When i received the original kickstarter release, initial impressions on the contents were that this is a top quality game. The models are reasonably good by plastic miniatures standards, although fairly soft on some thinner weapons, but the detail was fine, with alternate poses for the enemies, and with purple boss models being superb. The hero models are larger than those in Descent 2nd edition, and while the first storyline does not use a huge variety of monsters, enemies do come in three colours (green, blue, red) which each have different abilities and responses, which increases gameplay variety. The kickstarter set does contain a load more monsters for forthcoming expansions, so there will be a lot more choice in the future after you finish act one.
The tiles are fantastic, double sided with lovely detail and artwork, and i liked the slightly gloomy colour shade when compared to the bright glossy Silver Tower. These are good competition for Descent, which set the benchmark visually at least and certainly beat the relative blandness of the Gloomhaven tiles. I also like the way larger tiles are only subdivided into two or three areas, rather than a whole grid of small squares, with really easy line of sight rules, and these may well be my favourite tiles of any fantasy game.
There are loads of cards for skills and items and it will take time to digest all the various options, and I have never seen so many different tokens in a game, there is a lot here to explore. I do have to say the kickstarter edition thick hero cards are so good, much nicer than the thinner retail ones, and this alone made me really happy to have backed it. Also i received an extra purple token bag, and a card holder which are not essential items but the extra hero is nice, and those hero cards may become sought after items.
The rule and storybook are well done, the quality is very nice, there is an index, and whilst there seems a lot of rules to digest, they make sense and are easy enough to understand. It does take more learning the ropes than Descent 2nd edition, but this also makes a deeper game once the initial learning curve is over. Of particular note is that heroes can be played as either lawful or chaotic nature, which also changes their skills, and this is a pretty neat idea not seen in any of its peers.
The storybook approach is also great and builds a very engaging campaign, similar in style to Silver Tower and Hammerhal but much deeper. The initial feeling is that pride of ownership for content quality is near the top end of my dungeon crawl list. Whilst Gloomhaven has a great card mechanic and branching story, with good hero art, it does not quite give you the same excitement when you take the monsters and tiles out. Sword & Sorcery made me immediately want to show off how good it looked.
Over time the gameplay has turned out pretty nicely, there are definitely more little rules around than some dungeon crawlers, you have to remember enemy triggers, however the built in intelligence of monsters exceeds other games in this genre, and they do feel more alive so you cannot anticipate every move. Dice are great, ten sided with symbols that trigger extra damage or abilities, they are some of the best around, and feel easier overall to use than Massive Darkness which gets messy with multiple additions and subtractions. There is a real feeling of exploration and character development, and as your characters do not get killed off, but can be resurrected using soul points, it keeps everyone engaged and playing. Despite some complexity, if you persevere and learn it well, then this game is a really rewarding experience and provides one of the best dungeon crawl stories around that does have merit in solo play too. It has a pride of place in my games collection, and was added to my favourites list here > Sword & Sorcery.