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Subject: Journeys in the Dark: Quest Difficulty Rating rss

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Jeff Long
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This post is intended to outline my experience in playing all 9 of the original Descent: Journeys in the Dark official quests, and give my opinion on the relative balance of each, in terms of favoring either the Heroes or the Overlord. I also include the play data of these maps; for most of the games presented, I was the Overlord, but not all of them.

In evaluating these maps, I will assign each a number from 1 to 10 in two categories: initial difficulty, and final difficulty. Initial balance is the difficulty that the Heroes would experience their first time or two through the map, and final difficulty is the difficulty I'd expect for an experienced group of heroes who have virtually memorized the map. I believe this distinction is important to make, as some of the maps contain little tricks and traps that are almost sure to destroy the Heroes when they are unknown, but which are simple to avoid once the map has been explored and understood. The numeric values are a combination of our play data and my own opinion, with a value of '1' being nearly impossible for the players to lose and '10' being nearly impossible for the Overlord to lose. Like all opinions, these numbers are subjective, and in many cases, possibly wrong. So take them for what they are - one guy's opinion.

In the following text, some spoilers may abound as to the content of the maps, so be forewarned.

For Well of Darkness Quest Difficulty, go here: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/400225

For Altar of Despair Quest Difficulty, go here: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/5746871

-----------------------

Quest 1: Into the Dark

Data
Games: 6
Hero Wins: 4
Overlord Wins: 2

The first map, and it is rightly something of an introductory map. Nevertheless, it is not entirely trivial for the Heroes, especially as there are two different paths to take in exploring the map. In fact, an experienced Overlord certainly has a good chance of defeating novice heroes on this map. The room with the fallen column in the middle can turn into a hot spot if the heroes let it, and saving the Mimic for the Gold chest can make the boss a difficult battle if the Heroes are not lucky with their Silver treasure draws.

Initial Difficulty: 4
Final Difficulty: 2

----------------------------

Quest 2: The Brothers Durnog

Data
Games: 4
Hero Wins: 3
Overlord Wins: 1

This map may well be the 'swingiest' of them all, in terms of the player's experience. And the problem is that the big swing happens extremely early. If the players haven't yet discovered the effectiveness of the 'running' strategy, this map could pose them serious problems. But if they have, it is a joke. It is seriously the easiest map in the game by far if the players know just a few basics. Even the first time through, it is not too difficult for the players to figure out what the correct strategy is, especially thanks to the flavor text (and one of my groups indeed did so), but once they have, the Overlord simply cannot win. It is the least replayable map in the original set for this reason.

Initial Difficulty: 6
Final Difficulty: 0

---------------------------------

Quest 3: Problems of Life and Death

Data
Games: 4
Hero Wins: 2
Overlord Wins: 2

Not a terribly difficult map, but it has its share of tricks. It is also fairly sensitive to the party composition, more so perhaps than some other maps, as the Stone Nagas can be quite challenging if activated inadvertently and without a lucky weapon and skill draw. The door that opens on its own also makes for a nasty surprise for a first play-through.

Initial Difficulty: 5
Final Difficulty: 3

-------------------------

Quest 4: The Spoiled Brat

Data
Games: 8
Hero Wins: 3
Overlord Wins: 5

By far the most difficult thing about this map is its size. Simply covering all the ground, coupled with the reduced speed from the Princess, gives the Overlord plenty of time to gather threat and prepare his defenses. I also tended to play this map with too few Heroes playing against me, which I think is particularly difficult given the Princess dynamics. Once the players realize they do not have to clear every room, the map gets a bit easier, but the distance and all the backtracking is still daunting. Still, I think a larger-sized party would have an advantage over the Overlord once they know what they're doing. The fact that all the 'stub rooms' are small works to the Heroes' advantage, as it makes it easier for them to open the door and kill the monsters within before the Overlord can react.

Initial Difficulty: 7
Final Difficulty: 4

--------------------

Quest 5: Last Wishes

Games: 14
Hero Wins: 2
Overlord Wins: 12

This map initially gave my Heroes a LOT of trouble. In no other map did I kill them as frequently in the first half-hour of the game as I did on this one. In spite of this, I do not feel this is an unfairly difficult map. Rather, the hardest part of the map is the first room, and the setup is such that it severely punishes even the slightest mistake. This is a map that throws the Heroes into the fray immediately without the usual 'warm-up' of a couple weak monsters, and it will teach them a LOT of valuable lessons about how to protect themselves from spawns and play with different party configurations. The linear nature of the map means there is less room, however, for 'error of exploration,' and each room presents its own unique challenges. The surprise ending means the Overlord even has a choice of strategies for how to win, and should pay careful attention to which chests have appeared in the game.

