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Mist of Bilehall - report and some thoughts

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Finally. I managed to play the Mists of Bilehall campaign and just finished the last quest Hallowing Fire. Usually I play Descent in a competitive way and often in the Play-by-Forum format 1 vs. 1 player (OL vs. 4 heroes) . In PBF games, most turns tend to end up highly optimized as competitive players have more or less unlimited amounts of time to think about possible moves, consequences and possible reactions of the opponent. From this perspective, I have to say that the MoB campaign left me disappointed. Why is that? Sorry for wall of text/rant that is going to follow.

When I started MoB I was really excited and there already were several posts here and at BGG claiming that this campaign is difficult for heroes and meant for "expert players". I consider myself as a fairly experienced Descent player although I am into the game only for 2,5 years. My opponent (Pompompidou37 at BGG) usually likes to crush OLs but is playing the OL in this campaign. I consider both of us playing at the same skill level. Knowing that it will be a difficult campaign especially with the Tainted card mechanic punishing hero deaths harshly, I spent some hours putting together a party that I felt should be capable to tackle this beast. Yes, I even went through all quests and counted which attribute tests my heroes would encounter most frequently. The only concession I made was to take Marshall as a Warrior class as I had never played or encountered that class before and reports indicated that it's a fairly strong class overall.

Here is the set up of the team with skills acquired in the course of the campaign. The following heroes were banned as I have seen them far too frequently: Mok, Logan, One Fist, Lindel, and Astarra

Jaes the Exile (Battlemage-Marshal)
I am the Law, Just Reward, Runic Weave

As this party does not have a Warrior archetype naturally I was concerned about Web Trap. Therefore I chose a high strength mage with good knowledge and health. The plan was to boost his health and stamina and acquiring runes as soon as possible.

Ravaella Lightfoot (Runemaster)
Exploding Rune, Rune Mastery, Iron Will

Reliable AOE is critically needed in this campaign as the reinforcements the OL gets are crazy. Often full groups for Reanimates etc. are reinforced each round. Ravaella is the tankiest Mage around which should help with those Tainted cards. 

Avric Albright (Bard)

In my opinion bard is the strongest Healer class due to just one skill: Rehearsal. It's unbelievably powerful and versatile. The lack of burst healing of this class is nicely remedied by Concentration which allows heroes to recover up to 6 HP in a single turn. I choose Avric mostly due to his high Health and Heroic feat which allows the revival of multiple tainted heroes even when Avric himself is tainted. 

Arvel Worldwalker (Treasure Hunter)
Survey, Dungeoneer, Gold Rush, Sleight of Hand

Treasure Hunter is by far the best Scout class. Survey should allow heroes to acquire a significant amounts of additional gold and treasure chests. Sleight of Hand and Delver puts a lot of damage on the table. Arvel was chosen as a poor mans substitute for Lindel. Her stat distribution and hero ability allows her to tackle all attribute tests making her less vulnerable to Web Trap and many Basic II cards. Her Heroic feat is not that strong but allows for surprising plays and efficient use of XP as skills can be redistributed and XP do not need to be "saved".

Taken together I was fairly confident that this hero team is well suited and would stand up to the challenge MoB presents. I was wrong.


Setup of the OL

Basic II
In general I was happy that Basic II was chosen. Blinding Speed is not nearly as good as Dash without a Warrior. Basic II depends on attribute tests a lot and does not have the raw power of Basic I. Uncontrolled Power is a little better with two Mages but I was not overly concerned.

Plot Deck: Kyndrithul
Killer plot deck which I had not encountered before. But I was expecting either Zachareth, Tristayne or Kyndrithul. It's a highly competitive environment after all.

OL cards acquired over the course of the campaign
Call of Ravens, Ties that Bind, Airborne, Adaptive ContagionVirulent Infection, Contaminated, Outbreak
The best of the best here. Double servants, Airborne to easily get infection tokens (from ranged attacks that cannot hit) and damage mitigation, Outbreak to kill heroes with high defense once infection tokens stack up.

