Not Cardboard Children: Descent

By Quintin Smith on June 18th, 2011 at 3:45 pm.

No unlimited dragons here. Just the three. But they're a good three

Every time we write about boardgames here on RPS the same comment rears its pointy little head. It goes like this. “Sigh, looks like fun. If only I had some like-minded friends to play it with.”

Because of this I’m going to be doing a roundup of incredible board games designed for just two players, but NOT THIS WEEK. No, this week I’m going to talk about a monster of a game that you’ll need four geeky friends for, and a colossal table, and hundreds upon hundreds of hours, and I’m doing this to you because to exist is to suffer. This game is called Descent: The Road to Legend, and it’s the single biggest, most brilliant game you’ve never heard of.

The basics: Descent is a dungeon crawling game. A team of four hero players have to progress through a grid-based dungeon under the control of a fifth player, the Overlord. The Overlord moves monsters around, spawns new monsters, and casts traps and spells on the players with the aim of either impeding or killing the heroes. So it’s a bit like Dungeons & Dragons, except with all of the roleplaying and talking stripped out and replaced with a Dungeon Master who’ve actively trying to murder you.

As I was saying, Descent is a big girl.

Oof! Look at all those tokens and tiles and cards. It’s like the god of games sneezed all over the table. A table which is, incidentally, six feet long and three feet wide, and we’re using almost all of it. That’s not all, either. Just out of shot is far are several other boxes of Descent tokens and miniatures to represent different monsters, traps, dungeon tiles, heroes, status effects, items of treasure and lord knows what else.

A big girl.

Descent’s fantasy setting holds few surprises, but something that is unique about it is it’s pace. The traditional image of a party of adventurers progressing through a dungeon is one of caution, right? Four heroes huddled together, squinting out of their torchlight at what might be lurking in the shadows, advancing step by cautious step.

If you try that in Descent, you’ll be murdered. The Overlord will swat the lot of you like flies. The way the heroes survive Descent is by moving and fighting with the speed and grit of a medieval S.W.A.T. team.

You see, the way Descent plays is that first the heroes take their turns, running or battling or even entering a kind of Overwatch mode, if you’ve ever played Space Hulk, and then it’s the Overlord’s turn to act. He moves all the monsters, but he also draws two cards from his Overlord deck, and he gains four Threat tokens that can be used to play those cards. If this sounds familiar, it might be because the same publisher later used it in Mansions of Madness.

Overlord cards can cause anything from falling rubble and poison gas to placing new monsters on the board or even “charming” a hero into hitting another hero, or himself.

In my group one of the heroes is a towering barbarian called Laughing Buldar. Last session we entered a new dungeon and managed to get about five yards in before Buldar felt compelled to attack himself with his Dragontooth pickaxe. He was so injured he had to be teleported back to town for healing, leaving the rest of us to charge deeper into the dark without our warrior.

Five sodding yards. This shit never happened to Conan.

So, yes. You move fast and you fight efficiently, because every single turn will see the Overlord growing in power. Furthering the S.W.A.T. team vibe is Descent’s single most entertaining rule, which is that the Overlord can spawn monsters on any tile that the heroes don’t have line of sight to. So you work the angles. You leave someone behind, covering your back. As you’re clearing a room, you fan out to make sure that you’ve got somebody on either side of that wall of rubble, and you do all this because if you don’t then spiders the size of Smart cars are going to start crawling out of your peripheral vision like continuity errors. “I could have sworn there was nothing behind that stone!” the hero players will joke, and they will joke to hide the terror, because now they’re surrounded.

Further proof, if it were needed, of the speed at which the heroes are racing through the dungeon comes from the fatigue system. I love the fatigue system.

Depending on their physical conditioning, each hero in Descent gets a small handful of fatigue tokens (the orange teardrop in the upper right of the picture) that you can spend to fight a little bit harder, or run a little bit further, or activate various cumbersome items. These are handy little tokens, and all you need to do to get them back is spend half of your turn resting. That’s it. You just need to take a little pause to catch your breath.

Nothing speaks more of Descent’s breathless pace than the fact that as a hero, you’ll be running around with no fatigue tokens for most of the time. Rest? There’s no time! There’s always some bloodthirsty monster that needs stabbing or an imposing door that’s gotta get kicked open. This leads to various incredible moments where your hero will charge at some huge demon and make his attack, and after you roll the requisite fat handful of dice you’ll realise that you’re one point of damage away from killing it. But you don’t have any fatigue to add to the roll. You’re exhausted. Spent. If only you’d taken pause outside the room to have a sip of stamina potion! But no, you kept running because you were too scared. And now you’ve got something to be scared about.

That’s basically Descent. A game of pain, tactics, cunning and a lot of really good dice rolls.

Ah, but I came here to talk about Descent: The Road to Legend, one of the worthiest expansion packs ever designed. In the base game of Descent, each dungeon is a self-contained game. The players pick their heroes, the dungeon is set up, the heroes either win or they lose and everybody goes home.

What Road to Legend does is turn Descent into a massive campaign played over real-life months, where each dungeon only represents a skirmish between the heroes and the overlord in a far larger arms race that has the heroes racing all over a world map.

Does that sound cool? Because it gets so much better.

Spread across the map are plenty of dungeons, but also cities offering training in different special abilities and secret huts where grandmasters dwell. And as the heroes are slinking their little party token this way and that, the Overlord isn’t idle. He gets to have the most fun of all.

