Monday, December 14, 2009

Underground, overground!

Bones to crunch underfoot, again!
Hotly anticipated by Tony, Donald's choice of Descent for yesterday's Sunday session was sure to be popular. When Liam joined us I knew it was going to prove interesting too: both the dungeon-bashing theme and the detailed systems put Descent outside the realm of the sort of family games that are the staple fare of the casual gamer, so that this would be the most obviously geeky of the games Liam had played chez yours truly.

I became immediately aware of this 'clash of cultures' as setup proceeded. I mean to say, Liam's a fan of that classic family strategy game Risk, so he's had a taste of boardgames which take a wee while to setup. With Risk though, the setup is a part of the game, in which the players determine their strategies. In Descent on the other hand, a similarly lengthy setup is a simple consequence of the sheer wealth of parts.

On top of all that there were the rules. Liam drew a hero and skills from the decks; I gave him as concise a rundown of the key attributes as I could manage; and helped him tool up. I noticed his eyes glaze over just about when Liam himself knew he could absorb no more: it was time to get stuck in and learn by doing.

We were playing 'Quest 2: the Brothers Durnog', so our goal was to slay Munkar and Nakir, the elder brothers of Narthak, who we slew the last time we played. Our 3 brave adventurers this time were:
  • Lyssa: Liam.
  • Spiritspeaker Mok: Tony.
  • Trenloe the Strong: me.
The tale of our 3 would-be heroes was short and painful; one not destined to be celebrated by the bards, except perhaps for the sake of comedy. The picture below shows that we didn't even get into the first room (well OK, Spiritseeker Mok's pet weasels did, but that's no consolation really).

Liam surveys the scene in shock and horror while Tony has a wry 'been there, done that' look on his face

Lyssa killed once already, we got halfway up the corridor with Trenloe the Strong- the party tank, leading the way; beat a hasty retreat for tactical reasons; then set off again. Donald decided it was time to bring up the giant for some serious thwackage, which was duly delivered. Half-dead and stunned, Trenloe could only swig a healing potion and stagger back down the corridor in the faint hope of survival- his death would be enough to give the game to Donald. Unfortunately Trenloe fell into a spiked pit, there to be finished off by a deadly one-two from the giant and a dark priest.

Evil? One?
Nous? Nah 0

As ever, humiliating defeat notwithstanding, I had a great time. The perfectly crafted tactical dungeonbash, Descent is one of those games I just love to play. I think Liam was a bit taken aback by the might of the giant, and by the brutality of Trenloe's demise which brought the game to such a sudden end. I imagine this would've been a unique boardgaming experience for him.

Commenting on the game, Liam made the obvious remark about not knowing the strategies. More interestingly, he noted that he'd never before played a boardgame in which players were cooperating towards a common goal instead of pursuing their individual victories. The rest of us are already familiar with cooperative gaming from roleplaying and from boardgames like Battlestar Galactica, so it was interesting that someone would find this the most striking feature of Descent on their first play.

Not so evil, but still an Overlord
Our efforts at Descent were so feeble that we were left with a surprising amount of time for another game. What else was there to do but to introduce Liam to the queen of the Eurogame: Settlers of Catan?

Fate wasn't kind to Donald as it had been last week, and his curses rent the air as dice throw after dice throw left him without resources. Meanwhile, Liam took an early lead when he grabbed the Longest Road. Donald was able to take it off him, and the pair contested these 2VP into the endgame.

Elsewhere, my development was going quite well and I'd managed to pick up 2 VP cards, which left me feeling quietly confident. For his part, Tony had a strong lumber resource base coupled with the 2-1 lumber port, so that his colony was thriving.

The endgame saw me make and repeat a mistake which could've cost me the game: sitting on 9VP I chose to spend my ore and grain on Development cards in search of an elusive VP card. Of course, I should've kept those resources for that city which'd've won me the game for sure. In my last turn I'd built a couple of roads so as to make a play for the Longest Road, and was about to play Year of Plenty to build another when I was struck by a sudden realisation: I could use the 2 free resources to build a city and win, right there and then. D'oh!

I was lucky I spotted that one when I did: Tony was sitting on a play that'd've given him the game with 11VP on the very next turn!

Overweening Overlord 1
Crazed colonialist 1
Spear-chuckers 0

Liam found Settlers much easier to grasp, as you'd expect. He was unlucky to get caught up in one of those competitions for the Longest Road which can so easily distract you from developing your colony; but he was smart enough to see the strategic implications of this in the post-game discussion. Overall, he seemed to enjoy it quite a lot. As I said before, he'll be back! ;)


P.D.S. said...

Ooh, I do love Descent. I have to say, though, I've never seen anybody do quite so badly. Well done! ;)

JMcL63 said...

Yeah, Descent gives me everything I want from a dungeonbash but without roleplaying, which I'd rather do without dungeonbashing anyway. I meant to comment about this over on EMOTIONALLY FOURTEEN but never got round to it. ;)

Anonymous said...

Can you roleplay it too or does this system really rule that out?

JMcL63 said...

I have read about people roleplaying Descent Aneliya, so the system itself can't be an insuperable problem. The Road to Legend campaign expansion would probably help too. For my part, I'm happy just playing Descent as the finely-honed tactical dungeonbash that it is. ;)