Tag Archives: Descent

Get Down Tonight – Descent: Journeys in the Dark – Second Edition review

Time to introduce another new reviewer! Please welcome Stuart Platt to the site, a guy who is not only an avid gamer but also happens to be a professional wrestler. Working as The Judge, you should expect his reviews to be fair and informed (until he pulls a heel turn, anyway). To kick off, Stuart is taking a look at the Second Edition of Fantasy Flight Games’ classic Descent. Will this remake convince fans to move over from the original or is it just a cash in? 

Ah, Descent… where to begin.  Well, how about a little context.  The coffin box of Descent 1st Edition (or D1) as it will be called henceforth, was one of my first BIG purchases after getting back into the gaming hobby. Brimming with the nostalgia of my youth – hours and hours spent huddled round Hero Quest, Warhammer Quest and Talisman – this giant box filled with plastic-goodness was almost impossible to resist – and yet the sensation was somewhat bittersweet.

Someone plays the big, bad Overlord, the others play the Heroes.  You’ve got all the monsters you could ever need, huge swathes of terrain tiles, chunky custom dice… and a play time you could knit a cardigan in.  Like an XXL cardigan.  With pockets and everything.  But the experience wasn’t what I wanted.  In fact, it just raised a few questions.

Why aren’t we just playing D&D?  Why does D1 exist? What niche is it trying to fill? Well, it’s  a board game implementation of a Dungeons & Dragons-esque fantasy scenario / dungeon crawl but in a more manageable play time?  Only it’s not.  The game is fiddly, dense and unwieldy. Once the characters get geared up with equipment, skills and plenty of cool-stuff, turns can be a monstrous, analysis paralysis fuelled exercise in min-maxing your turn.  Death is an excuse to go shopping, play sessions can be huge and progress is slow.

But the game is competitive isn’t it? For both the Overlord player and the Heroes? Except, from my experience, if the Overlord goes all out he will probably kill the heroes handily – and the line of sight / spawning monster rules (which prevent the Overlord bringing in creatures where the heroes could see them) mean that both sides are constantly ‘gaming’ what is supposed to be a romping thematic experience.

So, you may ask yourself, why have I spent the first 250 words of this review talking about D1? Well, Fantasy Flight’s Descent 2nd Edition (or D2… see what I did there?) expertly fixes all of my problems with the first edition and brings new things to the table which elevate the experience even further.

Up to five players (four heroes and the Overlord) can approach missions either piecemeal or as part of a larger campaign, complete with levelling and persistent equipment.  Our first play (with 3 heroes) saw us complete a well-designed introductory quest and the first 2-part mission in one evening!  Now for readers who desperately want to avoid spoilers, be off with you!  I don’t think knowing the outline of the first main quest will ruin the experience – but best be safe.

Oh my. This is very pretty indeed. I want it. NOW.

Right, now they’ve gone… Why does D2 succeed?  Well, the quests are excellent.  Descent has always had relatively interesting objectives for the heroes – go here, kill that, collect those and the like, but the Overlord has essentially had to make do with ‘KILL ALL GOOD GUYS!’  D2 introduces opposed objectives for both – and your performance in part one will have ramifications for part two.  For instance, Fat Goblin Part One sees the Overlord’s Gobbos stealing crops, whilst the heroes try to secure them in the farm’s barn.  The more crops that the Goblins pinch, the more health the boss in Fat Goblin Part Two will have.  In game terms, this dissuades players from descending into a pure slug-fest.  There will be blood, but you can’t take your eyes off the mission objective.

Play is streamlined.  The core mechanisms remain intact but are refined: Movement is fluid – besides a simple modifier for crossing water and opposing monsters blocking passage, you can go where you want up to your Speed stat.  Line of sight is obvious – so as not to affect game flow.  To attack, players cause damage and check range by rolling a number of custom dice related to the weapon they are using.  Opposing that, new defence dice provide variable protection against attacks (instead of D1’s static numbers) and are simply implemented – tougher creatures (or better Hero armour) have more and/or better defence dice, but you can’t account for that terrible roll which always gives the underdog hope.