Each time he kills a hero and forces them to resurrect (as well as each in-game week that goes by) the Overlord gets experience of his own that he can spend upgrading any aspect of himself, or his dungeons, or his deck, or even on lieutenants that he can then move around the world map in an attempt to fortify dungeons, ambush the heroes or siege and raze cities.

What you’ve got here is a grand subgame happening in the background of your dungeon crawling. In the here and now, yeah, you’re worrying about whether you’ll roll enough damage with your bow to kill that naga that’s ensnared your friend, but in the back of your mind you’re worrying about the town of Dawnsmoor, which is besieged by a wyvern that you’re not sure your team should go toe-to-toe with.

At the end of this dungeon you’ll have to make a decision. Do you leave Dawnsmoor to its fate, and go off to investigate that rumour that dragon younglings have been found on the Thelsvan Highway? Or do you try and be the hero? Do you travel to take on the wyvern and its minions, and risk a total party kill that’ll give the Overlord more experience than he’ll know what to do with? This could be the decision that dooms the world.

Maybe you want to play it safe, but your friends want to be heroes. You’ll argue. Over popcorn and bottled beer you’ll pass around that card showing the Wyvern’s stats, and you’ll argue about potential plays and averages like the most passionate of sports fans, and all the while down there at the end of the table the Overlord is giggling like a child. He’s planning on building a temple to the dark gods on the rubble of Dawnsmoor, and your party will be to blame for it.

In a word, it’s epic. My group isn’t anywhere close to the final showdown with the Overlord himself yet – yes, at the end of the campaign the heroes finally storm the Overlord’s keep, which is right there on the world map, and attempt to assassinate his chosen avatar – no, we’re not even close. But I know that when it happens, it’ll be a once in a lifetime gaming experience, because our campaign already feels like a once in a lifetime gaming experience.

Playing a game that’s this rich for this long, you end up with stories, yes, but you also start to develop feelings about every enemy, about the Overlord’s way of playing, and, of course, about your own heroes.

These are our boys. I’m not going to talk about the battle with the giant that you can see here, because it was a horrible slog that left the entire party phyiscally and mentally exhausted before we’d even finished trekking to the dungeon entrance, but I will talk about our heroes.

On the left you can see Grey Ker, a.k.a. “Two-Hole Ker”. The nickname emerged from our very first battle in the campaign, in which Ker accidentally fell into a hole leading to some catacombs, and emerged two turns later only to immediately get batted into the same hole again by a skeleton. The name stuck because Ker’s player was later caught writing “Grey Ker the Brave” on the campaign record sheet, and we decided he had to be punished.

Ker never misses with his crossbow. This is because the crossbow, Ripper, which nobody in the party remembers even finding, allows you to re-roll your attack dice, making Ker’s famous accuracy nothing at all about his skill. Nonetheless, Ker reminds the party whenever he can that he never misses. That’s not true, actually. Ker missed an attack not two weeks ago, shooting at a ghost in a bush. He doesn’t like to talk about it.

Next along is Laughing Buldar, a barbarian capable of wielding two-handed weapons in one hand. When he’s not hitting himself in the face, Buldar’s chief talent is that when he declares that he’s spending his turn battling (meaning standing still and attacking twice), he regains fatigue, gains extra armour and gets an extra attack. We’ve equipped him with the party’s Ring of Quickness so that he can still move one square while battling, which means he’s the human equivalent of a weaponised spinning top

Laughing Buldar is by far the most popular member of the party.

Third along is Okaluk & Rakash, a tiny halfling (Okaluk) riding a wolf (Rakash). Because of his absurd speed and supernatural dodging ability, for about a month Okaluk’s primary role was that of party hoover. There could be a chest at the very end of a corridor blocked up with beastmen, but it wouldn’t matter. Okaluk would find a way to weave and slash his way down there, grab the loot and rejoin the rest of the party in the next room.

Most recently, Okaluk received a suit of platemail and a week’s intensive training in the art of Taunting. His role is now to wedge himself between danger and Runemaster Thorn and attract the attacks of all monsters.

Finally we have Runemaster Thorn, wizard extraordinare. Thorn is my character, and I’m not saying he dies a lot, but he’s just an eldery gentleman wearing a bedsheet and he dies every goddam week. He can, however, teleport to anywhere in his line of sight, and he has an item called the Staff of the Grave which stops enemies with the “Undying” ability from potentially coming back to life.

This means my signature move is to push my way to the front of the party, teleport over to whatever undead big bad is threatening us from the other side of the room and use all of my fatigue to permanently shred him with the staff. There’s one problem in this plan that we’ve yet to iron out, which is that the staff is cursed, meaning when I do this I immediately become worth more points to the Overlord, which works great thematically. I equip the staff, and suddenly every monster is running at me, and every door I open is trapped.

I’m telling you about our characters because I’m hoping it’ll express just how much colour there is to this game. Through nothing more than some (about a hundred) miniatures, a few (four bags of) cardboard tiles and a stack of (some 600) cards, this game gives you an entire world to have adventures in. It’s glorious. Click here to see some exceptionally poor photography of all the miniatures lined up.

