Descent Betrayer's War Interview - Inside Look At Tabletop Design

We spoke with Philip D. Henry, lead game designer for the tabletop game Descent: Legends of the Dark, to talk about designer the game's first big expansion, Betrayer's War.

Published: September 26, 2023 11:00 AM /


Banner image for Descent Betrayer's War for our interview with the designer.

In the tabletop world, few franchises hold as much power on our imaginations as Descent. With the initial release of Descent: Journeys in the Dark by Fantasy Flight Games in 2005, the franchise went on to release of slew of sequels, a second edition, and finally, a reboot of sorts in the form of Descent: Legends of the Dark in 2021. 

Just a few weeks back, Legends of the Dark ushered in its first official expansion, Descent: Legends of the Dark - The Betrayer's War, which the team refers to as Act II. We spoke with Philip D. Henry, lead game designer for Descent: Legends of the Dark game line, about what goes into creating an expansion like this, what players can expect, and what's next! Read on in our official Descent Betrayer's War Interview.

Descent Betrayer's War Interview - Building An Expansion

To start, Henry describes Descent as, "our kind of archetypal sword and sorcery adventure game. Legends of the Dark, in particular, uses is an app supported game in a way that I have not seen any other game do. The way the app unfolds and handles the game is the closest we can get to sending someone to your house to run an RPG for you."

So how does Betrayer's War expand upon the implication of the game's app? Henry says that its all about deeper and smarter interactions. This was present in the core game, as Henry explains while talking about a Cat-like character named Chance. "When he interacts with a tree," says Henry, "he can just climb that tree, he doesn't have to test like everyone else."

The Box Art for Descent: Legends of the Dark - The Betrayer's War as part of our Descent Betrayer's War Interview

And this isn't the only instance of this enhanced interaction. One of the characters has a Phoenix companion, who interacts with fire in a very different way. "From the very beginning," says Henry, "we asked ourselves, where can we push the envelope on this? Where can we make the app do more?"

But what about this new expansion? How does that further this interactivity? Henry explains that, "with act two, we took that even further. And we looked at all of the narrative threads that each quest drops and really leaned into it."

"How can we track all of these outcomes so that the app can be truly responsive to what you did four quests ago? How could we remind you of what happened in Act One, which you may have played a year and a half ago and probably don't remember very well? How can we have the app tell you what happened there, and how what you did then changed what's happening now?"

A new character card for Brynn as part of our Descent Betrayer's War Interview

Descent Betrayer's War Interview - Legends Make Things Simpler

Philip D. Henry spoke a lot about how Act II really is just that - a second act for this expansive adventure board game. And I wanted to know how they fought against classic "board game bloat." How do you keep a game, where your original characters are even stronger than before, from becoming unwieldy?

Henry explained it's all about the new card type called legends. As he describes in our Descent Betrayer's War interview, "We gave each hero kind of a glow up, they're more powerful now. So you replace your hero sheets with new, stronger versions of those. But the focus was on how can we keep you making choices but not overwhelm you."

An example of a Legends card as discussed in our Descent Betrayer's War Interview
Legend cards streamline the gaming experience.

"We knew we were going up to a higher XP," Henry continues, "so you have more cards in front of you. But we didn't want that to mean every turn is now I'm analyzing my whole tableau and trying to figure out what I'm doing. So we added a new a new card type called legends." Henry describes Legends cards as a way to spend your heroes' XP that give you a passive bonus.

This naturally bakes in a really fun decision point. "I have to decide whether or not to use this card cost three XP," says Henry, "it takes a big chunk of my budget, but it just gives me an extra die every time I attack. I don't have to think about using it. It's just there. It it was a way to let us reduce that moment to moment decision making."

"Your hero may wind up being stronger if you really want to get into the nitty gritty interactions of all your different skill cards if you don't use any legends," says Henry.

"And if you really want to focus on making all of those moment to moment decisions, you can do that. But legends are a way for players who don't want to get that far into the heavy space to just say, 'This is what my character does. I have these legends. And I only have to worry about a handful of skills.'"

Descent Betrayer's War Interview - What Gets Philip D. Henry Most Excited?

Next, I wanted to know what aspects of Descent: Legends of the Dark - The Betrayer's War, from Philip D. Henry's perspective, he's most excited for players to check out.

"I mean, the easy answer is that giant dragon Mini," Henry explains with a chuckle. "I want people to take that out of the box and realize just how big it is. Because I don't think our photos and our videos really do ait justice until you take that sucker out of the box and realize it's like the size of a bowling trophy."

But Henry didn't work on the sculpt of that dragon, so when it comes to things he developed that he's most excited for players to try out, it's all about the companions. "I'm a big sucker for anytime I play a computer game if I can be the character who has lots of pets and sidekicks."

An image of the dragon as part of our Descent Betrayer's War Interview
Note the Dragon mini, which Henry describes as "like the size of a bowling trophy"

Speaking about the character Syrus and his aforementioned Phoenix, "that is now a separate mini, and it can fly around to do cool stuff. And Syrus's skills key off of where that mini is."

There's also the Dwarf artificer Kehli, who Henry explains, "can place contraptions, her robot automatons, out on the map. She can put these beetles down, they're kind of like turrets, and they give bonuses. And I think that there's a lot of cool space in figuring out how best to use those skills, and see what cool stuff that these new heroes can do."

An illustration depicting Syrus and his Phoenix, as discussed in our Descent Betrayer's War interview
Syrus and his Phoenix are ready for battle!

Descent Betrayer's War Interview - What's Next?

Finally, I wanted to hear from Henry what players can expect next from the Descent franchise. "There will be an Act III. We planned it as a three act game," he explains. "The shape of Act III specifically, we're still figuring it out. We want to see how people react to Act II. And I think the end of Act II's story has a pretty big hint at what's next through a cutscene that was pretty fun to write." Other than that, and in the immediate future, Philip D. Henry is hard at work, "polishing up some weird interactions," and making sure the game runs as smoothly as possible.

Thanks so much to Philip D. Henry and the Fantasy Flight team for giving us this sneak peek at what to expect from Descent: Legends of the Dark - The Betrayer's War!

Descent: Legends of the Dark - The Betrayer's War is now on sale at your FLGS and from Fantasy Flight Games.

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| Tabletop Editor

Giaco Furino joined the TechRaptor team as a Staff Writer in 2019 after searching for a dedicated place to write and talk about Tabletop Games. In 2020, he… More about Giaco