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The Ascent of Descent - Review

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MB Updated September 27, 2021
 
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The Ascent of Descent - Review
There Will Be Games

Mythbusting the year's best game.

Here’s my review of Descent: Legends of the Dark. It is the best and most important game released by a major publisher in 2021, and it is the new standard by which I will judge all future dungeon crawl or RPG style board games. It is a tremendous success – for the first time ever, a board game actually feels like a D&D session. The mechanisms, particularly the way it handles strategic fatigue management, are engaging and the narratives it creates are always delightful, specific, and creative offering so much more in terms of story and character than what previous board games in this design space have managed to muster, even when leveraging mountains of junk components and cruft scenarios. It is a lighter but better game than Gloomhaven, yet it still provides an epic campaign with lots of surprises and unexpected turns. The app is brilliant to the point where I don’t think I ever want to play a game like this with a card-based AI or whatever again. Five stars, all the way.

Descent

Alright, so that’s all I’m going to give in terms of my review, don’t wait around for the rules summary.  I’d rather take a different approach for the remainder of my time here. When it was first announced, the internet dogpiling started. When the art was revealed and the app, there was wailing and gnashing of teeth. FFG released a not-so-great live play that caused middle aged white men to take to YouTube, pensively lamenting that this could be the death of the Descent brand. Moronic “fans” posted idiotic messages to forums – please read this in the whiniest, most entitled manchild voice you can - “why don’t they just reprint 2nd edition” or “we can only hope that this game fails so they will do a REAL 3rd edition”. Then there were the smug jackasses tapping out “HARD PASS” on their iPhones and tablets due to the fact that it’s an app-based game. And then the coded ire toward the diverse, inclusive character artwork started to creep in to the discussion, as did some folks who couldn't handle the psychic shock of seeing the name of a female lead designer on the box.

This storm of negativity culminated in a couple of high profile reviewers posting middling reviews that, to my mind, showed these people to be behind the times, resistant to change, and quite honestly not very experienced with actually playing the game. I suspect that at least one name reviewer just tapped through the scenarios in the app without actually playing them. Which is kind of a common theme among the negative comments, including all the pre-release BGG ratings of 1- most of the folks who don’t like this game simply haven’t played it.  All these “myths” have emerged about the game, so I’m going to dismantle them.

Myth #1 – “It’s a video game, not an app!”- Absolute bullshit. The app, which is an evolution of what we’ve already seen FFG do with Mansions of Madness and Journeys in Middle Earth, is not “75% of the game” as some armchair analysts out there have suggested and in fact I’ve found that offloading the really boring administrative stuff like triaging enemy activations and remembering special abilities (neither of which are gameplay, by the way) to the app has made the on-the-table play more engaging, exciting, and fun. You are still doing exactly the same kinds of things and making the same kinds of decisions you would do in Descent 2nd edition, but you aren’t bogged down with admin work. The app also enables a much more robust type of scenario development, with surprise turns of events and a much stronger sense of exploration than we’ve seen in past games in this genre. Further, it also makes all the “downtime” activities like on-trend crafting and between session item management easy and self- contained. But it never once feels like playing an “app game” like some of the more asinine detractors have suggested. And don’t get me started on the Luddites who are terrified that they won’t be able to play this game in 20 years if the app disappears.

Myth #2 – “There’s too much reading” – Absolute bullshit. This was one of the weirder review comments I’ve seen, and not just because the man delivering it was dressed like Fozzie Bear. There is no more reading in the app than there is in a typical FFG or any game with a scenario book or cards. The difference is that the reading is on the screen. Now, this does roll up into a criticism I have with the game, and that is that I wish that all of the narrative text were spoken in the app.  As it stands, someone has to read it aloud to the table which seems like a missed opportunity to further use the app to increase immersion. But unless you are the kind of fun-murdering stick-in-the-mud that doesn’t read out the story text on Arkham Horror cards or whatever and just silently rolls the dice for the outcome, it’s really just a change in where you are reading the text.

