Game Length: 120 minutes (for two scenarios)
Best enjoyed: With 4 or 5 role playing game enthusiasts who don’t have time to run a full campaign
Descent: Journeys in the Dark – Second Edition (or simply Descent) is a dice-heavy miniatures combat game designed to mimic the combat portions of fantasy roleplaying games like Dungeons and Dragons. Up to four players will play as heroes and one player will act as the Overlord, who controls the monsters and plays cards to augment their abilities or hinder the heroes.
Descent is reminiscent of late 80s and early 90s board games such as Hero Quest and Warhammer Quest, where a party of heroes delve into a dungeon, clean it out and escape with the loot. Descent improves on the formula of those games in many ways, such as having varied and interesting player classes and abilities, weapon and armour management, and greater tactical opportunities when fighting the menagerie of monsters the game throws at you.
The second edition of Descent is quite a different game to the first edition, in terms of how long games last and how the characters develop. In the first edition, each mission was played as a larger one-shot dungeon, where players had to go in and kill the boss monster, improving their abilities with looted items along the way. Games of the first edition of Descent could take many hours, not including the lengthy setup portion.
In the second edition, individual games will take a much shorter amount of time, and generally focus around two-part scenarios. Instead of the simple mission of killing a final monster, the heroes will be tasked with rescuing civilians, racing to a magical artifact, preventing the passage of goblins on their way to raid a vulnerable town, and so on. On top of this, the scenarios have a larger campaign as a backdrop. As missions are completed, players will start to grow in power. Heroes will get extra ability cards, and the Overlord will get more powerful cards to place in his deck of tricks. The track record of the heroes and Overlord is recorded, and this will affect the overall outcome of the campaign.
Descent is a very dice-heavy game – on each roll, you have a chance to flat-out miss your attacks, which can prove frustrating for players when it happens several attacks in a row. Also, whoever chooses to play as the Overlord will have a lot of work to do – they will generally be responsible for setting up the scenarios and knowing the rules interactions. Successive games can tend to snowball as well – the winning team is rewarded with powerful items, meaning they have a greater chance of winning the next scenario. This tends to favour the heroes, which is fine if the Overlord is happy to act as more of a dungeon master and storyteller than a direct opponent of the heroes.
If a player is keen to take on the mantle of the Overlord, Descent can prove to be very enjoyable, and once the rules are learned the game flows very smoothly. The development of the individual heroes’ abilities as they gain skills and acquire new items is exciting and provides a sense of progression. It works best if a group of the same players can meet up on a regular basis so that the campaign can proceed at a steady rate and players don’t forget where they were up to. It also contains highly-detailed miniatures, and painting enthusiasts may want to pick this game up purely for the opportunity to paint a wide range of detailed and creative monsters.