February 18, 2015 by brennon
In my article about HeroQuest last week I said that I had found modern dungeon crawling board games to be a bit lacking. Descent: Journeys in the Dark 2nd Edition from Fantasy Flight Games was one such game and I still feel it’s very mechanical but I thought I had better give it another go and see if I could get past my original preconceptions with the game and look at it in a different way. So begins Grisban the Thirsty’s adventure!
The Tale Of A Drunk Dwarf
First off I should say that I’m not going to tell you how to play Descent or indeed review it. This is going to be a ‘battle report’ of sorts from my viewpoint as a player and my general experiences of the game. Now, with that out of the way a little bit about my character. I’m going to be playing as Grisban the Thirsty and I chose the Barbarian Class which gives me a Chipped Great Axe and a cool Rage power that allows me to boost his damage output.
Grisban as a character is incredibly tough with his fourteen wounds (noted by the heart on his character card below). He is, naturally, more suited to just wailing away on the enemy and getting hit in return, hopefully dragging a whole bunch of models into combat with him and leave others to do more important things.
Grisban does have his downsides and he is generally considered to be the worst character in Descent however. He has a very low Movement and his Awareness is terrible meaning he can get trapped and kited around by monsters if he’s not careful. He also has a low Fatigue statistic meaning that he has less to expend for free Movement and other abilities. It’s tough being a drunken Dwarf.
Despite all that I’m determined to make him work and have fun at the same time so it’s on with the adventure!
Quest I: First Blood!
The first encounter is more of a warm up than anything else and is a bit of a tutorial on how to play the game. The heroes are on their way to the city of Arhynn and come across a ruined cart that has been ransacked on the road. Around the corner a huge Ettin called Mauler dwells and it’s up to you to kill him before he and his Goblin minions can escape with their ill gotten gains.
Grisban followed by Tomble and Ashrian (played by my friends Tom and Shaun) surged forward and while the huge Ettin stumbled around the corner looking for someone to hit Grisban got to cleave apart two Goblins with his Great Axe. The Goblins fell in quick succession and Grisban then turned to face off against the Ettin himself who was more interested in the sprightly little Halfling.
Descent is a game all about movement and positioning as well as a bit of luck with your dice. You can’t just kill your way through most encounters even though this one does appear to be like that. The game get you thinking about where you need to be in the game and with the Overlord trying to run away with all of his creatures you’ll soon see how important chasing your enemies can be.
Mauler continued to swing round and Grisban’s battle against him raged onwards with neither able to land a significant finishing blow on the other. This had also given ample time for the Goblins to continue to escape, running through the combat and scampering off across the small body of water you can see in the image above. If the Overlord (played by my friend Alec) could get five of them off before we killed Mauler then he would be victorious.
One of Maulers other cool skills is he can toss you around the board as he sees fit. If you fail a check against him based on your Might then he lifts you up and throws you around like a rag doll. That turned out to be how both Ashrian and Tomble ended up on the wrong side of Mauler while they were trying to hunt down Goblins!
In the end Mauler was able to outwit us and ran away with his Goblin allies escaping into the small body of water and rushing off to commit some fouls acts elsewhere in the world. Grisban didn’t let the Goblins go so easily however by slicing another one of them down as it tried to escape past him.
With that escape the Overlord had won the Tutorial, an act which is pretty hard for him to do, and the heroes were left marching their way to Arhynn with a bitter taste in their mouth at letting Mauler escape.
This bought up the case concerning movement and positioning in the game. If you can get the heroes into bad positions and yourself into good ones then you as an Overlord can utterly dominate your opponents. Here’s where my complaint about the game being more mechanics than role-play/adventure comes in. I think this is probably a symptom of it being a Fantasy Flight Games. Mechanically strong at a seeming expense of character and feel, in this case anyway.
Regardless of that Grisban got to upgrade!
“…And My Axe!”
With that Quest completed Grisban arrived at Arhynn with all of his faculties and plenty of experience to spend. I chose to pick another ability that can be used with Fatigue points. The attack I mentioned earlier, Rage, also uses Fatigue points and allows me to add +1 damage to swings. This latest one, Counter Attack, triggers when I’m attacked by an adjacent enemy. When this happens I can choose to lash out and try and bring down my foe in retaliation.
I didn’t get a new weapon but Grisban’s deadly Chipped Great Axe would still be of use in the next Quest. I was pretty pleased with his performance during First Blood and I reckon that he’s going to be awesome once he gets a bit more experience under his belt and a better weapon.
So what did I think of Descent this time around? I still find it a bit of a mechanical grind but I think not taking it overly seriously from a birds eye view is probably a good step. The fact that the heroes are rewarded with the same experience regardless of a win or loss in the early quests mean that you can get a feel for the characters and learn to use them how you like. Playing someone as unloved as Grisban also allowed me some time to be a bit more silly with my voices and such around the tabletop. I do enjoy injecting a bit of character into proceedings.
I’m looking forward to the next Quest and I want to play my way through to the very end of the game so that I can experience it in its entirety. Hopefully I’ll then get a better handle on the game as a whole and be able to give you a more well rounded opinion.
Next time; Spiders in the mountains and deadly elementals!
What character do you play in Descent: Journeys in the Dark?
"looking for someone to hit Grisban got to cleave apart two Goblins with his Great Axe."
"If you can get the heroes into bad positions and yourself into good ones then you as an Overlord can utterly dominate your opponents."