Descent: Legends of the Dark (LotD) is a 1-4 player cooperative dungeon crawler from Fantasy Flight Games and yes, it’s expensive and yes it uses an app. There, now we’ve covered the sticking points, why would you want to play or buy this game? I was fortunate enough to pick up my own copy of Descent: LotD just a few days before the current lockdown. It’s not a review copy, I paid for it with my own money, so the views I’ll provide in this review are from the position of a paying customer, not some shill for Big Board Game.
I also don’t give ratings for games, as saying a game is 7/10 burritos or whatever is meaningless if you don’t know my personal criteria for comparison. While I understand many people find ratings useful by clicking on reviews, taking a glance at the magic number, then peacing out, I prefer to provide an overview of my experience with the game, be honest about what I liked and disliked and allow gamers to come to their own conclusions. That said, let’s delve in!
Two major things stand out the moment you dive into Descent: LotD, apart from the massive double layered box of course. The first is the exquisite detail of the miniatures. I’ve been a fan of mini-heavy games since the days of the original HeroQuest, and I’ve seldom seen minis in a mass produced game that can hold a candle to these, especially outside of Kickstarter. The scale is larger than the previous iterations of the Descent franchise, another design choice to help stand Descent: LotD apart from its predecessors. The second thing is the 3D terrain elements...
The game uses 3D terrain pieces such as obstacles, chests, trees, wells and shelves to interact with during the game, perhaps you’ll find revitalising fruit on the tree, or use a spiked barricade to inflict additional damage to an enemy during an attack. The terrain may prove cumbersome after a while, but if you don’t mind a little set up to make the play space more immersive then it shouldn’t be a problem here. I found the terrain added a level of physicality that helped draw me into the action and any confusion around line of sight is elegantly handled by the accompanying app.
Descent: LotD is an app driven game, offloading much of the tedium associated with admin-heavy board games to your device allowing you more time to spend rolling dice, moving your miniatures around the board and discussing tactics with your fellow players. For some the heavy use of an app is going to be an issue, and if you don’t enjoy apps in board games, then you likely won’t enjoy this either. Coming from games such as Mansions of Madness, Imperial Assault and Descent 2nd Edition, I found the apps for those games provided a good balance between the physical and digital elements of gameplay. In Descent: LotD, the app takes that to a higher level, now aiding with character development, crafting and item upgrades.
Speaking of character progression, one of Descent: LotD’s greatest strengths is its character progression and upgrade systems. Throughout the campaign, every scenario resulted in finding a multitude of crafting materials (check those trees!), equipment and item recipes. Between adventures the heroes return to town where they can craft new items, upgrade existing ones or buy and sell the items they no longer require. Characters also have individual objectives that allow them to level up and gain new powers and abilities represented by physical cards.
So, how does the game play? Surprisingly well! I often find myself playing a new game once or twice before moving on to the next shiny thing, but Descent: LotD has held my interest a lot longer than I was anticipating, and I’m already looking forward to the next scenario. The action moves swiftly and the difficulty level can be easily adjusted to suit the experience you’re looking for. Want to cruise through the game rolling dice and enjoying the story? No problem. Prefer a punishing challenge in which victory is hard wrought? The game has you covered there too.
Watching my heroes progress in power and finding new items and recipes held the same addictive quality one may experience from board games such as Gloomhaven and Mage Knight or video games like Diablo or Borderlands where discovering new loot feels rewarding. There are frequent opportunities to try out different characters during the campaign as well, swapping them in and out between games as desired. Out of play characters continue to progress to keep pace with those who are adventuring, so no one will fall behind.
Characters each have special abilities and all the cards including items are double sided, cards can be ‘readied’ by using one of your three actions to flip the card. Doing so reveals a different power or effect and clears any fatigue or adverse conditions placed on that card. This mechanism results in some fresh tactics and encourages a wider variety of strategies during gameplay. It’s a method I’d love to see more games implement!
The game looks beautiful on the table, the minis and terrain are eye-catching.
The artwork is colourful and distinctive, if a little more comic-influenced than previous Descent games. I’d totally read a comic in this style though!
Scenarios feel fresh and unique and the monsters and foes you’ll encounter are varied.
The app is helpful and makes gameplay smooth and inviting.
Character progression is satisfying and adds motivation to the game.
A lack of voice acted dialogue makes reading from the app tedious
Individual scenario difficulty can be inconsistent.
Set up and break down or shifting the play space to accommodate a new tile can be cumbersome.
The app may be off-putting for some players.
Descent: LotD is a lot of fun to play, there’s enough to keep drawing me back in and making me want to play “just one more scenario”. In my opinion it provides a more welcoming and well rounded experience than Descent 2nd Edition but it comes at a price. A fantastic solo game too! Descent: LotD is the Vegemite of board games, you’ll either love it or hate it, which is kind of ironic since I hate Vegemite, but I love this game, so maybe a strangled comparison there.
Please let me know your thoughts on Descent: Legends of the Dark. Have you played it? Is it one you’re thinking of picking up or does it affront your every sensibility as a board gamer? Share your thoughts below or head on over to the Game Kings Gamers group on Facebook to engage with our amazing community there. See you next time!