Descent Co-op: Redjak’s Automated Monster Variant for Descent – Part 4
Our party of less-than-stalwart adventurers continues the Campaign against RedJak’s Automated Monster Variant for Descent 2e in the third Quest.
Catching Up with our Descent Heroes
With the Cooperative App for Descent 2e recently released, it seemed appropriate to continue our look at RedJak’s RAMV. The end goal will be coming up with a fair comparison of the two platforms and hopefully determining what the strengths and weaknesses of each are.
Previously, Syndrael, Roganna, Avric and Leoric battled the Fat Goblin and through the Introductory scenario of Descent’s base campaign: The Shadow Rune. If you haven’t had a chance to check out the prior articles in the RedJak RAMV series for the Descent Board Game, they can be found below:
After some undeserved time off, our party of adventurers taking on RedJak’s RAMV in the Shadow Rune campaign re-united.
Syndrael had apparently been spending most of her time specifically trying to avoid the other 3. Roganna had been busy working on her new sad series of poetry, the forest, and solitude. Avric’s Interior Dungeon Design business had really taken off. Generally, there wasn’t much need to put the adventuring gear on again.
The main impetus for reuniting was when Leoric and Meatball the Zombie ran out of beer money from a seven-month rager that literally lasted since the last article was written. These two do not screw around when it comes to partying, and they got the gang back together again to earn some money to keep the party going, and if they saved the realm in the process, that’s just peaches and cream. Their next Quest: Taking on Castle Daerion.
Castle Daerion – Encounter 1
The first thing that most Descent veterans will notice about the setup for Castle Daerion is this: I can’t put doors on the map to save my life. For whatever reason I’ve been skipping the step to add and deal with doors up to this point, and probably through the next session. Yikes.
I’ve looked back through and it does seem that the addition of doors would add to the challenge a bit for the heroes, although without an active Overlord to also manipulate them, it’s hard to say whether or not it would make for a huge swing in the overall difficulty.
The first encounter in Castle Daerion has our heroes trying to light 4 beacons, and do so before allowing all of the villagers to get their faces eaten off by Barghests and Merriods. Is Merriods the correct plural verion of Merriod? Life-and-death questions such as this assail the party immediately.
The RedJak RAMV has encounter-specific cards that specify the objectives of the monsters, as well as the reinforcement order that they’ll be coming back onto the map. The information at the top basically states that the first monster group (the Barghests, in this case) will make their first action of a turn attempting to engage a Villager target. There’s also some errata that gives these Villagers 8 health instead of 6 health. I hadn’t read that before the session, so they’ll be at 6 HP for this case.
One note here that this is the first (non-introductory) Quest we’ve played with the RedJak RAMV that was allowed to use reinforcements, and I personally thought they would have made a big difference in helping out the AI in the previous quest. We will see if it makes a significant difference!
The Monster AI cards, shown above, will be determining what actions the individual Monsters will take on their turns. The Merriod Monsters in particular are really interesting, with the Master having the Flail ability to hit two targets in range of two at one time. They’ve also got enough health to be difficult to remove quickly.
At the start of each turn, an event card is drawn. Global cards, as shown above, remain in place and are only removed when another Global card takes its place. In Act 2, a second global card can exist, so some of these effects can stack up. Most of them are negative, but in many cases the negative effects can swing both ways of hurting players and the Monsters.
Losing speed of two is one that, on a direct level, hurts both sides. In this scenario, however, slowing down the heroes hurts them more than it hurts the monsters, since they’re already in range of beating the shit out of some Villagers.
Early on, Syndrael spent much of her fatigue to get some extra move and try to make some headway into the map. The Master Merriod went down with the concerted effort of the team, but with reinforcements in place, it wouldn’t stay down for long. The Merriods focused on slowing down the heroes and doing damage to the nearby Villager.
Meanwhile, the Barghests were surrounding and eating bits and pieces of the poor villager in the Northwest corner. It’s important when activating the monsters to try and play them as efficiently as a person would, to create a reasonable challenge in RedJak’s RAMV. In many cases the AI will handle this quite well, but there are some smaller questions that have to be handled by the player.
One example is shown above, and one that I messed up: The Master Barghest is facing in a way that blocks off the top right corner of the Villager. If I ended the Master Barghest’s move vertically, it would have left the corner open for that 4th minion Barghest on the right side to be able to hit instead of ending his move stuck on the right side.
Some of the events are much nastier than others, and Shadow Play is a standout. This gives the effect that the Shadow Dragons in Descent have to every monster on the board. Requiring a surge to even get a hit really gives a big boost to the Monsters, and swung the tide against the heroes quite noticeably in the middle rounds.
Castle Daerion – Encounter 2
It was after the first encounter of Castle Daerion that I realized another pretty key mistake in my play-through of Descent: some things carry over between Encounters, and some do not. Health is one key stat that does not come over to the second encounter. Looking back through my notes it doesn’t seem like it would have made a huge difference in A Fat Goblin, but it could have here. Syndrael and Leoric both came in with a few hits on them.
The objective here was saving an old guy that was under attack from quite a few montsters and a pretty mean Lieutenant named Alric Farrow. The Ettins were apparently pretty pissed about their poor showing in the Introductory quest, and we also saw the first appearance of the very elusive Shadow Dragons.
