There is no designated Dungeon Master in Descent: Journeys into the Dark. Instead, power and influence lie in the hands of the Overlord. Depending on the Overlord’s mood, your dungeon crawl time could be an enjoyable, breakneck speed slash and slay session or a tense, cat and mouse chase with the Overlord’s many minions.
Descent: Journeys into the Dark – A Traditional Fantasy Dungeon Crawl
Descent second edition doesn’t try to be something unique or outrageously convoluted. It is the base game version replacing the overly complicated first version. Publisher Fantasy Flights has streamlined gameplay and made it more accessible for beginners.
The game relies on tried and true elements of fantasy board gaming, which players immediately recognize and become accustomed to. The game shines in the creativity of its quests and straightforward combat system. Expansion packs increase replay value and improve on existing characters and quests.
Who Is the Overlord?
This Descent board game is best played with at least four players. One player takes on the role of the Overlord. Using wily Lieutenants and monstrous minions, this antagonistic character aims to thwart the heroes’ quests while completing their own goals.
The Overlord can be played in different styles, which influences the flow and ebb of the game. An Overlord can have an all-consuming need to purge all those who dare enter his domain. This makes the choice of the heroes simple enough: don’t bother with quests, kill everything, get out alive.
A more cunning Overlord may focus on their own goals and want to delay and harass the heroes instead, resulting in longer games and more surprises around the corner.
There are very few games that allow one character this much control. However, the Overload character is very much a double-edged sword. Veteran players can offer a more balanced experience by playing the Overlord as a cross between Sauron (evil incarnate) and Gandalf (well-meaning mastermind).
In the game, a balanced Overlord will still deploy bloodthirsty minions, but not too many, to defeat the heroes. Traps and ambushes are laid out to test the heroes’ grit. Heroes should be challenged and battered not massacred in the first few rounds.
Simple Not Simplistic Choices
Players don’t have to learn rules or consult charts when choosing characters to play. They select from several existing characters who are warriors, enchanters, scouts, or healers. Each character has designated characteristics and attributes assigned to them. The traits influence the character’s performance in combat and general movement. These characteristics are:
- Health: A measure of energy and vitality.
- Speed: The value translates to distance on the board and types of actions.
- Stamina: Measures how strong a character is.
- Defense: The ability of a character to defend itself.
All heroes possess attributes. These are integral elements of the game’s design. Opening a locked door, deceiving a Lieutenant, or slaying a monster calls for a dice throw and an attribute test. Dice values must be equal to or less than the attribute value for the character to proceed with winning the confrontation.
The attributes are:
- Knowledge: Reflects experience, education, and cleverness.
- Awareness: Measures watchfulness, perception, and skill.
- Might: A measure of robustness, strength, and endurance.
- Willpower: Shows discipline, resolve, and mental toughness.
Opening a locked chest will need value checks on Awareness and Knowledge, depending on the situation. If the dice value is higher than the attribute score, the chest will open, and the heroes will cheer. If not, the players will taste the agony of defeat. They will have to find another way to open the chest. The element of luck does play a part in adding a touch of uncertainty.
A Questing We Will Go
In Descent 2, both the heroes and the Overlord have goals. These often contradict putting all parties into a mutual collision course. Take a quest called First Blood. While traveling, the players come upon an ambushed caravan. They discover that the Overlord has sent the two-headed creature named Mauler to ravage the city of Arhynn. The heroes must kill Mauler and its goblin troops to save the city. So do the heroes succeed, or does the Overlord’s march of conquest continue?
Few quests are cut and dried. Heroes may rescue a hostage and later discover that the hostage was actually one of the Overlord’s Lieutenants. The discovery of the ruse, sooner or later, is influenced by the actions and decisions of the players. Descent 2 players can choose their style of play by deciding which specific quests to play. Experienced gamers can get their dose of fantasy escapism in about an hour.
If they choose to play a campaign made up of a series of quests, then game time could stretch hours or days. The longer games become, the more unbearable they become. One advantage of campaigns is that player characters, including the Overlord, can improve their skills and attributes over time.
A Fistful of Chances
Some board games rely on cards to keep the game moving and influence player decisions. Descent: Journeys into the Dark manages this by using colored dice.
- Black, brown, and gray dice are used to determine defenses against an attack.
- The blue die determines the amount of damage inflicted in ranged combat.
- The green, red and yellow dice values are combined with blue dice values to gauge ranged and melee combat damage.
It’s not just a numbers game. Some of the dice have a lightning symbol that stands for a surge. A surge indicator allows the Overlord and the heroes to use unique abilities, special items, or heal during an attack round. Surges can also improve range or increase damage wrought to a hard-to-kill foe.
The line of sight can be uncertain and is measured as a straight line from any corner of the character’s space to a corner of the opposing menacing monster. A door, wall, or other monsters could block the line of sight. It’s not an elegant approach, but it works.
You can use the Stun card against monsters and heroes. A regular monster is easily stunned and left unconscious; thus, its turn ends. A higher level monster can throw off these confounding effects but can only attack once. A hero suffering from stun damage can’t advance or fight until they can overcome the stun effect. To mix things up, some creatures have stun powers. The horrific hags called Medusae can cast a stun spell from any of its limbs.
A Pleasant Hour’s Crawl
Descent: Journeys in the Dark is entertaining for dedicated players and beginners who want a fun game to play. It doesn’t tax the brain cells or take up so much time in quest mode. It does, however, lack the immersive exploration and treasure hunting aspects of other Dungeons and Dragons games. Winning the game boils down to which side can foil the actions of the other party or which side can accomplish quests the quickest.
Fantasy Flights’ changes to the original Descent has enabled the use of more expansion packs like the Labyrinth of Ruin or the Lair of the Wyrm. A conversion kit is available, so characters and items from Descent 1 can be transferred to Descent 2. The packs have introduced new characters Treasure Hunter Logan Lashley and Beast Master warrior Duric.
The Descent universe continues to emphasize intriguing storylines with multiple branches and side quests while tweaking elements to improve game mechanics. Complexity and excitement are heightened with new quests and fearsome, tricky monsters. Check out this game for a night of swords and sorcery.