Course of the Campaign

Quest 1: Strange Awakening 
I knew that this is a difficult quest for the heroes. I focused on getting treasure and getting out as many heroes as possible. I managed to get 3/4 search tokens (100 gold and treasure chest) and two heroes off the map. Treasure got me Jinn's lamp which did not give me anything useful in this quest. I was happy with this outcome.

Campaign Phase
Really lucky shopping phase. Trident (Arvel) and Crossbow (Avric) bought. OL gets his second servant.

 Quest 2: Sanguine Lord
Heroes need to kill Kyndrithul who is at the other end of the map and can call heaps of reinforcements. Reinforcing Bone Horrors can easily disrupt any protective formation of heroes. OL chose Demon Lords as open group. I am not sure how heroes can win this. All heroes died before even scratching Kyn. Even if the heroes were in a position to endanger this lieutenant, the OL could have just double moved him to safety behind his troops. Heroes got only 2/4 search tokens but Jinn's Lamp finally turned out to be a Rune Plate! Easily the best act 1 item for this campaign. Happiness.

Campaign Phase
Again good shopping phase with heroes buying more defensive items to counteract tainted cards: Leather Armor and Blessed Shield. OL gets Adaptive Contagion and Contaminated.

Quest 3: Fear Unshackled
OL chose Bandits as open group. Heroes need to kill Zarihell, who has an aura that terrifies all heroes within 3 spaces thus negating any surge damage. Although heroes managed to wipe out Meriods in the first turn, all heroes were killed subsequently by bandits and reinforced Merriods without even endangering Zari. Heroes managed to get 3 search tokens and the Secret Room Lorekeeper's Vault finished with Arvel. The secret room reward turned out to be the rune weapon Immolation. Again pretty much exactly what I needed to further boost Jaes. 

Campaign Phase
Mana Weaves comes up. Auto-buy. Just WOW. Jaes has now 20 Health and 5 stamina. OL gets Outbreak

 Quest 4: Juliden's Keep
This quest features the Shadowkeeper, a monster that cannot suffer damage and constantly spawns zombies (and the Raven Flock). Double servants mean two red-blue attacking monsters for free every OL turn. My opponent decided that this is not balanced and dropped Ties that Bind for the rest of the campaign. He chose Kobolds as open group for endless reinforcements. In this quest all monsters have a shadow-like ability causing a miss when no surge is spend. With the really defensive hero team that I had now, I tried a turtle tactic planning to thin the herd of not-reinforcing monsters and maybe getting rid of Ardus from the relative safety of the entrance. I put Ravaella and Jaes as impenetrable walls to the front with Avric healing from behind. I managed to keep up for some turns, was even close to killing Ardus once but was constantly caged in by reinforcing monsters. After several rounds of killing and reinforcing monsters, we became bored and called this quest a tie. No search cards, 50 gold for heroes. At some point after 15 turns the OL would have worn heroes down, I guess. 
Note, that to this point of the campaign the OL had not used any plot card!

Campaign Phase
Elven Boots come up. Auto-buy. OL buys nothing

 Quest 5: Hallowing Fire
In this quest all heroes start tainted. As soon as one is killed he can only be revived with Avric's Heroic feat unless one hero managed to "cleanse" himself by performing a special (and fairly difficult) task located at the outskirts of the map. At the same time heroes need to prevent constantly reinforcing Barghests and Reanimates to reach some objective tokens in the middle of the map. Result: Although I was lucky in not drawing the worst tainted cards and Ravaella was blasting monsters left and right recovering crazy amounts of fatigue from Iron Will, only Jaes managed to cleanse himself. The other heroes were not even close to their objectives before everyone was killed. The OL finally used his plot card Broken to increase fatigue costs of Concentration and Exploding Rune, and Survey for encounter 2.
Encounter 2b features both Kyn and Zari. The goal is to defeat Kyn but he can only be defeated if Zari is killed first. Due to quest rules, Zari can recover 2 damage every round and monsters can spend a surge to get her recover 1 more. In addition, the OL can just completely shut down hero class cards by "possessing" heroes. Although this is not permanent, with clever positioning the OL can effectively shut down heroes. Together with Zari's terrifying aura, the effect from Broken, and only 1 hero cleansed in encounter 1, in my opinion, this encounter was again not winnable for the heroes. I went for search tokens and got 3/4.

