Descent: Legends of the Dark has not been painted. A strange statement to start a review but one that sums up how I feel about it.
I have a policy you see, DON’T PLAY GREY, I make sure I paint my minis before I start playing for two reasons, 1, I like to paint, 2, What if it’s awful and I don’t get to paint it because of the finger of shame?
But there was a third reason I had not considered, what if a game, in this case, Descent: Legends of the Dark is so good, that I don’t want to stop playing it long enough to paint it?
Descent: Journeys in the Dark marked my return to gaming. You can read my review of it here and it will forever have a place at my table, however, Descent: Legends of the Dark feels like the pinnacle of dungeon crawling evolution.
If Heroquest was a predator and ate all the fish, Descent: Legends of the Dark would be a great white, an apex predator that eats all the Heroquest fish in the ocean.
Now, the art style has been rather polarizing in the gaming community at large. Many, people do not like it, I am one of them, I think it looks like it’s been stretched, long and gangly, it makes the characters look sickly. The cartoonishness of it jars with the game. Thinking about it now has made sick come up into my mouth and I have shouted at my family for no reason.
The app is another thing that splits the community. I know some have decried app-driven games and I suppose that some part of me worries about a future where, the money men probably, decide to no longer support the game and remove the app from IOS and Android. Luckily it’s also available on PC which means that it will exist in some form, somewhere forever but how many IOS and Android updates will be supported is anyone’s guess.
I will say before I move on from the negative that the games RRP is £174 however, you are more likely to have to spend between £120 to £130 on a new copy. This is a lot of money. It will need to be supported for many years and I would be very annoyed if FFG felt that there was a 5-10 year life cycle for the game.
Those are the negatives. That’s it. They aren’t that serious either.
This is a polished gem of a game. The story is first-rate, and I am not going to spoil anything for you so I will talk in general terms as much as I can about it from here on out. Set in the same fantasy land of Terrinoth that Descent: Journeys in the Dark is set, the story is lighter in drama than I expected. Think, Twilight over Blade and this will sum up my feelings of the story and whilst we are in the world of fantasy some elements marry to the real world specifically around the hot topics of gender and disability which were not necessary for my opinion.
However, it’s no surprise in today’s world, people are far more inclusive, however, in my past experience, the addition of these storylines felt shoehorned in, here, the additions flow and feel a part of the story. It’s very well done and I think Kara Centell-Dunk and Brandon Perdue, the designers, should be praised for the inclusion.
Descent: Legends of the Dark plays in a similar way to the previous title. You have a character sheet, a weapon, armour, spells and items you can use around you and you can move, attack or search during your action phase. You roll dice for combat and defence as well as testing abilities and there the similarities end because everything changes.
I mean it physically changes, you have a double-sided weapon card, which you can improve by crafting, you have a double-sided player sheet that flips meaning you lose or gain abilities.
The map is slowly revealed and is 3D with terrain pieces that rise out from the map and bring the world to life. The immersion is first-rate and when you couple it with an app that works as well as the game the whole experience makes you tingle with joy.
For example, to search a chest in the game, you drag your character in the app to the chest which is represented in the app by a chest. Want to search that tree? It’s there, in the app, drag a character to it. Fight an enemy, drag your character portrait onto its and the fight will begin. The app streamlines the game and one could argue that playing alone is more fun now because you don’t need to have any discussion about what you should do next, do what you want every time. The only problem with that is if it all goes wrong you can’t just blame Martin and move on.
The app doesn’t track character locations but it will tell you what the NPC characters want to do, who they want to attack and how far they move.
I do not know if it is the game design or the app inclusion but battles become small skirmishes more akin to Star Wars Imperial Assault as the terrain can help or hinder you in battle. Moving behind a tree for example feels like you are actually hiding as the tree is there, for real, it’s not a flat tile that you can stand on.
As you play each level the app will build a world for you to explore and reveal it to you as you move through each level fighting and looting. The excitement that builds as you approach an unknown section of the map is palpable because you never know what is coming next, there are no clues, the GM hasn’t prepared anything for you or given a hint.
Now as an aside, I do wish there were more dice, I like to combine dice and build a dice pool, adding to them as I get stronger. I liked the yellow, red, green blue and brown, perhaps white and maybe black dice from the last game, that’s a lot, a lot is better. It felt good as you progressed to roll more dice, more is stronger. Each character has one die now, one is less strong, isn’t it?
Lack of dice aside combat is handled in the app, no need to track the enemy health or debuffs, the app has you covered. It makes playing the game a slick and fluid affair and the only tokens you need are the ones that affect you.
Speaking of tokens, let’s talk about the new mechanic, fatigue. Whilst it’s not new per se it is used differently in Descent: Legends of the Dark.
