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

More than 4 years ago previous Dream Flight Games head of studio Andrew Navarro combined a little group of creatives in Minnesota. The subject at hand was the next version of the business’s flagship dungeon-crawling franchise, a long running series referred to as Descent. The outcome of that effort is maybe the most significant, most enthusiastic brand-new item that the tabletop publisher has actually ever tried: Descent: Legends of the Dark – Act One.

“I’m paraphrasing,” remembered designer Nathan Hajek in an unique interview with Polygon, “but he said he wanted it to be ‘as big and definitive as humanly possible. […] We’re putting it all in. We’re going for it. More resources, more time, more people. Let’s blow it out of the park.’”

A demons stands on a mountain of flagstones.

The big, winged figure is the only mini that does not come pre-assembled. It includes its own spacer, revealed at the bottom of the mini, to enable it to base on narrow platforms.
Picture: Charlie Hall/Polygon

The outcome is an approximately one-foot cube of cardboard and plastic that weighs a bit more than 7 pounds. Inside is among the most advanced sets of pre-assembled plastic minis on the marketplace, along with an unique collection of 3D cardboard surface. There’s likewise an app, offered totally free on iOS and Android, Mac and Windows PC. It’s a full-fledged action role-playing project in a box, one that doesn’t need a Dungeon Master at all, and it’s going to set you back $174.95. It comes to stores around the world on Aug. 6.

Descent: Legends of the Dark is a declaration piece by the Midwestern business, one that it hopes will set a brand-new bar for the category.

Here’s how it works.

Opening the huge blue box, I experienced an almost two-inch thick stack of cardboard punch boards. There’s likewise a four-page brochure filled with directions. After the lion’s share of 2 hours of thoroughly popping things out and gingerly putting together whatever, I had all the bits required to produce a huge 3D level from a dungeon. There are double-sided flooring tiles with unique underlays representing water and lava; enormous double doors in numerous styles; bookcases and wonderful cauldrons; spell books installed on tables, and more. Most importantly is a creative set of notched columns that enable you to produce platforms that rise off the surface area of the table.

Picture the most detailed dioramas, the type produced for programs like Vital Function and Measurement 20, all rendered in papercraft, and you’re on the ideal track.

“That punch board,” manufacturer Jason Walden informed Polygon, “was not part of the original vision. It just came about naturally. One of our graphic designers, Joe Olson, suggested it […] and then it just kind of started to snowball.”

This type of production worth would run out the concern for a $60 video game, however the marketplace has actually altered substantially over the last 5 years.

The most popular video game in the dungeon-crawling category, called Gloomhaven, interfered with the whole market when it released a crowdfunding project in 2015. The almost 20-pound retail item comes with lots of minis, numerous cards, and a comparable two-dimensional collection of surface and cardboard beasts. Although it costs $150, it stays among the most seriously and commercially effective brand-new items of this generation. Numerous have actually tried to copy its intricacy, however none have actually yet matched its success.

Dream Flight reasoned that if customers were prepared to put down that much cash for brand-new, unverified styles on Kickstarter, why not go above and beyond for fans, brand-new and old, of Descent? It’s the type of overindulgence that tabletop fans can just dream about — or one that enthusiasts will invest months or years crafting by hand — and quickly it will be offered in shops. The end product is fan service all the method down, consisting of into the empty space at the bottom of package to hold all that cardboard surface securely in between video games.

That’s right: Dream Flight is paying a premium to deliver half-empty boxes from China.

Then there are the minis. Previous editions of Descent have actually consisted of comparable plastic minis made from PVC. The heavy, flexible composite makes minis that are almost unbreakable, however it likewise leaves their functions soft and their flat bases in some cases warp. Dream Flight informs Polygon that the designs that come with Descent: Legends of the Dark are made from polystyrene, injected into laser-cut metal molds. It’s a comparable procedure to high-end designs from Britain’s Games Workshop and Poland’s Archon Studio. The outcomes are stiff, somewhat more breakable minis that have crisp information, consisting of weapons and other functions that extend well past the round base. Enthusiasts and mini painters will like them.

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

Picture: Charlie Hall/Polygon

Manufacturer Walden states the innovation to make these type of minis has actually remained in the Dream Flight pipeline for a long time now. It included plainly in video games like Star Wars: Legion. This is the very first time that minis of this type will be consisted of in among the business’s more conventional parlor game.

Naturally, this is far from a standard parlor game since all of the set-up and the action is handled by a digital app. In reality, you can’t play the video game without it.

But this is nothing new for Fantasy Flight either. Its first app-driven video game, XCOM: The Board Game was released way back in 2014. Then came Mansions of Madness: Second Edition in 2016, followed by a free update for Descent called Road to Legend. That was followed up in 2019 with the critically acclaimed Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle-earth.

Descent’s companion app will handle everything from setting up the play area on the table, to equipping arms and armor, to actually crafting new pieces of gear between missions. However, according to producer Walden, the biggest innovation comes in how it enables 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 biggest things,” Walden said. “When you’re playing a regular game and you have a deck of cards that are driving, for example, a narrative experience, you can see it. There’s 50 cards [in that stack]. You know your narrative experience is this deep. You see it. You physically see the narrative depth.

“What we’re able to do is take those 50 cards and multiply it into 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 ton of mystery.”

Polygon has been busy these last few weeks playing through the game’s 16-mission story arc, which Dream Flight estimates will take consumers around 50 hours or more to complete. Pre-orders for Descent: Legends of the Dark are live now. Expect our full review soon.

Descent: Legends of the Dark was previewed on Windows PC using a pre-release copy of the physical video game and app provided by Fantasy Flight Games. Vox Media has actually affiliate collaborations. These do not affect editorial material, though Vox Media might make commissions for items bought through affiliate links. You can discover extra details about Polygon’s principles policy here.


Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.