Myth #3 – “The writing is bad” – Absolute bullshit.  Another bizarre comment, seemingly grasping for something to be negative about. Let’s be blunt. There has not been a board game to date that had “great” writing to begin with. The writing in this game, although still not great, is in the top tier of what board games offer. The characters are surprisingly well-developed, interesting, diverse, and there is a sense of guiding their development through simple moral choices throughout the campaign. But where the writing starts to push into “great” territory is in the actual scenario design. These are the best scenarios ever written for an adventure board game full stop. In my plays, I was continually surprised at where the story was going and a few times my jaw dropped at a revelation or an unexpected event. I don’t want to spoil any of it. But here’s a teaser. There is a scenario where a door has to be unlocked in a dream. One character has to sleep to perform this task, and while they are asleep they sleepwalk and the rest of the party has to protect them. They have a separate map in the dream and have to overcome some challenges there. I’ve never seen anything as layered and dynamic in a board game before.

Myth #4- “The art is bad.” – Absolute bullshit. Look, there’s no accounting for taste, et cetera, but there isn’t anything “bad” about the illustrations in this game. They are fresh, modern, exciting, and most importantly idiosyncratic. With this game, FFG is finally breaking out of the gauche post- anime, post-World of Warcraft house visual style that was already getting dated when they adopted it years ago. The characters look intriguing and unique with a more stylized, sophisticated take on fantasy tropes than pretty much anything else out there right now in the board game field. The unique look, along with the good writing mentioned above, also has another unexpected effect: this is the first game that FFG has ever made where I felt like Terrinoth was a viable, compelling setting.

Myth #5 – “Why did they even call it Descent, this is not Descent.”- Absolute bullshit.Truth be told, this game feels more like Descent than any previous edition of the game has because it feels like how I always wanted Descent to feelLet me qualify that however. If you wanted Descent to be a grindy, crunchy tactical miniatures game with a faux DM managing spawns and fussing around with threat tokens and players hunkering over a spread of cards trying to work out how to spend surges and block yet another spawn by moving into LOS – then maybe this won’t feel like Descent to you. But if you always wanted Descent to be the platonic idea of an RPG-style dungeon crawl presented in a board game format, here it is. 

Myth #6 – “It’s too expensive.” Absolute bullshit in my opinion, but YMMV. I’m not about to sit here and tell you that $175 isn’t too expensive. It absolutely is, and to put it bluntly I would not have bought this game if I didn’t a) make a fairly lucrative sale of another game and b) recoup $100 of the cost by selling the preorder bonuses. The reality of it is that this game is about on par with other titles with similar gameplay and component density, and with a street price closer to $140 it’s not that much more than Gloomhaven. But I think there’s more value here than meets the eye- or that has been suggested by those who think there’s somehow “not enough” in the box.  The miniatures are very close to GW quality, and the cardboard terrain is plentiful and well-engineered, as is the unique box to store all of this. There’s also the app development that somebody’s got to pay for, and that is inevitably a part of the cost here. I’m not going to defend a game’s MSRP here, but the lack of perspective about the cost is a pretty hilarious given how much many folks spend on lesser games annually- often sight unseen and with delivery dates a year later.  This is a thoughtful, well-considered product all told, and I’ve seen Kickstarters selling for twice this that looked worse and had poorer quality components. As usual, the cost issue is a personal consideration, but I would advise considering it in context rather than just with pearl-clutching sticker shock.

Myth #7 – “It’s really a solo game.” Partial bullshit. It’s just fine with a group, but I would warn that there are elements in the downtime for example where one player is engaging with the game via the app and others are not. The group decisions and strategizing are just as fun as they are in any other game like this, and coordinating actions, skills, potions, abilities, and so forth is fun. It’s definitely a co-op design. Now, with all of that said, I’ve chosen deliberately to play most of my sessions solo. I’ve had good fun with two others going through the game, but it has been best as a solo game. Without worrying about other’s entertainment, I can take my time with it and really get stuck in. I can read the text to myself and do the in-between quest activities on my own. It’s pretty easy to manage four characters, but you can also drop down to just one if you really want.  I would go so far as to say that it is by far the best way on the market for a solo player to play an RPG-style game.

