage tokens; 35 fatigue tokens; 7 doors (plus plastic stands); 16 hero tokens; 9 search tokens; 6 lieutenant tokens; 10 objective tokens; 8 villager tokens; 20 condition tokens; and 1 reanimate familiar token.
Depending on the quest you choose, setup will be different from game to game. However, there are some standard steps – you’ll choose a quest, assemble the map, choose player roles, set up tokens and various decks. One player will be the Overlord, and will be responsible for choosing monsters, setting up the quest, creating the Overlord deck, and drawing a hand of Overlord cards (based on the number of Heroes). All other players will be Heroes, and they’ll each get an activation card and tokens, choose a character, choose a class base don your character’s archetype (warrior, healer, mage, or scout), and choose a basic skill. Campaign rules are a little different, and I’ll cover those later.
A round of Descent consists of all Hero turns, followed by the Overlord turn. It doesn’t matter what order Heroes go in – it may be advantageous to shuffle the order around from round to round. However, a Hero must take their entire turn before another Hero goes, and all Heroes will go before the Overlord goes.
On a Hero turn, you’ll first be able to trigger start of turn abilities, end effects that last until the start of your turn, and refresh any exhausted abilities. You can also equip any items – some items have hand symbols on them, meaning that’s how many hands you need to operate them (and you only have two hands). You also get two actions, which you can do in any order. You can even do the same action twice. Your options:
- Move up to as many spaces as your Hero’s speed. You may interrupt your movement to do another action, and continue afterwards.
- Attack a monster by rolling specified dice. Melee attacks are done by standing next to your target, and ranged attacks are done from a distance. When you roll, you’ll count up the hearts to see how many hits you do. If doing a ranged attack, you’ll also need to roll numbers to equal or exceed the distance between you and your target. If you roll an X at all, whether on melee or ranged, you miss automatically. If you land a hit, the Overlord will get an opportunity to roll defense dice to try and block. You may also roll lightning bolts (surges) that can be used to enhance your attack, depending on your abilities and items.
- Use a skill on one of your class cards that requires an action.
- Rest so you can get all of your fatigue back at the end of your turn.
- Search an adjacent space that contains a search token by revealing the token.
- Stand up. This is the only action you can do if you were knocked out in the previous turn. You’ll roll two red power dice and regain health equal to the number of hearts rolled, and fatigue equal to the number of surges rolled.
- Revive a Hero in an adjacent space.
- Open or close an adjacent door.
- There may be other special actions associated with the quest.
Once every Hero has finished, it’s time for the Overlord. The Overlord will operate every monster on the board, one at a time (and doing one full group before moving on to another). The Overlord’s options for your two actions are:
- Move up to as many spaces as the monster’s speed.
- Attack a Hero.
- Perform special monster actions.
- Open or close a door.
- Any special actions associated with the quest.
The game continues until one side has met their quest conditions. They win. At least in the single quest. The campaign setting works a little differently. You’ll be picking quests based on a map, and it will follow a basic outline – an introduction, three Act I quests, an interlude, three Act II quests, and the finale. You’ll keep track of where you are on the included campaign pad. Between quests, you’ll be able to spend earned experience points on new abilities, and gold on new equipment. Whoever wins the Finale is the winner of the game.
I have played Descent (1st edition) a couple of times, but it was only the base game, so I can’t speak to how this is different than, say, Road to Legend. We were playing the campaign setting, and it felt like a different experience than the base game. New additions included the use of defense dice, smaller maps, and the ability to level up. Rather than just trying to kill each other, you’re trying to accomplish certain other objectives within a given scenario. I can’t talk specifically about the playtesting process, but I do think the smaller games will make for a better experience all around. I am interested in seeing how it looks in its final form, and I’m also interested to see the reaction to the changes from the Descent fans. At the very least, I think it will provide a more manageable time commitment than the original, and you can always try a campaign if you want more game. As with the original, this type of design is begging for expansions – new quests, new campaigns, new Heroes, new monsters, new maps, new everything. I think it will be interesting to see what the fan community comes up with as the game hits stores, probably by GenCon (my guess – I have no inside information). Thanks for reading!