Friday, July 16, 2010

Rain starts play

Get down, deeper and down!
Tuesday's visit to G3 was just the icing on the cake of what had been a bumper few days gaming for yours truly. Such a big night took priority over the weekend's gaming here at RD/KA!, which- thanks to my trip to Edinburgh and the recent good weather, saw our first Sunday session in a month. Donald, Gav and I made three on the day. First choice was down to Donald, which put him in the Overlord's Seat of Power for a long-awaited return to Descent, my favourite dungeonbash boardgame.

A dynamic duo?
With only 2 heroes a solid tank was a priority. Gav chose that role and quickly settled on Mordrog. I decided to run a rogue , choosing Kirga for his ability to keep the spawning monsters at bay. And so we had a pair of scurvy greenskin 'heroes' we hoped would be fit to tackle the best that the Overlord could throw at us.

Already tickled by our characterful choice of heroes, we were well satisfied by our skills draws. Mordrog's Brawler, Relentless and Tough were going to make him a killing machine who'd excel at getting in the thick of things, and whom the Overlord would have a hard time stopping. Kirga's Born to the Bow, Eagle Eye and Marksman- giving him aimed Pierce 3 bow attacks at +4 range, meant that we had- for the first time ever in our games of Descent, a genuine master of the bow.

What went down
Minor inconveniences?
We were playing Quest #4: Spoiled Brat, which led to the first of a couple of what we hoped would be minor inconveniences: an unconsciousness princess. One of us would have to carry her and she'd count as 1 of that hero's 2 'other' items as well as reducing his Speed by 1. Gav and I easily discounted the notion of reducing Mordrog's Speed to 2 so yours truly was duly lumbered with this encumbrance.

Kinga and Mordrog made short work of the dungeon denizens in the first room, although Donald was able to delay us with some spawned monsters. Still, our treasure from the 2 copper chests netted me Backbiter, a cursed magic bow. Cursed items are powerful treasures which come with a sting in the tail: you can only get rid of them when you die, and your hero becomes worth an extra Conquest point if you equip the item to use it (losing all your Conquest points- when heroes are killed or when the Overlord exhausts his Overlorld deck, is how hero players lose the game). Backbiter's amazing abilities were enough to convince Gav and I that the risk of the Curse was well worth running.

Inconveniences become complications
Opening the door into the second area revealed quite a lot of monsters; entering the area revealed a spiked pit trap, into which Mordrog promptly fell. The monsters in this area weren't too worrying individually, en masse in such a tight corner was another matter. Gav and I were slow in fighting our way through, our caution in advancing encouraged by Donald's spawing more skeletons then a blood ape to join in the beastmen attack from the rear.

Both one-shot killers by this point, Kirga and Mordrog wreaked terrible carnage as they worked their way slowly forwards. Unfortunately the Overlord's monsters were wearing us down too, Kirga especially because Donald was cleverly concentrating his attacks on the weaker of our two heroes. Weak though they were those skeleton archers were able to pick away at Kirga with their piercing arrows. Eventually Kirga was so wounded that I realised that it'd be a waste of a good potion to heal him only for him to die in a couple more turns: it was time for him to die and to respawn.

This gave rise to another minor inconvenience: the princess was left lying where Kirga had died so that I had to go back to pick her up again. Fortunately this was easily done so I thought that this had been a good death.

The Overlord's spawnage continued, this time a couple of dark priests. Dangerous enough in their own right, the master dark priest had the added complication of Cursing the hero who killed him. And so it was that Mordrog joined Kirga- who'd kept Backbiter when he'd respawned, in being worth that extra Conquest point for the Overlord.

Complications have consequences
Gav and I were starting to feel the pressure as we headed for the door to the third area: all Donald had to do was exhaust his Overlord deck or kill just one of us and he'd win. So the monsters awaiting us in that room were a grim sight to behold. We had to act fast.

Mordrog charged in to open the Silver treasure chest. Then I made a fatal miscalculation, moving a square too far forward when I moved in to finish off the naga. This allowed an ogre to get in to attack and use its Pushback to shove Kirga back down the corridor, where he was promptly surrounded by a mob of fast-moving razorwings. This proved to be very bad indeed because the 2 master razorwings had the Stun ability; each hit places a Stun token; each Stun token loses a model 1 of its 2 actions for each turn. Soon enough Kirga was reeling around unable to do anything at all except wait to die for the second time, and worth an extra Conquest point for that second time.

Gav was able to save the game by activating a Glyph of Transport (you gain Conquest points for doing that), but there was nothing he could do to stop a master razorwing picking up the princess. This beastie has a move of 8- more than either Kirga or Mordrog could manage at full tilt, so the only way we could kill it and get the princess back was to attack from both sides. And we had to get the princess back because Donald was drawing 2 extra Overlord cards each turn while he held the princess, which amounted to going through his Overlord deck at twice the normal rate (exhausting the Overlord deck costs the heroes players Conquest points remember).

We almost pulled it off. Mordrog appeared behind the monsters and hacked his way through almost half of them. Then I appeared in front of them and opened fire with my bow. All I had to do was kill the master skeleton then the master razorwing would be next. The skeleton was duly despatched, only to pick itself up again because of its damned Undying ability. Gah! The pesky skeleton even survived a second time.

