Grown-up life is hard, and Descent: Legends of the Dark knows this. To be precise, it's aware that getting a board game group together regularly can be like herding cats. With that in mind, Descent can be played - and actually enjoyed - by just one person.
Sure, Descent: Legends of the Dark can accommodate four adventurers in total. But rounding up so many willing victims isn't essential to have a good time.
Apps versus evil
Set in the land of Terrinoth (a fantasy world that's been taking shape since the mid-2000s) and acting as a follow-up of sorts to Descent: Journeys in the Dark, this co-op dungeon-crawler tasks its would-be heroes with holding back a tide of hellspawn who are clearly bad news because of how spikey they are. However, it's not this traditional plot of good versus evil that'll draw you in. Instead, that success can be laid at the feet of the game's sleek, almost-smart-enough-to-make-you-a-coffee companion app.
Many of the best board games feature mechanics powered by your smartphone or tablet, but few of them are as involved as this. Thanks to dialogue options that sit alongside a full soundtrack and AI-controlled enemy attacks, Descent: Legends of the Dark often feels more like playing a video game than it does a tabletop experience. When combined with the tactile nature of the miniatures and scenery (a generous amount of which are included in the box), it's a unique experience that you can't really find anywhere else.
Because the app dictates what will happen next rather than forcing you to follow written instructions, it maintains a sense of distance and mystery that comes from not knowing what's around the next corner. Sure, it's not going to replace a good Dungeon Master running adventures from the best tabletop RPGs. But it still injects an element of the unknown that keeps you on your toes.
And before you say it, no - you can't just download the app and play that way. Beyond initial placement, Descent's AI doesn't track enemy position, cards, or handle die rolls. You have to do that manually and input the results, so there's no way of getting your teeth into Legends of the Dark without having the physical game in your hands (sorry).
The fact that Descent's app sorts out number-crunching for you is a blessing worthy of its spellcasters, too; it handles enemy generation, tracks wounds, and tells you exactly which terrain to place. This allows you to focus on playing the actual game instead of dusting off your math skills or consulting rulebooks every five minutes. You can even browse the rules in-app by holding down on a term you need clarification for.
Besides giving you more time to get familiar with the characters under your control, the app helps you define who they are through conversation. You don't have oodles of choice, but it's enough to furnish your party with some personality beyond what you'd read on the back of a card or accompanying bumph. While the story they're adventuring through errs on the side of cheese (and gives you a lot to digest, to the point where I feel like I've wandered in halfway through the narrative), it's still enough to draw you in.
A lot of this is down to an expressive, colorful art-style that leaps off the screen. Because it's matched - if not bettered - by genuinely incredible miniatures that have more detail and personality than I've seen in a long time, Descent: Legends of the Dark is a very handsome beast.
And 'beast' is the right word. Although it doesn't pack the wealth of secret, boxed-up bonus characters from something like Gloomhaven, Descent still has an enormous box crammed with cards, tokens, scenery, and models. It's the sort of packaging that strikes fear into the heart of anyone with limited storage space.
However, that wealth of content is what allows Descent to provide so much depth. Its combat is a good example; while victory is still determined by die-roll, successes can also generate 'Surge' power-up effects and allow you to spend Fatigue points that add hits to your total damage.
In much the same vein, the app also reveals and tracks enemy weaknesses as you battle them. Taken in tandem with each foe's unique moveset (including poisons and multi-attacks if you stray too close), the system is pleasantly layered and gives you a lot to master.
It's a similar story with Fatigue. Unfortunately for your adventurers, building up too many of these tokens can stop them from using certain bonuses. That makes juggling those tokens a priority. When combined with each character's unique strengths, there's a lot to get to grips with over the course of your campaign.
The only downside is the price. As with so many RPG board games, Descent: Legends of the Dark will cost you a pretty penny. Indeed, it weighs in at a breezy $175 / £140. This is steep by anyone's reckoning, and I'm still not entirely sure it's worth that.
Overall - should you buy Descent: Legends of the Dark?
Price aside, there's no denying that this is a great game once you crack it open (from initial impressions, at least - I'll keep adding to this page when I get further into the campaign). Everything from Descent's miniatures to its app work beautifully together, and it's absolutely something I can see folks becoming lost in over the course of the storyline.
In addition, the app gives it a unique selling point in a market that's fast becoming crowded thanks to upcoming RPG goliaths like Frosthaven and the HeroQuest reboot.
That makes it worth considering if you want a game to properly sink your teeth into co-op or solo - and if your budget can stretch that far (if Descent gets a discount during the Black Friday board game deals this November, picking it up will be a no-brainer). It's everything you want a good fantasy roleplaying board game to be: gripping, moreish, and with lots of depth buried beneath a ton of cool miniatures.
Want more adventure? Check out the best Dungeons and Dragons books or the best cooperative board games.