After spending a week in Berlin (lovely city!) I got stuck back into gaming this past Saturday, getting to try out the new edition of Descent: Journeys in the Dark. Woo! While our group of gamers played the first edition a bit a few years ago we never really got that into it. While we enjoyed ourselves and generally had a good time, the game didn't engage us as much as we had hoped it would. Mostly I think the slow pace didn't fit us. Even when playing with Road to Legend and its shorter quest structure it would usually take an entire session just to get through one quest.
I won't go into the details of the rules as they're available for download anyway, but generally they've been revised and the game plays a lot smoother now. A lot of the small, nitty-gritty stuff has given way to ease of play. While some might be sad to hear this I think it's a great boon as it means the game will actually hit the table in my parts. You still have your basic stats and there are still power dice, monsters and Overlord cards but with the tighter ruleset (or looser, from a certain point of view).
a campaign called The Shadow Rune which is played in two acts with an interlude and a finale. You play three quests in each act and each quest consists of two encounters. Depending on which side won the quests in the first act different quests are available in the second. There's also a map showing the location of the quests with small travel icons where you have to draw special Travel Cards when you pass. While it is not as elaborate as the old Road to Legend expansion it's a lot more maneagable and the entire campaign shouldn't take more than 20 hours according to FFG. So lets have a look and see how our bold heroes fared...
I played with Anders, Micke and Claes - the same people who I played first edition with. They chose one character each, all from different archetypes. In this new edition there are four archetypes - Warrior, Scout, Mage and Healer - as well as two classes for each archetype. Anders picked the mage Widow Tarha and made her a Necromancer, Micke picked the scout Jain Fairwood and made her a Wildlander and Claes finally picked the healer Avric Albright and made him a Disciple. While this seemed like a good mix of characters (damage+damage+tank/healer) they didn't spend any time looking at their attributes which would come back and haunt them later.
While all the quest information in Descent is open to all the players and there are no secrets being kept by the Overlord I'm still going to warn readers about SPOILERS below.
Introduction Quest - First Blood
Unfortunately the Overlord goes last...
In this single encounter quest the heroes have to stop a gang of goblins from rushing into the tunnels beneath Arhynn by slaying their Ettin leader. I don't think we played for more than three or four turns before the Ettin had been killed! I had only managed to get two goblins of the map as Jain easily could pick them off at range while Tarha and Avbric finished off the Ettin. They managed to find some gold and a crossbow as well so generally a good quest for the heroes!
Naturally this is slanted in the heroes favour to give them a sporting chance to learn the system against the Overlord who most likely already does. It's a good scenario that introduces the race theme that is quite common in the second edition quests. Basically what you need to focus on are the objectives, the monsters are simply speed bumps. The Overlord also learns the importance of blocking the path and playing tactically but with an overall strategy in mind.
After the quest you play a Campaign Step where the heroes and Overlord get xp to buy abilities and you can spend gold for new stuff. Avric bought a sword and the other two bought a new ability each. I as the Overlord bought a new card allowing me to heal monsters.
First Quest - The Masquerade Ball
After some deliberating the heroes decided on The Masquerade Ball as their next quest. After an uneventful journey they discovered that a vampire and her evil minions had barged in on the ball and they had to escort all the guests out (well, particularly the lord but they didn't know what he looked like so... everyone) while the vampire wanted to do the same basically. The guests were represented by objective markers that the heroes could spend an action to unmask and then start escorting back to the entrance. The twist was that half of the guests were cultists that would stab the hero in the back!
This encounter only lasted for two turns I think as some lucky guest/cultist placement and some bad dice rolling from the heroes side allowed me to run off with all three guests. I think this encounter is fairly difficult for the heroes but it also depends a lot on where the real guests end up and the mobility of the party. They almost managed to block the exit where I needed to go, and had they succeeded it could have gone differently.
The second encounter in the quest took place in the catacombs beneath the castle where the heroes had to chase the vampire through a series of magically locked doors. To get through the doors you had to roll against either your Knowledge to simply teleport to the other side or your Awareness or Might to simply pick the lock or break the door down. If the heroes had won the first encounter the Vampire would be in the same boat, but since she had the kidnapped lord with her she could automatically teleport through. The heroes were in for a race!