The bottom line here is that this is a game you’ve really got to try for yourself to see where your opinion on the game lies rather than listening to these negative comments, most of which were set before the game was ever in anyone’s hands. I’m certainly not suggesting that all criticisms of it are invalid and there are some things I’d take it to task for myself. For example, I think the game stops short of being a truly groundbreaking, paradigm-shifting event possibly by remaining too beholden to past examples of this type of game. I also think there are some balance issues with the difficulty, and I’ve seen a couple of scenarios where I felt like the enemy spawns were spammy and annoying, adding nothing to the story or the actual challenge. And it can feel a little repetitive – granted, I completely slammed through six quests in the span of as many days before I decided to slow it down and allow the game to live on my shelf to be brought down for a play a week or so. There is a degree of novelty throughout the design that can easily be worn away, which may mean that replay value of these specific scenarios will be limited. There are also some issues with the app - some things that just aren’t transparent or presented in a logical way and there have been a couple of technical hiccoughs reported, although I haven’t encountered any yet.

But even with some minor demerits, this game has blown me away and that’s quite unexpected given that I wasn’t really planning on getting it until I saw how divisive and disruptive it was turning out to be- I wanted to get in here and cover it just in case it turned out to be something special, and it is. It’s also ironic because I was kicked off the FFG press list over ten years ago specifically at the request of the company president because I wrote a negative article called “The Descent of Descent”. I played 2nd edition, I thought it was OK, but I wasn’t prepared to be so won over by this iteration. Let alone that I’ve spent the last couple of years berating FFG for a complete lack of vision or sense of relevancy as they bury themselves under a mountain of HP Lovecraft shit and miscellaneous license obligations. But here we are - Descent has ascended.


Editor reviews

1 reviews

Rating 
 
5.0
The best game of 2021- innovative, forward thinking, and divisive.
MB
Top 10 Reviewer 137 reviews
Michael Barnes (He/Him)
Senior Board Game Reviews Editor

Sometime in the early 1980s, MichaelBarnes’ parents thought it would be a good idea to buy him a board game to keep him busy with some friends during one of those high-pressure, “free” timeshare vacations. It turned out to be a terrible idea, because the game was TSR’s Dungeon! - and the rest, as they say, is history. Michael has been involved with writing professionally about games since 2002, when he busked for store credit writing for Boulder Games’ newsletter. He has written for a number of international hobby gaming periodicals and popular Web sites. From 2004-2008, he was the co-owner of Atlanta Game Factory, a brick-and-mortar retail store. He is currently the co-founder of FortressAT.com and Nohighscores.com as well as the Editor-in-Chief of Miniature Market’s Review Corner feature. He is married with two childen and when he’s not playing some kind of game he enjoys stockpiling trivial information about music, comics and film.

Articles by Michael

Michael Barnes
Senior Board Game Reviews Editor

Articles by Michael

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sornars's Avatar
sornars replied the topic: #326102 30 Aug 2021 11:51
Thanks for the great review, I think a mythbusters approach makes sense for a title like this with so much noise surrounding its launch. I'm very curious to hear if you have any expanded thoughts re: difficulty beyond the one line on it being of concern. In the other thread you mentioned that you felt that there was tension when playing on Heroic. Did the difficulty spike or did it crater from that point onwards?
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #326103 30 Aug 2021 12:00
I don't like to drone on about MSRP to be honest, I don't know what money means to people and I spend a lot of money on shit I think is totally worth it (eyeballs Arkham LCG). But my lament is that it sounds like something that would be right at home on like a target shelf if it wasn't for the foreboding MSRP. It would reach an audience primed for app usage. Heroquest for the actual young instead of the increasingly dominant olds like myself.

I still remain convinced that anyone who does an app driven game needs to program in support for multiple players on their own phones for management and reading. I know it's a heavy programming lift that multiplies app complexity but I think it's almost mandatory for a big product. Doing this all gathered around an app thing triggers all of my feelings about solo suitability you mention. Ideally, people can do their own management (I think mental ownership of items and characters is Good in these sorts of games) and reading along if they care to while the app narrates. I will say that doing the campaign with *all* of the characters ducking in and out mitigates some of the inventory management ownership issues and makes the single screen make more sense.
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #326105 30 Aug 2021 13:05
So the obvious question, although I don't know if anyone has an answer yet -- expansions?

