Descent Co-op: RedJak's RAMV Part 1

Dillon Flaherty Blog, Board Game 1 Comment

Descent Co-op: Redjak’s Automated Monster Variant – Part 1

Dillon Picture

Posted By: Dillon
On 10/20/2015

We take a shot at setting this fully-featured variant up and give Descent Co-op a try through an entire campaign.


Descent 2e from Fantasy Flight Games, is a campaign-based tactical fantasy adventure game. The basic version of the game sets 1-4 players playing the heroes against the forces of the Overlord, played by one other player.

It’s also a campaign-based game, where individual encounters are all linked together to form a cohesive adventure with the heroes all having progression that carries over from one encounter to the next – and the Overlord does the same.

One major difficulty inherent with any board game of that kind of scope is the simple difficult aspect of time, and coordination of players. Setting up a regular meeting of a few players can be very tricky, especially when this type of game yearns to be played regularly. Having weeks at a time between sessions can quickly cause the steam of a campaign to diminish. As other complications (like family, kids) come into the equation it could take a very long time to complete even a single campaign.

The other aspect about the Adventurers vs. Overlord model is that it’s rare that anyone is excited to play the Overlord. Especially since most of the advice you’ll end up getting leads you towards the idea that while you’re not exactly a Dungeon Master – you also don’t want to just beat the crap out of the players. It creates an interesting dynamic that can be a lot of fun, but especially for those of us that end up buying and owning these games, it’s awesome to NOT have to be the bad guy now and then.

 

Any cursory glance at the current market and upcoming Kickstarter campaigns for these type of persistent dungeon-crawling games also shows very clearly that the industry is moving away from the Adventurers Vs. Overlord model and towards automating the enemies through various AI techniques so that solo or cooperative play is the standard.

While we are very excited for this and for many of those games – they are all missing one very crucial element that Descent (and it’s close relative Star Wars: Imperial Assault) have: TONS and TONS of Content!

That amount of content can lend itself to variety that these other newly-established games simply can’t hope to compete with. Fantasy Flight has been creating outstanding content for Descent 2e since 2012. They’ve also created conversion kits for most of the heroes and monsters from Descent’s first edition – so now we’re looking at almost 10 years worth of STUFF that can be used in a campaign. That’s really, really cool.

So what is a player to do when faced with either the problem of not having enough regular buds to play a campaign with, or buds that don’t want to play the Overlord for weeks at a time??

Redjak, over at BGG, has you covered.

Click Here to check out
RedJak's Automated Monster Variant

As a fair warning, this variant is not for the faint of heart – there is a good bit of setup required to get it up and running. That’s definitely to be expected to come up with an AI variant for a game with so much existing content. That said, once the cards are in hand, the flow of the game is quite easy given how complicated other variants have been before.

Other variants also include some of RedJak’s older work – this RAMV itself is a refinement of the existing Automated Overlord variant. The amount of testing and plays that have already gone into that show very clearly with the RAMV that we will be using.

The variant is driven based on a short 6-page rulebook and a set of 243 (at time of writing) cards. The cards are broken down into a few categories.  Here is a short description of each and their function:

  • Dark Influence Cards
    • These cards act as upgrades for the Overlord AI over the course of the campaign – replacing the Overlord cards from the base Descent game.
  • Encounter-Specific Objective Cards
    • These provide specific instructions for how certain monster groups should behave based on the encounter in question, fleshing out the AI more fully and making it “smarter”
  • Event Cards
    • These cards have lots of random effects that can help or hurt the adventurers, they can be instant or ongoing.
  • Monster AI Cards
    • Provide basic AI for each monster separately, to be used in conjunction with the Encounter-Specific Objective Cards.
  • Summary and Monster Team cards
    • Add the concept of Monster Teams for activation and Summary cards to briefly remind players of the round order.

There’s a couple of very cool things going on in here that deserve mention.  The first major change to the gameplay is the addition of Monster Teams.  This takes the now-archaic turn order Descent 2e have of activating all Heroes, then all Monsters and turns it into the turn order that Imperial Assault uses instead.  One hero activates and then one monster activates.

I like this change quite a bit and think it gives the game a better flow.  It also takes away the ability to just unload everything the heroes have in one turn on a particular threat and brings up interesting tactical considerations about which heroes will go in which order on any given turn.

The second awesome mechanic is having AI cards for monsters combined with encounter specific cards that could specify certain objectives that the AI is trying to accomplish in simple ways.  In theory it should create just enough of a little wrinkle in the basic AI of each monster to create challenge unique to every encounter.

RedJak RAMV Instructions Page 1

The biggest undertaking in getting this variant to the table is making yourself copies of all of the cards that are required. Now the above link to the variant’s post on the BGG page has additional links where you can have HD copies of these cards printed out on actual cardstock. That would be awesome, but is also a bit on the expensive side for a variant that was created by the community (even though it has seen significant testing). If our first run of a campaign had compelling co-op gameplay based on these cards, we could definitely consider a real printing, however.

So with professional printing off the menu, we are left with one more option: Print them out ourselves and cut ’em all up using scissors right out of the cupboard. Yikes!

Encounter Objective Cards

Here’s an example of some of the black and white printed cards that we cut by hand. The quality of the work from RedJak is awesome, however our cutting quality is sub-par at best!! Still, it hardly affects gameplay having poorly cut paper cards since most of them are just references and if you really want to be unsure of the next event card (face-down when pulled) you can pull from the bottom!

The only slightly tricky part for us (and there’s probably an easy way to do it we missed!) was gathering up all of the .PDF files and then combining them with the .PDF file for the card backs to print them all as one and on double-sided paper.

To explain, most of the files in RedJak’s repository are set up as follows:

  • Encounter Cards 1
  • Encounter Cards 2
  • Encounter Cards 3
  • Encounter Card Backs

Now each PDF file of encounter cards 1-3 also needs to have backs on them, so for double-sided printing with the free version of Adobe, we have to combine the files together – to look something more like this:

  • Encounter Cards 1
  • Encounter Card Backs
  • Encounter Cards 2
  • Encounter Card Backs
  • Encounter Cards 3
  • Encounter Card Backs

The other aspect to this part of the variant creation is that the free PDF reader from Adobe doesn’t natively support combining files into a single file for printing, so I had to search a bit and ended up finding a great utility on a website called SmallPDF.com to combine the files together – HERE’s The Link to use it, it’s free!

SmallPDF for combining files

Above you’ll see an example on SmallPDF.com of how I laid out the pages by uploading one of each copy of the card pages and then uploading multiple copies of the card-back pages for that specific set of cards. It sounds a bit complicated in writing but once you do one set it is actually quite easy. I also have zipped files that contain these front-and-back sets for all of the cards, so if you are interested in skipping this monotonous step – please let us know!

At this point we’ve got all of our cards created for RedJak’s variant and are ready to take on the first Descent 2e Campaign – The Shadow Rune. We’ll be walking through session reports and providing as much feedback on the variant as possible so you can decide if it’s a good fit for your group or just for yourself solo for a campaign-based dungeon crawl adventure! Here’s a little preview of the table all set for the first Encounter: First Blood.