Descent: Journeys in the Dark

From 1d4chan
Descent: Journeys In The Dark
Descent JITD boxart.jpg
Wargame published by
Fantasy Flight Games
Authors Kevin Wilson
First Publication 2005

Descent: Journeys in the Dark is a semi-cooperative game set in the Runebound universe. Core gameplay involves 2-4 players taking on the antagonistic roles of heroes, and one player becoming the Overlord, basically the DM, although in this game the Master is supposed to kill the heroes as efficiently as possible. The other 4 players get random heroes. with a wide assortment of skills and innate abilities, who will explore dungeons in search of treasure.

The heroes' goal is to cooperatively conquer the dungeon, seize its many treasures, and achieve other objectives as set by the scenario. If the heroes cooperate and achieve their goals, they will all win, typically by killing a boss monster at the end of the dungeon. The Overlord's objective is simply to use all the means at his or her disposal - from deadly traps and ferocious monsters - to kill the heroes. Each hero has a certain Conquest Point value to the party and if too many Conquest Points are lost through hero death, the party loses and the Overlord wins. Heroes get additional conquest points through exploration and as treasure, and can also lose points due to time constraints (limiting the number of turns the game can last).

Descent is FFG's answer to HeroQuest, so that makes it a dungeon crawl game. For good or ill, it's a slower, more complicated version, basically 4e without the illusion of being a RPG, assuming you think 4e is even an illusion of being a RPG. Anyway, Descent can be played in 3 hours or so once you get the hang of the rules, and the many different scenarios included in the game means 50 hours more play, minimum, before you re-use the maps; when one factors in the many random heroes, the game seldom comes even remotely close to playing the same way twice.

Although a fun game, setup and maps can take quite some time and space, a kitchen table that seats six is nearly mandatory for this game.

The French are going nuts over this boardgame, maybe because they haven't seen HeroQuest before, or Space Hulk, or Mutant Chronicles, or BrickQuest, or Doom: The Boardgame.

2nd Edition[edit]

Like so many other games, Descent got a 2nd Edition release in 2012. This new edition arguably fixed a lot of things, and while a new edition usually means starting over, FFG were kind enough to release a conversion kit so that older items could be reused. Moreover, the new edition came with a ton of high quality minis perfect for painting - GW eat your heart out. And, it just wouldn't be a Fantasy Flight product if it didn't also come with enough cardboard to make a woodsman blush. Finally, with the release of this new edition, the original release was discontinued.

2nd Edition in all its glory.


The core gameplay is largely unchanged from the 1st to the 2nd edition. You still have an asymmetric quest, or campaign, between 1-4 hero players versus the (not-GM) Overlord player. Although, a later released free app did take over the role of the Overlord to make the game completely cooperative.

Core gameplay for the hero players involves picking a premade character from a list of four different archetypes: Warriors (Fighters and Barbarians), Healers (Clerics and Druids), Mages (Wizards and Sorcerers), and Scouts (Rangers and Rogues). Once an overall archetype has been picked, the player must then pick a subclass which determines starting gear, starting power, and what abilites they can buy with XP. While the game does encourage a balanced party, nothing stops you from picking four warriors with intention of painting the dungeon red. The only exception to this rule is that all character must have a different subclass.

On the other hand, the Overlord starts with a deck of 15 action cards with different triggers and cast requirements. Monster groups are usually determined by the chosen scenario, although, they might occasionally be allowed to choose an additional monster group. For longer sessions, the Overlord will earn XP which they can use to augment their deck with more powerful cards. The base game has three Overlord paths: the Warlord (the green mtg player), the saboteur (the red mtg player), and magus (the blue mtg player). Later expansions brought in additional paths.

Campaigns are generally played over the course of 2 acts, with the latter having tougher monsters to reflect the heroes increased power.

Finally, the game suggest three different tiers of play:

  • Basic - Hero players only have their starting equipment and ability. The Overlord only has the 15 basic cards. Ironically, this is the least balanced tier as the Overlord has access to way more tricks than the players.
  • Advanced - Hero players start with 3 XP each and a pool of 150 gold to share. The Overlord starts with 4 XP to augment his deck.
  • Epic - The heroes start with 6 XP each and a pool of 250 gold to share. The Overlord starts with 8 XP to augment. Generally, this is suited for Act 2 scenarios.

Additional Releases[edit]

As with the 1st edition, the 2nd one also received additional content. These products are divided into three categories: Expansions, Hero & Monster Collections, and Lieutenant Packs.

Expansions are further subcategorised into big and small boxes. The former contains 4 new heroes, 4 new subclasses, new monsters, and a 2 act campaign. The latter usually only includes 2 new heroes, 2 subclasses, fewer monsters, and quests meant to be tacked on to existing campaign, or played separately.

Heroes & Monster Packs are smaller packages with 4 new heroes of varied archetype, a few new monsters, and maybe a couple new quests. A few are these are quite good, but most of them can be skipped.

The Lieutenant packs contain minis for boss monsters that are usually only relegated to a token. FFG has tried to sweeten the deal by including new cards to fit that characters theme, but these can all be skipped entirely.

A set of 'standard' dice for the 2nd edition.


In no particular order, here is a list of issues with the current edition:

  • Hero characters are not created equally, which means that the heroes with consistent abilities are far better than those with contextual ones.
  • Not all classes are equally balanced. For example, the Treasure Hunter's abilities specifically rely on getting treasure. However, the number of treasure scales with the number of heroes and can be hard to obtain with an aggressive Overlord.
  • The game uses a set of specially printed dice, so with 5 players sharing, it can be necessary to buy another set of these special dice to speed up the game.
  • Because later releases added additional dice and mechanics, it is almost mandatory to buy the expansions in the chronological order.
  • There are a lot of rules and it can be difficult to discern the difference between a flip and an exhaust for new players.
  • The Overlord has a lot of freedom in monster movement, sadly, this means that one of the most effective ways of playing is by rushing the heroes with every monster available and bottle-necking early on. Although, certain quests make this tactic less viable.
  • A lot of quests will have open groups in addition to arranged monsters, this means that the Overlord again has a lot of freedom, but it also means you have dry crypts with skeletons, zombies, and merriods (think giant bipedal sharks with tentacle mouths). A theming bonus for using X amount of monsters with similar traits could alleviate this.
Board Games
Classics: Backgammon - Chess - Go - Tafl - Tic-Tac-Toe
Ameritrash: Arkham Horror - Axis & Allies - Battleship - Betrayal at House on the Hill - Car Wars
Clue/Cluedo - Cosmic Encounter - Descent: Journeys in the Dark - Dungeon!
Firefly: The Game - HeroQuest - Monopoly - Mousetrap - Snakes and Ladders - Risk
Talisman - Trivial Pursuit
Eurogames: Agricola - Carcassonne - The Duke - Settlers of Catan - Small World - Stratego - Ticket to Ride
Pure Evil: Diplomacy - Dune (aka Rex: Final Days of an Empire) - Monopoly - The Duke
Others: Icehouse - Shadow Hunters - Twilight Imperium - Wingspan