Descent (Second Edition) Actual Review

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Last night I did something I’d long though impossible: I played a game of Descent to completion in about an hour.

Now, this was the introductory scenario for the Second Edition and it is designed to be a pretty quick encounter.  The board is tiny – only 2 “rooms” and some connecting “hallway” pieces.  And there aren’t many baddies to deal with – 2 ettins and a handful of goblins. But still, an hour. And it was fun.

Here then are my observations (aside from “it runs shorter”) on the second edition of Descent:

-Removing the glyphs and monster spawning and dead heroes resurrecting back in town has gone a long way toward making this feel more like a tactical boardgame and less like a videogame.

-Monster hit points are scaled way down.  The gobs only had 2HP each.  I think even lowly beastmen from 1st edition had 4 or 5.  The master ettin only had 8. Damage dealt felt about the same as the start of a 1st edition game – about 2-4 points per hit after armor.  The result was that things died quicker.  Of course I (as Overlord) was placing another gob on the board at the end of each of my turns so there was a quantity issue to deal with as well.

-Character abilities were interesting and pretty clear.  There was some confusion at first based on memory of 1st edition rules.  For example, if you have an ability that does an extra damage for a surge, in 1st Ed you could throw 3 surges at that to do 3 extra damage.  But in 2nd Ed it doesn’t work that way – only 1 surge per ability. Some characters have the same surge ability listed twice so you could do it more than once.  That took some adjusting to.  Also one character had a Familiar and the rules for that were a little unclear in spots.

-Healing worked well. The Spiritspeaker (a class of the healer archetype)  character had an ability that allowed anyone within 3 squares to spend a surge to recover 1HP, and a Feat that let everybody in 3 squares gain back a bunch of points.  This was an area I was concerned about as the 1st edition relied so heavily on potions, although that was always a losing game of attrition as you never really got that many HP back. The healing wasn’t too overpowered though; I managed to take down 2 characters (the ettin being able to spend a surge for +3 damage didn’t hurt there).

-Ability tests are interesting but i don’t love them.  Most of these came in on Overlord cards.  Characters have 4 Attributes listed on their cards and when testing you roll 2 dice and try to get under the value for your appropriate attribute.   I think 4 is too many and guarantee my group will never bother to remember the names of them (“Might” which is symbolized by an armored gauntlet, was immediately dubbed “Fisting”).

-I was concerned about the Overlord cards not being interesting. Without Threat to spend, how do you ramp up to the really awesome stuff? And since the basic game’s Overlord deck is only 15 cards if the powerful stuff like Doom or Dark Curse were just thrown in the mix would they come up too often? Most of the cards appear to be very basic stuff like allowing a monster an extra attack or an extra move, or to reroll a die or earn an extra surge.  But Dark Curse was in there (sadly the player passed his attribute test so I didn’t get to take control of him but got a card from the deck as a consolation prize). I only got through about half the Overlord deck in this short encounter so I can’t speak to how frequently the big cards cycle through.  Many of the more powerful cards are probably reserved for the campaign mode, where the overlord can spend XPs to unlock them.

-The biggest disappointment for me are the class skills.  When you choose one of the 2 classes for your character’s archetype (Knight or Berserker for the Warriors, for example) you start off with one set skill and one or two set pieces of gear.  I really dug the random element of drawing your skill cards in 1st Ed. It made things more interesting in replay.  Having fixed skills seems a little dull.

-Making defense an opposed roll instead of a static armor value didn’t add to the length/complexity of the game really at all, and made it more interactive.  Also added some unpredictability to the mix, as you never knew if your hit was going to actually do any damage or not.

There were a number of other little tweaks and clean ups to the rules I’m likely forgetting (like not having to decide between range or damage on the dice).  The rules overall were much cleaner and I didn’t feel the need to constantly consult them and flip through pages of errata to figure out how abilities interacted with each other. Overall I’d say it’s a definite improvement.  We’re seriously considering putting together a fixed group to do the campaign mode.  Given that our copy of 1st Ed had mostly languished in the box since the demise of our Road to Legend campaign a couple of years back, I think that’s saying something.

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