I'm Italian and I'm really interested in buying Descent: Journey in the Dark, but I don't know if it's better to buy the Italian or the English edition. I know some non-Italian speakers and I would like to have a game that can be played by all. I think my English is good enough to play a board game, but is that a risk? I'm worried about how much an average non-native English speaker (i.e. any other player) is able to understand the game during real gameplay. So, my question is: how much heavily is this game dependent on the language?
Different parts of the game need different levels of English understanding
The significant core components of the game use icons or numbers for their operations, which should be fairly easy to understand regardless of your native language. Things like how many hit-points you have, how far you can move, the results of the dice, or how many monsters to put on the board for the number of players should all be easy to understand.
Where your group might need to work together will be three things:
- Learning the basic mechanics of the game. Being able to read the number of shield icons that come up when rolling 1 black and 1 grey defense dice for a skill check is easy, but reading the rules for "how to do a skill check" might not be perfectly clear to a non-native English reader.
- Understanding the Hero/Class/Item abilities. These use numbering, icons, and the same consistent phrases where ever they can, but there will be a few things that might take some discussion in your native language with other readers to make certain you all have the same understanding of how it should work.
- Understanding the Overlord's abilities. Again, these use numbering, icons, and consistent phrases wherever possible, but the Overlord cards and instructions are more complex than the Hero/Class/Item abilities. This will also probably require some discussion with your other players to make sure everyone has the same understanding of how those abilities will work during the game.
The additional discussion needed for these more complex parts can be a very good thing for everyone involved. It can help bring the group together by learning something together, and it can increase and reinforce everyone's understanding of English. And believe me, even native English readers still have to have these discussions to make sure we all understand it the same way!
The advantage you might have from buying a version of the game in your native language would be that all of this translation has been done for you (and hopefully, correctly). But I believe the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) available on their website, the vast majority of the Community Forums, and also the Descent Second Edition wiki are all going to be referencing English-language versions, so it might be easier to understand their references if you use the same context (same language).
There are two significant challenges to playing Descent in a language that you aren't fluent in.
Text ability on cards (characters, upgrades, monsters, overlord cards, condition cards, etc). Fantasy Flight Games (the authors of Descent) use very precise wording. Often particular pieces of linguistic nuance contain information about rules or timing that you can't miss. For example, Leoric of the Book's ability: "Each monster within 3 spaces of you receives -1 damage on each attack roll (to a minimum of 1)". Reading this in a language that I is not my first language, I would likely be quite confused as to whether or not this ability affects monsters at range 3 of me (it does) and might misunderstand that the parenthetic is actually an additional constraint on this ability and not just a clarification (it doesn't ever reduce an attack to 0 damage).
The rulebook and adventure book take nuanced text to the next level. Even reading the rulebook in my native language, I still missed that monsters could only attack once per turn my first game. There is a lot of information that players need to have in these books.
All of that said, Descent is actually a good game for this because as long as the overlord knows all the rules, players can ask the overlord questions (including about precise translations). This is because the overlord has total information already, so there is no hidden information that is given away by the question (other than players' plans/intentions).
My recommendation would be to get the game in the primary language of the player you intend to be the overlord (most likely you), and print out the PDF's of the rulebook and adventure book in the other language (these are at least available in English on the Fantasy Flight website).