Because let's be honest, with an app holding much if not all of the narrative aspects the delivery of additional material to work with the existing physical set would be awfully easy, and could be attractively priced. The hybrid approach opens a lot of additional avenues and this is a big one.
Jackwraith's Avatar
Jackwraith replied the topic: #326106 30 Aug 2021 13:47

Gary Sax wrote: I still remain convinced that anyone who does an app driven game needs to program in support for multiple players on their own phones for management and reading.


Excellent point. This was the thing that really makes Alchemists work. Everyone has the app on their phone and puts in the code for the game that you're all playing that day. That way, there's no need to pass one phone around or have everyone trying to gather around one six-inch screen. Everyone just uses their own device and plays the same game. I think that would be a huge step forward for games like this.
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #326110 30 Aug 2021 17:22
Yeah, you know, that is a really big shortcoming here that I didn’t think about as a shortcoming because I’ve played 75% solo- it would be GREAT to have everyone using their own device because passing around my phone really sucks. However, I think there are limitations there in that doing so would require synchronizing over a server, which could lead to that nightmare doomsday scenario that this game will not be playable in 2036. There’s also likely quite a bit more development required that may make it untenable at this stage.

Sornars, the difficulty thing is actually kind of more of a big deal than I made it out to be, in retrospect. The problem is that the difficulty is kind of like the worst difficulty design in video games today…in that the games aren’t actually harder, they just throw more enemies with more hit points at you. The higher difficulty levels kind of get annoying because they feel spammier and the enemies take a lot more damage…which results in combat feeling more Grundy and repetitive. The challenge does come through in managing your abilities and maximizing opportunities, but the enemies aren’t actually using a different AI routine or something like that. This can also lead to tension giving ground to frustration and annoyance rather than actual difficulty. It is satisfying to get better gear and skills and bring those to bear on the tougher enemies so that is another angle in play here. I would say that -most- of the time the development/progress curve feels just right and their is a good balance of resistance. But after a few quests you can feel it sort of either becoming too easy or too much into that “bullet sponge” kind of difficulty.

But you know what, maybe I’m more ELITE or whatever, but I’m sort of finding that I prefer the normal difficulty and erring on the side of “too easy” . I don’t really like being beat the hell down in these kinds of games. Now with that said, I appreciate -tremendously- that this is very much a fail forward format. I -do not- enjoy
aimlessly replaying failed scenarios. I like that if you blow one here you roll on and that fail becomes part of the narrative. I’ve failed a couple and still felt like the story was progressing and providing good consequences.
southernman's Avatar
southernman replied the topic: #326111 30 Aug 2021 17:27
Thanks for the excellent review Michael.
I was impressed with what I first read/heard about it but because I've got far too many big games arriving in the next year plus not being compatible with Descent 2e (I have a lot of it plus we want to go through campaigns in it again - we like 2e) I knew I most likely would not be getting it ... well not at least for a couple of years.

All in all I like what you have written and am really glad you have appreciated this slight direction shift in boardgames, obviously not completely new but a definite evolution - but my comments on your comments are:
Myth #1 - yep, with you with all of it. But I'm not one for people saying things like "And don’t get me started on the Luddites who are terrified ...", that is putting you above other people and calling their opinions worthless.
Myth #2 - yep, and yep all the cool new games with apps are having narration, someone for them to work on.
Myth #3 - great to hear this. Do have to say that the scenario you described at the end is similar to one in Sword & Sorcery where the party are fighting on a separate map while in a dream, and then there's Etherfields ... ;-)
Myth #4 - totally subjective so not really a myth, I don't like some of the art I have seen, it may be fresh & new but that doesn't mean good - just different.
Myth #5 - well I reckon they said that purely to distance themselves from the very successful preceding editions so they couldn't be judged (easily) against it - a new slate and all that. But also subjective because, as you said, 2e may not be your idea of Descent but it is many others.
Myth #6 - sorry, while I buy expensive kickstarters this is a fact. Judging a retail/standard release game against the niche and exclusive kickstarter market isn't correct, it is expensive against Descent 2e and all other games that come out from FFG and other mainstream game companies.
Myth #7 - great points.

