Descent Solo & Co-op: Redjak’s Automated Monster Variant for Descent – Part 5
Drawing to the middle point of the campaign, We continue our look into the difficult job of balancing a Cooperative or Solo Descent: Journeys in the Dark.
Battling through Descent Second Edition Solo
Up to this point in the Shadow Rune campaign, there has been a noticeable progression of the adventurers growing stronger, while RedJak’s RAMV Monsters have started to fall behind. It’s important in any cooperative or solo board game experience to have difficulty high enough to create challenge. That challenge is a lot of what keeps the players interested, and coming back for more.
There have definitely been points along this campaign where things started to feel a bit too easy. One of the surprising strengths of Descent, though, is how much the encounter design and rolls of the dice can very quickly surprise you.
Death on the Wing – Encounter 1
The Encounter Objective card for this encounter provides rules for placing the boulders on the narrow path on the southwest of the map. If this fills up with boulders or any one Hero is surrounded on all adjacent spaces while on the narrow path, then the Overlord wins.
The Monster AI cards also provide some interesting combinations of abilities for each. The Flesh Moulders in particular could provide some staying power, although unfortunately for them they were paired up with relatively low-hp Cave Spider units.
If these Flesh Moulders happened to show up in the last quest with the Shadow Dragons, that could have been very nasty.
With the setup of this encounter being a bit simplistic, my first thought was that this was going to be another punch-and-go cakewalk for the Heroes who have been steadily gaining skills and equipment. At this point I had already started to come up with the narrative for this post: things were getting a bit too easy…
Apparently, that sense of confidence translated right into the actions of our Heroes (I should take the blame, since I controlled them, but instead let’s place it squarely on imaginary personalities): Roganna lead the charge with her fancy new bow and tried to lead off with a few powerful shots to try and start the monsters off with less models to work with.
One of her arrows struck quite true, lodging itself directly in the right eye socket of the Master Flesh Moulder. Lots of cheering, Meatball cracked open a cold one, everything was right in the world of the Heroes.
…and then that bold action was met with fierce retaliation.
Roganna must not have been looking past the group of Flesh Moulders, because the Cave Spiders were lurking just beyond and they are incredibly quick little bastards. They all skittered right up to Roganna and proceeded to beat the everloving shit out of her, and by the end of the very first turn of Heroes and Monsters, she was down to 1 hp and had been poisoned to boot!
While the bigger monsters in Descent can have some nasty abilities, and can clog up hallways and spaces, there is something to be said for the sheer amount of dice that a big group of little monsters can roll – especially when they are able to focus on one target. RedJak’s RAMV also has them focus on the target who is able to be engaged, and then targetted, with the lowest health.
This was not the first time that I had started to doubt the challenge of RedJak’s RAMV, and been almost immediately slapped in the face with the lesson of not taking the AI for granted.
It wasn’t long after that for Roganna to fall to her wounds, even with Avric running up to try and keep her alive with heals.
The thing I’ve noticed about a lot of the Shadow Rune scenarios in Descent is that the longer the Monsters can slow the Heroes down, the better chance the AI has of winning. Roganna was brought back and knocked down a second time, and the resulting melee clogged up the top of the board for quite a few turns.
This allowed the AI to start to fill up the bottom left with boulders, but thankfully the Heroes were able to start to win the battle in the middle and sent Syndrael and the weakened Roganna forward to start to clear them away.
Note here that it looks like I misread a portion of the Encounter rules: the boulders are not supposed to go on the exit tile and only go on the long walkway tile instead. This would have let the more agile heroes crawl over instead of only relying on strength checks to remove them.
As they did, Avric, Leoric and Meatball set up shop in the central campfire area and tried to slow down the reinforcements of monsters that came from the entrance. At this point, it was simply a battle of attrition trying to remove the boulders and get to the exit. The Heroes completed the encounter successfully, although not without sustaining quite a few wounds. These would carry over into the second encounter, which was a noticeable challenge as Roganna only had 3 hp.
Death on the Wing – Encounter 2
The second encounter of Death on the Wing was another instance of very different quest design, and an objective that had a much more immediate sense of needing to complete quickly!
