More than four years ago, former Fantasy Flight Games studio director Andrew Navarro brought together a small team of creatives in Minnesota. The subject at hand was the next iteration of the company’s flagship dungeon crawling franchise, a long-running series known as Descent. The result of these efforts is perhaps the biggest, most ambitious new product the tabletop publisher has ever tried: Descent: Legends of the Dark – Act One.
“I paraphrase,” recalled designer Nathan Hajek in an exclusive interview with Polygon, “but he said he wanted it to be ‘as big and final as possible. […] We wrap everything up. We strive for it. More resources, more time, more people. Let’s blow it out of the park. ‘”
The result is a cube of cardboard and plastic about a foot tall, weighing a little over seven pounds. Inside is one of the most sophisticated sets of pre-assembled plastic miniatures on the market, as well as a novel collection of 3D cardboard grounds. There is also a free app for iOS and Android, Mac and Windows PC. It’s a full-fledged action RPG campaign in a box that doesn’t require a Dungeon Master at all and that will set you back $ 174.95. It arrives in retail stores worldwide on August 6th.
Descent: Legends of the Dark is a statement piece from the Midwestern company that she hopes will set new standards for the genre.
This is how it works.
When I opened the big blue box, I came across a stack of cardboard punching boards three inches thick. There is also a four-page leaflet with instructions. After most of two hours of carefully pulling things out and carefully assembling everything, I had all the parts I needed to turn a dungeon into a huge 3D level. There are double-sided floor tiles with special underlays depicting water and lava; massive double doors in several designs; Bookshelves and magic cauldrons; magic books mounted on tables and more. Best of all is a clever set of notched pillars that you can use to create platforms that rise from the table surface.
Imagine the most intricate dioramas made for shows like Critical Role and Dimension 20, all rendered in papercraft, and you are on the right track.
“That perforated board,” producer Jason Walden told Polygon, “wasn’t part of the original vision. It just happened naturally. It was suggested by one of our graphic designers, Joe Olson […] and then it just started to snow. “
Such production value wouldn’t have been an option for a $ 60 game, but the market has changed a lot over the past five years.
The most popular game in the dungeon crawling genre, called Gloomhaven, messed up the entire industry when it launched a crowdfunding campaign in 2015. The nearly 20-pound retail product contains dozens of miniatures, hundreds of maps, and a similar two-dimensional collection of terrain and cardboard monsters. Despite costing $ 150, it remains one of the most critical and commercially successful new products of this generation. Many have tried to copy its complexity, but none have achieved its success.
Fantasy Flight argued that if consumers were willing to spend so much money on new, unproven designs on Kickstarter, why not go the extra mile for Descent fans new and old? It’s the kind of extravaganza that tabletop fans can only dream of – or that hobbyists spend months or years handcrafting – and which will soon be available in stores. The end product is the fanservice at the very bottom, including the empty cavity at the bottom of the box to keep all the cardboard space safe between games.
Right: Fantasy Flight pays a premium for shipping half-empty boxes from China.
Then there are the miniatures. Earlier editions of Descent included similar plastic miniatures made from PVC. The heavy, flexible composite makes Minis almost indestructible, but also leaves their features soft and their flat bases sometimes warp. Fantasy Flight informs Polygon that the supplied models Descent: Legends of the Dark are made from polystyrene that is injected into laser-cut metal molds. It’s a similar process to high-end models from the UK’s Games Workshop and Poland’s Archon Studio. The result is stiff, slightly more brittle miniatures with razor-sharp details, including weapons and other features, that extend well beyond the round base. Hobbyists and miniature painters will love them.
According to producer Walden, the technology to make these types of minis has been in Fantasy Flight’s pipeline for some time. It played a prominent role in games like Star Wars: Legion
Of course, this is anything but a traditional board game, given the entire structure and The action is controlled via a digital app. In fact, you can’t play the game without them.
But that’s nothing new to Fantasy Flight either. His first app-controlled game, XCOM: the board game was published in 2014. Then came Mansions of Madness: Second Edition in 2016 followed by a free update for Descent called Way to the legend. This was followed by the critically acclaimed in 2019 Lord of the Rings: Travels through Middle-earth.
ancestry‘s Companion app does everything from setting up the play area on the table to equipping weapons and armor to making new gear between missions. However, according to producer Walden, the biggest innovation lies in how it allows his team to manage the game’s narrative.
The first 10 minutes of Descent: Legends of the Dark from a pre-release version of the app.
“The depth of content is one of the greatest things,” said Walden. “If you play a normal game and have a card game that drives a narrative experience, for example, you can see it. There are 50 cards [in that stack]. They know your storytelling experience is so deep. You see it. You see the narrative depth physically.
“We can take those 50 cards and multiply by thousands of options,” Walden continued. “The depth is mysterious. It’s like an ocean. You won’t know how deep that goes, and that adds a lot of mystery. “
Polygon has been busy playing through the game’s 16-mission story arc for the past few weeks, which Fantasy Flight is estimated to take 50 hours or more to complete. Pre-orders for Descent: Legends of the Dark are now live. Expect our full review soon.
Descent: Legends of the Dark was viewed on a Windows PC with a pre-release version of the physical game and the Fantasy Flight Games app. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not affect the editorial content, although Vox Media can earn commissions on products purchased through affiliate links. you find more information on Polygon’s ethics policy here.