Again, it's great to hear you were blown away from it - that does actually mean something to good companies.
mtagge's Avatar
mtagge replied the topic: #326113 30 Aug 2021 18:59
"But unless you are the kind of fun-murdering stick-in-the-mud that doesn’t read out the story text on Arkham Horror cards or whatever and just silently rolls the dice for the outcome, it’s really just a change in where you are reading the text."

Best "house rule" we have for Arkham Horror is that the person to your left reads your card aloud, but they don't read the possible outcomes. I am sure there are ways to punch up the narrative factor for a game like this. Since I end up reading all the text whenever we play one of these I do really terrible voices of what I'd think a goblin/dark wizard/twilik/imperial/whatever would sound like.
Jackwraith's Avatar
Jackwraith replied the topic: #326114 30 Aug 2021 19:04

Michael Barnes wrote: I -do not- enjoy aimlessly replaying failed scenarios. I like that if you blow one here you roll on and that fail becomes part of the narrative. I’ve failed a couple and still felt like the story was progressing and providing good consequences.


Yeah, that's a real positive. I thought that was one of the better aspects to the attempt to make campaigns for earlier versions' of Descent? I vaguely recall both Road to Legend and 2nd Edition having simply more advantages for the Overlord if the heroes fumbled a mission. But it's been a while, so I may be misremembering.
hotseatgames's Avatar
hotseatgames replied the topic: #326115 30 Aug 2021 20:48
Arena: The Contest wanted me to replay a mission I failed. I just said nahhhh and kept moving to the next one, granting myself none of the XP that would have been earned.
southernman's Avatar
southernman replied the topic: #326121 31 Aug 2021 08:15

Jackwraith wrote:

Michael Barnes wrote: I -do not- enjoy aimlessly replaying failed scenarios. I like that if you blow one here you roll on and that fail becomes part of the narrative. I’ve failed a couple and still felt like the story was progressing and providing good consequences.


Yeah, that's a real positive. I thought that was one of the better aspects to the attempt to make campaigns for earlier versions' of Descent? I vaguely recall both Road to Legend and 2nd Edition having simply more advantages for the Overlord if the heroes fumbled a mission. But it's been a while, so I may be misremembering.

Yep, you recall correctly - in 2e the OL gets rewards if they win plus the side that won the most quests gets to choose the interlude and finale quests. And pretty sure the 2e app gives you different items in the market depending on how well you have done (well you have a Fame rating and we seem to get better stuff when our fame went up).
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #326122 31 Aug 2021 08:42

Jackwraith wrote:

Gary Sax wrote: I still remain convinced that anyone who does an app driven game needs to program in support for multiple players on their own phones for management and reading.


Excellent point. This was the thing that really makes Alchemists work. Everyone has the app on their phone and puts in the code for the game that you're all playing that day. That way, there's no need to pass one phone around or have everyone trying to gather around one six-inch screen. Everyone just uses their own device and plays the same game. I think that would be a huge step forward for games like this.


That would be ideal for remote play, but requires a central server (which brings advantages as well as disadvantages by the way. Having people stop by "the store" each time they play opens a lot of opportunities.) Were I FFG I would have done this, even if it's not in their (current) core business model.

But I'll tell you what, "screen sharing" would be super-easy for co-located gamers. iPad and Android provide it for use to a television or the like so everyone can see. But even if you wanted it across phones and OSs on the same LAN it's not difficult coding. Make a fuss about this at FFG and you might just get it in an updated version. If it was me, I'd open up an API for local connections, then let gamers code the rest of it for me. Likely done in a week.
charlest's Avatar
charlest replied the topic: #326124 31 Aug 2021 09:57
I heard of someone sharing their screen on Zoom and the other players connecting to the Zoom call so they could see it.
dragonstout's Avatar
dragonstout replied the topic: #326133 31 Aug 2021 14:50
I can't agree with Barnes on the "there's no more reading aloud than in a typical FFG game". While there might be same total number of minutes spent reading as in, say, Arkham Horror 2E, in that game, the reading is divided up into small chunks throughout the game. In Descent, every game I've played so far has literally 15 minutes of reading before the game and 15 minutes afterward. That is WAY too much reading *in a row*. I can imagine it being fine solo, but when I'm reading it all out loud to the group, it's exhausting, especially when it's often pretty boring and we either *just want to start playing the game* at the beginning or *just want to go home and sleep* at the end. That's my biggest problem with the game so far.

