Before I talk about Descent: Journeys in the Dark 2nd Edition I want to talk about why I ended up getting back into board games as a hobby. As a young man, I remember sitting with my sister painting the Heroquest figures from the board game of the same name.
Little pots of enamel paint everywhere and figures looking like they had been dipped in a rainbow of hate I was happier than I had been for some time, that was until I started playing the game.
I think in the first year of owning Heroquest we played the campaign through 3 or more times. We didn’t even make our own scenarios we just kept playing through the campaign starting over each time we finished. My friends would join us and at times there was even talk of the Barbarian being put away in favour of the Wizard, oh how we laughed.
Enough on that, jump forwards 30 or more years and I have two children and thought to myself one day, “Wouldn’t it be great to paint Heroquest with them and play it again?”. Oh, how wrong I was. I spent £150 buying a copy of the game and having seen these two ham-fisted brush ruiners “rub” paint onto the Gargoyle I knew enough was enough. “This is my hobby now, come back when Daddy is done” I proclaimed.
A month later and I was bored, I wanted to paint more figures so started looking for Heroquest 2.0. I found it in the form of a game from Fantasy Flight Games. Descent: Journeys in the Dark 2nd Edition is a dungeon crawler that feels like Dungeons and Dragons got Heroquest pregnant and this is the love child.
You can play alone with the free app acting as the Overlord or in a group of up to 5 with a player taking on the role of the aforementioned potentate.
The game takes place in or under the fantasy realm of Terrinoth and sees your group rummaging around dungeons, visiting towns and completing quests and side quests to snatch up all the loot, save the land and triumph in the face of evil.
The missions in Descent: Journeys in the Dark 2nd Edition can be played alone using the free accompanying app and whilst the missions can be played in a session it’s the overarching story in the campaign connecting the missions together that create a wonderful tale and make you want to continue on.
In our house we play games together, we being my children and me, my wife will join in if forced but usually, there are the three of us and my children always want to be on my team so we used the app.
If there are five of you then one player would take on the role as the overlord and whilst I have yet to play this way I am sure once outside is open again this will be something I try.
Something that works really well is the way the game scales if you have more heroes, monster group sizes are determined by the number of heroes and so you never feel overwhelmed but equally every fight is potentially your last and working together as a team is a key to passing your way successfully through each expedition.
We tried the game with 4 heroes but there is a sense of ownership that happens with your character that means the 4th character is just cannon fodder so we decided to restart with just the three characters we had chosen.
Each expedition feels fresh and the joy of discovery lurks behind every door and around every corner meaning, you never feel that you are just playing the same mission on different tiles.
You could be attempting a rescue or recovering an artefact or exiting with as much treasure as you dare carry all the while the dungeon is collapsing behind you and abominations await ahead with boosted stats depending on how much treasure you decided to carry.
Before you get to the gameplay there is a box of goodies greeting you behind a thin sheath of cellophane. Lifting the lid on Descent: Journeys in the Dark 2nd Edition you are greeted with Cards, Minis, Dice and lots and lots of punch boards which make up the game tiles and copious amounts of tokens.
I decided before purchase that I wanted to paint the minis and to protect them after painting I bought the Feldherr Foam Inserts that organise your game for storage.
In hindsight, it might have been better to buy a wooden organiser that would have aided in set up and play but it works well to keep the thirty-nine minis clean and in good order.
Your hero is chosen from a potential pool of eight and each has two classes to choose from. This gives you options when building your character as well as your party variety and the fact that your hero never fully dies means you can start to build a long-lasting campaign with a group who all care about their character and want to develop them, their gear and abilities.
Your characters will have to work together to get through many of the battles you will face and combat works very well, deciding how much or little success your attacks and defences are handled by rolling dice.
There are two red power dice, a yellow and blue dice which are used in different combinations depending on the weapon and its type. These dice also can impose extra conditions on the attack, most are helpful, however, the blue dice, for example, could cause you to miss entirely, and seems to disproportionately land on the X for me.
The lightning bolts on the dice denote a “surge” can be used and again, referring to the cards for each weapon you can trigger additional range, damage or effect from your attack.
Range is handled wonderfully with a number on the dice, but you are never completely sure you will be able to hit your target, especially if you are too far, but, there is a good chance for ranged attacks to hit their mark especially if you roll a surge or two.
On defence, there are two greys, one brown and black dice with varying levels of protection, the combinations used for each weapon or defence are detailed on the card dedicated to the item or monster.
This means in between missions the village store can be a place of great conflict as just the right item with better dice is available for you and your compatriot at the same time yet there is never enough shared gold to buy everything you want. I have read a lot about the minis lacking detail and perhaps compared to some they are a little lacking, however, I think there is enough detail to instantly recognise each and everyone, particularly when painted.
It took me around 40 hours of painting over about three weeks to paint everything to the best of my ability which is probably not that good but I am more than happy with how things turned out, that is apart from the Shadow Dragons.
I had finished painting them when I found a video by Sorastro and realised my creativity was misguided. My lava and Water/Air themes were a poor choice.
My children and I found the best way to learn Descent: Journeys in the Dark 2nd Edition was to begin playing and to find the rule we needed when the need arose. We were using the app which was acting as the Overlord and I am sure you could also benefit from learning from an experienced player, however, we didn’t have one on hand but have to say, the app is fantastic.
You select the parts of the collection you own, the heroes you are playing with and the app handles everything else. At the beginning of each mission, you are given a list of tiles you will need to put aside and then the monsters are revealed as you move through the map.
They work like a jigsaw and are double-sided so there is plenty of choice for designers. We have yet to make our own scenario but we are keen to try this function out.
The gameplay is quite fast-paced, which is something I was worried about playing with younger children but a nine and seven-year-old were not bored playing and there was always some danger or a new area to explore that kept them interested.
The rules are pretty easy to follow and it has made us purchase other board games which will be reviewed here soon. We have the base game and I will be printing some player dashboards as well as a system to keep everything available when playing but other than that everything you need is in the box.
I would recommend painting the figures and adding little flourishes to the bases as this really adds to the game. I will also be printing some physical search tokens and familiars to add to our game and in the future will probably buy some of the expansions.
Descent: Journeys in the Dark (Second Edition) is my new favourite game. I have a solo campaign going running two characters as well as a campaign running with the children. The modular tile system allows the game to have limitless maps and the figures look fantastic when painted. I would have preferred plastic tokens to the cardboard ones but having purchased a few games now this seems to be par for the course. This is not a successor to Heroquest I was looking for, however, it is a superior game in almost every way and I am happy to have found it.