Note there was one extra Zombie that ended up in the same room as the old dude. Since RedJak’s RAMV successfully killed two Villagers in the first encounter, it gets two Zombies here. We also get two Miltia, represented by the same Villager tokens.
The RAMV objective card for this encounter paints a really clear picture of what is going on: everything on the map is going to try and kill the old dude. It also paints a clear picture that the old dude’s name is Sir Palamon.
The top section states that Sir Alric, the Ettins, and the open group (Shadow Dragons, in this case) will all make their primary target Sir Palamon. He does have 25 health and decent armor, but if he goes down RedJak’s RAMV wins.
Very quickly, the monsters were able to surround Sir Palamon. The Master Ettin was mainly responsible for positioning him all the way over there (behind the minion Shadow Dragon, he’s a bit hard to see. Photography Skills -1)
This was an interesting point, in retrospect. I followed the Monster AI card for the Master Ettin to activate his throw. Initially I thought that putting Palamon in the hallway would be what an Overlord would do. It turned out to be a slight mistake, however, as it only allowed him to be hit by three of the four large monsters on the board.
I also made another Descent Rules error here and completely missed the fact that the red terrain is blocked. This ended up helping the monsters, as I placed the Master Shadow dragon right on top of it. They do have wings, so that seems like a decent justification!
Since it seemed like ignoring terrain rules was the new hotness, Avric AND one of the militia decided that they would waltz all over it as well. Avric played it off by pretending to be discussing the location of a piece of artwork depicting elephants and moving it elsewhere in the castle, but I think we all know the truth. (that I suck at Descent rules :/)
Knocking the first Master Shadow Dragon out was the hardest point of the quest. They provide a bonus forcing any attack roles made against any target by a hero adjacent to them to have a surge, or it’s a miss. With them stuffing up the hallway, it wasn’t easy to try and make our way towards Sir Palamon, but after they both went down things started to turn for the heroes. Also there is a timer in this quest as one win condition was for Sir Palamon to roll a strength test after every round and each successful one brings in a new militia. If he does that 5 times, it’s a win for the heroes.
This really does create a quest that looks nasty at first, but likely comes down to how long that open monster group can hold the heroes up in the hallway. I think a few small changes to the Encounter Objective that makes the primary goal getting the Master Ettin to constantly attempt to throw Sir Palamon back into the farther hallway, which would give the Monsters more time to get hits in and keep the heroes from defending his open spaces.
Descent RAMV Balance Thoughts
Continued plays of RedJak’s RAMV have started to show some strengths as well as places where things are a bit lacking. First off, I do want to repeat the note that there were some definite screw-ups on my part! Missing doors, and blocked terrain trampling throw off the balance of the game just a bit, and likely made it a touch easier for the heroes. That said, the instances of missed rules in these two quests don’t appear that they would have had a significant chance to change the outcome – but I can’t say for certain.
The first question I have is whether or not I’m actually giving the RAMV Event deck the amount of Dark Intervention cards. As far as I can tell, the rules state that when the Monsters lose, another Dark Intervention card is added to the event deck. These seem to be the primary way of making the Monsters stronger as the game progresses (outside of the level I/II general progression of the monsters in the base game of Descent).
This leads in to my main concern as we near the end of the first act: The Heroes are getting noticeably stronger, with new skills and items after every quest. The Monsters in the RAMV, however, only really get a perk when one of those Dark Influence cards pops up. Keep in mind, the Monsters in RedJak’s RAMV do have monster groups and activate one group at a time per hero – so this gives them an edge over the monsters in the base game, but the gap between the Heroes and the Monsters seems to be getting quite wide now that the Introductory and two quests have been completed.
In the base game, at this point, the Overlord would have been able to draw a few more upgraded cards. When the Dark Influence cards do pop up, it seems like that kind of strength is added and helps the Monsters keep pace a bit, but then when that Dark Influence drops off and a new Encounter starts, it’s back to the Heroes kicking ass and taking names.
Dark Influence cards remain in play through all quests of the current Act. After the Act I Interlude quest is complete, shuffle any Dark Influence cards in play back into the Dark Influence deck.
This is a difficulty modifier that I would recommend everyone use when giving this Variant a try. This should give the Monsters some added punch that will help create tension as the game goes forward.
The strength of RedJak’s RAMV still comes from just how epic a campaign you get to play out, without needing to make someone the bad guy. I’ve played other dungeon crawlers before, and at the end when you’re putting things away it’s always a bummer to return your character back to the box, knowing that there’s no way to continue their story. With this game, that character progression persists through a real adventure – and there are little memories that stick with you. Even if a few of the characters are insufferable douchebags.
RedJak’s RAMV: Next Up
Our goal is to continue through to the end of the Shadow Rune campaign, and then a comparison to the Descent Road to Legend App from Fantasy Flight.
As a question to the readers: do you enjoy the one-quest-per-article format, and want it to continue, or would you prefer broader summary articles and getting to a comparison to the Road to Legend app sooner?
We are heading to take on Death on the Wing next!
Posts in the RedJak RAMV Series: