Interlude – Descent: Journeys in the Dark, Second Edition proto-review

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(Changing Horses will return this coming week, when I run the next 13th Age session. In the meantime…)

Descent is probably my favorite boardgame, although I always found it flawed in a number of ways. A session could easily run 4-5 hours, the rules required extensive FAQing and clarification and boy howdy were there a lot of bits and pieces, both physical and informational, to keep track of.

All that said, I still didn’t hesitate long before ordering the second edition of the game.  The rules are posted on the Fantasy Flight Games website so you can take a peek. I liked what I saw there enough that buying it was a foregone conclusion.

The big changes between first and second edition: no glyphs or going back to town, no money to manage (except in the campaign rules), no treasures or chests, no threat or conquest tokens, characters have classes that determine their abilities instead of random card draws, combat is now done with opposed rolls instead of static armor value.  Other than that last one, these all sound like great ideas to speed up and streamline the game. That last one, I don’t know. It feels like it might slow things down but who knows. One of my other favorite boardgames (Star Wars: The Queen’s Gambit) uses opposed combat rolls and I feel like it makes things more exciting there so I’m not completely “opposed” (I’m so very, very sorry) to the idea.

The rules claim a 1-2 hour playtime. Between the simplification of the game and what looks like simplified, shorter scenarios that looks about right to me.

This pseudo-review is based on reading the rules and looking over contents of the box. I haven’t had a chance to play yet but will post a follow-up when I do.

So the first thing – the box is small compared to the massive 1st edition box. There are only 8 heroes and a smattering of monsters. It’s kind of sparse and I’m sure FFG plans many expansions. But fortunately I have the 1st edition basic game and a couple of the expansions so after I plunked down $20ish for the Conversion Kit I now can use all the stuff from those as well.  More about the Conversion Kit later.

But in addition to fewer minis and not as many tiles, they made some good moves toward keeping the physical stuff of the game smaller too. As noted above, there’s a lot fewer fiddly tokens involved. I have all my first edition Descent stuff in a tackle box and a series of craft bead containers. The tokens take up 2-3 full bead boxes. All the tokens from second edition fit into half a box, plus there’s room for the dice and the small cards (condition, class skill and shop cards are a smaller size card. Monsters are on a regular size card instead of on a larger cardboard statcard.)

It fits on one box! How can this be?

The figures themselves are nice.  The hero figures especially are MUCH nicer castings than the first edition. I’ve been painting some of my Descent figures over the past year so I’ve been forced to spend a lot of time focusing on their details and I can conclusively say they’re just not very good.  There’s just not a lot of fine detail and in some cases hands are really big. The second edition heroes are by contrast really really sweet. I can’t wait to get painting these.

Second edition on the left, first edition on the right.

The monsters are less inspiring, probably because they’re weird freaky monster types rather than standard stuff like ogres and bats and beastmen and demons. I honestly have no idea what half these things are by looking at them. The first edition monsters had a good amount of detail – some of them disturbingly so (take a good look at the buttocks on the Giant Ape some time. That’s a lovingly sculpted simian posterior. Somebody spent a LOT of time making that look good. Yeah, I don’t even).  The second edition monsters look pretty good but there’s not as breathtaking as the heroes.

A zombie and a medium sized spider and I have no freaking idea what that is in the back.

The tiles look really good too. First edition had all dungeon stuff, square or rectangular rooms and long rectangular hallway pieces all with the same features.  Second edition has interior designs on one side and wilderness on the other, and many of the pieces seem to have different designs. One of them has a river of lava on it. Oh, that’s one other thing – there’s no pits or rubble or water markers in the game.  Those things are right on the tiles, which may limit their reusability.  But they do look very pretty. One major bummer: the tiles do NOT interlock with the first edition tiles.  Boooo!

Tiles, front and back

There’s a rule book (same one available on the FFG website) and a scenario book. The scenario book has 20 scenarios. They can either be played as one-offs or as a campaign, and rules for doing the campaign are in here. Characters and the Overlord accumulate experience and can spend it on upgrades.  Characters also gain gold and can spend it on better and better items.  There are rules for wilderness encounters in between the scenarios. I don’t know how it compares to the Road to Legend campaign set from first edition but it looks like fun, and not strictly linear.

Some more heroes and…my god. A bowstring??? There are no words.  They should have sent a poet.

As promised, a word on the Conversion Kit.  It does NOT, as I originally believed, allow you to just upgrade your first edition characters and monsters to second edition rules so you can then just keep on keeping on without needing to buy the second edition at all. No, that wouldn’t make FFG as much money. Instead it provides upgraded stats for characters and monsters to be used WITH second edition.  I suppose you could just grab the conversion kit and the rules pdf and keep playing first edition scenarios. I have no idea how that would work out. You’d be missing out on the class cards and some other components that you’d probably need. And honestly for the figures and the tiles it’s not terribly expensive (the second edition game lists at $80 but you can find it for less than $60 plenty of places. I got mine from Miniature Market, who also had the Conversion Kit for about $10 less than list/Amazon).

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5 Responses to “Interlude – Descent: Journeys in the Dark, Second Edition proto-review”

  1. Thomas Says:

    This plastic box looks great! Where did you get it? Do you know its dimensions?

  2. Christopher Tatro Says:

    I believe I got it at a craft store – that’s designed for holding beads. For dimensions it’s about 10″ long by 6″ wide and only about 2″ deep.

  3. Thomas Says:

    A bead storage box! Thanks, that’s very useful! 🙂

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