The other big mechanical change from D1 is the removal of the rather fiddly ‘Threat’ which the Overlord would accumulate and spend to summon creatures and play traps throughout the game.  Instead of this, each scenario now has specific rules of how, when and where the monsters come out to play – thus providing a more balanced and thematic experience.  The traps and spells are provided in the form of a deck of cards which the Overlord draws from each turn.  In a nice touch, this is customisable by spending XP generated from quest to quest – so as the Heroes level up and develop their skills, so does the Overlord.

Each of these adjustments fixes a problem from the first edition, and turns Descent into the game I always wanted it to be.  It can now be the quick, fun, one-off dungeon crawl where someone gets to play the bad guy as hard as he wants – and the Heroes will have to work well together to compete.  It can still be the sprawling, epic, 20 plus hour campaign with development, new skills, looting treasure for cool stuff and buying things at the local shops  that it’s always been but it’s now delivered in more interesting and engaging bite-sized quests that have a strong narrative through-road.

I think it’s fairly obvious from the tone of this review that I thoroughly enjoy the game.  It’s almost like Christian Peterson (Founder and CEO of Fantasy Flight) tapped into my thoughts, extracted my whims and desires and brought it to life… Actually that’s a little scary. Must change my passwords.

Fantasy Flight will make a fortune of this, and the endless expansions that will undoubtedly follow.  I’ll see you there.  I’ll be the big guy at the front of that queue, frantically waving my money.

Descent: Journeys in the Dark – Second Edition is available now and will set you back *uuuuurp* £65. It’s probably a better idea to get in touch with Gameslore who’ll sort you out a copy for £52.99 – much better! 

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Tales from the Fireside – Separation Anxiety

Mr Campfire has another Tale, filled with woe. That’s what happens when you’re separated from what you love.

——————–

There’s a game I want to play.

But there’s always a game, isn’t there? Right now, the hottest game in gamerland is Quarriors, a deck-builder that comes with 130 custom dice in the box. It’s so coveted, otherwise staid game reviewers with all the flexibility of corrugated card have used flowery similes like ‘jewels in a treasure chest’ to convey their awe of it. I mean, the game has 130 dice in all the colours of the rainbow–how could you not want it? As far as gamers are concerned it’s Christmas come early: a box of baubles removed from the loft, a stocking of sweeties that, okay, present a serious choking hazard, but come on! When was the last time you encountered a game so visually enticing, so wonderfully tactile? To heck with how it plays, don’t you just want to grab those dice and roll them ‘til arthritis kicks in? You’d wear your dice-rolling chicken claw with pride, boasting Quarriors did this to you.

In Europe Quarriors has encountered a couple of distribution issues, meaning it’s rather difficult to get hold of over here. If you pre-ordered it, you’re laughing while you’re rolling. If you didn’t you might be stuck until Christmas or the New Year before you can get your future chicken claws on a copy.

But doesn’t that add to the allure of it? Doesn’t the game being rare–if only temporarily–make it special? How many of you have bought a game simply because it’s gone out of print or was the last copy in the store? Prompted by game boxes holding all manner of treasures gamers are hoarders, and the one thing we hate more than anything else is the thought of the game that got away.

Tell me, what did you do when you heard Fantasy Flight were releasing Descent: Second Edition? Did you wonder if the price would come down for the re-release or how the game would change for its second iteration? Did you put it on your Amazon wish list or did you hurry to your Friendly Local Game Shop to grab the original Descent just in case the second edition didn’t match up to it? All those pieces, all those figures: less of a treasure trove than an unearthed tomb filled with riches. Dare you breach its cardboard chambers to return with magic and gold?