Also, I don't know that "the characters have distinctive personalities" is necessarily a good thing in a board game? Like, of course the old Descent characters had less personality; they were never given any beyond the image. But then you could project whatever you wanted onto them, which I think works great for a board game. For the Arkham Horror Card Game, where they have much more personality, it's still less than the new Descent, and it still lets you do plenty of projection onto them, in part because you don't hear any of their actual dialogue. But in Descent, so far I've found that Kehli is annoying, Vaeryx is haughty and smug, and the elf guy is aloof and antisocial, and for those first two especially, their personality has turned me *off* of playing them.

OK, one last complaint: getting stuff from treasure chests and bookshelves and etc. feels extremely underwhelming, because the items (outside of the consumables) are all things that not only can you not use right now, but you can't even easily what you WILL eventually be able to use it for or what it does. I can't get excited when it says "you get 1 Vigos and 13 Curios", or even "you get a recipe for Steel-Tipped Darts" or whatever; it means nothing. So even though it's clear that scavenging for all this stuff is important in the long run, no one's excited about doing so. The crafting also just does not work with multiple players at all, as it requires analyzing what you can build and what you can't, what overlaps, etc., which requires every player carefully going through all the options in the app. It's way too detailed to work with multiple players at a table.

We're sticking with it for now, but I could very much imagine ditching it after the fourth scenario.
jason10mm's Avatar
jason10mm replied the topic: #326141 31 Aug 2021 17:26
My FLGS has this game and good grief, you could use that box to shore up half of Louisiana right now! It isn't quite a coffin game but wow is it dense!
ChristopherMD's Avatar
ChristopherMD replied the topic: #326144 31 Aug 2021 21:14

dragonstout wrote: While there might be same total number of minutes spent reading as in, say, Arkham Horror 2E, in that game, the reading is divided up into small chunks throughout the game.


Pet Peeve: People who read the entire card instead of just the area they're in. The game is long enough already.
Cranberries's Avatar
Cranberries replied the topic: #326160 01 Sep 2021 14:27
I really like the art! I really want all boardgames to look like Mike Mignola or Frank Miller produced them, so my tastes are a little narrow. Root also looks great.





So what's the better game, Descent^3, or Sleeping Gods?
Cranberries's Avatar
Cranberries replied the topic: #326264 05 Sep 2021 16:55
From Rock/Paper/ScissorsShotgun:

"From the moment this game was revealed, people have been moaning about how “weird and gangly” the characters look. “Look at the size of her stupid helmet!” they've been bellowing, crumbs of Oreo spraying all over their divorce papers. “Is that dwarf a black woman?”, they've gasped, leaning on their pile of unopened Kickstarter pledges for support as their spindly legs wobble on the precipice of self-realisation."
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #326269 05 Sep 2021 18:26
www.rockpapershotgun.com/cardboard-child...-legends-of-the-dark

^from Rab Florence of early boardgame internet video fame
Dr. Mabuse's Avatar
Dr. Mabuse replied the topic: #326276 05 Sep 2021 21:16

CranBerries wrote: I really like the art! I really want all boardgames to look like Mike Mignola or Frank Miller produced them, so my tastes are a little narrow. Root also looks great.





So what's the better game, Descent^3, or Sleeping Gods?

I love the illustrations and character choices!!!
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #326283 06 Sep 2021 11:09
playerelimination.com/2021/09/06/descent...tter_impression=true

Another excellent review. Getting some strong triangulation from multiple reviewers about good and bad aspects.
hotseatgames's Avatar
hotseatgames replied the topic: #326287 06 Sep 2021 12:52
I'm surprised Charlie's review didn't drill into the app issues he experienced.
charlest's Avatar
charlest replied the topic: #326288 06 Sep 2021 13:27

hotseatgames wrote: I'm surprised Charlie's review didn't drill into the app issues he experienced.


