It still leaves me gobsmacked that Dungeons & Dragons has been around for so long. I’m even more surprised that this game that I loved to play when I was a kid is now seen as an acceptable pastime – seriously, the amount of times I got beaten up for playing it at lunchtime rather than going outside to play football… life is so much nicer now that geekiness has been deemed cool. I see only one problem with D&D; it can come across as somewhat impenetrable. Look at the RPG shelf in your local game store or bookshop. The sheer amount of different rulebooks, guides and scenarios must appear baffling to someone who hasn’t even rolled a twenty-sided die. Creating your own character and getting thrown into an adventure taking place almost solely in a group’s collective imagination is daunting enough for an experienced player. Consider that some of these could take place over the space of weeks or months in real time… no wonder some people think gamers are crazy.
Thankfully, there are a couple of ways in that are less time consuming as well as a bit lighter on the rules. We’ve previously looked at the Adventure Game series here on littlemetaldog.com (including the excellent Wrath of Ashardalon) but now there’s another route you can use to scratch that D&D itch in under an hour: Dungeon Command.
At the time of writing, there are five different versions on Dungeon Command available. I currently own the Curse of Undeath and Blood of Gruumsh sets which focus on undead and orc characters, but other boxes take influence from all manner of areas of the D&D universe. Rather than taking control of a single character, you act at the commander of a group intent on only one thing: wiping out the enemy. It’s a very different experience to regular adventuring, but one that is really quite enjoyable.
Each box set comes with twelve pre-painted miniatures which comprise one squad, though there’s also enough in there for two players to get a small taste how Dungeon Command works. Tiles are also included along with cards and various markers – all you need to do is find someone with another set, put together your arena by combining your tilesets, then you’re ready for battle. It’s here that you’ll discover the most notable difference: there’s NO dice in this game. Considering that you’re probably used to rolling all manner of small numbered polyhedrons if you’re even vaguely aware of role-playing games, this is quite the change. Instead you’ll be using Order Cards to determine what your minions will do, meaning that you’ll have be in a very different frame of mind if you want to win. Dungeon Command is all about the big picture – quite surprising considering the small area that your skirmishes will take place in.
As mentioned before, you’re looking to simply wipe out the opposition forces on the board. Doing so will lower their morale and victory will be yours if you get the other player’s down to zero. You can also win by having a higher morale when one player has no minis on the board at the end of a turn – particularly useful when playing games involving three or four people (because yes, the rules account for that too). The Order Cards you have at your disposal will allow for the bending of rules, and bring in a wide variety of strategies – do you go all out and try to beat down the enemy, turtle up and react to their moves or rely on magic over force? Dungeon Command offers you these options and more besides.
As you’d expect, you won’t start off with a whole army, though your small squad will quickly grow as your Leadership increases. Orders played are removed entirely from the game, as are defeated minions, so despite the face that the game plays in a very straightforward manner it’s far from easy to get to grips with. Forward planning is the key to the game; it’s not the kind of thing you can just play a couple of times and think that you have it down pat. Multiple plays will be rewarded as you formulate new plans, constructing strategies that will hopefully crush your enemies. Of course, their skills will be improving too, so be careful!
Each faction pack really manages to capture the spirit of their theme – the orcs in Blood of Gruumsh are all about face smashing while the Curse of Undeath tends to look more to dark magic. That’s not to say that the various undead minions can’t handle themselves in combat, and you do get a MASSIVE dracolich in the box…
On that subject, the quality of the minis is really rather good. The painting is to a decent standard in both the sets I have, and even the more fragile looking ones are sturdy. It helps that they’re well protected in the custom-designed box that come with each set – no danger of them getting smashed or crushed in transit. It’s amazing how many companies don’t consider this aspect of design when they provide games that come with a bunch of minis, but the Dungeon Command series should be held up as a great example.
So, we have a quick playing skirmish game with a nicely put together set of rules that comes with fantastic components. Whether it’ll be enough to convince the average person in the street to get into the world of D&D… well, I’m not so sure. It’s just so different to what you’d normally expect from Dungeons & Dragons, I don’t think many newbies would be willing to make the leap to its bigger sibling. As a standalone experience though? Well worth checking out, definitely.
The original Dungeon Command sets were released in 2012, with Blood of Gruumsh coming up later in 2013. Designed by a veritable army at Wizards of the Coast, you can pick up copies of all five sets from Gameslore for the comparatively bargain price of £25.99 each. Considering that includes 12 painted miniatures, that really isn’t bad at all…