These end of line products are often accompanied by a bit of a kerfuffle: they’re the Harrod’s sales of the gaming world. This week I discovered online retailer IGUK.co.uk was down to its last copy of the discontinued Memoir ‘44 campaign book, and were selling it for a reasonable price. I don’t own Memoir ‘44, but with this rare artifact before me for a moment I felt rather dizzy. Sure, I don’t have Memoir ‘44 now but who’s to say I won’t in the future? Wouldn’t the campaign book come in handy then, at some hypothetical point down the time-stream?

Fortunately common sense prevailed and I pointed a friend who already had a copy of the game in its direction, but for a second I nearly forked over money I can’t afford for a game I couldn’t play. Considering how quickly IGUK’s stock disappeared once they cut its price, I wonder how many people in the same situation thought “To heck with it” and bought the book anyway.

The game I most want to play right now is Warhammer: Invasion–a game for which long-term readers will already know I have a simpering, drooling weak spot. Unlike Memoir ‘44 I already own a copy of Warhammer: Invasion, so you’d think I’d just pull it from my game shelves to play whenever I wish.

I can’t: circumstance has separated me from it.

Board gamers don’t do well with separation, which is why travel editions exist of every popular game from Carcassonne to Hungry Hippos. Last week, briefly threatened with separation from his collection another friend boldly listed the board games he’d be taking with him to Wales, to force his wife to play while trapped in a chalet on holiday; his reading material during this time would be the Lord of the Rings: The Card Game rulebook, downloaded in anticipation of buying the game in weeks to come. iOS and Android devices offer the opportunity to play some of our favourite games while on the move; I can just imagine a hardened gamer climbing hills in the Peak District, trying to get a signal in middle of nowhere so they can send their next move for Ascension.

I’d love to review Warhammer: Invasion here, but I can’t. I’ve only played it once and as much fun as I had with it, once is hardly enough to write a solid, detailed description without bluffing and making stuff up, and I refuse to do so because I take my journalistic duties seriously–that’s why I wear a fedora with a bit of card tucked into the hatband that says ‘Press’ on it. Wearing a press hat isn’t a matter to be taken lightly, you know. It’s not the kind of thing you can remove and forget about.

My wife sums up her feelings about board games with the word ‘Eh’ which is really more of a sound than a word–the kind of sound a disgruntled mother bird would make upon discovering one of her unhatched brood was, in fact, a golf ball. It’s not that she doesn’t like board games; she just doesn’t see what’s so exciting about them.

It’s okay–she’s a physicist and I feel much the same way about gluons. I mean, I’m sure they’re important to the way matter functions or whatever, but you can’t roll them, or punch them from cardboard sheets, Whatever good they might do in the world of particle physics, for board gaming purposes gluons are pretty much useless.

For all her indifference, she’s made the mistake of playing Warhammer: Invasion against me and thrashing me at it. During our first and only time playing she constructed a brilliant scheme in which she built her resources over a number of turns, played a Bloodthirster onto the table, turned my attack damage back upon me, and stomped over my capital like a toddler run amok in Duplo Town. In an exhilarating moment of post-game deconstruction she told me how she’d held onto certain cards just in case while building her own fortifications, and how she’d turned my own headstrong nature against me. She’d played traditional card games with her family years before; all those bluffs and antes were good training for sending Chaos demons into battle and putting her husband into traction.

As much as I was impressed with the game I was far more impressed with my wife, the master tactician.

That’s one of the reasons why I miss Warhammer so, and a reason I’m sure all of us can get behind. When a game comes alive like that, it’s magical: the click of a light-bulb flaring as your opponent–who’d not known the game existed minutes before; who’d thought board games were ‘Eh’–chains a combo or hops a piece or hatches a tactical plan, and wins.

And they don’t have to win: that’s the beauty of these games. Things can get a little cutthroat, and I can’t deny I want a rematch to see if I can even the score but–and please forgive me the tree-hugging sentiment–so long as we’re both having fun, doesn’t that make us both winners?