I carefully considered this. My hope is that it doesn't appear I hid or buried those by not addressing them.

The problem with Fire devices was corrected a day after I posted here, although I moved to PC at that point. I had zero problems on PC.

Since those issues were corrected, I struggled with whether it was worth mentioning at the cost of another paragraph. I feel like my review is already too long for the average reader so I had to carefully consider what to address and what not to. I assume, possibly incorrectly, app issues won't exist for the most part going forward. So raising that as an issue or criticism is fleeting.

I think a significant takeaway is that despite being overcome with strong frustration, the game ended up blowing me away.
Jackwraith's Avatar
Jackwraith replied the topic: #326903 30 Sep 2021 23:14


So, in the above review, SU&SD basically ended up savaging this game. Quinns gushed about a lot of the things that other people have also gushed about (the beauty of the minis and terrain, the heroes are interesting, the story is at least somewhat compelling, etc.) But the fatal flaw that he found was that there really isn't much game to the game. The variety in combat and gear and feats is interesting, but what it boils down to is doing as much damage as possible and killing things as fast as possible in order to get to the next room to do the same thing. Now, many people will say that, at its most basic level, that's pretty much what a dungeon crawler is. And they'd be right, so if it works for you that, as he says, the most important thing is just to be able to walk up and attack twice, regardless of how you attack, fine. It works for you.

But what bugged me is what he showed in the context of that description, in that the game, such as it is, is ALL ON THE SCREEN. You can build that nice terrain and move those beautiful figures, but you don't really have to do any of it because all of the important actions are happening on the screen. That's what I said was the fatal flaw for me in another thread without ever having played it. I spend all day staring at screens. I'm doing it while writing this. When I'm playing a board game, I want to be looking at the board and the people I'm playing with. I don't mind having an app-assisted game. As I've noted before, I really liked Alchemists, which is app-assisted. But the game in Alchemists is still on the board and that doesn't seem to be the case with Descent (or at least not as much as I prefer it to be.)

SU&SD are neither infallible nor totally in line with my tastes. I watch their reviews because I think they're insightful and I find Quinns to be hilarious, but I don't always agree with them and have found them to be hypercritical about games that I really enjoy, like Root. I just found this one to be especially interesting because it dovetails nicely with both the concerns I had about things I was aware of and things that I wasn't. Of course, the post right above mine in this thread is Charlie's, whose opinion I also seriously respect, saying that he was blown away by this game that Quinns says isn't really a game, so take it for what it's worth, I guess.
charlest's Avatar
charlest replied the topic: #326904 30 Sep 2021 23:51
I get the concern and I share some of the annoyance of apps removing your focus from the physical game, but it's not accurate to state the entire game is on the app. The app doesn't know where your character is or where the enemies are.

Saying that you can ignore the playing area completely would be just as valid pointed at any dungeon crawler. You could just compare attack and defense and roll without ever moving a figure.

The combat mechanics are not deep or as involved as something like Gloomhaven, but I think they're very smart. By having you flip cards and components they make you feel clever, but they also physically draw you to the table and away from the app.

The magic of the game isn't really in the combat, it's in the scenario design and exploration element.

However, I wouldn't recommend it to you if you are concerned about the app. You should likely trust your instincts. It's far too expensive to take a gamble on.
Erik Twice's Avatar
Erik Twice replied the topic: #326905 01 Oct 2021 03:54

Jackwraith wrote: But the fatal flaw that he found was that there really isn't much game to the game. The variety in combat and gear and feats is interesting, but what it boils down to is doing as much damage as possible and killing things as fast as possible in order to get to the next room to do the same thing. Now, many people will say that, at its most basic level, that's pretty much what a dungeon crawler is

I'm surprised they have this criticism of Descent but not Gloomhaven because, in my experience, it's absolutely true of the latter.

Sure, dungeon crawlers are about moving to room to room and fighting monsters. But wargames are also about that and they have more thought and depth.