Overall, this is my favorite map of the bunch, and in my opinion, the most replayable.

Initial Difficulty: 7
Final Difficulty: 6

-----------------------------

Quest 6: The Eternal Guardian

Games: 2
Hero Wins: 2
Overlord Wins: 0

This map is a complete and utter cake-walk for the Heroes. If the Heroes have been having trouble winning in your group, this map should be a good litmus test for you to try. If they fail here, then either your group has been misinterpreting some crucial rules, or the Overlord is outplaying them by a tremendous margin. Silver treasure in the first room, trivial monsters in the second, gold treasure and an enormously powerful relic in the third...they just can't lose. I guess the Guardian following them is supposed to be 'difficult,' but outrunning him is a breeze, and even if it isn't, the map gives you those linked glyphs to hop back and forth across the water and lose him that way.

Initial Difficulty: 2
Final Difficulty: 1

-----------------------

Quest 7: The Black Blade

Games: 12
Hero Wins: 1
Overlord Wins: 11

However easy you thought Quest 6 was, this one is the reverse. It is the only map out of the original nine that I feel is grossly unfair to the Heroes. This map blows away everything the Heroes thought they had learned about the map design of the quests from the previous missions. The treasure is sparse and hard to come by, the Heroes are hamstrung by a ridiculously weak weapon that sucks their life, and worst of all, the glyphs are all in terrible, terrible locations. What's more, the map contains a deadly set-up or two which will surely kill the Heroes if they are unlucky enough to open the wrong door. This map does get easier with experience, but it still takes near-flawless play and a lucky Hero-draw on the part of the Heroes to pull it off.

Initial Difficulty: 10
Final Difficulty: 8

------------------------

Quest 8: The Trapped Ruins

Games: 2
Hero Wins: 2
Overlord Wins: 0

After all the gruelling lessons learned on map 7, this map is a breeze. My Heroes had gotten so good with all their training on the previous map, that when they finally beat it and came to this one, they just walked all over me. A closer analysis shows that the map isn't completely trivial. The biggest challenge is the lack of an additional glyph until the heroes manage to open one of the Rune-doors. This means if the Overlord can kill a powerful character early with his array of traps (made much easier by Trapmaster starting in play), he can put the Heroes on the defensive. Still, the treasure is early and abundant, and in the end the Heroes won't have too much trouble with this one.

Initial Difficulty: 4
Final Difficulty: 3


-----------------------

Quest 9: Old Friends

Games: 1
Hero wins: 1
Overlord Wins: 0

For the final quest in the book, I was expecting a tough one and an epic battle, but I didn't get it. As can be seen from my data however, this is the map about which my opinion is the sketchiest. The one time we played it, the Heroes had little difficulty in rolling over me. My impression, though, is that the map isn't really as easy as all that. If the Heroes don't know where the Runeplate is (my Heroes managed to go the 'right' way to get straight to it the first time, although to be honest, the map does rather 'lead' you in the right direction), the rooms with the bigger monsters can be a tough time. However, there's no doubt that with their skills honed by all the previous games (and in particular over 20 games simply on Maps 5 and 7 alone), my Heroes were playing very well, and lesser players might have had a tough go at it. Nevertheless, with early access to the mighty Runeplate, I can't see this map being terribly difficult for any group of Heroes.

Initial Difficulty: 6
Final Difficulty: 4




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Sami Saarela
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Great stuff.

I'm eagerly waiting your analysis of the expansions as well.
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Paul
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saar wrote:

I'm eagerly waiting your analysis of the expansions as well.


You and me both!

Thanks for that quest breakdown. With a Descent binge planned for this weekend it couldnt have come at a better time.


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Simon Lundström
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Well posted. Thanks.
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Jeff Long
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Thanks for the praise.
I'm afraid the expansion maps may be a while in coming. As you can see, we are quite a methodical group, and we don't let the Heroes move on until they've defeated the current map at least once. I am fortunate to have such patient players. But I will certainly post my opinions once we finally get there.
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Cédric Billette
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Did you use any of the expansion rules at all in these games? Treachery, new skill/equipment cards, new potions, new monsters, etc.
 
