This is going to be my first of two reviews of Descent, focusing entirely on the mechanics of the game and the differences between first and second edition. The second review will focus on the campaign and the experience point system. For those who want to skip over the review entirely, I love it and I think you should buy it!
Right then, to business.
In Descent you are a hero, trusted with saving the land from an evil overlord. With your fellow heroes you must defend the weak and the innocent against monsters and dragons and the other foul denizens of Terrinoth.
Or, perhaps you are a misunderstood ruler, who simply wants to bring peace and unity to the land. Unfortunately not everyone feels you’re methods are right and just, of course they are wrong and they must be shown the errors of their ways!
Descent 2nd Edition comes in an impressively small box compared to it’s predecessor. However, I’m fairly confident it is just as good a bang for your buck.
1 Quest Guide
8 Hero Figures
31 Monster Figures
9 Custom Six–sided Dice
7 Plastic Stands
8 Hero Sheets
1 Pad of Campaign Sheets
152 Small Cards
84 Bridge-sized Cards
205 Tokens, consisting of:
48 Map Tiles
45 Damage Tokens
35 Fatigue Tokens
16 Hero Tokens
9 Search Tokens
6 Lieutenant Tokens
10 Objective Tokens
8 Villager Tokens
20 Condition Tokens
1 Reanimate Familiar Token
When I reviewed Descent First Edition I talked about the components as a great tool box for any D&D player. In second edition I feel that the components are more tied to the game (you certainly could use them for other games too) but there is perhaps a less broad selection of pieces.
However, the pieces are beautiful. I love the map tiles and the fact that they are doubled sided is a great boon to the game. Also the introduction of coloured borders around terrain really helps gameplay as it stops arguments about whether a rock is just an artistic flourish or an actual piece of terrain.
The minis are okay, however other than the heroes I will replace most of them with minis from my own collection, the exception being the larger pieces like the shadow dragons. However, there are actually some nice sculpts amongst them and they are actually a better quality of plastic than the original game.
I had reservations about the dice, I didn't think they looked as pretty as the originals but to be honest it's a minor quibble and the way the game has been streamlined makes me like the dice the more.
The cards and rules are well laid out and I have rarely had any issue with finding the information I need to run the game. Overall it’s a very smooth product, finished with some beautiful artwork and I’m very glad I own it.
Playing the Game
The game is played using an Overlord player and between 2 and 4 heroes. The Overlord sets up the game according to the scenario rules and draws a hand of three Overlord Cards.
In most games the heroes go first. The heroes can act in any order they choose but each hero must fully complete his turn before the next hero starts. Each turn the hero may perform 2 actions.
Move: The hero moves his hero figure up to a number of spaces equal to the hero’s Speed. The hero may interrupt his movement with another action and then complete his movement after the other action is resolved.
Attack: The hero attacks a monster
Use a Skill: The hero uses a skill listed on one of his Class cards that requires an action (shown by an arrow)
Rest: The hero will recover all fatigue at the end of this turn.
Search: If the hero is adjacent to or in a space containing a search token, he may reveal the search token.
Stand Up: This is the one and only action that a knocked out hero may perform during his turn. This action allows the hero to recover damage and prepare to be activated as normal next round.
Revive a Hero: The hero restores health to a knocked out hero in an adjacent space.
Open or Close a Door: The hero opens or closes one adjacent door.
Special: Different cards or quests may provide heroes with unique actions to perform.
Once all the heroes have acted the Overlord may take his turn. He begins by drawing a card and doing any actions or playing any cards he wants that state “at the start of your turn.” Then he can activate each of his monster groups in turn. Most monsters may perform at most 1 combat action, but can otherwise perform actions like a hero. The Overlord must complete all the actions for a single group before moving on to the next group.
Once the Overlord has acted with each of his groups his turn ends and play passes back to the heroes. The game continues in this fashion until one side achieves their objective.
Most of the actions listed above are self explanatory, but combat deserves a little more attention. Descent, at its heart, was always a tactical miniatures game, manoeuvring on the map to gain the best position for attacks and making them count. In Descent 2.0 some of that is lost in exchange for better storytelling and faster gameplay but it’s still a great game if you love bashing monsters!