At first they thought it seemed impossible from the get-go and Micke in particular talked about simply grabbing the loot and not even try to catch the vampire. However, nothing's ever impossible so they powered through! In the first little corridor were a bunch of cave spiders. They are small and not very powerful, but they can poison their victims. When poisoned you have to roll against your Might to get rid of it and since all of the heroes only had a score of 2 this proved a difficult task and the poison from the spiders would linger long after they were all squashed themselves!
The vampire made her way through the doors and the heroes slowly followed. With low Might scores they didn't have much chance of breaking the doors. Their Knowledge scores were a little bit better but only allows for the hero rolling to teleport through. The best option seemed to be to have Jain pick the lock with her Awareness of 4 so that's what they did. Some Barghest in the second room slowed them down but after that they rolled well on the next couple of doors and it looked like they perhaps could catch up with the vampire! Unfortunately they ran straight into a Shadow Dragon. Tarha managed to sneak past him and towards the last door before the dragon blocked the corridor for the other heroes.
And a dragon! Raawr!
I quite like this entire quest and although the second encounter looked like a walk-over for the Overlord it was actually tense all the way to the last turn! The heroes bought some more abilities and Avric got himself some chainmail. I bought another card.
Second Quest - Death on the Wing
We forgot that the winner is supposed to choose the next quest so the heroes went for Death on the Wing as their next target. They have to go to a nearby mine to see why the ore shipments are slow. This time there were some events during travel which netted me an extra Overlord card an put some fatigue on the heroes.
The Merriod simply provided speed bumparage. I would have liked a second one...
In the first encounter the heroes have to race through a tight ravine before it's being filled by boulders pushed down by the Overlord's minions. Just like the last encounter this looked really difficult and Micke almost lost hope! They first ran into a Merriod which I had been eager to try out. Basically it's some kind of fish-troll with long reach and the ability to immobilise its targets. There were also some cave spiders (poison!) in the ravine.
The heroes played well and quickly made their way past the Merriod and towards the ravine. The spiders poisoned the heroes but were then dispatched quickly. I had managed to block the ravine with two boulders but Anders rolled lucky against his Might and managed to smash one of them. This really put a spanner in the works for me and before I could do much they had all managed to run out the exit. Well, they deserved a win I suppose. Besides it's the second encounter that counts. :)
The Elemental guards the bridge while the Barghest are ready to rush in on the guards.
In the second encounter the heroes come upon the mining guard tower and have to kill the dragon hybrid lieutenant before he and his minions kill the remaining four guards. I had actually read about this quest on the forum and that it was hard for the Overlord. I brought some Barghest to kill the guards and an Elemental to deal with the heroes. The guards are pretty tough cookies though and after they had dispatched two of my three Barghest I realized that I would have to concentrate all my efforts on killing the guards to succeed.
Belthir the dragon hybrid and the Elemental both raced back towards the guard tower and together they managed to dispatch the guards before the heroes could kill Belthir. Contrary to what it said on the forums I think this encounter might be easier for the Overlord - as long as you keep your objectives in sight!
We decided to pack it in after this quest, but there's only one more to go until the Interlude and act II! :D
We all had a good time with the game and were all surprised that the managed to get through three quests (five encounters) in about as many hours, including setup rules explanation and pizza break. I don't think any of us ever felt bogged down or that things moved slowly, instead it was pretty much non-stop action from the start. I much prefer the smaller encounter format and having two making up a quest allows for some nice narrative twists and pros/cons depending on who won. Not to mention a change of scenery.
I'm eager to play again and I'm really looking forward to seeing what kind of expansions FFG will put out for this new Descent. Having smaller card/tile based expansions with a quest in it as well as larger boxed expansions with more monsters is the way to go I think. We'll see.
Anyway, that's my first impressions and first session of Descent 2nd Ed. Just let me know in the comments if you have any questions! :)