Descent: Forgotten Souls Review

We were supposed to get our internet upgraded up this week (as well as many previous weeks), but apparently Outreach has a pretty lax attitude about doing things.

Of course when you're the only ISP that won't charge someone over $130 per month for a tenuous satellite signal with a monthly 20Gb download cap, you can get away with some pretty abysmal "customer" "service".

This is why you haven't seen a play report for a role-playing game (or any game, really) in over a month: our internet speed is so slow that it cannot support a Hangout game. So, being about an hour away from the closest approximation of civilization and itching to roll some dice (even "normal" six-siders), we decided to give Forgotten Souls a shot.

This is billed as a "fully cooperative expansion" for Descent, but it's not really an expansion so much as a single, massive quest with all the parts necessary to run it cooperatively (and only cooperatively): you get a deck of Exploration, Activation, and Peril cards, as well as a "track sheet" that is used to, well, track your Fate, Doom, and Loot.

To setup the quest you pull out the starting and three numbered main encounters from the Exploration deck, divide the rest of the deck into three smaller decks, shuffle one of the main encounters into each of them, then finally stack them so that each encounter will be drawn in order from one to three.

You then build the starting room with tiles, and—as with "normal" Descent—populate it with monsters and search tokens based on the number of players, and from there it's anyone's guess. Basically the goal is to clear the encounter, open the door, draw another Exploration card, build the room, clear the new encounter, and rinse and repeat until you either finish the third main encounter...or die trying.

Each Exploration card tells you what room you need to build, which like the starting room also determines what monsters and Search tokens are present, if any, based on the number of heroes present: since it was just the two of us, we basically only ever had to deal with two monsters at a time (a master and a minion).

There is also encounter text that tells you what has to be done to clear it—which can have both good and bad conditions—or the card might just keep smacking you with something bad until you clear it. Sometimes it'll be something simple like "kill all the monsters", and other times you'll have to catch a Search token before it gets to the exit of the room.

Once the encounter is cleared you can then head over and open the door (doors cannot be opened while the card is still in play), after which you draw a new Exploration card, build and populate the room, check the encounter text, etc. You gotta be quick, because if the Overlord phase starts and there is no active encounter, you get to draw a Peril card and advance the Fate token by one.

But wait, you're obviously thinking at this point in time (as opposed to what the hell are Peril cards, or Fate/Doom tokens): if there's no Overlord, why does he still get a phase? I'm glad/assuming you thought that: during the "Overlord" phase you check the encounter card, and run through all the things in the red section. Sometimes this is as simple as advancing the Doom or Fate token, or resolving a Peril card, and sometimes it has you roll a die to spawn more monsters.

Monster activation is also part of the Overlord phase: once you're done with the encounter text you draw an Activation card, find whatever monster is on the board, and run through the steps.

Obviously they aren't going to be tactical geniuses: generally they just move until they can hit a hero and then attack. Some will specify the most or least wounded hero, some will have the monster use a special attack. The rulebook pdf specifies how to spend surges so that they'll always do something (no spending a surge on Disease if you won't take any damage, for example).

Maybe to account for that, as well as the lack of an Overlord playing Overlord cards, a lot of the Activation cards give them bonuses. Sometimes it's something minor like +3 range or +1 wound per hit, but there's one that gives barghests +5 speed and another attack action. Oh, the encounters can also add bonuses, too: last night the encounter and Activation card combined to give the flesh moulders we ran into +6 range. Plus. Six. Yeah, they didn't need to spend surges to bump that.

The last thing I should cover is that whole Fate/Doom/Loot thing (band name?).

On the left side you have the Overlord track. You put a Hero token on both ends, with the number of heroes determining where the Doom token starts at (there are spots that indicate 2, 3, and 4 heroes). Some encounters will have you advance the Fate/Doom token if you take too long/fuck up too much, but if you do a good job the Fate token can be reset or moved back. The Doom token never goes back, and if both tokens end up on the same spot you immediately lose.

The loot track allows you to gain Act-whatever shop cards, which is good because you don't get a chance to stop and shop in this game. Whenever you kill a monster, you put a heart token on the loot track for each space it occupied, and once it hits the number of heroes you are running you draw a number of cards based on the location of a fatigue token next to it. The fatigue token starts at 1 card, but every time you kill a master monster you bump it up by one. So, the more master monsters you take down first, the more cards you get to draw.

So, did we like it? Well, yeah. It still plays and feels like Descent, just with some mechanics taken from (or that at least reminded us of) Castle Ravenloft/Wrath of Ashardalon, Mice & Mystics,  and Super Dungeon Explore (all other board games we own and enjoy): randomly created rooms, random game duration based on luck of the draw, monsters with programmed actions, treasure drops, killing things to bump up a loot track, etc.

You can also gain XP from some encounters that you can spend to buy more skills cards (which is good because the game transitions to Act II after the second main encounter).

The only downsides, for me, are that it's just one quest, the main encounters are always the same and encountered in the same order, and you only get to use four types of monsters throughout the entire thing. Also, the rules (which are also necessary to know what tiles and monsters are needed for each room) are only available online.

The upside is that thanks to all of the other exploration cards and shuffling it's unlikely to go down the same way twice. Plus the activation deck keeps you on your toes: unlike the Dungeons & Dragons board games or Zombicide!, you can't just learn what the monsters are going to do and exploit the pattern.

I think this is great if you don't have a lot of players, if one or more players are way more tactically adept than the others in your group (like mine), or if you're more of a fan of fully coop games. Here's hoping they keep making more quests like this. It would also be great if, down the line, you could combine various coop quests to really get crazy with it.

Actual Play Image Dump


  1. Too bad it's so limited. This looks exactly like the thing I needed for Descent. My play-group doesn't like the competitive thing. They enjoy playing co-op games more. For that reason we've been playing the D&D games rather than Descent. I think I'm going to get this, that way I can play Descent with my kids (coop games always work well with kids).

  2. Yeah, I prefer fully coop games myself (whether or not the kids are playing): Zombicide, Arkham Horror, the D&D board games, etc. I'm looking forward to The Forgotten King, which will make SDE fully coop.

    I think you could feasibly use the decks with other quests, just ignore the room on the Exploration card and keep the bonuses other stuff. The only downside is that you're still stuck with the same four monster groups.

    I'm curious if others will hack homebrew digital decks for coop versions of the other quests/campaigns: Exploration cards would just need to add in various monster buffs here and here.


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