To make an attack you roll the dice listed on your weapon card, this will always include a blue dice. The blue dice features a miss icon, meaning all attacks will miss 1 out of 6 times. At the same time your opponent rolls his defence dice. If the attack is ranged you must get enough range (numbers) on the dice to reach your opponent or the attack is a miss. If the attack is melee you must be adjacent to your opponent (unless you have “reach”) so the numbers are ignored. The number of heart icons are then compared to the number of shield icons and your opponent takes damage for each heart not blocked by a shield. If you have taken more damage than you have health you are defeated. Monsters are removed from the map, heroes are replaced with tokens so that they may be revived in the next turn.
If you roll any surge icons (the lightening bolt) you may activate one surge ability you have for each surge rolled. Note that each surge ability can only be activated once per roll.
The changes in Descent 2.0 are many. And most of them are good. Descent First Edition is an excellent tactical miniatures game that encompasses a whole dungeon crawl in a single session, managing to include evil monsters, magic weapons and levelling up. It is still a fantastic game.
Descent 2.0 strips away a lot of the complexity of the original and it changes the format from a single session style game to a full campaign, but one that can be played in nine sessions.
The following has been stripped out of the game:
The movement point system, this has been replaced with the elegant and easy to remember action system
The ready action, this has been replaced with action cards that allow heroes to take moves out of turn sequence if their class allows
Many condition tokens, the conditions have been stripped down considerably and they are now summarised on cards for convenience.
The conquest point system, the Overlord now receives a bonus card whenever he knocks out a hero instead of Conquest Points.
The Threat System, Overlord cards no longer have costs to play, but they are usually triggered by specific circumstances.
The Surge System, Surges are now less frequent, which speeds up gameplay and prevents analysis paralysis. In addition each surge effect can only be used once which makes the decision making process easier and prevents abusive use of power by Overlords and Players.
Static Defence, Defence is now represent by a dice roll which allows Heroes to damage even the hardest monster with a lucky hit. In addition because attack and defence are rolled simultaneously it allows players to allocate their surges knowing if they have hit or not.
The Exhaustion system, this system has been given an overhaul and exhaustion is now used to trigger skill cards and cannot be use to increase range or add additional dice to your pool, however it can still be used for an additional move point.
Spawning Rules, monsters now enter the board through a specific point on the map, rather than spawning out of line of sight.
Upgrading, all upgrades are now done between encounters, again this leads to faster gameplay.
Overall, I think that Descent 2.0 appeals to the more casual gamers, as well as to the roleplayers that wanted a more campaign feel built into the base game. The fact that the campaign can be played out in 9 session (as opposed to 200+ hours that Road to Legend takes) means that you get that interconnected feeling between scenarios without the drawbacks of a long campaign such as one side getting too far ahead or players becoming bored with playing the same group of characters.
Yes, it is less epic than playing Road to Legend or Sea of Blood but at the same time it strikes a nice balance and as I said I feel it will appeal more to the casual players. The reduced playing time will also appeal, I’ve played games of the original that lasted for five hours, however I’ve not had a session last over two hours in Descent 2.0.
Yes, I dont think of the game as a tactical miniatures battle, filled with min-maxing and optimal moves and attacks, but I still have original descent for that. What we have in this edition is the introduction of skill cards that build on one another, so you can watch your hero grow and develop his powers to suit your playstyle. There is a greater focus on developing your character over maximising your damage potential. Now it’s possible to play a healer, or magic user with subtle spells, as opposed to a tank equipped with the “rune of destroy all things”.
The Overlords responsibility is also reduced, with fewer rules to remember, although it’s still really easy to overlook stuff and make silly mistakes. I love the fact the monsters abilities are printed on the reverse of the cards, so no more looking at the rules during gameplay. Also I like the fact the monsters increase in power with the heroes, although I’ll talk more about that in my next review.
Talking of rules, I have played whole sessions of Descent 2,0 without needing the rulebook at all, this is a combination of the simplified rules system and the abundance of reference material. All the heroes have their abilities on cards, the turn order is on cards, the conditions are on cards and the monster abilities are on cards. And despite this the game probably still takes up less table space than it’s predecessor.
The streamlined Surge system really speeds the game up, not that I minded long games of Descent but with this edition you don't need to plan a sandwich break in the middle of it. The streamlining of the rules has made the game faster and more “casual-gamer” friendly and I think more fun. The less I have to concentrate on remembering how to play the game the more I can concentrate on having fun.
If you liked the original game I don't think there is anything you won't like about the new system. If you wanted to like the original but felt it would be better with more story and less power gaming then Descent 2.0 is right for you. And if you hate having fun and playing with gorgeous components then I’d give this game a very wide birth indeed!
Go get it now!!