Descent: Legends of the Dark First Impressions (15 Hours of Play)
After a solid 15 hours of play, it’s about time we took a first look at Descent: Legends of the Dark from Fantasy Flight Games and Asmodee. Descent is a miniatures board game that follows a specific narrative arc.
Players will take their heroes on different missions, attempting to root out evil, help those around them, and learn more about themselves. While we still have a lot of playing left to do before Act II of Descent launches this fall, now feels like a good time to talk about what we liked, what we don’t like, and what we are looking forward to!
For long-time Dungeons & Dragons fans, the best way I can explain what Descent is, is to call it a very visual D&D campaign. You have 6 heroes you can choose from, each with a certain speciality that will make them favourable in certain situations. There are also a dozen or so enemy units that can be put out on the board to make questing just a bit more difficult. Add in a box full of 3D cardboard terrain pieces and a number of map boards, and you might have an idea of what to expect when you play Descent.
I love how narrative Descent is. The entire narrative campaign plays out on an iOS, Android, or Steam application that runs you through the game’s story, including some parts that are fully voice acted. There is a central area – Frostgate – where you will stop between missions to make new armour, weapons upgrades, potions, and more. You can tackle narrative adventures which have no board game components, but will run you through a quick narrative experience that will shape your characters in new ways.
Shaping characters is actually a really big part of Descent, and what will change the little nuances from playthrough to playthrough. Decisions made along the way will decide what characteristics your character has, and you get to shape them how you want. For example, I enjoy playing the character Chance, who was once a dirty, untrustworthy lying thief. Going forward, I have taken any and all opportunities to choose the Trust option when provided, as Chase attempts to build more trust with his new band of friends!
The game plays out much like other Fantasy Flight Games miniatures board games. You have a move action (your movement predetermined by your character) and then two additional actions: searching, attacking, or moving. Another action you can take is preparing, which is when you flip either your character card, skills cards, or weapons cards over to use what is printed on the other side. Flipping a card removes all the conditions and tokens on it, so it’s a good way to remove fatigue and negative effects. Fatigue, however, is the most intriguing mechanic.
The game uses a fairly unique system that I haven’t seen in a lot of games to date. Each player will have a number of cards in front of them – skills, weapons, and a character card – that can all take a certain amount of fatigue.
Fatigue can be used and spent to manipulate the game’s dice rolls, which are used for attacking, defending, and performing tests. If the game relied only on dice rolls, I would have packed it up by now, as there is nothing worse than losing because of bad rolls. However, with the fatigue system, dice and results can be manipulated to create different outcomes more consistently. That doesn’t mean you won’t get the odd bad roll, but if you play the game right, you should be able to minimize poor turns.
There are other ways to manipulate the game as well, including tokens that give you the ability to re-roll a die, tokens that let you flip cards for free, and more. These can be found in chests, or other searchable locations like trees, tables, and bookcases. The systems seem to work in your favour more often than not, but it does require good card management, and that is where the fun lives.
A great game is fine on it’s own, but is made better by fantastic components. I’ve learned to NOT be sceptical of Fantasy Flight Games components. THe cardboard terrain tiles are phenomenal, and the cardboard 3D terrain is of much better quality than I was expecting. How it will hold up after 30+ hours of play is yet to be seen, but after over a dozen, it’s looking just as good as day one!
The miniatures are fantastic as well. They are much lighter than other Fantasy Flight Miniatures due to a different material being used, and you will worry about breaking them when pulling them from the plastic insert. That being said, we actually found the quality to be really solid, albeit light. I’ve dropped one or two of the miniatures on hardwood floors and none of been worse for wear. The detail on these miniatures is second to none, and gets me really excited about Act II launching later this year.
Overall, my impressions of Descent: Legends of the Dark have been almost entirely positive. The only downside so far is that the game takes up a lot of room. Playing on my 3’ x 5’ dinning room table is often a challenge. I wish the game provided an option to take down terrain that won’t be necessary after you’ve used and past through it. While it is true that monsters can spawn all over the map while you play, there have been multiple situations where monsters didn’t spawn in certain places. It would be nice if the application could let you know that, s you could take that terrain down and put it back in the box to free up space.
Still, this is a solid experience, and one I highly recommend. If you are looking to get into miniatures board games, this is a good place to start!