When I first started playing Descent I wondered why video games hadn’t done a multiplayer game on this kind of scale before, but I’ve long since stopped thinking about it. Everything I love about Descent is stuff that wouldn’t translate to a video game. It’s about you and your friends watching the same dice clattering across the table. It’s about looking at the hero player across the table from you and know that you’re in this together. It’s about dying and leaving the table to go get a bottle of beer from the fridge, and peering at the Overlord’s hand of cards on the way over.

Pain. Tactics. Cunning.

SO! Let’s say I’ve convinced you, and you want to get in on this whole Descent thing. Where do you start? Let’s go through each of the Descent products in turn.

Descent: Journeys Into The Dark

This is the base game. It comes in a humungous box and will set you back an eyewatering £65. If you feel like stopping here, you can. It comes with plenty of dungeons for you and your friends to play through.

Descent: The Road to Legend

Right! Here’s your £35 campaign box that turns Descent from a game of one-off dungeons to a campaign. Obviously, you’re best off thinking of this money you’re spending as an investment. A single runthrough of a full campaign will entertain you and your friends for some two hundred hours, so it’s not unreasonable to ask them to chip in.

ALTERNATIVELY, instead of Road to Legend you can buy this:

Descent: The Sea of Blood

Years after Road to Legend was released Fantasy Flight released a second campaign box set with different Overlord lieutenants, a different map and so on, in which the players explore the world via an upgradeable magic galleon. I haven’t played it, but it does look like a more richly themed campaign than Road to Legend. Instead of buying Road to Legend, or if you can’t find it, you could happily buy this instead, but do not buy both. They’re not compatible.

Descent: The Well of Darkness

The first expansion for the game, adding (among other things) new monsters, new treasure and the ability for the Overlord to customise his deck. If you want to expand the game, get this first. You can happily expand the game after starting the campaign.

Descent: The Altar of Despair

This is the second expansion. Get this second.

Descent: Tomb of Ice

This is the third expansion, adding the prettiest new miniatures and the craziest new heroes (Okaluk & Rakash come from this expansion, as does a hero that’s just a yeti), as well as a Feat system that means the heroes get hands of cards of their own.

So there you have it. As always, FindYourLocalGameStore.co.uk is ready and waiting to help you out, and if you do embark on a campaign for the love of God make sure somebody around the table knows the rules back to front. That includes the errata. Nobody said saving the world was going to be easy, baby.

Should I give a shout-out to my local game store? I think I should. Leisure Games in Finchley, baby! Low prices and excellent people. Love you guys.

Oh, two more things.

(1) The Descent rule system is actually based on the rule system of the (now out of print) Doom board game. As in, Doom the video game.
(2) The same publishers will be releasing a co-operative Gears of War board game this autumn. See here for details.

Until next week!

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126 Comments »

  1. Raiyan 1.0 says:



    This is certainly not the Descent I fire up on my DOSBOX.

    Also, Medieval SWAT: make a game NAO!

  2. Bob Moron says:

    You just can’t go back to playing standard dungeons in Descent once you’ve had a taste of The Road to Legend or The Sea of Blood.

    • Quintin Smith says:

      I’m looking forward to playing just one when we finish the campaign, so our Overlord will finally get the chance to be a hero, and the rules specialist of the group adopts the Overlord position. That’ll be crazy. It’ll feel like a deleted scene.

  3. Serious J says:

    Sigh, looks like fun. If only I had some like-minded friends to play it with.

    • DarkFenix says:

      Seconded. I’m more than nerdy enough to get into all this kind of thing. Thing is, I’m the only one I know like that.

    • Xercies says:

      Thirded, i so want a group that will play these kind of games. I’m a little sad that i can’t find anything where i’m at home or at my uni. Its all bloody sport clubs at my uni.

    • DarkFenix says:

      Given that I live in London, there must in theory be loads of other nerds out there, I just don’t know any. Hell half of them are probably wishing they knew other nerds too :P

    • Temple says:

      @Dark are you on the forums here? There are a few of us who chat about boardgames, you could try and organise something there. I’m London based (Canada Water), I think LastBaron is and I know there were a couple of people mentioning they were from Croydon which is easy enough to get to mine or me to them.

      If no one else does then once I work out this internet web invention I’ll get some sort of page together that lists my games and see what we can do (even facebook is confusing to me). I’m going away next weekend but then should be around for a good length of time.

      The RPS social club does boardgame nights in London as well, usually in a public house though so the deeper games don’t get played. Siri was talking about a room at South Bank university which I reckon would be great.

      Your friendly local game shop might list groups of complete strangers who play (no way I can do that, but I think I can pretend that I know people on RPS already)

    • DarkFenix says:

      Yeah, I am on the forums here. Hell, my route to university takes me through Canada Water station every day during term (I study at Goldsmiths down in Lewisham). It’s a long journey (I live in Northeast London), but I’m accustomed to heading down that way. Colour me tentatively interested.

      Perhaps we should carry this kind of discussion onto the forums, this article will be buried in the older pages by Tuesday.

    • Ergates_Antius says:

      You live in London? That means you’re never more than 12 feet away from 4 other nerds. Or is it rats, I forget.

    • Quintin Smith says:

      Good stuff. Yes! Take it to the forums, meet up, have a great time, and multiply have a great time!

    • BigJonno says:

      If you want to find some nerdy gamer types in London, you could do a lot worse than poking around http://www.ukroleplayers.com/forum/ as there are plenty of London gamers and clubs represented there.

