I had an epiphany this week. My son and I sat down to play Descent: Journeys in the Dark Second Edition with the Road to Legend app. It was fun, a lot of fun.
People who know me know that I tend to hate cooperative games. There are a variety of considerations, but the main thing is that I really dislike feeling like my fate is decided by an arbitrary sequence of cards or game events. Pandemic’s epidemic card mechanism is one of my least favorite forms of this. It’s also the reason I think Pandemic Legacy might be a fun experience, but it’s not a GREAT game. I think there’s a difference.
If I’m going to lose at a game, I need to believe in the defeat. It’s the same reason I see solitaire and other solo games as more of an activity, less as a game. One of the ways to believe in the defeat is to know you were bested by intelligence, not by an algorithm. An algorithm can’t adapt, a human can. Therefore, the defeat is a challenge of intelligence vs intelligence with some luck thrown in to the mix. I need to believe that the game out-thought me.
Barring that, the next best thing is to not know whether I’m facing an intelligence or an algorithm. In a strange way, the Road to Legend app obscures the puppeteer and all I can see is the computer making decisions. Sure, I know that there are some arbitrary things behind the screen in the guts of the code, but it’s not so obvious. When I’m drawing cards in Pandemic, I can tell the shuffle caused me to lose.
I used to think that playing Descent was best with a thinking Overlord player. I want to agree with that, but it’s really only true when played with players of equal skill. When I’ve played with a player who was exceptionally skilled as the Overlord, the losses with each scenario wore down the hero players, grinding the campaign to a halt. It’s just not as engaging unless the plot is allowed to twist and the sides can gain and lose in a traditional story arc.
There’s no real way to make this happen. So in the end, I’m finding the best way to play is cooperative with an unknown Overlord. My son and I loved it, even if we lost to a iPad.