I do miss the game, though. I scour Fantasy Flight’s website for card previews and send them to her over Google chat. “Look!” I say, like a kid showing a parent an unusually shaped leaf. “This one turns your corrupted units into uber-powerful ass-kicking machines! You’re a Chaos player: what do you think?”

And she, resolutely not geeking out, mutters only “Eh” and goes back to sitting on her oddly shaped egg.

I’ll play it again one day, I know. It shall be mine, as Wayne Campbell once said.

For the moment, all other games have become meaningless: their boxes gather dust and the very thought of playing them disgusts me. Greedy, oh so greedy, I eschew games I can play in favour of the one I want.

There’s a game I want to play, you see.

But there’s always a game, isn’t there?

——————–

Speak with Campfire Burning yourself – his email is, of course, campfire@littlemetaldog.com

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Come Together – Session Report!

I’ve not actually written a session report before, so I thought I’d give it a shot after this weekend’s fun and games. By way of backstory, aside from going out to my local games club night, I don’t actually get the chance to play much in the way of anything more than two player stuff all that regularly. It’s not the best of situations, but that’s fine by me – however, when the chance of having a few friends over for a whole weekend of gaming came up there was no way I was going to turn it down. Saturday morning rolled around, myself and Steph cleaned the house, people arrived and an entertaining time was had by all. Along with the pair of us were Chris (who helps out with the questions bit on the podcast), his girlfriend Daisy and our mate Rach. Here’s what we got up to, and while this is in no way a review, I’ll invariably drop a few opinions on some of the games we got round to…

1. Arkham Horror:

Well, may as well start with something big, yes? Steph has been clamouring to play this classic for a while and I’ve not actually had a go at it in a very long time. As soon as we sorted out the weekender, she immediately put her foot down and said that AH would be first to the table – so who am I to refuse? I’d spent a couple of hours the previous day reminding myself of the rules, reading through the book and watching some of Grudunza’s excellent tutorial videos to remind me of what’s what. We chose our characters (ignoring the fact that you should really do it randomly) and ended up going into an Arkham that was facing the threat of Ithaqua. We had a couple of slow first rounds as we were all finding our feet but got into the swing of things. Our various investigators wandered around the town getting supplies, waiting for the inevitable doom that you associate with the game but… well, it never really came. I think the five of us may well have had the most uneventful game of Arkham Horror that has ever occurred. Not that we didn’t enjoy playing it – not at all, in fact, it was a great laugh – but absolutely nothing happened! It felt like almost every time we drew for a new portal to appear, it came up with either a location that already had a portal on it or (later in the game) had already been dealt with. Ithaqua barely stirred in his/her/it’s slumber as we placed the final Elder Symbol on the board, returning it to the Other Dimension and saving the townspeople. I swear blind that I shuffled that Mythos deck, but I’ll take the win however it comes. And I got to shuttle around the place in the police car!

2. Forbidden Island:

Next up was a quick journey to Matt Leacock’s island of mystery and treasure (for the others – I was despatched to go make the dinner). Steph had played this with me loads of times, but had never tried it with four. Turned out that it was a very quick journey indeed – she ran through the rules, handed out roles, set up the tiles (which I still think look amazing – have a read of the review I wrote a while back right here), began at the lowest level… and they promptly had their asses kicked by the game. Actually, it wasn’t that bad – they worked well together, managing to claim the first three treasures pretty quickly. However, the final elusive one (the chalice, I think) was just out of their reach. The island was very much against them, flooding the two tiles again and again until eventually they were out of options and were beaten. Just goes to show – this may well be a kids game, but you can still lose if you’re not quick enough!