  4. Burny says:

    PAINT those miniatures already!

    It’s worth it: http://www.hirstarts.com/tips20/tips20.html#miniatures

    • Saiwyn says:

      I was going to say the same thing. It takes quite a lot of time but it makes the game so much more fun!

      My game group consists mostly of myself, my wife, my mom (yep), my buddy Shane and his wife Anne. When I get new games everyone insists that I paint them fully before they will play with me as it truly does add so much life to the games.

      This also motivates me to paint them quickly as it’s torture to wait a week (Merchants and Mauraders) or two (Wrath of Ashardalon) or three (Descent) to start playing.

      Hell, even if you’ve never painted before you can get a great guide on miniwargaming.com for only $1.

    • gwathdring says:

      For me the trouble is that I don’t want to ruin the miniatures that I already have. I’m not worried that I won’t eventually get better at it–I don’t want to paint my miniatures until I AM better at it. I once got a small set of minis for the Games Workshop LOTR game but then realized how much money I was going to waste if I really got into this … if I ever find that damn box again I’ll practice painting those little things and gradually work up to my Ghost Stories taoists and such.

    • Burny says:

      @ gwathdring:

      That’s the trouble – you only get better by actually painting a lot of stuff. :-p

      If you haven’t got ambitions for the Golden Demon though, I’d really recommend looking into dipping techniques. It’s extremely simple, the result is almost independent from your painting skills and it really has no rights to look as good as it does considering the time it takes. Just look up some tutorials:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iYfhmfFgi9U

      It’s no technique for a showcase miniature, but your target are a (potentially large) bunch of gaming miniatures that need color asap – no shame there! ;-)

    • Chaz says:

      I was going to say to get those figures painted already too. Painting figures isn’t that hard. Undercoat with white paint, paint on your base colours, then add a watered down wash of the darker colours to add shadow and depth, then lightly dry brush with the lighter colours to add highlights. Thats pretty much all you need to do to get started, and just hone your skills from there.

    • gwathdring says:

      Perhaps for you. Some people don’t have the manual dexterity for specific types of activities including painting. And some people don’t think it’s worth the time and effort required to get it. They might only have one set of miniatures, and painting them might not be worth the slew of bad looking ones just so a couple end up looking nice.

  5. lurkalisk says:

    Wait… DESCENT ISN’T A CARDBOARD PROGENITOR!

    Oh, nevermind. descent. Very well. Seems… Descentuous.

  6. keith.lamothe says:

    Most of these articles have made me wish I had more money, this one makes me wish I had more time. The campaign thing is… delicious.

    Filing away game design ideas in the Overlord vault…

  7. Terics says:

    My local comic shop had Descent next to World of Warcraft the board game. I ended getting WoW since it didn’t require 4 people.

  8. Chris D says:

    Quintin Smith continues his one man campaign to ensure I end up living in a field with only a stack of board games for company. It’s not even as if any of the boxes are big enough to sleep in. Bad Quinns!

    Also, given that this is not Not Cardboard Children does this mean you’re now the official RPS boardgame correspondent? I mean, it’s a shame if Rab’s not coming back and all, but sometimes you just have to move on with your life and go with someone who’s there for you. So, generally, hurrah!

  9. Kdansky says:

    We’ve yet to win a Road to Legend though.

    And what bothers me tremendously: If you use multiple expansion packs, and then semi-randomly draw your starting abillities, you often end up with stuff that just doesn’t work well together, such as a card that makes your move+Attack into Move+AttackTwice, and another, that makes your AttackTwice into Move+AttackTwice, and essentially one of your two cards is utterly pointless.

    Some overlord-cards are completely unfair too, like “you may not pass on any items”, which basically means that you cannot possibly hope to win. On top of that, dungeon map difficulty is very spiky too. Some are way too easy, others are impossible to win. Try the one where you have to carry the princess to safety. Even when we knew the map (third attempt) perfectly well, we still died horribly.

  10. CMaster says:

    So the base game is basically Left 4 Dead?

  11. Kaira- says:

    My friends tend to play this quite often, sadly that means they play it some 200-300 kilometers away from me every damn time. And to add insult to injury, they always rave how I too should play it since it’s so awesome and everything. Damn you, friends. Daends.

  12. DarkFenix says:

    Every time one of these articles comes along, I find myself wishing I knew people into this kind of thing.

    • Vandalbarg says:

      I’ve seriously considered joining my universities traditional gaming society because of these articles. What are you doing to me RPS?!

    • gwathdring says:

      Do it! We’re awesome people! We come from all walks, and have varied investments in gaming. Some of us are just there for the tea (well, at my school it’s tea and hot chocolate … Dorritos are popular elsewhere, I hear), some want to watch, some just play the light-weight but fun games like Bang! and some people are in it for the longer games and RPGs.

      Also, at my school the “traditional gaming” society is the same group that holds Super Smash Bros. tournaments and other video game events. And two of the guys there introduced me to Minecraft.

  13. quickfire809 says:

    I find myself wishing for two things

    1- nearby friends to play this game with

    2- anywhere near the funds required to buy this game

  14. Ubik2000 says:

    What’s that? You think Descent sounds cool, but maybe not quite expensive and labor-intensive enough? Why not toddle over to Hirstarts and pick up a couple of molds? Before you know it, you can ditch those cardboard tiles for your own custom made 3D versions (http://www.hirstarts.com/cavern/descent.html)!

