I must start this post with an admission about my sordid gaming past: I Was A Teenage Dungeon Master.
That’s right… for roughly three years “back in the day” I ran a rag-tag group of adventurers through a variety of dungeons & forests set in a fantasy world of my own creation. Armed with the board from AH’s Outdoor Survival (the map of “the world”) and the ‘blue box’ edition of the D&D (Dungeons & Dragons) basic rules, I spent most of my free time (and some of my class time) drawing dungeons & creating stories in preparation for marathon Saturday gaming sessions & quick one-shot adventures on weekdays after school.
The author at age 16, celebrating his birthday with a Dungeons & Dragons cake.Yes, that’s a dinosaur – his mother could not find a dragon.
Our crew never got into miniatures – I think because of economics rather than my current excuse, “the fear of painting.” Similar reasons kept us from playing too many of the “official” modules – the primary ones I remember are The Village of Hommlet (T1) and the Giant trilogy. (I’m still cheesed off that TSR didn’t publish T2 – The Temple of Elemental Evil – until years after I’d stopped playing D&D.) I vividly remember spending my hard-earned allowance money on the first Monster Manual, Player’s Handbook, and Dungeon Master’s Guide… and using the information in those books to dream up even more diabolical adventures.
Then, sometime in the spring of 1981, I stopped playing D&D. I kept playing Traveller (a sci-fi RPG – that’s “role playing game” for those you playing along at home) and a little bit of SPI’s Dragonquest, but you could stick a fork in my time with Dungeons & Dragons.
But I continued to enjoy fantasy games… Particularly those that captured some of the flavor of D&D. For a while, we played Talisman (2nd edition) on a regular basis. Then there was Warlock of Firetop Mountain… and even Space Hulk, which always had a bit of a dungeon crawl meets Aliens feel to the game. Another favorite was Dungeonquest, which I foolishly sold (along with both expansions) back in the mid-90’s. Thanks to the generosity of Keith “I Used To Be A Neutral Good Monk In Mark’s D&D Game” Monaghan, I have the game back in my collection. In the early 90’s, I bought the entire 3rd edition Talisman set… and we spent many happy hours chasing around the board, attempting to defeat the monsters & avoid getting turned into a toad. (Weirdly enough, I never actually played Heroquest and/or Advanced Heroquest. I wonder how that happened?)
Most of those are gone now… Warlock, Space Hulk & Talisman (3rd) all sold at hopped-up E-bay prices to enlarge my oddball collection of games. Every once in a while, I get a hankering to play them, but not enough to give up the pile of other games that they financed. (Dungeonquest, OTOH, is still here… and gets played every 3-4 months or so.)
In the last decade, the same “wish I could level up a character” impulse has led to my complete & total enjoyment of Return of the Heroes (and it’s expansion, Under the Shadow of the Dragon)… and, to a lesser extent, my sort-of enjoyment of Klaus Teuber’s Candamir: The First Settlers (which is a weird cross between The Settlers of Catan & an RPG.) More recently, I’ve had a blast diving into V. Chvátil’s fantasy games Prophecy and Mage Knight, in addition to the puzzle-y charms of Legends of Andor and the creepy ambience and Euro-tinged gameplay of the Space Hulk-influenced Claustrophobia.
It was just over 10 years ago (Memorial Day weekend 2006, to be exact) that I was first introduced to Descent: Journeys in the Dark. Produced by Fantasy Flight Games with one of the largest game boxes I’ve ever seen (I think it may even produce it’s own gravitational field), this dungeon crawl game combined some of the best elements of Space Hulk/Heroquest (the puzzle-cut dungeon boards & the nifty miniatures), Lord of the Rings: Sauron (with one player “running” the game, attempting to thwart the adventurers), and Runebound (the fatigue system & the fantasy world – “Terrinoth” – setting of the game) combined with innovative new ideas first created for FF’s Doom: The Boardgame. I particularly liked the “one roll combat” mechanism.
At the time, I wrote that I was seriously thinking of buying or trading for a copy, due not only to my own enjoyment of the game, but the potential for my boys to eventually enjoy it with me. I noted that I was concerned about the length of the game (3-4 hours per scenario) and the potential for expansions to go awry.
I wasn’t wrong. The early promise of that first wonderful game withered with repeated plays… it took so long to get the game going, the campaign system was clunky, and an adventure took 4+ hours with a full complement of players. My desire to own a copy myself went the way of the dodo… and about the only reference I made to the game was in reviews of Catacombs. (“Catacombs = Descent + Carabande – 3 hours”)
So when I saw that Fantasy Flight Games was rebooting Descent, I was both intrigued and wary. And, for a variety of reasons, I didn’t choose to pick it up… and I didn’t get an opportunity to play it. Continue reading