Final thoughts
I prepared this campaign very well. Although some of you might have changed things here and there, I think most of the more experienced players would agree that the hero team should have been up to challenge this. I was INCREDIBLY lucky with search tokens, secret rooms, and items. I managed to get EXACTLY the skill/item setup that I was aiming for when I planned this. Yes, I made some mistakes in my turns. So did the OL. But taken together, I would say be both played this a a fairly high level. The OL even dropped Ties that Bind and did not use his plot deck much. And still, heroes did not only lose each and every quest, no, I was never even close to winning one.
Overall I am really disappointed by this campaign. The quests mechanics are complex and really interesting but just balanced so badly that I would actually say this campaign cannot be played in a competitive way by experienced players. On the other hand, the complexity makes the campaign unsuitable for inexperienced players.

If your group is thinking about starting this campaign (and playing it competitively), my suggestion would be to severely gimp the OL:

1. The least experienced player takes the role of the OL.
2. No plot deck allowed for the OL
3. No servants allowed for the OL 
4. Only top tier heroes and classes. 

If you are interested, check out this thread for the entire PBF to this point. We will be continuing the PBF with the same setup playing the The Chains That Rust quests next.

Edited by Sadgit

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I played through MoB with my very skilled playgroup, as the OL ofc. I cannot remember any details about the campaign, but it was a total steamroll for me as the Overlord. A total wipe out. 

If it is any comfort; we did the MoB + Chains campaign and Chains was the total opposite, and I managed to win only one quest.

I think a game like this is very hard to balance, and MoB is a good example of this.

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While I acknowledge and understand that some (most) of the Mists quests are very difficult for the heroes, I wouldn't go so far as to say Mists disappoints me. Rather, I think Mists offers a collection of quests which provide a difficulty level otherwise mostly missed by D2e.

Descent quests don't have fixed difficulty. As you stated, you can adjust quests by adding or removing plot decks, choosing better or worse heroes and classes, and picking different OL cards.

In my opinion, much of the content out there for D2e really gives advantage to the heroes. A "cheap team" of Mok, Astarra, etc can usually pull a win out of most campaigns even with a tough as nails OL. Players can choose to add or remove content to adjust the difficulty to their enjoyment. Mist tips that to the other side, and puts the power on the side of the OL. Just as heroes can pick fun but not optimal class combinations in other campaigns, Mists allows the OL the chance to deviate from efficiency without getting clobbered.

For tough competitive play, maybe that's unsatisfying. For friendly rivalry games, I personally found it refreshing.

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Pretty much what Zaltyre said. Mists could be a fun way to use the weaker classes like Magus and Saboteur.

That said, my playgroup is overall less skilled (I consider the OL to have a lower skill floor than the heroes) so we've had buckets and buckets of quests that ended in OL victory and a minority in hero victory. In our first campaign (HoB, we started with the core set. When we reached the penultimate quest, I had picked up 5 expansions) I was the OL. In almost every quest the heroes won, it was well within my power to win the quest until the round of victory.

Edited by Lightningclaw

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Its been awhile since I played MoB, but I really enjoyed it when I played it.  Playing the OL felt like playing the OL should feel, like you were the one with the power, while for once it was the heroes who needed to play smart to pull off the win.

This made for some pretty epic wins for the heroes (like Skye getting the final blow on Zarikell after the heroes perfectly timed the collapse of the portals so that Zarikell was vulnerable and at 3hp for one turn before OL could activate the reenforcements, Zarikell of course was well in the back and there was no way a hero could have made  it to her to deal damage), and they always deserved it.

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