Last night, I had the good fortune of being able to spend some more time with my friends playing Descent: Journeys in the Dark Second Edition (hereafter, once again, referred to as Descent 2). The game has been a big hit so far, which is pleasing, as there’s a hell of a lot to it and a significant amount of replay value even once your group plays through the 20+ hour campaign once.
This time we had a full complement of five players — me as the Overlord and four hero characters, two of whom we “boosted” up to an equivalent level to the two who played the first quests in our first session. We took on a new quest and played it through to completion. It took significantly longer with five people as this (1) meant that there were four people to argue about the best way through which to eviscerate my monster minions and (2) I had more monster minions with which to attempt to eviscerate my four opponents. Overall, I found it a much more satisfying experience with five players total, which perhaps explains why the game’s BoardGameGeek page rates it as “best with 5 players”.
The game has so far appeared to be weighted quite heavily in favour of the heroes in that they have won every quest so far. I’m not complaining about this, mind — it’s quite fun to struggle against these difficult odds, and I’m assuming (hoping, really) that the odds will even or perhaps tip in my favour as the campaign progresses to more difficult challenges. Or, of course, I could just be rubbish at being the Overlord. (I know for a fact on more than one occasion I screwed myself out of a potentially significant advantage by forgetting to play Overlord cards such as “pit trap” and “tripwire” that could have stopped players from moving and thus blocking me off from completing objectives — but this is entirely my fault, so I didn’t ask for a “do-over” as that wouldn’t really be in the spirit of things. I have learned my lesson.)
There are a ton of things to like about the game, though. Unlike many “dungeon crawlers” (which, as I’ve previously said, Descent 2 really isn’t) the rules are relatively lightweight, but pretty flexible, and the custom dice used for combat allow for a large amount of variety. For the unfamiliar, every attack roll uses a blue “attack” die, which has a 1 in 6 chance of missing and does varying degrees of damage on its other faces. Each weapon or special attack then uses one or more of the red and yellow dice — red ones offer the potential for more damage, while yellow ones offer more in the way of “surges” — little lightning-bolt symbols that can be spent to perform a weapon’s special actions — some might be able to “pierce” the enemy’s defensive dice, for example, while others might do additional damage, apply an effect or knock the unfortunate victim backwards. Combine the various weapon, skill and item cards with the pool of dice available and you have a wide variety of possibilities that keeps combat constantly interesting.
And that’s just within a single encounter. Pulling back to look at the bigger picture, the entire campaign can play out completely differently according to how the heroes and Overlord perform, and the quest choices that the hero players make. Rather smartly, the game only requires players to complete three out of five possible “Act I” quests before an “interlude”, followed by three out a possible ten “Act II” quests, each of which is presented as part of a pair according to whether the heroes or Overlord won the corresponding act I quest. I didn’t explain that very well. Basically, Act II’s available quests change according to who won various quests in Act I. There, that’s better.
On top of that, the Descent 2 Conversion Kit allows content from the original Descent: Journeys in the Dark to be used with Descent 2, opening up a whole swathe of possibilities. And then you can guarantee that Descent 2 will also have its own expansions ready to roll before long, meaning that this is a game with a potentially very long lifespan — which is why I’m so very pleased that my group has taken to it so well. Anything that puts off yet another humiliating, crushing (and bewildering) defeat in Agricola is just fine with me.