3. Last Night On Earth:

Perfect timing actually, as dinner was ready as soon as the last treasure sank beneath the waves. We took a little break to chow down on food while Daisy decided to bust out Last Night On Earth. I’ve played it once but it was a loooong while ago, so she ran us through a how-to, then we decided on our scenario. Chris took on the role of Zombie Master as we selected our roles (true to form, I took on the Science teacher and even though he was a bit squishy, he held out!) and we began. We chose the Supply Run set-up, where all the players are holed up in a central mansion and need to get 12 points worth of non-described ‘stuff’ from areas dotted around the board. These six mystery boxes have hidden numbers (from 1-6), meaning that you can probably discover enough supplies to hit the target pretty quickly – however, as each player can only hold a maximum of three at a time,we had to leave stuff behind a lot! Luck was again on our side though – we hit the big stashes very early on in the game, and even though the zombie menace managed to get into the mansion a couple of times (those barricades we started with were worth bugger all!) a victory was assured for the humans.

4. Small World:

Having spent most of the day in humanoid form, we decided to wrap up the evening by messing about with some different life-forms. Small World was a new one to me, despite the fact it’s hit the table a few times at games club I’ve never been involved in a game. First impressions were that it was really complicated (though looking back I changed my mind – my brain was flagging a bit by this point!) but after a few turns I got into it a little more, shifting my little minions around, sending my races into decline (possibly a little early on a couple of turns) and trying to gain the upper hand. First plays of Days of Wonder games always seem to leave me a little confused but I always end up wanting more. The girls flew as they left both Chris and I in the dirt – Steph and Daisy actually ended up tying the game and I trailed in a distant last… I enjoyed it though, and like the way that DoW has sorted out separate maps for different numbers of players. I’m also interested to see how the expansions that are currently available affect the gameplay – hopefully next time round.

5. Descent: Journeys in the Dark:

We got up the next morning, and fuelled with bacon sandwiches and tea, we threw ourselves straight into Descent. Again, it was a first time experience for me. Chris took on the Big Bad role, while Daisy led the four adventurers as she was the only one who knew what she was doing… Despite the fact that there are about a million bits (I think the guys pretty much have every expansion that’s been released!) I found the game surprisingly straightforward. A good old-fashioned dungeon crawl, we played an introductory level which ended up with us facing squishy beasts to kick off with, gradually getting us used to the game mechanic until eventually we got through to the final chamber. In there lay a menagerie of doom (and the Final Boss) which we promptly whupped. It must be said that the dice were on our side a fair bit, and Rach’s mage had an awesome power where she could channel another character. Add that to this huge flame breath thing she had and we were pretty much unstoppable. Chris did manage to get some level of revenge, turning all three of the girls into monkeys by spending a huge pile of threat tokens, but I evaded the curse and managed to land the final (ranged) blow to take the game. On finishing, I checked the clock and saw we’d been playing for a shade over four hours! Utterly incredible – the time passed so quickly. Now, I wonder if I could get hold of a copy of my own for not too much money…?

6. Thunderstone:

Our final game of the weekend was actually the only one I specifically wanted to get to the table – the deck building Thunderstone. My copy arrived while I was on holiday so this was the first time I’d got it to the table, and I’m pleased to say I wasn’t disappointed. I’ll post up a review here on the blog as soon as I’ve got a few more games under my belt, but first impressions were very good indeed. As a big fan of Dominion, I was interested in seeing the similarities and differences between the two – thankfully, the game is different enough so both warrant a place in my collection. We started with all five playing (complete with a ‘Michael reading through the rules’ explanation) but Chris and Daisy had to bail – however, we played on as a four, with Rach’s boyfriend Mark (who’d just arrived) taking over one of their hands. The usual fumbling about in the dark occurred with the opening rounds, with a fair bit of confusion over the symbols on the cards (which is my only gripe with the game) but checking back with the rulebook – and BGG – helped us out no end. Of course, as it’s my game I got well beaten, with Rach taking the win despite Mark grabbing the Thunderstone… wiping out a seven-VP monster on her last turn was enough for her to get first place. A cracking little game (once we got the hang of it) and one that I really want to play again soon.

And that was it! A splendid weekend had by all, loads of new games played and we organised another session for the weekend after Thanksgiving (despite being in England, we still do Thanksgiving as Steph is American). Cheers to the guys for coming, staying and playing!

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