As you accumulate fatigue you can add it to your various cards up to their fatigue value. For example, if you have a weapon that can handle three fatigue and a piece of armour that could hold a further three, you would be able to spread four fatigue tokens between. A further fatigue token added to either card would force you to flip the card. In the case of a weapon, you would switch to your alternate and with your character sheet, you would have a different set of abilities.
This only becomes frustrating when you have some buff attached to an equipment item and have nowhere else to place fatigue tokens but doing so would mean you could use the surge you rolled to add an additional damage which would finally kill a creature in front of you, but if you do this you lose the focussed tokens so should you perhaps move away and let someone else deal with…… Yes, it’s light on strategy but that isn’t to say there is none. There are decisions to be made continually that will affect other party memebers, how you play will affect them and there in lies the strategy. Being forced to flip a card before you are ready means some furious management of your actions. Of course, you can ready a card to be flipped at any time, this uses an action but you get three per character so it’s always an option.
Having played primarily as a solo player I am in love with Descent: Legends of the Dark, I cannot stop playing. When I have played with others the experience has been fun but the things I like, discussing strategies, solving issues together and teamwork don’t feel as important as when I play alone. I am forced to ask questions about the strategic interaction between players and I have to remind myself that this is Twilight, not Blade. The strategy in group play is pretty light but still fun.
Descent evokes a memory in me, one of the first time I played Heroquest, this was the first time I played a cooperative board game, remembering the hours and hours of fun I had in that game and then years later, as a 46-year-old man, finding Descent and it being the very game that pulled me back into this wonderful hobby is something I will always love the series for and I am sure there is an element of rose-tinted glasses in my feelings about Descent: Legends of the Dark so its hard for me not to gush about it.
The main elements of the game are first class. Starting with the map tiles and risers, whilst made from card, they are very sturdy and the artwork is clean and precise.
The box contains a pack of clear sleeves for your equipment and a health dial to track how close to death you are. These are fabulous additions and will keep the table clutter down to a minimum as I do not know how you would measure an items fatigue without tokens.
The miniature figures are the best I have seen in any game where I didn’t have to cut them from sprues and glue them together. The sculpting is refined and detailed which will make painting a joy if I can stop playing long enough to ever paint each.
There are a total of 40 figures to use and of these 6 are hero characters. I will list them below with the information directly from Fantasy Flights website. I feel this is public information and will not spoil any of the story points for you:
Brynn, The Human Avenger From a minor branch of a noble family, Brynn has always wanted to uphold her family’s noble ideals by serving as a warrior for justice and law. She joined the Marshals of the Citadel to do just that. But during her training, the Marshals were ambushed and slaughtered by the Uthuk Y’llan. Since then, Brynn’s aunt has called her home to take her place as heir to the barony of Forthyn, turning Brynn’s whole life upside down. Little does she know, this is just the beginning.
Equipped with a Warden’s Blade and Weighted Warhammer, Brynn is the powerhouse of the band of heroes. Trained by the Marshals to confront enemies head-on, she uses her Outmanoeuvre ability to quickly attack enemies with brute force. On the other hand, her Steady Defense ability allows her to take hits and protect allies with her heavy armour. Brynn is great for players who want to be a bold warrior and an inspiring leader.
Vaerix, a Dragon Human hybrid outcast,
Vaerix once served the dragonlords as a respected teacher and leader among the dragon hybrids. However, when they began to tell others of their dream, of an independent future for hybrid-kind apart from the dragonlords, they were brutally cast out. Since then, Vaerix has played the part of the wandering prophet and adventurer, trying their best to forget the pain and humiliation of their exile…and the plight of the hybrid faction they left behind.
Vaerix is both a survivor and a group healer, which is showcased through their abilities Survivor and Respite. Their skills and abilities allow them to manipulate other heroes’ cards and helps recover fatigue and damage. At the onset of their legend, they are armed with an Ironthorn Warbell and Riverwatch Spear with light to medium armour. Vaerix is great for players who want to support others and be a reluctant visionary.
Syrus the Human Prodigy, whose mini is the favourite from any game I own and will be the first figure I paint.,
Syrus Indahlu, an ambitious and dedicated student of magic, does not regret bonding his life force to bring the phoenix, Indris, back from the brink of death. But that incident offered him his first glimpse that the world, and he himself, fell short of his idealistic expectations. He has always felt that he could use magic to make the world a better place and help bring out the best in others. But after Indris greatly heightened his magical abilities, he left the Universities of Greyhaven to travel the land and make a difference in peoples’ lives.
Syrus has complementary abilities in both the Empower and Phoenix Bond. With magic on his side, Syrus can more easily turn advantages, which are potential successes while attacking, into successes. However, he must suffer fatigue. The Phoenix Bond ability allows Syrus to gather fatigue, to then deal greater damage to enemies. Syrus is great for those who want to solve problems with brilliance and overwhelming magical force.
Galden the Elf Huntsman,
Galaden has a long family history of service and suffering. He was a member of an elite band of rangers who hunted and defied the Uthuk far from elven territory. Unfortunately, Galaden’s company was ambushed and slaughtered, leaving Galaden the only survivor. Now haunted by nightmares and the grief of losing his companions, Galaden seeks vengeance against the Uthuk. Galaden is a member of the Evenarilam bloodline of the Verdelam, the ‘green-blooded’ Latari elves. Like most members of his family, he is deaf. He’s had practice honing his other senses and skills, along with reading lips from acting as a diplomat.
Between his Light Step ability and his rapid manipulation of cards, Galaden is swift both in movement and tactics. With survivalist and warrior tendencies, his Swear Vengeance ability allows him to expose enemies in the line of sight, forcing them to take extra damage from attacks. Galaden has weapons that reflect his playstyle as well: a ranged weapon in the Bloodwood Bow and Mirror Blades for quick attacks. Galaden is great for players who want elite skills, while staying distant to other heroes.
Chance, a Hyrrinx Rogue
Like many Hyrrinx, Chance was exiled from his community when they ran out of enough food to feed the entire group. Forced to survive on his own, he resorted to a life of crime at a young age, initially working for a street crew in Frostgate. His skill was quickly recognized by those above him, and he was moved to work directly under and for the Outlaw Prince. Chance was brought up to believe that only the good fortune granted him by his master, the Outlaw Prince, has kept him alive and successful this far in life.
As a little guy himself, Chance is always alert for an opportunity to score the telling blow, using stealth to bide his time until the moment is right to strike. These traits are in the forefront of his two abilities: Child of Darkness and On the Prowl. Chance thrives in hiding in the shadows and with his two weapons, the Thorntip Knives and Shadowclaw Gauntlet, he is sure to land some brutal combos. Chance is great for those who want to be a clever, deadly warrior for the common folk.
Kehli a Dwarf Arificer.
Kehli Deepfire has long had a simple ambition: become a great hero, as in the stories her father told her from her youth. Her ambition has been greatly aided by her obvious brilliance, which allowed her to achieve the status of “master” in both the Forge Smith’s Guild and the Dunwarr Alchemist’s League. For years she studied and practised her craft, secretly joining two competing guilds. Although she can synergize her skills in smithing and alchemy to do things no one else can, Kehli must carefully guard her secret of dual membership, lest she be cast out of both guilds.
With intelligence on her side, Kehli uses her two abilities, Adaptable and Clever Trap, to outsmart her adversaries. One guarantees she always has access to the best tools for the job, while the other allows her to, you guessed it, trap and slow her opponents. Being the master alchemist and blacksmith she is, Kehli is certain to have a horde of resources and tools in any given situation. This is true especially with her weapons, the True Aim Crossbow and Double-Headed Hammer. Kehli is great for those who know they are the best and don’t mind who knows it.
Each of our heroes has a story that you will discover as you play so I do not even want to mention them more than this, they are interesting and if you don’t think Syrus’s mini is not the coolest thing you have ever seen then you are wrong. Also, and I have no reasons for this but Galaden makes me think of a sulking teen whenever I see his image.
I have made or 3D printed plenty of scenery for my games in the past but there is something special about a map that has real stairs, doors, a huge dragon skeleton holding a cauldron that gives Descent: Legends of the Dark, some real table presence.
Between missions, you can head to the craft hall in your home city of Frosthaven to upgrade your gear or craft new weapon enhancements and you complete all these tasks from within the app.
Once you’ve found the recipe for an item and you have the ingredients to pay for it all weapons can be upgraded. Again I am not going to give too much away but from the website can find out about new Seer’s Blades for Galaden, or the Gilded Warbell for Vaerix and there is so much more to discover that you will never be able to have it all in a single playthrough. Take a look at the image below for some clues about items in-game and dribble at the thought of developing your character.
My eldest asked to play when I was partway through a mission. He saw me at the table during an early mission and there were trees, stairs and doors with some very cool enemies on the board. He said, and I quote “Oh that looks cool, can I play with you?”.
Of course, I shouted “No, it’s mine” and slammed the door but that was pretty high praise.
Not true I started the mission again and divvied up the party between us and since then he has played several more times. It is not easy to get him away from Fifa 22 at the moment so we have subsequently had a good few hours of fun together.
I find it hard to write about a game without spoilers and I do feel that the more I talk about Descent: Legends of the Dark the more I want to tell so I am going to finish my ramble with a summary I am sure you have seen coming for some time.
Descent: Legends of the Dark is, without reservation, the very best game I own. I cannot stop playing and I find new things to like about it every time I sit down and play. It is probably a bit light on strategy for a seasoned group but played alone it is the finest board game in existence today. The game mechanics, the quality of the components and the app all come together to make my skin fizz with joy when I am setting up. This is an expensive game and worth every penny.