Descent: Journeys in the Dark – Old vs New

A number of years ago, the creator of this fine site, Toby, introduced me to a board game I had never heard of before, Descent: Journeys in the Dark. It is a game I’ve played many times, both as a character and as the Overlord, and I’ve had a lot of fun with it over all those times. As a character, it is hard, and must be approached with with a high amount of thought and tactics. And it takes a fair while to play, many hours sometimes. Of course, that was the first edition of the game, and an early printing of that first edition at that. I liked the game so much I also bought it and a couple of the expansions. A couple of years ago (read: 2012), Fantasy Flight Games released the second edition of Descent, otherwise known as Descent 2.0. I’d seen a lot of things for this new expansion, including a lot of minor expansion packs and even Game Night Kits. I could not justify getting 2.0 because I owned 1.0, and it isn’t a cheap game to start with. Luckily though, one of my board game loving friends found the game for cheap and decided to get it himself. He brought it around one night with another friend and the three of us decided to give it a go. These two friends had been playing Descent 1.0 with me a fair amount prior to this, so they were good for helping me with this comparison. So we set it all up, which took significantly less time than 1.0, which is a good thing. The rules were quite easy to get to grips with and Mani, the chap who had bought the game, had played it already, so knew it all pretty well. Some of the rule concepts had transferred across, but not too many. One of the first things I noticed was the similarity to Runebound. We checked the box, and sure enough, they are part of the same universe. Several of the FFG games are set in that same universe and are in some ways compatible with each other. We got into the playing, with Mani being the Overlord and my other friend, Brendan, and myself playing a character each. We noticed the big differences; the loot system, parts of the combat and even the general structure of the game. The basic game for Descent 1.0 had several levels that got progressively harder with no continuity between those levels. 3 of the 4 expansions continued on that same theme, with the 4th one introducing an over-arching storyline to it. Descent 2.0 takes the storyline route straight from the start. The dungeon levels have also been reduced to promote a faster game. In 1.0, the players won by completing some task, usually killing the boss monster and the Overlord won by reducing a player resource (conquest tokens) to zero, normally by killing the Heroes. In 2.0, the players win by performing some task (not necessarily killing the boss) and the Overlord can win by completing some other objective. In 2.0, the progress of the story depends on whether the characters win or lose. The progress doesn’t stop if you lose, you just go down a slightly different path. Heroes dying also doesn’t have nearly the same impact as previously, they only get “knocked out” now, and can get up the next turn with no detrimental effects what so ever. I suppose this would promote a more flowing gameplay. Overlord trickiness is reduced too, with creature spawn being limited to only what is in the dungeon to start with, and something like only one model per turn. I wasn’t impressed with this, even if it does make the game easier for the players. We played through the tutorial level and then moved onto the first dungeon, which consisted of two “encounters”, which were just two small dungeons. I don’t know if it was us two players being good or if Mani was being easy on us as the Overlord, but we beat all we played without too much hassle. All in all, we only spent about 3 hours on it. In conclusion, I wasn’t a fan of 2.0. This could be because I like 1.0 too much and 2.0 is just too different. I like the complexity of 1.0, 2.0 is just too streamlined, which makes it a shorter game. Fans of 1.0 might have trouble changing over to it, and a lot of that old flavour is lost too, I felt. But for those who have never played 1.0, this new version might be just the thing for you. It is still a well made and competent game, but it just isn’t for me. Mani and Brendan had their issues with it too. After we packed it away, we played more 1.0, though I don’t know if I am allowed to be Overlord anymore, I am a little too hard on the players. But then again, I learnt from the pro. If anyone else has given both a go and wants to add their own views, please do so in the comments below.

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