At this point Donald's Overlord deck was about to run out, so Kirga and Mordrog decided that discretion was the better part of valour and headed back into town leaving the princess to her fate.

Newly qualified Evil Overlord 1
Ill-fated- but surviving, would-be heroes 0

A fantastic game! Donald played like a real pro, putting in his best ever performance as the Overlord (and it's not as if he hasn't won in the past). In particular he was ruthless in picking on the weaker of Gav's and my heroes- Kirga unfortunately, something which he'd failed to do in the past. Donald's clearly got to grips with the role and I'm looking forward to our next attempt to take him down a peg or two.

As for Gav and I? Well I have to say that perhaps Kirga wasn't the best choice of second hero. What he was good at was fine, but he was poor in two key areas:
  • Fatigue points: these are what enable heroes' fancy footwork; 3 might just not've been enough.
  • Speed: having a hero who can outrun monsters and generally get about a bit is important; Kirga's speed 4 was fine; reduced to 3 by that damned princess it was definitely too low (I couldn't've known about the princess before we started but maybe the lesson is that every party needs a hero with speed 5?).
Even with that we were hampered more in the end by poor tactics. We did two crucial things wrong:
  • We spent too long clearing rooms because we were concerned about the monsters who'd be following us; we should've pushed on faster leaving Donald to use his own turns to keep the monsters on our tails; all the more so in situations in which narrow corridors would've limited the number of monsters who could actually get in to attack.
  • We were too distracted by treasure and other baubles, which are there for the express purpose of enticing hero players into wasting time.
It's frustrating to have fallen into these bad old ways because I was already aware of the dangers they present to parties of heroes. Ah well, there's always another day.

Tactics aside, hindsight means I have to question the wisdom of accepting that Curse on Kirga. If Gav and I hadn't lost those extra 2 Conquest points because of Kirga's Curse, then we wouldn't've lost the game when we did. One point Gav and I never considered when we pondered what to do with Backbiter was how easy is it to kill the hero carrying the cursed item? If they're one of the lightly armoured heroes any half-decent Overlord will be picking on for easy kills, then perhaps it's better to ignore the lure of power and just keep the item in your pack until you can discard it when you die.

Bad choices and massive screwage
With time for another game after 5 hours of Descent we quickly decided on our old favourite, Settlers of Catan. Going first I had little difficulty in choosing a location giving me brick, lumber and sheep with what I hoped would be quick access to a brick port. Waiting for my second pick I was worried about my access to grain and/or ore. Sure enough, I was left a choice. In the end I plumped for a location which gave me a run to a lumber port with decent lumber regions- 6 and 10 for a total of 8 pips; good enough if I got it.

What went down
I got off to what looked like a good start, quickly building a city and grabbing the Longest Road quite by accident as I built what turned out to be a superfluous road in my efforts to prevent Gav from confounding my plans to get my grain along with some nice extra lumber. Then came the massive screwage by Gav:
  • He bought a Development card and his gloat was enough to worry me immediately; sure enough, on his next turn he revealed Year of Plenty and built 2 roads, so cutting off my access to the lumber port I'd had my eye on.
  • He built a settlement on the grain region I'd tried to shut him out of, so denying me grain for the rest of the game.
With my resource base thus crippled and Donald's being even worse than that because he'd started without any lumber, there was little that either of us could do to stop Gav's relentless advance to victory. That didn't stop me trying, naturally enough, but with no grain coming in I couldn't buy the Development cards which would normally have provided the Soldiers I'd've used to deny Gav his strategic resources.

Evil Overlord
Just plain evil 1
D'oh! 0

Gav's massive screwage was the decisive turn in my fortunes and I completely lost my focus after it, compounding a bad situation with dumb moves. Truth to tell though I had already showed poor focus in my setup. My second choice of starting settlement was invidious:
  • If I took the grain I'd almost certainly never've got any ore, so I'd've had no chance anyway.
  • Taking the ore put me into a potential conflict with Gav for my grain, which I might lose because I had no grain and therefore might not get my settlement down in time.
I made two crucial errors in this situation:
  • I should've gone for maximum ore once I'd decided to choose ore at that point: going for the lumber port was a third layer to the road/settlement strategy to which I was already committed by virtue of seeking my grain and that brick port; this was just a bad call.
  • Even before that, my first road should've been pointed at the grain I wanted instead of at the brick port: I knew that grain was going to be difficult simply because of the board layout; I should've redirected that road to minimise the resources I'd've needed to grab the resource vital to my game.
Ah well, c'est la vie. Here's hoping I've learned lessons for the future. ;)


Not a Village in Westminster said...

Great write up as always. What I enjoy about this blog is the diversity of games covered - personally I haven't played any of them, yet am drawn in by the excitement which you convey with them. The idea of trawling through dungeons brings back the happy memories of Warhammer Quest, whilst the various WWII games appeal as a dose of enjoyable, tactical reality amongst the more fantastical settings.

John McLintock said...

Thanks for your kind words NVW. What else can I say? Well I'll keep writing these session reports as long as people keep reading them I guess. ;)