Many years ago I saved a few bucks and scraped the bottom of change cups whenever a friend gave me a ride, all to purchase a coffin sized box covered in bright fantasy artwork and filled with heaps of fantasy dungeon creation goodness. Because the price tag at that time was a smooth $100, I did wait until a year-end blow out sale at a local store (sure, I could have bought online, but friendly local game stores are too important and enjoyable to visit).
The game I finally purchased was Descent 1st edition, a pure dungeon crawl adventure game in the style of Dungeons & Dragons, with one person playing the evil overlord opposed by the other players acting as heros. I was so thrilled, and a bit overwhelmed, when I brought the box home and tore into it. It had so many tiles, chits, and handfuls of plastic miniatures that as I sorted the pieces I knew the game just had to be awesome, and I quickly got a group together to play it, including my wife.
Well, I, and everyone present, despised the game after the first playthrough, and 2 more attempts did not improve my feelings towards it. I really wanted to like it, but after 30+ minutes of setting up a game, then 3 hours of arduous fiddly play, the fantasy dungeon crawl experience just got lost for me amongst all the bits, line-of-sight calculations, and endless number of special items that you barely remembered you had.
Flash forward to this past weekend, where I had the chance to preview the 2nd edition of Descent: Journeys in the Dark at Cloud Cap Games (thank you Fantasy Flight for the opportunity). The first change I noticed with the 2nd edition was the box size, about half of the original, very nice. Once I opened the box, I was sooooo pleased to find only about half of the fiddly bits from the original, and more efficient and beautifully illustrated map tiles. Sure, there are fewer plastic minis, but they are still just as cool. The other fantastic item you receive in the new edition that cost an extra $60 to get for the original is a campaign guide, with rules and quests for creating a continuing story where both the heros and the overlord become more powerful and specialized.
I’ve played the 2nd edition numerous times now and I really enjoy it as the game I wanted when I first brought that coffin box home many years ago. Overall, the game is just more streamlined, all the fiddly parts take far less time than they used to, and the focus is now on playing. Every single encounter I’ve played has taken about an hour, and that includes set-up time and rules explanation for new players. Though the games play quick, they are incredibly engrossing, every move and roll of the dice is important for both the heros and the overlord, and all of your items and special abilities come into play. The individual quests are well made, and every one feels unique. Last night we played a quest where the overlord was trying to roll boulders into a canyon to stop the adventurers from reaching a bridge, so fighting the monsters was not the only concern the heros had. Even the decision to grab loot before fleeing the canyon was a difficult one, and had to be timed correctly.
Descent 2nd edition is simply awesome if you are looking for a dungeon crawl experience. The campaign rules and quest book will provide, reportedly, 20 hours for a single campaign. Adding new skills and items in between quests is very controlled so that each choice matters, and your character near the end of the campaign will perform very differently than they did at the beginning. Playing as the overlord is extremely challenging, so a single play through the campaign will not suffice for those who want to try and master each scenario.
The game won’t officially hit the shelves for at least another few weeks, but the preview demo copy is in the shop for any who want to try it out, and of course we are taking pre-orders. If you give it a try, I highly recommend running through the introductory quest, then leveling up and playing another quest to get the full experience. Hats off to you Fantasy Flight for a fantastic revision, and for bringing out my inner giggly geek dungeon-loving boy!