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Jeff Long
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Thanks for the question Cedric, I should certainly state our experimental methodology in the games. ; >

For the most part, there were no rules from the expansions, with the exceptions of Maps 8 and 9. For these maps, we shuffled in the new Heroes from Well of Darkness (and they certainly did come up in play, somehow Lord Hawthorne is a magnet for the cleaving ability in our group...), the 3 new Spawn cards for the Overlord (Kobolds x2 and Ferrox x1) and shuffled in the new Treasures. No other expansion rules (particularly Treachery) were used, and nothing from Altar of Despair.

We have been playing around with a few house rules, most, I believe, are quite minor. The most consistent ones have been:

1) Healing potions heal 4, not 3
2) You can spend an attack to re-try getting out of a web
3) Ice Storm (Silver treasure) does not automatically have Blast 1

We played with a varying number of Heroes, from 2 to 4; for 2 and 4 Heroes we played around a little with the system to try and make things more fair. The rules we settled on (although there were some variations on them in the middle) were:

2 Heroes: Overlord gets 1 threat per turn/curse instead of 2
Heroes draw 2-choose-1 treasures instead of 1 treasure
Money tokens give 150 intead of 100

4 Heroes: Overlord gets 5 threat per turn/curse instead of 4
'Big' monsters are a little bit tougher over the 5-player
cards (+1 HP for tier 3, +1 HP and Armor for Tier 4)

Finally, my group really does not like the undying ability as written; we feel it is too random, too frustrating and too 'swingy.' We've tried a couple variants, most of which involve increasing the chance that the monster can un-die, but at a Threat cost to the Overlord (so that there's no lucky free lunch).
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Matt Price
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Hi Jeff,

Thanks for your analysis.

What are tier 3 and tier 4 monsters? Is there something in the rulebook that clarifies this?

Thanks
 
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Jeff Long
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Oops sorry, hadn't checked this thread for a while.

The 'Design Notes: Monsters' section on the Fantasy Flight Descent page shows a classification of 'tiers' on the monsters. Basically, Ogres, Nagas and Manticore are "Tier 3" and Giants, Dragons and Demons are "Tier 4" in the base game. A few of the expansion creatures potentially mess this up (where to Deep Elves fit, for example). In any case, for the expansions, we've stopped using those rules anyway, as the game is tough enough as written in the 4-Hero case.
 
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Dave Benhart
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This is a great resource. My group just played Quest 5 for the first time, getting spanked 3 times last night, the first two only took an hour total. We then came and found this thread to review. It's definitely a tough map, although we were playing with full (except Tomb of Ice, which I don't have yet) expansion rules. Elite Beastman War parties make that first room even harder.
We're considering strategies for future playings. I think having 4 heroes instead of 3 will help.

I look forward to a review of the expansion maps!
 
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Peter Folke
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Quote:
Quest 9: Old Friends

Games: 1
Hero wins: 1
Overlord Wins: 0

For the final quest in the book, I was expecting a tough one and an epic battle, but I didn't get it. As can be seen from my data however, this is the map about which my opinion is the sketchiest. The one time we played it, the Heroes had little difficulty in rolling over me. My impression, though, is that the map isn't really as easy as all that. If the Heroes don't know where the Runeplate is (my Heroes managed to go the 'right' way to get straight to it the first time, although to be honest, the map does rather 'lead' you in the right direction), the rooms with the bigger monsters can be a tough time. However, there's no doubt that with their skills honed by all the previous games (and in particular over 20 games simply on Maps 5 and 7 alone), my Heroes were playing very well, and lesser players might have had a tough go at it. Nevertheless, with early access to the mighty Runeplate, I can't see this map being terribly difficult for any group of Heroes.

Initial Difficulty: 6
Final Difficulty: 4


First of all, let me say that I am a huge fan of your analyses (not just this one).
It's amazing how much "research" you have done on this game, and in a very objective way. It really shows that while you play to win, you want the game to be balanced. And you have a thorough understanding of what that means.

Now, I would just like to add a tiny bit of information to your reasearch. I have played the last quest of the base game a few times now, and 2 times the heroes have had several really slow characters (3 movement or 4 movement and 3 fatigue). This can be dangerous on a map like this, where there is quite a distance between the glyphs, and just as important, the distance between the door leading into a room and the glyph in that room.

It should be noted that we play with expansion stuff thrown in (WoD and AoD), but I feel that balancing of the treasure decks and extra shop items (especially the ring of protection and the sunburst rune) balance out against treachery (which admittedly is VERY good) and the extra overlord cards (which aren't always good since they delay the 3 conquest for running out).

