Discovering Descent: Is it worth playing older games?

Discovering Descent - Is it worth playing older games

2019 is already promising a flood of new games that will be at least as fast and furious as any previous year. This deluge of new titles makes it easy to forget that older games exist, even if they’re already sitting on your shelf! Influenced by board game media so heavily attuned to this ‘Cult of the New', nearly all the games I bought in 2018 were released in 2016 at the earliest, with most released in 2018 itself.

I’m glad I bought the games I did. By and large, they’ve been hits for me and my friends and family. I say this because I don’t want to come across as opposed to new games. However, my first purchase of 2019 was a game that was originally released in 2005, Descent: Journeys in the Dark. I picked up the Second Edition, released in 2012, and playing it makes me wonder what else I’ve missed.

The Struggle to Stand Out

Descent: Journeys in the Dark is a miniature-heavy dungeon crawler with dice-based combat from Fantasy Flight Games. Yes, this means it has similarities to about half of all games released on Kickstarter in the past two years. Unless you go looking specifically for information about Descent, you’re unlikely to stumble across too many people who are talking about it instead of the latest box of plastic hotness.

I came across the game because I’ve promised myself that I’ll cut down on the number of games I buy this year, so I’m being more selective. I knew I wanted a thematic fantasy game, so I researched those categories on Board Game Geek. Benefiting from a strong average rating, information on Descent surfaced quickly.

The game also benefits from being published by a company like Fantasy Flight. Despite being published 14 years ago, it has received enough support to get an updated second edition and to stay on shelves, meaning it was easy to get hold of from Zatu. Not every game can enjoy active support 10+ years after its initial publication. Yet despite all that, I would still not have stumbled across the game by accident.

The same is undoubtedly true for a lot of great, older games. Could you be missing something you’re sure to love because you’re so focused on the next big thing? I know I’m guilty of that.

Good enough to stand the test of time?

New games are frequently described as a replacement for X. This happens enough that it’s easy to believe that all games older than a year or two are out of date. Isn’t the new stuff just better?

It’s true that every new design is building on elements of designs that have come before. Mechanics and themes get adapted all the time. However, it’s almost impossible for a new game to build perfectly on the merits of the old. Older games, especially those well-received enough to have stayed in print, will have charms that newer games cannot replicate, just as newer games will have their own unique attractions.

It didn’t take me long to see the Descent’s particular merits. The game creates a world that draws you in, with immersive gameplay, excellent components and support for 1-5 players. I’m sure you can point to other games with those qualities, but no games will tell the same stories in the same way as Descent.

App-supported solo and co-operative modes lend this game a flexibility that I have already made use of, playing it on my own far more than multiplayer. The app’s campaigns blend video game style stories and rewards with the game’s stunning visual and tactile play. There is something great about playing through a compelling campaign while staring at a map that’s unfolding on your tabletop.

The great thing about a game like Descent is that buying it never feels like a risk. Any title that can boast a 7.7 rating on BoardGameGeek seven years after its release has got to be doing something right. In addition, the wealth of media from previous years and the fact that the game and its expansions are still in print are testament to the thousands of people that have already enjoyed playing it.

Sure, it might be fun to buy the new hotness. But if you’re looking for game that you can be almost certain you’ll enjoy, there are plenty of older games that have been loved across the world for years already.

Descent - A World of Gameplay to Explore

Descent is one of those games that comes with hours of entertainment out of the box. However, should I get to the point where I want more, there are all kinds of expansion content to choose from. New heroes, new monsters and new campaigns are all readily available at reasonable prices as and when I want to invest in them.

Many other older games enjoy similar levels of support, allowing players to enjoy new content at their own pace. There’s no waiting around for an expansion, followed by the pressure of snapping it up before it’s sold out. You can get any extra content still in print in a couple of days.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a downside. I have a strong completionist streak, and the fact that there’s so much extra content for Descent that I don’t own is a little daunting. At least with a newer game, it’s much easier to keep up with expansions as they come out. Still, I like knowing that I’ll be able to pick up something new when I’m ready for it.

What’s Next?

I hope it’s clear that I’m not telling people to avoid the new hotness. I’ll be honest and say that games I’m strongly considering buying in the next few months include Wingspan and Coimbra, and I’m still waiting for Everdell to get its second printing so I can open that one up, too. I also just bought Relics of the Future, a new expansion for Shards of Inifinity - a 2018 deck-builder. I love playing new games as they come out - there’s undoubtedly a buzz from being able to enjoy something fresh and new.

However, Descent has shown me that I don’t have to focus solely on the hotness to find something I love. I’m keen to buy fewer games this year, which means that I’m trying to be more careful with the purchases I make. Being able to access so much information about older games is great because I can be confident that I won’t be filling up shelf space with a dud.

I’m glad that this reminder has come at the start of 2019, when there’s already a glut of hotness clamouring for attention. I’ll look into the new titles that interest me, sure, but I’ll do my best to consider older titles, too, and to ensure that I’m enjoying the games that are already in my collection, both old and new.