Descent: Legends of the Dark is a cooperative app-driven RPG game by Fantasy Flight Games (FFG). The players take control of heroes in order to save the world of Terrinoth, questing their way through story-driven missions, guided by an innovative app.
Legends of Terrinoth
Descent: Legends of the Dark Act 1 takes part in Terrinoth, where a group of heroes try to keep the world together and stop the Uthuks’ plans. The board game comes with 16 quests, which is a lot considering each one takes about 2 hours (for 2 players), and there are a lot of side events, cutscenes, and other activities in the app to augment the experience, which really makes the play time add up. The narrative is brilliantly written, and the characters are very interesting, giving each of them the spotlight in a way that makes it feel a lot like a D&D campaign. Completing missions for each one of them, and making choices for them, builds them up and dictates their attitudes, as well as what upgrades and skills they have access to. You also pick characters per game session, with some required for specific missions that relate to their stories, so you can not only play different person every time, but also you can pick how many characters you play with at once if you really want to bring an extra along. The game will scale to account for them.
The Maps and Elevation
Descent: Legends of the Dark brings a whole new level to the maps, and that’s not just an expression. Similar to the Mansions of Madness board game, the application tells you which pieces of double-sided terrain you need to build the map, but in Descent there are also four types of underlay, such as water, fire, and pits full of spikes, which are a very simple way to give maps that share the same pieces a different feel, and allows for very different layouts with the same pieces. The box also comes with stairs and pillars, that nicely attach to the map pieces to lift them up and gives for up to three levels of elevation, allowing you to fight up and down staircases, leap from ledges, and just generally feel like you’re not exploring a flat world.
With the addition of intricate cardboard models of bookcases, doors, arches, tables, and chests, once you build up the map you start to see the true beauty of the board game, making it feel like a diorama hand-crafted by some overly-invested Dungeon Master.
Inside the Very Big Box
Descent comes in a gorgeous massive box that is twice the size of standard board games. Even more surprisingly, it actually needs that much space! While the game does come with a lot of components, the majority of the space is used to keep the beautiful 3D terrain pieces safe, and still have room for the 40 miniatures that come in the box. It also lacks the useless space-filling inserts that Fantasy Flight Games traditionally likes to put in their boxes, which is a refreshing change.
Before you start your first game you will have to spend a while building the 3D cardboard terrain, which is a bit of a drag, but worth it. Most of the pieces are very simple like the tables, pillars, and barricades. There are also a few larger pieces which can pose a bit of a challenge to put together without tearing the picture or breaking the cardboard, at least in my experience! There is enough space in the bottom box to store them without crushing them, however, it is still a bit disorganized, and you will always have to rummage though them to get them out. The cardboard is sturdy, but in the end of the day it is still paper, so the more you use them the faster they will get damaged compared to 3D printed ones, which could make a great way to upgrade your game and really go all-in on it.
Descent: Legends of the Dark miniatures are quite big, and have very unique designs. The detail and size has improved from the previous game, and the material seems flimsy but it has the feel of the high quality plastic used by Games Workshop. Unlike the old Descent, these minis have not just a place in the box, but their own case with fitting slots, except for the big demon who ones assembled will have no place in the box. The plastic is very light, glossy, and you might need to prime them with airbrush if you don’t want to lose the details while painting. As there are 40 miniatures in the box, an airbrush is probably worthwhile if you want to paint your minis anyway, as that’s a lot of basing!
The Rest of the Clutter
The rest of the components are pretty standard. You get 3 types of dice (black D6, yellow D8, and blue D12) with custom markings, some plastic markers, a few card stacks of hero, items and equipment, skill, injuries, and reference cards. You get also heath dials, few sets of various tokens and some underlays. There is a lore book that tells the story of the world, which is pretty nice read, and a very thin rulebook, which makes sense when you realise just how much of the game is controlled by the app.
You might wonder where are the monster cards and Overlord tricks if you’ve played older Descent games. That’s because there aren’t any! As the app plays has the role of the Overlord, it has all of the information on the monsters and it will tell you what they do, as well as generating pretty much anything random, so there are no decks that need shuffling or dealing. If you gain a card, the app tells you the exact card to search for.
The Descent Application is Great!
There are a lot more games that use apps to enhance the board game experience, including the previous entry in the Descent series, but Descent: Legends of the Dark takes it much, much further. The story is a lot like a visual novel, with dialogs, pictures and choices that change your characters, and it’s a lot of fun casting the app to a TV and voicing the characters you’re playing. The app tells you how to set up the maps, and where enemies spawn, but will not keep track of where anyone is on the map – that’s all down to you. If you have played Mansions of Madness you will find a lot of similarities, but this takes it even further than that already heavily app-driven game.
One of the other big pros of the app is that Descent can have a crafting system. Since the app keeps track of your inventory – the recipes you loot, the crafting materials, the items you craft – it makes it possible to keep track of a huge number of resources, materials and the assorted bric-a-brac that you find throughout your adventure. It also makes it much easier to continue the campaign once you’ve started, because you don’t have to track or record anything. The app does a great job of presenting you with world building story, and develops the characters you play, with side missions and quests that just tell the story and ask for your choices. They are quick and easy, and you don’t need to set up battlefields every time.
Another big benefit is that the app can make use of a lot more random effects that would bog down the game if you had to roll dice or draw cards every time you did anything – things like debuffs that let you do 20% more damage, upgrades that trigger 25% of the time, random encounters… While a lot of games with apps make the app feel like a gimmick, this game needs the app, and makes full use of the power of having a computer on the table. This isn’t one of those games where the app feels like superfluous fluff.
Is Descent: Legends of the Dark still a board game?
With all those nice things that the app brings to the game experience, also pulls your attention away from the board game itself. As one person keeps having their head in the app, tracking the damage, directing attacks, and later with crafting and shopping, a lot of the time it starts to feel more like a video game then a board game.
It brings the question of where is the line? Is it a board game with a companion app, or a video game accompanied by a board game? As we’re also fans of coop video games, that’s fine for us, but pure board game addicts are going to feel like a little too much is loaded on the app side of things. It’s a double-edged sword that does detract from the physical side of the experience.
The rulebook is very small and quick to read. Most of the rules are in the app, and at any time you can click on a reference and it will take you to a very big searchable reference section. That is convenient, and all, but there are some very key actions during the campaign that it is not very clear on. For example, equipping and trading items are left very much up to interpretation at the time of writing.
This is sadly one of the trademarks of Fantasy Flight Games, who regularly leave gaping holes in their rulebooks instead of providing specific, well-written rules. Hopefully there will be more information on the website to clarify, like FAQ or errata, because that’s normally their solution to that problem.
Descent: Legends of the Dark vs Descent: Journey into the Dark
If you have played the old Descent games, and loved to play the Overlord… too bad. That is not an option anymore. This is one of the main changes the game brings with the app, and it’s a real shame for the maniacal dictators out there. But overall, the system seems to have improved. Fatigue is used in an innovative and fun way, levelling is slow but meaningful, and the app keeping track of your inventory takes away a lot of the campaign overheads, so setting up your next game session is easier. The app also can keep track of different campaigns you run, making it easy to play with different groups of people.
Except for taking away the Overlord role (which is Matt’s favourite) we think it’s a definite improvement, and the experience of playing the heroes is so much better than in the previous Descent games that he’s not too sad.
Descent: Legends of the Dark Price, and is it Worth it?
Descent: Legends of the Dark is very expensive. It not only has a box of the size of two board games, but it also costs as much as three. The retail price of this game is a whopping £130-150 ($175 on Amazon), which is a ton of money. Compared to what you have in the box, we can assume that most of the overhead they’re charging for is actually in the application. If this was a AAA video game, it will be half the price. One can argue that you get a video game, a lot of miniatures and terrain that you can use outside the game (for example in a D&D campaign), but it is hard to recommend a game that costs so much.
This version of Descent looks more like a Deluxe version, then a standard game. It would be nice if there was a cheaper, more accessible version of the game, and all the nice miniatures were available as an add-on. As there will be at least 2 more games in this series, if you are really invested in the story, it’s going to be a hard hit on your wallet.
Is it worth it? We… don’t know. We love the game, the story, the characters, but the price is very harsh. It’s very hard to recommend this game, because it’s a great game that everyone should play, but not everyone can afford. They’ve aimed for a premium experience at a premium price point, and if the game were even £80 or £90 (about $100), we’d recommend it in a heartbeat. But £130? That’s a lot of money.
Descent: Legends of the Dark Act 2?
When we got the box, after we stopped obsessing of how nice it is, we noticed a little thing in the bottom right corner – Act 1. This implies there will be at least an Act 2 right? Well, yes. FFG has revealed that Act 2 and 3 will come as their own expansions (which sounds like they will be stand alone), with new content and full-length campaign. It sounds like the future acts will come in similar size boxes that will probably cost as much, which is a real problem. Let’s talk about the elephant in the room – the price.
Descent: Legends of the Dark is a fantastic game that blurs the line between video game and board game in a masterful way. The components are of a high quality, the story is well-written, and it’s a genuine joy to play.
But that comes at a cost, literally. We love this game, but whether we like this as much as the three games we could have bought at that price… that’s a question that can’t help but linger in the back of my mind the entire time we’re playing, and if the other acts are the same price, it’s going to be hard to justify completing the story.
- Beautiful art
- Great story
- Elevated maps
- Amazing battle system
- Time to setup
- Poor rules explanations
- Very expensive