Descent: Legends of the Dark Game Play Preview Spoiler Free

Steve Mayne
Steve Mayne
Writer, Hero, Story-Teller, Gamer, Hawaiian Shirt Aficionado, He/Him.


On the Right Foot

This week Fantasy Flight games returned to show off game play of their upcoming Descent: Legends of the Dark. They played one of the early scenarios for about an hour and got relatively close to the end of the session. At least that’s my estimate. You can go and watch the video on the FFG YouTube channel, and it’s relatively spoiler free.

I am not going to spoil any story or narrative pieces that show up during the game. I will talk about the mechanics and how some of them are implemented which means I will be spoiler adjacent. If you want to know absolutely nothing about how this game works, jump to the conclusion where I’ll drop my thoughts on what I’ve seen.

If you’re still here, let’s move on…

Getting down to the bows and bolts.

The mechanics for the game are very familiar. On a player’s turn you’ll get a free movement action and two additional actions. These can be Attacking, Exploring, Movement, Ready, or some additional item, character, or scenario specific action. Attacking is exactly what it sounds like, you make a combat roll against an enemy mob. Movement is moving your speed for additional distance beyond your free move. Explore is a catch all description for collecting treasure, searching terrain, opening doors, or interacting with an NPC. Ready allows you to remove fatigue and other negative effects.

Movement is the easiest to cover. You move a number of spaces up to your speed. You may move diagonally, but if you enter a space adjacent to an enemy you stop moving. Some abilities will allow you to shift, which is like a move except that you don’t stop when moving adjacent to enemies. You can move through allies but enemies and there were examples of being pushed and pulled by models. Whether there are other types of movement modifier like flight, sprinting, or jumping didn’t come up during the stream.

Combat had a few more moving parts but was fairly familiar as well. You choose a target, pick your weapon, spell, or other means of attack and roll your attack dice. The dice have symbols for hits and surges. Hits are collected and spent according to your weapon to inflict damage. Surges are spent to purchase extra effects based on your character, weapon, skill, or other factors. One of the surge buys used during the live stream seemed like it was always available to all players let you spend one surge to add a hit and let an adjacent hero remove one fatigue. You spend your hits to buy damage based on your weapon and adjust for your enemy’s armor and weaknesses.

Exploring was a more wide ranged ability. It was used to search terrain, interact with NPC’s, loot chests, and open doors. Exploring was more interesting for the different effects it triggered than the basics of the ability. More on this in a moment.

The Ready action is tied to fatigue, a returning resource that is generated during the game. You’ll need to take on fatigue to use your more powerful abilities, as a penalty for walking into a bad situation, or as part of a negative event. You can get rid of fatigue by taking the ready action. This allows you to flip your cards and remove the fatigue from them. You also lose some fatigue at the end of each round; it looked like one point if any at all and I’m not certain it happened every round.

How Does it Play?

Looking at a new Feature

The other side of the hero.

One of the additions to this game was that most everything about the heroes was double sided. Hero cards, weapons, and I think some of the other equipment and spells might have been too. For example, your hero might will have two weapons a bow and a sword. These are sleeved together back to back. At the beginning of the encounter you’ll choose one of them to be the equipped or face up weapon. As you use the weapon it will build up fatigue. At some point you won’t be able to spend any more fatigue to use that weapon. When you ready, you flip the weapon over to the other side representing putting one weapon away and drawing the other. This gets rid of all fatigue on the weapon and it seemed to remove other negative effects as well. Plus, since ready is an action, you’ll still get your free move and one other action on your turn so you won’t be losing an entire turn to remove fatigue.

Your character behaves in the same way. They have two different abilities; one on either side of their card. As you use your abilities it will build up fatigue and the ready action will allow you to flip your character as well. You’ll remove all of your fatigue and have a brand new ability to go forward with. There are also some abilities and items that give you a free ready as part of your action making them even more valuable.

It’s Your Story

There are a lot of Narrative moments in the game. Each character comes with two virtues and will arrive at points in the story where they will have to make a choice between either of your virtues. When this happens you’ll get a small amount of story and a decision to make. During the stream they revealed that choosing one or the other will affect the story moving forward and what choices, items, and encounters, and other things you’ll find as you work your way through the game. The rewards for choosing one over the other will also vary. Additionally, balancing the two will lead to other rewards and choices. Making staying more to the middle an enticing option all its own.

