Updated: Jul 11
An evil Lich Lord is terrorising the Kingdom, only a fighter, wizard, rogue and cleric have any chance of stopping him and to do so they must venture into numerous dungeons, defeating hundreds of foes, collecting valuable treasures and emerging victorious, their heads held high and their coffers full.
So, what’s in the box?
Dungeon Master's Guide
5 Double-Sided Gameboards
4 Hero Figures
36 Monster Figures
95 Item Cards
39 Monster Cards
10 Custom Dice
4 Hero Playsheets
104 Damage/Health Counters
19 Treasure Chest Markers
22 Trap Markers
4 Dead Character Markers
18 Door Markers
3 Ooze Markers
6 Stone Column Board Markers
3 Tree Board Markers
1 Skeleton Key Marker
Ok, so I should point out, those first two items are not the actual PHB and DMG, but merely a small pamphlet of rules and a book of maps and adventures.
The rulebooks are pretty clear and have nice examples, mine had a misprint with the front and back pages duplicated twice, but overall they were nice enough. Also, rather importantly, they aren’t overly intimidating in their size or complexity.
The figures that are included in the box are pretty nice, very nice for board game quality (although the game is from Hasbro so they should be able to make plastic toys well) certainly better than, for example, Descent.
That said, the cardboard is not FFG quality, but still it is functional and there is plenty of it. I like the fact that the characters have their own boards, rather than the usual paper sheets, obviously this is less customisable than a real rpg but it’s fine for a board game.
Also the custom dice are very nice and the double sided boards offer a lot of variety in game set up. The cards are a little thin and mine have begun to wear but the artwork is nice and everything is clear and functional.
Playing the Game
Ok, so I’m not going to go through all the rules here as the game is a little too long winded for that. Essentially the Dungeon Master will pick a scenario, set up the map, monsters etc and read the story and objective to the other players who are all heroes. Then initiative cards are dealt, these are cards with the numbers 1-5 on them. These will determine the order in which players can act. Starting with player 1 and ending with player 5. Because these are randomised whenever a player enters a new area the order in which players act will change. This attempts to simulate the initiative system in the D&D game, but far more simplistic and rather random.
On their turn a player may take two actions:
Cast a Spell
Open a Chest
Moving is simply moving your playing piece the number of spaces listed on your card. You cannot move diagonally.
Fighting is based on your cards in play. All weapons and spells are either melee or ranged. To use a melee attack you must be adjacent (not diagonally) to a monster. To use a ranged attack you must be at least 1 square away and able to draw line of sight to the monster.
To work out damage you simply roll the coloured dice on the card and minus the monster’s armour class from the number of swords showing on the dice. Some weapons have rerolls or other special effects usually triggered by the Star Dice (a special custom die that is effectively a 50/50 randomiser)
To cast a spell you must first pay the number of spell points to cast it (this varies based on the spell caster, some spells are more difficult to cast if you are a cleric or a wizard). Attack spells are identical to weapon attacks, other spells simply have an effect on the game rules. In all cases they are exceptionally easy to determine the effects of.
To open a chest you must be adjacent to it. The DM then draws a card and gives it to you. Some cards will show traps instead, in which case you receive no reward and must follow the text on the card.
On the Dungeon Masters turn each of his monsters can activate twice, usually moving and'/or attacking.
If a hero is killed the model is replaced with a token to show where his body is. The hero can only be brought back to life using a resurrection spell/potion. Unfortunately with expansions these effects can be difficult to find due to the enlarged item deck.
If the heroes achieve the objective they win and may keep any treasures they found to use in the next adventure.
Ok, so this game is supposed to be a primer for REAL D&D, it even has an advertisement for the core rulebooks in the box. And as an introductory tool it succeeds, as a challenging game though… Lets look at it’s faults. Firstly the game design itself, while having some interesting innovations, is flawed due to some inherited mechanics. The game takes other, older games, like Heroquest as its basis and that’s a problem.
The attack or move, double attack, double move, structure of a turn has been done to death. It feels very restrictive unlike the system in Descent where, with just the introduction of exhaustion and readied orders you have a much more flexible system.
In addition, why can heroes and monsters not move and attack diagonally? What does this restriction actually add to game balance or enjoyment? If both monsters and heroes can do it then there is no loss of game balance. In addition ranged attacks can be made diagonally or potentially across 3 boards, while melee attacks cannot! This is a perverse aspect of game design that is so counterintuitive it makes me scream.
Another thing I find disappointing about the game is the lack of uniqueness… by this I mean, a ranged attack feels like a melee attack, which feels like a spell. Plus almost all spells can be cast by both Wizards and Clerics (even if it is at a penalty.) By simplifying the system the designers got rid of a lot of what is good and unique about characters… BUT at the same time they created a situation where only certain characters can perform vital game actions, such as the Rogue…
Traps are a huge part of the game, yet if the Rogue is killed (or with expansions you chose not to take one) then you cannot search for traps without the aid of magic. Perhaps a set of skill cards that allowed players to build custom characters would have helped make this a more strategic game, rather than a simplified emulation of D&D to cajole you into trying it’s older, more option heavy, brother.
That said the game does have some interesting mechanics. I like the custom dice, in particular the Star Dice which adds some nice effects to the game, including a way for Wizards and Clerics to restore spell points through attacking monsters.
I also like the search dice, which allows you to reveal traps, starting with the closest and working outwards. It’s much simpler than the real 3rd edition version which made you search each individual 5ft square.
The monsters too are nice, simple enough to use, but replicating some of the abilities of their real counterparts.
The weapon cards are great as you can see at a glance not only what dice to roll but what the maximum damage you can hope to achieve would be. That said, the lack of any “range” mechanic leaves me cold.
I also like the fact that the heroes can level up and that the item cards get more powerful as they do. However, the fact that the game was capped at level three, even in the expansions, irked me.
Overall then is not a well designed tactical excursion. In fact, as the DM you can expect to lose more often than you win, especially in the early scenarios. Also, the game does not scale to accommodate less players unless players play multiple characters.
As a primer for D&D, the game succeeds in some ways. It sets up the character archetypes and typical monsters. It introduces the idea of initiative, magic limitations, armour class, damage, turning undead and general dungeon delving. But it is not, in any sense of the word, a Roleplaying Game.
Is it fun? Yes, but only with teenagers or older children who aren’t looking for the complexity of a roleplaying game or the tactical challenge of a game like Descent.
However, the game does have a MASSIVE redeeming feature. The price, I picked up my copy in a charity shop for just £2! And based on price to enjoyment, I have to say it is a bargain that has kept my little brother amused for hours. We also picked up both expansions for £6 each on ebay, so for £14 we have a game that has hit the table two dozen times and has kept us dungeon crawling for hours on end.
It may not be my dungeon crawler of choice, but I’ve paid more for worse.