The first thing we were greeted with was two huge Elemental monsters staring our group right in the face. Beyond that was our objective of saving 4 villagers who were being attacked by a Lieutentant Monster and two Shadow Dragons.
If they weren’t stopped before all of the villagers were eaten, the Monsters would win their first quest of the campaign.
The AI for the Elementals and Shadow Dragons was also quite a good fit for this encounter as well. With lucky rolls, the Heroes might have 5 or so turns, but the Elementals can very easily immobilize a target, and the Shadow Dragons make landing any hits very difficult, if made from an adjacent location.
This was not looking good.
The first turns were spent just breaking through the barrier of Elementals, while the Monsters and Lieutenant in the north part of the map just went to work. The dragon on the right side easily blocked up the passageway, and with the villagers moving to attack, it would not be long before he could eat the faces off of both.
The best plan of attack seemed to be trying to use that little space on the west side of the board to get in and try to kill both the minion Shadow Dragon and the Lieutenant before both of the villagers were killed. If we could do that, then we had at least one alive.
On the right side, the Master Shadow Dragon ate one villager and had a second one down to one hp. He was done for.
The left side ended up with a single villager left. Roganna was finally able to spend two actions to drop the minion shadow dragon from range. (preventing the missed attacks without surge symbols adjacent) This was just the opportunity that Syndrael needed to take two swings and try to kill the Lieutenant.
It came down to one final roll, before the end of our turn and the Lieutenant would be likely able to kill the last villager and win – but Syndrael rolled an absolute beast of a roll, killing him and pulling out a very narrow and lucky win.
Descent Solo with RAMV: Balance Thoughts
There’s a couple of thoughts that finishing this first half of the Shadow Rune campaign brings to mind, in terms of RedJak’s RAMV, but difficulty is the one that stands out as the most important.
I want this game to be difficult, and want to see the monsters win. The +Difficulty modifiers seem to be almost a necessary inclusion to achieve this. I hadn’t yet introduced any when doing this playthrough, but feel that Dark Influence cards should remain on the board through an entire Act, or possibly the game – only being removed when a new one comes into play.
Reader Jim Molander pointed out some of the differences in the App, and one in particular seems like it could have some representation in future versions of RedJak’s RAMV rules: The Players NEED to be punished for any hero knockouts
One way to accomplish this would be through modifying the slow pace of monster reinforcements. Because they are always one per turn, most of these encounters into a game of turning the tide for the Heroes. If they are able to get half or more of the monsters killed off, the challenge is severely diminished.
Maybe one way of punishing Hero deaths is to bump up the rate of reinforcement for every hero that falls, and maintain that rate through the entirety of the encounter. For instance, if a hero falls, this number could go up to two Monsters reinforced per turn. A second death? Now 3 monsters will be coming back at the end of every turn.
The problem with this, given Descent’s base system, is that the individual monsters don’t have any kind of inherent value that grades each one in terms of how powerful it is. Two cave spiders coming back would be annoying, but two Shadow Dragons coming back could be a very big problem. This concept of individual unit values is something that Star Wars Imperial Assault implemented, and it is sorely missed in any implementation of adding challenge here.
Maybe a more simple way would be to go right back to the RAMV that we are using – every Hero Knockout means drawing another Dark Influence card. This one would stack on top of the existing ones for the duration of the Quest (both encounters), but then fall off at the end.
Adding Dark Influence cards for Hero deaths seems like it could be a very clean way of punishing the players for knockouts, and creating real pressure for accomplishing the encounter goals with mounting challenge for sloppy play. I plan to give this custom modification a test through the Interlude and possibly the end of the campaign to see if it holds up, or if it increases the difficulty too much.
RedJak’s RAMV: Next Up
We intend to wrap the second half of this campaign up into one final post, so we can then compare RedJak’s RAMV to the Descent Road to Legend App from Fantasy Flight.
As a question to the readers, what are your thoughts on the difficulty of this Variant? Are there any ways you’ve modified it, either house ruled solutions or the built-in difficulty modifiers?
Posts in the RedJak RAMV Series:
Posts in the RedJak RAMV Series: