The Uthuk berzerkers circled, Galaden's arrows failing to keep them at range. Brynn steps towards them and Galaden notices a drop in her usual grim determination, the battle with the Fae had taken a lot, from all of them. Syrus and Vaerix take up positions on either side of Brynn, and their presence lifts her. 'Once more my friends?' and she nods towards the berzerkers who are riling themselves for a charge. The top of Syrus' staff ignites, and Vaerix lowers their staff into a fighting stance. Galaden stepping into position beside them, slings their bow and draws a pair of swords, the change of weapon easing tired muscles. The berzerkers begin running towards them, their screaming and chanting picking up with their steps. Brynn looks at each of them and nods. 'Let's not keep them waiting.' And with that, our Descent: Legends of the Dark journey begins.
Descent: Legends of the Dark Act 1 from Fantasy Flight Games is a board game that uses an app to create a roleplaying experience that's essentially an RPG with a digital games master. Set in FFG's fantasy world of Terrinoth, players cooperatively work their way through hours of emerging gameplay in a dungeon crawling narrative experience.
The box for Descent: Legends of the Dark is huge, and comes in two parts with a lid that looks like it doesn't fit. When you first open it, all of the contents are contained in the upper portion, with the larger lower part mostly empty until you put all the scenery together, which is then stored there. The single-piece miniatures (apart from one boss who has a couple of pieces to push together) are of exceptional quality for a board game product and are great for using in systems beyond D:LotD. The cards and components are very clear and easy to read, with an interesting art style.
Descent: Legends of the Dark is entirely app-driven, with the narrative elements, set up, enemy control, and in-game maths all handled by it. Players will need to read through the rulebook first, as the first mission throws players into the game with no tutorial beyond some initial hints about the app elements. Combat on the player's side is a simple matter of rolling the color-coded custom dice from their character card, and inputting the number of hits done into the app, which then works out damage against the defense of the target, and allocates wounds, which it also tracks.
Each turn, players get three actions to move around the map, fight enemies and interact with the terrain pieces, which all serve a purpose beyond blocking line of sight. Trees can be searched for fruit, chests and tables have items on them, wells can refresh with water or have other mythical effects. Map's start small and expand as the players explore, growing to take up quite a sizeable table space with very well-designed multi-level terrain with different elements.
Characters have a choice of weapons, which are slipped back to back into sleeves, and by taking a ready action, they can flip the card over. Switching between weapons clears tokens from that side. This is mainly used for clearing fatigue tokens, which build up through activating abilities, converting advantage dice symbols to success, and some enemy effects. It's a great mechanic that requires you to sometimes chose between an optimal weapon choice, with no flexibility because of fatigue, or your other weapon to clear the fatigue.
The map elements of D:LotD are very well done, and expand as you explore, which is where the app really comes into its own. The enemy AI is also well done, and enemies will always surprise you with abilities and attacks, making you learn how to beat them as you go.
While D:LotD is playable with up to four players, each controlling a different character, it feels optimal played solo, or with two players controlling two characters each. There are six characters to choose from each adventure, and you can change between adventures, so no player is locked into one character. The app has a lot of in-game dialogue, that players will have to read, so if you're using a small tablet or mobile device to run the app, everyone will have to gather around or pass the device at each dialogue screen. The flow of the game and app use, especially in town when players can craft and buy items, just feel better solo or with two players are you're better able to discuss quickly and take actions without slowing the game down overly.
D:LotD comes in a huge box, with some very premium-looking components, the miniatures and multi-level board tiles are fantastic, but it also has a high price tag as a result. Its value almost certainly ties into the amount of gameplay you get in return, and there are sixteen main quests, with a lot in-between, and with quests taking between two and three hours each, it's a lot of unique gameplay. The app development, which is an unseen part of the cost, really is stellar and shows great promise for the future.
The box is titled Act 1, which clearly suggests more Acts, but at the time of this review, nothing is known about how they will come. We may get similar-sized boxes for each Act, but my hope is that this is a core box, and we'll get smaller tie-in missions and new adventures on the app, which would increase the value of the Act 1 box.
The Bottom Line
Descent: Legends of the Dark Act 1 is a stellar board / roleplaying game hybrid. The components are fantastic and the app-driven dungeon-crawling really is incredible. It's a high buy-in, and how Descent: Legends of the Dark expands will show the true value of the Act 1 box. D:LotD is best played solo or two players, up to four are possible, but it can feel messy with three or four players unless using a large screen for the app. We're excited for the future of this one.
Get This Game If:
- You want stellar app-driven content.
- You want a great solo or two-player dungeon crawler.
- You want a solid linked campaign experience.
Avoid This Game If:
- You don't want an app in your board games.
The copy of Descent: Legends of the Dark used to produce this review was provided by Asmodee UK.