This past Friday (6 April 2012), Wizards of the Coast announced that their newest miniatures skirmish game, Dungeon Command, was going to be released in July of this year. From their website:
Dungeon Command features themed miniature factions designed to play as unified war bands, in a game eliminating luck-driven mechanics in favor of player-driven skill, creativity, and quick thinking.
Each Dungeon Command faction comes in its own box, containing twelve miniatures (plus the cards, tiles, and rules for the game). In addition to their use in Dungeon Command, these miniatures can also be used in the D&D RPG, with their cards further usable with D&D Adventure System board games (Castle Ravenloft, Wrath of Ashardalon, and The Legend of Drizzt). While each faction is meant to be played by a single player, quick-start rules allow two players to engage in a shortened version of the game using only one box.
Sting of Lolth includes such heroic miniatures as assassin, arachnomancer, sorcerer, spiders, and spiderguards.
This, to me, is really exciting. Last year I took part in the play-testing for the then unnamed D&D Skirmish-style board game. My first reaction was, "What do you mean there are no dice?" I mentioned something about that in my feedback at that time, and shared that thought with anyone who would listen. That was before I got a chance to play the finished product.
This past weekend I was at PAX East and in the D&D tabletop play area they were demoing the brand new game. I was walking past the table Friday morning on my way to find more info about the playtest for D&D Next (sorry, I can’t talk about it) when I saw the box and was instantly distracted. The gentleman running the demo told me that the two boxes on the table were two of the only four in the country. He went on to say that these boxes were delivered straight to PAX East and opened the day of the demo, so when I say we at PAX East were the first to play this game, I really mean the first. All of my earlier concerns for the diceless mechanics of the game were immediately forgotten by how well the game played.
The two initial faction packs that are to be released are the Drow themed warband Sting of Lolth, as mentioned on their website, and the hero based Heart of Cormyr. Many of the miniatures will be familiar to anyone who has played a game with D&D’s miniature line. Besides the minis the box includes both Creature and Order cards, treasure chest markers and actual treasure tokens, map tiles, hit point tokens, two commander cards and a rule book. I didn’t get a lot of time with the box itself, but I did see there was an insert with spots for all the minis and the cards. As mentioned in the post from Wizards there are cards in the box for use with the D&D Adventure boards game system (a feature that I was particularly excited to see!).
Setup is pretty straight forward. Each player creates their portion of the battlefield using the map tiles provided, they then randomly place the treasure chest markers. These markers have a number on the bottom of the marker that will determine how many treasure tokens get placed on that square. The treasure tokens can be picked up by any creature on that square as a standard action to gain one morale point. Each player then chooses one of the Commander cards for their faction and places markers on both that Commanders starting morale and starting leadership. Morale is, for all intents and purposes, the Commanders life points. Once the morale of any player’s Commander reaches zero or below, the game is over. Morale is decreased equal to the value of a creature once it is destroyed. Leadership is the point value indicating how many creatures a player can have deployed at any given time. Leadership will increase as the game progresses allowing each player to deploy more creatures. The deployed creatures combined point cost can never exceed the Leadership of the Commander. The Commander card also indicates how many cards of each type you draw initially. Each Commander has a unique special ability that they can use with their creatures. The commander I was using, for example, allowed me to use a standard action to make a second move action. Taking turns, each player then deploys all of their minis up to the value of their current leadership.
Game play itself is also quite straightforward, consisting of four steps as shown in the picture below. The first round skips most of the first step, except for the drawing of an Order Card. Every other turn you will have to take care to complete all portions of step one. Step two has you activate your creatures by making a move action and a standard action in any order. Standard actions consist of using the default melee or ranged attack or any special abilities your creature may have, using an Order card, picking up treasure to gain a morale point or, in some cases, using your Commander’s special ability. After activation you may deploy more creatures if you have enough leadership points and the appropriate leveled creatures in your creature hand. Because your leadership points increase each turn, you could, potentially have a significantly large warband on the field. Finally, you resolve any end-of-turn effects, draw you creature hand back to your starting limit and untap any tapped creatures. When a Creature card is “tapped” it indicates it has been activated, “untapped” indicates that the creature is ready for action. The whole tapping/untapping is very reminiscent of Magic, but I am not sure how I feel about untapping before and after every turn. It just seems a little unbalanced to me, but seeing as I only got one game in, I’ll just have to wait and see.
There are no limits to how many Order cards you can have at any given time, you can use them, or not, as you see fit. There are three types of Order Cards, just as there were in the play-test, Standard, Minor and Immediate. Standard actions will cause the creature you are using it with to tap, Minor actions can be used by any creature regardless of their being tapped or not. Immediate actions can be used by an untapped creature usually during your opponent's turn. Both Order and Creature cards have standard D&D attributes that limit which creature can use certain Order cards. For example, the Copper Dragon in the Heart of Cormyr faction pack has both Int (intelligence) and Str (strength) listed as an attribute, it can therefore use any Order card that is a Str or Int ability.
Combat is simply accomplished by resolving either the basic melee/ranged attacks, the special abilities of a character (if applicable), or by using an Order card. There are some creatures and Order cards that are capable of blocking, which reduces the amount of damage taken. Damage is tracked by using hit point tokens that are placed on the creature card to represent the total damage taken. Once a creature’s hit point are exceeded, it is removed from combat and your Commander’s morale is reduced equal to the level value of the defeated creature.
All-in-all I really like this game, and am very excited about getting the initial sets when they become available. Although my first reaction to the lack of dice was negative, I have come to appreciate this card based mechanic. One big drawback I see is going to be from the players of D&D’s former minis skirmish games, simply because of the re-use of many already existing models. Definite benefits include the non-random models that are available, especially for Dungeon Masters who want to use minis in their games, but don’t want to deal with the randomness of booster packs. Also, the inclusion of the cards for use in the D&D Adventure System board games. One thing I did note was that there are several minis, both heroes and monsters, that are in faction packs are the same as some of the minis in the Adventure Board game series. I have always wanted to get painted version for my Adventure System board games, but didn’t want to have to pay the prices for purchasing them as singles, and I have no talent when it comes to painting minis. So, like I said, very excited for this product to be released. Had a great time playing it this weekend and look forward to seeing what Wizards of the Coast has coming for the future.