Descent: Legends of the Dark is the biggest, most ambitious board game of 2021

Greater than 4 years in the past former Fantasy Flight Video games head of studio Andrew Navarro introduced collectively a small group of creatives in Minnesota. The subject at hand was the subsequent iteration of the corporate’s flagship dungeon-crawling franchise, a protracted working collection generally known as Descent. The results of that effort is probably the most important, most formidable new product that the tabletop writer has ever tried: Descent: Legends of the Darkish – Act One.

“I’m paraphrasing,” recalled designer Nathan Hajek in an unique interview with Polygon, “however he stated he wished it to be ‘as massive and definitive as humanly potential. […] We’re placing all of it in. We’re going for it. Extra sources, extra time, extra folks. Let’s blow it out of the park.’”

A demons stands on a mountain of flagstones.

The big, winged determine is the one miniature that doesn’t come pre-assembled. It options its personal spacer, proven on the backside of the miniature, to permit it to face on slender platforms.
Picture: Charlie Corridor/Polygon

The result’s a roughly one-foot dice of cardboard and plastic that weighs just a little greater than seven kilos. Inside is among the most refined units of pre-assembled plastic miniatures available on the market, in addition to a novel assortment of 3D cardboard terrain. There’s additionally an app, obtainable free of charge on iOS and Android, Mac and Home windows PC. It’s a full-fledged motion role-playing marketing campaign in a field, one which doesn’t require a Dungeon Grasp in any respect, and it’s going to set you again $174.95. It arrives at retail shops worldwide on Aug. 6.

Descent: Legends of the Darkish is a press release piece by the Midwestern firm, one which it hopes will set a brand new bar for the style.

Right here’s the way it works.

Opening up the large blue field, I encountered an almost two-inch thick stack of cardboard punch boards. There’s additionally a four-page leaflet crammed with directions. After the higher a part of two hours of rigorously popping issues out and gingerly assembling all the pieces, I had all of the bits wanted to create a large 3D degree from a dungeon. There are double-sided ground tiles with particular underlays representing water and lava; large double doorways in a number of designs; bookcases and magical cauldrons; spell books mounted on tables, and extra. Better of all is a intelligent set of notched columns that mean you can create platforms that stand up off the floor of the desk.

Think about probably the most intricate dioramas, the sort created for exhibits like Critical Role and Dimension 20, all rendered in papercraft, and also you’re heading in the right direction.

“That punch board,” producer Jason Walden advised Polygon, “was not a part of the unique imaginative and prescient. It simply happened naturally. One among our graphic designers, Joe Olson, prompt it […] after which it simply form of began to snowball.”

This sort of manufacturing worth could be out of the query for a $60 recreation, however the market has modified significantly during the last 5 years.

The preferred recreation within the dungeon-crawling style, known as Gloomhaven, disrupted your entire trade when it launched a crowdfunding marketing campaign in 2015. The almost 20-pound retail product comes with dozens of miniatures, lots of of playing cards, and the same two-dimensional assortment of terrain and cardboard monsters. Despite the fact that it prices $150, it stays probably the most critically and commercially profitable new merchandise of this era. Many have tried to repeat its complexity, however none have but matched its success.

Fantasy Flight reasoned that if customers have been able to put down that a lot cash for brand spanking new, unproven designs on Kickstarter, why not go the additional mile for followers, new and outdated, of Descent? It’s the form of extravagance that tabletop followers can solely dream about — or one which hobbyists will spend months or years crafting by hand — and shortly will probably be available in shops. The ultimate product is fan service all the way in which down, together with into the empty void on the backside of the field to carry all that cardboard terrain safely between video games.

That’s proper: Fantasy Flight is paying a premium to ship half-empty packing containers from China.

Then there are the miniatures. Earlier editions of Descent have included related plastic miniatures product of PVC. The heavy, pliable composite makes minis which are almost indestructible, however it additionally leaves their options tender and their flat bases generally warp. Fantasy Flight tells Polygon that the fashions that include Descent: Legends of the Darkish are produced from polystyrene, injected into laser-cut steel molds. It’s the same course of to high-end fashions from Britain’s Games Workshop and Poland’s Archon Studio. The outcomes are stiff, barely extra brittle miniatures which have crisp particulars, together with weapons and different options that reach properly previous the spherical base. Hobbyists and miniature painters will love them.

A dragon and a dwarf face down a pair of wolves.

Picture: Charlie Corridor/Polygon

Producer Walden says the know-how to make these sorts of minis has been within the Fantasy Flight pipeline for a while now. It featured prominently in video games like Star Wars: Legion. That is the primary time that miniatures of this sort will likely be included in one of many firm’s extra conventional board video games.

After all, that is removed from a standard board recreation as a result of all the set-up and the motion is managed by a digital app. Actually, you may’t play the sport with out it.

However that is nothing new for Fantasy Flight both. Its first app-driven recreation, XCOM: The Board Game was launched manner again in 2014. Then got here Mansions of Madness: Second Edition in 2016, adopted by a free replace for Descent known as Road to Legend. That was adopted up in 2019 with the critically acclaimed Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle-earth.

Descent’s companion app will deal with all the pieces from organising the play space on the desk, to equipping arms and armor, to truly crafting new items of substances between missions. However, in keeping with producer Walden, the most important innovation is available in the way it allows his group to handle the sport’s narrative.

The primary 10 minutes of Descent: Legends of the Darkish from a pre-release model of the app.

“The depth of content material is among the greatest issues,” Walden stated. “Whenever you’re taking part in a daily recreation and you’ve got a deck of playing cards which are driving, for instance, a story expertise, you may see it. There’s 50 playing cards [in that stack]. You understand your narrative expertise is that this deep. You see it. You bodily see the narrative depth.

“What we’re capable of do is take these 50 playing cards and multiply it into 1000’s of choices,” Walden continued. “The depth is mysterious. It’s like an ocean. You received’t know the way deep that goes, and that provides a ton of thriller.”

Polygon has been busy these previous couple of weeks taking part in by way of the sport’s 16-mission story arc, which Fantasy Flight estimates will take customers round 50 hours or extra to finish. Pre-orders for Descent: Legends of the Darkish are stay now. Anticipate our full evaluate quickly.

Descent: Legends of the Darkish was previewed on Home windows PC utilizing a pre-release copy of the bodily recreation and app offered by Fantasy Flight Video games. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These don’t affect editorial content material, although Vox Media could earn commissions for merchandise bought through affiliate hyperlinks. You will discover additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here. | Descent: Legends of the Darkish is the most important, most formidable board recreation of 2021


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