    Of course, you’ll also need to order a big box of special plaster, basically learn a whole new skill set and squander hours of your free time, but you don’t lack COMMITMENT, do you?

    I’ve managed to make the tiles from the base game…my ambition is to make the tiles for all the expansion sets and Road to Legends too. It’s a nice dream. I’ll get started right after I make a Space Hulk board (http://www.hirstarts.com/hulk/hulk.html). Yes. I will do all of these things.

  15. Raiyan 1.0 says:

    “I’m going to be doing a roundup of incredible board games designed for just two players…”

    So… Pokemon TCG?

    :P

    • Selifator says:

      Horrible, horrible punishment will be given to you for that.

    • skurmedel says:

      Pokemon TCG is pretty strange. All I remember is those urinal-stone blue gems you marked your played cards with. It couldn’t have been very fun, because I remember nothing about it.

      For 2 player board games (and card games), Chez Geek and Race to the Galaxy works pretty well.

  16. Daiv says:

    I’m starting to get the impression that what I have always interpreted as a love of “gaming” in the sense of PC gaming, is actually a love of interacting with huge, complicated systems with story icing sprinkled over the top.

  17. Om says:

    Why aren’t more computer game reviews like this?

  18. Spider Jerusalem says:

    I just drank a Peroni for the first time yesterday!

    Weeeeeeird.

    • Quintin Smith says:

      It does look weird in the middle of the photo there. Like RPS’s first, incredibly clumsy piece of product placement.

    • Spinoza says:

      I find Peroni bit bit bland really. Mi piace Moretti di più.

    • Spider Jerusalem says:

      Yeah it wasn’t that great. I only had it because the draft I’d wanted was tapped. But it was beer. And beer is good.

    • Temple says:

      Government says product placement is no longer illegal… so you probably aren’t interested in doing it :)
      (Also DRINK ON THE GAMING TABLE!!11!!1!1)

    • Ergates_Antius says:

      It’s a useful picture because it tells us there’s only one man playing the game. The one who owns the whisky glass at the end of the table…

    • noom says:

      Drinking and the playing of complicated games are two things I personally try to keep entirely seperate. Maybe you can get away with it as a player, but my experience of having a couple of glasses of wine while DMing D&D3.5 did not end well.

    • Quintin Smith says:

      We all know the rules so well by this point that we can happily drink a beer or two and keep our slaughtering tight. Mostly. Mainly Buldar forgets to equip his shield, which is totally in character.

      Also: Nothing wrong with a bit of drink on the gaming table! Everyone knows my wrath would be so incredible if they did upend something that nothing has /ever/ been spilt.

  19. Zaxwerks says:

    There are oodles (yes that’s a real word) of board games you can play solo…

    http://boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/24177/ultimate-solitaire-or-solo-game-battle/page/1

  20. GHudston says:

    My trouble with this boardgame is 2 fold:

    One: Monies. I already spent them on Space Alert last week.

    Two: It’s not a lack of people to play it with, but the frequency at which I’d be able to run a game with everyone. A massive campaign like this loses it’s charm somewhat when you can only play once every 3 months.

  21. Jonas says:

    Last time I played Descent with my friends, the game took 10 hours. That took us through one dungeon. That was the last time we played, and it’s going to keep being the last time, because now they don’t want to play any more. They are pussies.

    • Quintin Smith says:

      I am sorry. :(

      It takes us about five hours to do a three level dungeon now. Just make sure somebody knows the rules back to front before play starts. It’s the key to this and so many other games.

  22. theleif says:

    I’d like to point out that you don’t need 4 other players to play this game. If you’re just three players your hero players can control 2 heroes each.

  23. Ergonomic Cat says:

    Descent is awesome. Our Overlord has found that he’s generally better off just using enough small monsters to keep us busy, then saving up for some HORRIFIC thing that will kill us just by looking at us.

    Also worth nothing is that Descent is somewhat of a zoomed in version of Runebound, which is sort of a zoomed in version of Runewars, which is sort of a board game version of Disk Wars, which was a Pog game.

    There’s a whole universe around it. Not sure how the Descent Campaign fits in though.

  24. malkav11 says:

    I have to be something of a dissenting voice. Now, I love a lot of things about Descent. I love the line of sight rules, the pacing, the dynamic between party and overlord, the elegant tactical interactions of innate character abilities, skill cards and equipment versus the various monster traits. And Road to Legend does do a lot of cool stuff. However, both the base game and Road to Legend tend towards bullshit, and while some of this may be rules misinterpretation (because, frankly, like a lot of FFG products, there’s plenty of room to misinterpret stuff), I don’t -think- it is.

    For starters, it’s great to have the heavily armored warrior tanks, it really is. It’s a nice thought. But in my experience, there’s no reason for the Overlord to ever even attack them most of the time unless they’ve got some spare monsters lurking around that can’t quite get to a squishier party member. That wizard with 0 armor and 8 HP may not be worth as many points, but they can be killed over and over far, far more easily. Secondly, unless I am reading the rules incorrectly, while adventurers can (if they take a move-and-attack action or special skill equivalent thereof) attack at any point in their movement, so can the monsters. Which means that the Overlord can, frequently, simply hit and run with almost their entire monster horde, and gangbang that 0 armor wizard down in a single turn with nothing you can do about it. Thirdly, it’s quite possible to enter situations (in the initial rules, very easy indeed) where the overlord has more monsters than you can possibly kill your way through in an efficient and timely manner, because unless you’ve been lucky enough to come up with (effective) area effect weaponry, you are only even attacking at most two or three times a turn (under most circumstances), and until later tier weaponry those attacks are quite probably not one-shotting most monsters, assuming they even hit.