Also, I am eagerly awaiting analysis of the expansions!
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Matt
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Quote:
Quest 4: The Spoiled Brat

Data
Games: 8
Hero Wins: 3
Overlord Wins: 5

By far the most difficult thing about this map is its size. Simply covering all the ground, coupled with the reduced speed from the Princess, gives the Overlord plenty of time to gather threat and prepare his defenses. I also tended to play this map with too few Heroes playing against me, which I think is particularly difficult given the Princess dynamics. Once the players realize they do not have to clear every room, the map gets a bit easier, but the distance and all the backtracking is still daunting. Still, I think a larger-sized party would have an advantage over the Overlord once they know what they're doing. The fact that all the 'stub rooms' are small works to the Heroes' advantage, as it makes it easier for them to open the door and kill the monsters within before the Overlord can react.

Initial Difficulty: 7
Final Difficulty: 4

Don't the two bronze chests in the starting area give the heroes a huge leg up? That'll net them 2 - 3 bronze treasures each.
 
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Jeff Long
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Re: JitD Quest 9
I agree that many quests are dangerous with a slow team. The key in such circumstances is to use the 'runner' character to speed up the entire team by activating glyphs and basically letting the big slow tanks teleport around to where they need to be. If the team is comprised of ALL slow characters, that is very bad for the Heroes, but I consider that an unusually bad team.

Sorry for not checking back here more often; but I have now come to announce that my Well of Darkness analysis is done, and can be found here: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/400225. I have also updated this information in the main post above.
 
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Jason Russ
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What about the length of time for each quest? Any insight there would be appreciated.


Cheers,
Jason
www.wargamedepot.com
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Regarding your review of the Eternal Guardian, have you played it with the guardian hanging back from the Heroes and building up a buffer barrier of spawned monsters. Though in the flavour text it says the guardian hounds your every step, there are no rule-specifics under the guardian that state it has to follow the heroes.
 
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Allan Jørgensen
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Great evaluation
Got one question though before I can be sure if I can count on this for my own games..

What level were the heroes during each quest? in other words did they (almost) follow the level of the quest or were the all lv. 1? Or maybe even higher than the quest? Even though thats a bit unlikely.
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Daniel
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Great article!

Can't wait to try that myself!
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Jeremy Lennert
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Greasygeek wrote:
What level were the heroes during each quest? in other words did they (almost) follow the level of the quest or were the all lv. 1? Or maybe even higher than the quest? Even though thats a bit unlikely.

I can't speak for The_Immortal, but my strong impression is that most people don't use the basic campaign rules. (Which is equivalent to the heroes always being level 1.) Really, they look kind of tacked-on.
 
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James McMurray
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We've never used them. If we're campaigning we use Road to Legends. If we're playing basic quests we prefer the variety of drawing heroes every time.
 
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Matt Price
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There's levels now in Descent? I've played RtL, but I don't remember levels being in the vanilla Descent. What expansion included those rules?
 
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Allan Jørgensen
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the basic game did that. but they are really simple. But hey it's the only rules availeble, if you aren't playing with the RtL.
 
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Jeremy Lennert
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mattprice wrote:
There's levels now in Descent? I've played RtL, but I don't remember levels being in the vanilla Descent. What expansion included those rules?

They're printed on the cover of the base game quest guide. I don't actually recommend them, but they do exist.
 
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Jeremy Lennert
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I was just observing that Quest 5: Last Wishes looks like it could become particularly brutal if played with the Altar of Despair expansion, as there are a paltry 3 glyphs in the dungeon (not counting the start area), making dark glyphs particularly troublesome. On top of this, the overlord has 4 event treachery, so he can make two of the three into sundered glyphs that can't be used for transport at all--it's a very long run back to the starting area if you need to shop or if you die!
 
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Doug File
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A great read, and helpful for deciding which quests to play with 3 heroes and which with 4 (and which might be feasible with just 2 heroes).

I'm still hoping for Altar of Despair / Tomb of Ice quest difficulty ratings - any chance of either of these appearing in the next few months?

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Thyme Ludwig
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So, I am confused by this part of this post:

The_Immortal wrote:
2 Heroes: Overlord gets 1 threat per turn/curse instead of 2
Heroes draw 2-choose-1 treasures instead of 1 treasure
Money tokens give 150 intead of 100

4 Heroes: Overlord gets 5 threat per turn/curse instead of 4
'Big' monsters are a little bit tougher over the 5-player
cards (+1 HP for tier 3, +1 HP and Armor for Tier 4)



Does the Overlord gain extra threat from curses on the heros? All I can recall is the Overlord gaining extra conquest when killing a cursed hero. I would feel twice as sorry for heros wielding a cursed weapon in that case!

Aside from that, great post/thread!
 
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