2 October 2009

Beastmen off the Starboard Bow

The third preview for Sea of Blood, the exciting expansion to Descent!

“We were sailing south through the Shrouded Gulf, bound for the Cerridor Sea and beyond. Quite suddenly, I heard One Fist shout a curse from the bow as he pointed his hooked hand into the fog ahead. Squinting through the mist, I saw it. A ship was coming on fast. It flew no colors, nor did it respond to the hails of our blasting horn. We soon saw why. Blazing through the fog, two burning red lights floated side-by-side... and as the vessel came into view I saw that they were the eyes of a skeleton archer, animated by unholy power as it aimed its longbow at my heart.”  - excerpt from the log of Tahlia, officer on board the Revenge

Welcome to the third preview for Sea of Blood, the exciting new expansion for Descent: Journeys in the Dark! In the first preview, we saw an overview of what Sea of Blood would offer. In the second, we explored differences between the campaign systems of Sea of Blood and Road to Legend (another advanced campaign expansion), and we got face-to-tentacle with the terrifying Kraken. This time, we’ll take a look at mechanics that are totally new to the world of Descent: sailing and ship-to-ship combat!

Descent: The Sea of Blood includes two large cardboard markers that represent ships (one for the heroes and one for the enemy forces), to be used during nail-biting sea-based encounters. These ship overlays are adjustable, and can be enlarged and upgraded at many ports (for a price, of course) with extra sails for added speed, as well as extra weapon mounts for more firepower! There are three classes of ships: the Sloop, a small and maneuverable vessel; the Galley, which can accommodate more cannons; and the Brigantine, a formidable floating fortress with three sails and room for eight cannons!

A Sloop. The stern is detachable to accommodate upgrades, which increase the length of the ship

Whatever the size and firepower of your vessel, when the heroes engage in ship-to-ship combat against the Overlord, both sides will have options far beyond mere personal combat. Whether you choose to fire a rune cannon, swing dramatically across the shark-infested ocean and board the enemy vessel, or even take the helm and ram the enemy ship with your own, you’ll find a number of ways to send your foes to a watery grave.

Spread across various positions of the deck are locations that can be “manned.” Once per round, and at a cost of three movement points, the figures of either side can execute the function of one of these locations.

When a player activates the “Anchor” location, he or she attempts to catch the ship’s anchor on the sea floor, preventing its movement. The attempt always costs the standard three movement points, but it may or may not be successful (such a maneuver is tricky, after all), and its success is determined with a die roll: the player rolls a black power die and looks for a surge (and a token is flipped to indicate the status of the anchor). Of course, operating an anchor is easier in shallow water, so in that case the player is successful on any roll except a surge. Anchors provide an opportunity for either side to control the flow of battle; if you board the enemy ship and drop their anchor against their will, they won’t be able to maneuver until they raise it again!

 As long as the anchor is raised, however, a ship enjoys a certain level of mobility depending on the number of Masts it has. By standing at a “Mast” station, a player can spend three movement points to raise or lower the sails (a token is flipped to indicate the current status of a sail at any given time). The number of raised sails a ship has determines how fast it moves, so the massive Brigantines can potentially move faster than their smaller cousins, the Sloops.

The Mast (seen at the left) can be used to raise and lower sails, while the Captain's Wheel (on the right) steers the ship

While the number of raised sails directly impacts the forward mobility of the ship, it also has an effect on the side-to-side maneuverability. To move the ship left or right, a player must place their figure near the “Captain’s Wheel.” After spending their movement points, players wishing to turn the heavy wheel must pass a test of strength: they must roll power dice equal to their melee trait (spending fatigue if they wish). They may then move the ship directly left or right up to a number of spaces equal to the rolled range, but only up to a maximum of twice the number of raised sails on the ship. The Captain’s Wheel requires a strong back and a steady hand, but those who master it can quickly shift the battle to their favor, bringing their vessel within boarding range of the enemy!

Once the two ships are close enough together, you might choose to make an attempt to board the enemy vessel, where you could drop its anchor, lower its sails, or just start butchering its crew! To swing across, your figure must be standing on a “Rope” location, where you then roll one red die and one yellow die. The total range you roll is the number of spaces you travel. You would do well to wait until your ship is safely hugging the enemy’s before swinging across, however. The hungry daggertooth sharks in the water below would love nothing more than for you to fail to make the necessary range...

But what would ship-to-ship combat be without the crack of the cannon and the thunderous explosion of a splintering deck? Perhaps the most exciting station that can be manned is the cannon. A figure standing adjacent to a cannon may spend one of his or her attacks to activate it, after which the player chooses a target within the firing arc of the cannon (see below) and rolls a number of dice depending on the type of cannon being fired.

The firing arc for a rune cannon

Cannons are often inaccurate, however, and while a firing player can target an individual enemy figure, such hits are difficult to execute. Indeed, there are three potential outcomes when rolling for a cannon attack, depending on how the dice land: The projectile completely misses, the projectile hits only the enemy ship, or the projectile hits both the ship and the targeted figure. In addition, special cannons can be purchased that will help hedge your bets: The Hawkeye cannon is far more accurate than its standard brother, and the Dragonfire cannon can blanket an entire area in magical fire!

Be careful when firing rune cannons, though, as they have a tendency to overheat, and can even backfire! Every time a cannon is fired, its tile is flipped over to its “hot” side, indicating a state of overheating which remains until the end of the round. An overheated cannon can be fired, but there is a slight chance that it will explode, damaging all adjacent figures!

If neither simply boarding an enemy ship nor blowing it apart is sufficiently theatrical for you, you might attempt a more drastic approach: ramming. Some encounters will place your ship at such an angle that you are able to maneuver the bow of your vessel directly into either side of your enemy’s ship, qualifying as a ramming maneuver. A player on the ramming ship rolls a number of black power dice equal to their number of raised sails, and the roll inflicts damage depending on the size of the ship being rammed. Small, maneuverable Sloops can take the hit more readily that large, cumbersome Brigantines, and the method for determining such damage scales accordingly.

Whether damaged by cannon fire or by ramming, ships can only take so much of a beating, determined by their upgrades, before they sink to the bottom of the sea. If the Overlord’s ship is sunk, the heroes win the encounter. If, on the other hand, the Revenge sinks, all of the heroes die and the Overlord collects the appropriate number of Conquest tokens before the Revenge magically returns to its home port.

Keep checking back! Next time, we’ll take a look at many of the new Avatars and Lieutenants available in the Overlord’s arsenal!

Descent: Journeys in the Dark is a scenario-driven board game that takes a party of adventurers deep into the dungeons of Terrinoth for adventure, treasure, and glory, but beware: the Overlord and his minions stand poised to oppose any heroes foolhardy enough to enter the dungeon. Descent: Sea of Blood takes the game to the next level, introducing campaigns and long-term character development for both the heroes and the Overlord. Cross the dungeon's threshold and step into a world of adventure today!

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