    Road to Legend complicates things further because all of the above is still in operation (though the Overlord at least usually has less range of monstrous brutality in a single dungeon) -and- you can get out of sync with the Overlord in power level. -And- the basic weaponry, tragically insufficient in the non-campaign game, is much harder to get past because most chests do not drop any actual weapons, and you have very limited selections available even if you take the time (in short supply) to go shop for the better quality weaponry. Not only -that-, but you start with only one skill card instead of three. And even once you’ve gotten to decent later tier weaponry, at least one of the expansions features monsters that can, if you’re unlucky, destroy that weapon. Permanently. (That was the point at which I ragequit Road to Legend. I’d gone like six sessions unable to effectively contribute because I was rocking a basic archery weapon that was not up to dealing with the calibre of monster we were fighting, I -finally- got one of the like two or three weapons in the entire bronze deck that could replace it…and then I wasn’t there for a week and it got destroyed while someone else was playing my character. Fuck that noise.)

    It’s probably fixable with some houseruling and such, but these things hurt my enjoyment of the game.

    PS: The DOOM boardgame is shit. Even people at FFG have told me that it’s shit. Avoid it. Descent is basically the director’s cut version of that game’s mechanics, and it’s -still- a bit iffy.

    • Lilliput King says:

      Could you be a dissenting voice in paragraph form please.

    • malkav11 says:

      I did have paragraphs, but it should be easier to tell now.

    • Squishpoke says:

      I’ve played twice as the Overlord, and I have to agree that the game is one-sided towards the Overlord, if the Overlord has any brains at all.

      For example, I figured out how to abuse the Overlord card “threat” system. Apparently, you can reshuffle the deck after you are through with it, so that means that I’m constantly discarding any card that does not spawn monsters, and when I do get a card that spawns monsters, I have plenty of threat tokens to buy it. I rarely have any threat float because of this tactic, and the heroes have a hard time even getting past the first room because of too many monsters slowing them down.

    • Quintin Smith says:

      What can I say? I’ve had very few problems. The game has any number of things that don’t sit quite right, ranging from even huge monsters crumbling underwhelmingly under your attacks, to monsters being able to perform hit & run tactics rather than stacking up in a corridor in a believable way, but absolutely nothing in my campaign has ever been broken. All of the really blatant hacks and exploits have been fixed in the enormous errata document I link to above.

      What I’ve been finding is that the game is rich and free-form enough that every problem has a solution. So your archer doesn’t have a bow- he’ll still do plenty of damage with the first magical two-handed sword you guys come across. Or why not go to Riverwatch and spend a single week waiting around at the Grand Market? That’s ten items out of the treasure deck, one of which is bound to be a weapon you can use.

      I think a lot of people get the impression that Descent is a game that’s skewed in favour of the Overlord, but it’s absolutely not. The players just, as a team, have to be as good at the game as the Overlord is by himself. Which means that the guy playing the Overlord shouldn’t be the player that’s most familiar with the game.

      If he is- yeah, you’re going to get beat up and you’re going to get grumpy.

    • malkav11 says:

      I had skill cards and black dice that would make me a terror with a ranged weapon, but did bugger all with swords. Plus, like I say, we were not drawing actual treasure cards from chests 90+% of the time, and there were invariably better things to spend cash money on than an inefficient weapon that I would only wind up discarding when something worthwhile came along. Which didn’t happen in over 20 cards worth of drawing. But that’s an issue I had with that particular situation and Road to Legend combining with weapon destruction. The core problem is really much more in the balance issues I mentioned above.

    • jalf says:

      Huh, in our games, the heroes have usually strolled through the dungeon, butchering everything the Overlord threw at them.

      Until the last time we played, actually, when the overlord won twice in a row. Part of that was just a a brutal quest/dungeon, and part of it was luck in dice rolls, but I suppose part of it might also just be that we’ve now got so much experience with the game that the overlord is able to play efficiently.

      Maybe. I’m looking forward to our next game, to find out how it turns out then.

  25. Leandro says:

    There are… drinks… on the gaming table… *cringe*

    • Temple says:

      Hence why I’m struggling to ask some of you random strangers around to my house to play boardgames.
      Forget the fact you may murder me or rob me blind it is about people getting greasy mrks on my cards or spilling drink on my boards AND ME BEING A DICK ABOUT IT.
      I mean getting marks on games! That would ruin all those games that are just sitting in their boxes doing nothing. Hmmm, just measured my table. Apparently 6 foot by 3 foot, so should fit something on there.

  26. JB says:

    Sounds great. Like HeroQuest but all growed-up.

  27. Jon says:

    Looks good and if it was a computer game instead of a board game I would now be downloading the demo and pestering my friends to do the same. Is there any sort of demo/quick rules/starter set available for this?

  28. Zogtee says:

    It is a great game indeed, but it’s so big, that at some point, you just think to yourself “We might as well start playing a proper pen & paper RPG”.

  29. nemryn says:

    I played Descent once. I got a hero with the ability to move up to three spaces to intercept and attack-of-opportunity any monster that got close enough, plus a feat that let me spend fatigue to make an additional attack whenever I killed a monster, plus a ring that let me move one space as a free action. So I could go attack-kill-bonus attack every turn, and still have four spaces of movement for tactical positioning. It was pretty fun!

  30. Aldehyde says:

    Biggest problem I see is finding a table that can stand unused for nothing other than this for a few weeks.

    • Vandalbarg says:

      You could take a picture of it with all the correct places, then tidy up and when you need to redo it, use the pic as a reference guide.

      Maybe multiple pictures if you’re playing with rogues.

    • malkav11 says:

      Road to Legend actually comes with stuff to keep track of campaign state from session to session. You just shouldn’t pack up mid dungeon.

    • Aldehyde says:

      Sweet, helpful tips from both of you. Thanks.

    • Quintin Smith says:

      We once had to stop playing mid-dungeon when the next session would be at my house. It took proper detective work to figure out the location of all the monsters and tokens from my terrible grainy photography.

  31. postmanmanman says:

    I need to stop reading this column when I have money. I’ve already bought two games (Civilization & Arkham Horror) because of it, neither of which I’ve actually played due to a distinct lack of board-game-playing friends.

    • Jhoosier says:

      My friend with Arkham Horror lives about a 5-hour bus ride away. We got far enough into it the last trip that it’s had me reading these columns and wishing I’d get out more.

    • jaheira says:

      Arkham Horror is fully playable solo. Totally different experience of course, but still a lot of fun.

    • Temple says:

      And only £40 for the base set. Do I need any expansions to make solo fun or does it go well out of the box?
      Like WOW the boardgame solo, but don’t really feel it with Runebound (trying Sands of Al-Kalim expansion right now, gives Runebound a very different slant, but still needs something more for solo play -probably a timer for a sense of urgency)

    • Reapy says:

      It took myself and a friend I have who lives some 4 hours away years to steel ourselves from purchasing stuff when we would stumble on the dangerous trap that is boardgamegeek.com. It’s cool, I want to play it… but remember remember you have nobody to play with! REMEMBER!!! DO NOT SPEND. Then RPS has been making it even harder, but we held out.

      Suddenly while ranting at work about how awesome board games really were and ameritrash sucked, and somewhere when people started playing settlers of catan with others… suddenly we were getting together for a game night. 2 months later we have this rotating once a week game session with anywhere from 4 to 8 players.

      I got to play all these games I’ve read about finally, settlers, ticket to ride, power grid, agricola, survive escape from atlantic(ps thanks for that one RPS, love it), arkham horror ( i was physically exhausted after explaining that to 6 newbies ), formula d, munchkin, carcasconne… man it has been awesome.. and freaken dangerous to my wallet.

      Luckily a few RPS links and bgg links got people buying other games. I still have my unplayed descent monolith sitting on my desk that I need to bring over when there aren’t 8 people to give a test drive, but really looking forward to that… I also have an embarrassing amount of hersocape that hasn’t gotten the workout it deserves that I have to haul over too.

      But yeah, try talking up some of these games, a surprising amount of people enjoy board games, but they don’t know there is anything better out there. Also it helps to know the rules backwards and forwards… I recommend ticket to ride for the skeptical, and settlers of catan for the slightly more adventurous, and if you have computer gamers get them right into the good stuff.

  32. Ribonizer says:

    Finally a card board children that doesn’t make me want to buy a game….
    Only because already own it XD
    Woo! Go Descent! Go Sorcerer King overlord! Go my gold upgraded dark priests. I think everytime I play a summon of Dark Priests, I take at least 2 heroes down XD

  33. McDan says:

    Dammit Quinns! I only read the first two paragraphs of this arrivals and I already want this game so much! I will buy this game! Obligatory comment about how I don’t have people to play it with, although I did get people to play mansions of madness a few days ago, so I’ll work them up with space alert etc. to get them ready for this.

  34. TooNu says:

    I want this game so much, but then I realised it’s just my old self wanting to play Warhammer Quest and have fun like I did all those years ago.

    Desecent, great looking game that I want badly.

  35. Truck_Rockpec says:

    (1) The Descent rule system is actually based on the rule system of the (now out of print) Doom board game. As in, Doom the video game.

    I thought Descent sounded familiar!! I was given a copy of Doom years ago as a birthday gift and got a lot of good times out of it. I’m definitely checking this out now, thanks for doing such a long write-up.

  36. banski83 says:

    Seriously, does anyone know of a decent forum or portal website to help people find existing gaming groups or people interested in starting up gaming groups? I mean, I’ve got copies of Space Crusade, Hero Quest, Carcassonne, Talisman and Space Hulk sitting on the shelf here that’ll possibly never get played with again, because I don’t know anyone who’d really be interested in playing. Hasn’t anyone made something like a social network for board gamers, so I can find local board gamers? I mean, I know of Board Game Geek, but is there anywhere else?

    • Oozo says:

      Talking of which: Is Decent some sort of Hero Quest on steroids?
      …gosh. You just had me google Hero Quest. I had NO IDEA that it was based on a Warhammer setting. Mum, look at me! I´m a Warhammer player after all! I have been, for all these years! Are you proud of me, mum?

    • Big Murray says:

      I’ve been considering the same thing for trying to find some pen ‘n’ paper RPGers in my area … I’m now old enough to enjoy the joys of social roleplaying while not impacting on the frequency of my getting laid, but for someone who’s never involved themselves in that scene, kinda hard to know where to go.

    • Quintin Smith says:

      GET ON THE FORUM! Seriously, get on the RPS forum now. Start a thread. Make something happen, you guys.

      http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/forums/

  37. Squishpoke says:

    I actually played this twice as the Overlord, and won both times.

    It’s pretty much a more streamlined Dungeons and Dragons Lite.

  38. kimvidard says:

    A fantastic board game. It is really Heroquest 2.0
    I am always amazed that you dust off those gems, great stuff. I have spent a lot of cash on this game and all its extensions…

  39. Gothnak says:

    I traded on Boardgamegeek earlier this year, got myself, Descent and 4 expansions, played it once with my gf so far, really need to get a decent gaming session up and running.. :).. Certainly awesome from what i’ve seen so far, i love playing the Overlord!

    (Someone make a computer version!)

  40. Xenomath says:

    I once played through a campaign, but with only one friend who played all the heroes.
    Actually we plyed 2 campaigns, the first time I, the overlord, managed to nearly get my plot done already on bronze campaign level (the first of three), when my opponent gave up.

    We restarted on silver level (there are rules for that) and from there on it went downward for me. The heroes focused on fatigue upgrades and extra attack abilities. With these they cleared some dungeons as fast as in two turns. (14 Fatigue points are 14 moves, even when attacking twice, and then they drink a fatigue potion…) It was kind of fun but the later stages where a farce and my poor avatar had no chance, even though I had most of the upgrades for him.

    The idea of road to legend is great but it did not manage to get rid of some serious flaws of the base game, even increasing some like with the fatigue upgrades, leading to some severe unbalances.

  41. gwathdring says:

    Once the ruleset gets that complicated, you should seriously consider the flexibility found in some RPGs. You don’t get the high-quality miniatures and dungeon tiles, though, without putting considerably more money into either paper and printer ink or boxed sets of tiles than you would have put into Descent where everything comes in one box. For me, the miniatures are less important as we can really use anything to represent our characters and still build the same connection with them.

    I suppose for my own tastes, what I want is somewhat between a full-fledged RPG and board games like Descent and Battlestations–the flexibility of a roleplaying system, but the more concrete exploration and combat that comes out of a board game. Descent is trying to do exactly that … but it doesn’t seem like quite the right mix for me. I think I’m going to have to design my own game, because the RPGs I’ve tried are also not quite doing it for me. In Cosmic Encounter, Arkham Horror, Wadjet, and really any game that nails the thematic elements however far from the game mechanics those elements are, I find myself roleplaying much more easily than in a pen-and-paper setup. And I have more vivid and entertaining memories of the events that happen in those thematic board games.

  42. Dakia says:

    Absolutely love this game. My family has a box and the Road to Legend campaign at out lake house that we pretty much play every weekend (with some house rules naturally)

  43. thebigJ_A says:

    Man, I want to play this bad, and I’ve not played a game like this since my friends refused to play Hero’s Quest with me 16 years ago.

    I do have the problem of no one to play with.

    Does anyone here happen to be four people from Boston looking for a new gaming partner??

  44. Spacewalk says:

    I’ll probably buy this one too despite not having anyone to play it with. Finding the space to store it might be the biggest problem, it comes in a very big box.

  45. bill says:

    New plan: Talk to a girl. Get a girlfriend. Get married. Have kids. Raise said kids. Wait 15 years. Avoid death. Have people to play boardgames with. Play a boardgame.

    • Big Murray says:

      Then the kids will beat you, and you’ll put the board away and say “screw this”.

    • JB says:

      No, that’s a great plan. My daughters are 10 and 13 and are getting into boardgames in a fairly big way. Would be swimming in boardgames if I had more monies.

      I’ll have to dig HeroQuest back out, they love a bit of that…another couple of years and it might be time for me to buy Descent!

  46. DarkFenix says:

    Ok there’s now a thread on the RPS forums for those board gamers interested in the possibility of meeting other RPS’ers for some serious nerding. If you’re even remotely interested, take a look, make a post, maybe your locale is swarming with those of like-mind.

    • Psycho says:

      Definitely interested in meeting up with some like minded gamers in London area.

      I’ve added some details to this thread!

  47. jimfing says:

    Can just 2 players play this game? One as the overload and one playing all 4 adventurers? (My wife loves board games so it would just be me and her).

    • Quintin Smith says:

      That’s totally do-able, yeah.

      Although it’d be a reason to not buy the Tomb of Ice expansion, as one big thing that it offers is hands of cards for each of the hero players. Total nightmare if you’re playing all four heroes yourself.

  48. Ion of Chios says:

    Good article, Mr Quinns. I’m certainly interested in reading your promised round-up of two-player games:)

  49. DisBeSrsBsns says:

    I enjoyed this article very much, enough to motivate me to create an account and leave an opinion for the first time. I hope to see more board-game focused articles, and I look forward to the round-up of two player games as well!

  50. Yor Fizzlebeef says:

    Hey, you!
    Yes you, the one reading this comment!

    Do you happen to live in Reykjavík, Iceland? I Would really want to find peeps interested in some regular heavy board game nerdening with games like Descent and the like XD

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