Narrative Choices

How Important is the App?

Who watches?

The game features heavy app integration. Every monster has a couple of weakness that do additional damage. These are represented as question marks when first discovered. However, if you ever use something the creature is weak to then it will take additional damage, the weakness will be revealed, and the app will remember and show you which ones you’ve uncovered whenever you encounter that creature again.

All of your virtue choices are tracked through the app. The app will also adjust the story based on your choices, how far much you lean on one virtue over the other, and other factors that will influence the story.

Combat is done through the app. When you attack a monster you tell the app which weapon you’re using, how many hits you scored, and what if any special abilities you’ll be using. The app will use this information to figure damage, adjust for weakness, make any reveals based on your actions, and keep track of agro for the heroes. At the end of every round is the shadow phase where the app will let you know what events are triggered, how the enemies move, and in a few instance telegraph their next round. During the stream one of the enemies would sometime finish the round by calling out a specific hero signaling that next round that enemy was going to do something special targeting that hero. This gave the players one round to deal with that monster in an attempt to stop the action.

The app will function as a director for the game. In the live stream they only used three of the available four heroes. At points during the match, the app spawned points on the board that specifically called out one of the heroes. These moments felt tailored to the hero called out and if one of the heroes had been changed out for the missing one I think a different event would have been triggered. This gave the game more directed RPG feel.

Finally, the app remembers your materials. The new Descent features a crafting systems. They didn’t go into it much during the live stream but it was revealed that when an enemy is defeated there is a chance that they will drop crafting supplies and recipes. These can be used between encounters to create potions, items, and weapons. The app keeps track of which recipes and the amounts of all of your supplies. This is a piece of bookkeeping I’ll be glad to hand off.

It’s got its Frodo’s Eye’s

This game takes a lot from previous editions of Descent and the more recent Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle Earth. Having played a lot of Descent and good amount of Journeys I can see the influence of both games. The map for the game comes out in bits as you explore similar to how Journey’s lays out the over land sections. Keeping track of enemy hit points, statuses, and other effects is also a nice return to Journey’s.

However, the dice mechanic, combat, and character interactions felt very much like Descent. Combat had a very Descent feel. The use of chunky special dice with their various symbols brought back fond memories of running dungeons and attacking Sprigg in a cornfield.

Where it Came From


Wrapping it all up

As I said no spoilers in this section. Everything I’ve seen felt like the natural progression for Descent and Lord of the Rings: Journey’s in Middle Earth. This game is a move forward for both of those systems. Because of that this game won’t be for some people.

If you hate using an app with a board game, you’re going to want to pass on this one. The most frequently asked question in regards to this game and the app is why they didn’t also make a book available for those who didn’t want to play with the app. Based entirely on the one scenario I watched they simply can’t do it. While some of these systems can be handled rather easily with a bit of bookkeeping and some extra cardboard there are huge chunks of this game that just won’t work that way.

If you don’t mind an app with your board game then I think you’ll be pretty impressed with how this one works. Everything seemed to fit together nicely, and the game as a whole really worked well. I thought combat flowed nicely and was a good mix of the best parts of Descent with some very creative ideas and advances. The exploration of the boards and the different pieces of the scenario felt natural and planned. Nothing I saw felt tacked on.

However, there are still a couple of things I wonder about. They mentioned multiple times during the stream how they had to practice putting the map together. While it didn’t look that complicated I wonder if that’s just me being hopeful. The three dimensional terrain looks really nice, but the game is coming in at $175 which is probably largely due to the terrain. Which makes me wonder exactly how necessary it was. To be fair, I’ve spent far more than that on more than one Kickstarter, but that was when I was more excited and less thoughtful towards these things. That price is going to be a large hurdle for a lot of people.

Still, I’m excited to see more about the game. Everything I’ve seen has made me smile and I want this to be a success. Not just because I want them to take this same system and do something with Star Wars but because Descent is a great game and setting and I’d like to see it come back. I’d also like to see it do well enough that they decide to add some updates that allow us to use the stuff from older versions in this new one; something that is currently not planned.

Anyway, let me know what you think. Did you watch the stream? Are you going to? What are some things you’d like to see in the game? Drop a comment below.

Until next time, stay safe and be well.


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