Tag Archives: Wizards of the Coast

Under Attack – Dungeon Command review

DC COVER

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.

It's an OWLBEAR! There! In the back! YASSSS!

It’s an OWLBEAR! There! In the back! YASSSS!

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!

Here's what you get in the Curse of Undeath set. As you can see... quite a lot.

Here’s what you get in the Curse of Undeath set. As you can see, it’s quite a lot.

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…

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Deeper Underground – Dungeon! review

Dungeon COVER

In the years since it was first released, Dungeons & Dragons has spawned countless spin-off games that attempt to entice non-role players into the fold. They act as gateways into the harder stuff, trying their damnedest to start them on the path to sitting around the table for months on end conducting unending campaigns. Some of these are excellent, including the splendid Adventure Series comprising of Castle Ravenloft, Wrath of Ashardalon and Legend of Drizzt. Some are less impressive, especially the dross that was shifted out by TSR in the eighties…

Now we have a new(ish) entry into the fold as Wizards of the Coast have recently released Dungeon!, the original version of which was designed by David R. Megarry and first game out way back in the seventies. This is a slightly refined version of the seventies edition, as you’d expect, but what’s the story in the game?

Simply put, we’re looking at a quick playing and extremely simplified dungeon crawl that is based in the D&D Universe. There’s no levelling up, no extensive combat rules… everything has been done to keep Dungeon! as a simple, accessible experience. Between one and eight players get to explore the (frankly huge) board, wandering about and attempting to smash up monsters of increasing power. The further you venture from the middle of the board’s safe zone, the harder monsters will be to defeat. They’re selected by checking the colour of the room or chamber you enter and flipping a card of the same hue, then it’s time to roll some dice…

Depending on which of the four types of character you selected at the start of the game – either Fighter, Cleric, Rogue or Wizard – you’ll have to check the card for the number that is shown beneath your symbol. Roll equal to or higher than that number on two dice and you’ll have defeated the enemy and will be allowed to grab a treasure of equal level (so, beat a level three monster, take a level three treasure). Fail to do so and the beast hits back, meaning you roll again. Most numbers will see you lose your hard earned treasures, but a twelve means you’ve been killed and will have to start all over again.

Once a monster has been beaten in a room (or three in a larger chamber), tokens are placed there to show that they have been cleared out – nothing else will spawn there. It’s a simple concept but one that works well, forcing all players to move deeper and deeper into the dungeon to take on stronger opponents that could well offer much more loot. Each hero class requires a certain amount of gold pieces that, when reached, will let them race back to the centre of the board. Manage to do this and you win. Nice and simple.

But is it a little too simple? Well, perhaps, especially if you’re an experienced gamer but really Dungeon! isn’t aimed at people like you. This is much more for a younger audience, one that may not be too sure about what the whole D&D thing is all about but still want to play along with the grown ups. It’s the kind of game that should be selling by the boxful if only because you need to be getting it in the hands of those kids. Wouldn’t you rather sit at the table of Christmas Day and play this instead of Buckaroo or Monopoly?

A sprawling thing of beauty.

A sprawling thing of beauty.

Of course you would. Dungeon! is a great way of getting people, younger ones especially, into the kind of games that we love. Sure, at its heart it’s essentially a roll and move, but there’s enough added complexity to make sure that you won’t switch off after five minutes of play. It may not end up hitting your table too often, but if you want something sitting in your collection that will keep a wider audience happy, there’s not many better choices out there. It helps that the game is nicely presented; the board is bright and easy to navigate, and everything you need to know about how to play is printed right on the end. The many tokens and chits that come in the box are a bit small and the cards somewhat flimsy, but that’s not much of a surprise when you see the pricepoint that Wizards have aimed at. Thankfully the game is good enough to make up for this slight lack of production quality, so why wouldn’t you give it a shot?

Dungeon! is a Wizards of the Coast production, originally released back in 1971 and reissued in 2012. Designed by David R. Megarry and with rules included for one to eight players, games will take at the very most around an hour. If you’d like a copy for yourself, you can pick one up for the very reasonable price of £16.99. And it’s so much more entertaining than Operation…

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Tales from the Fireside – Damsels & Dragons, Part One

Campfire may be half a world away, but he recently sent a minion to my door clutching a scroll. Scrawled upon the parchment was the following…

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So I’ve decided to run a role-playing game.

It’s not a real role playing game you understand. There are no stats, no dice rolls, no characters or monsters to speak of – at least, not yet. It’s so free-form it’s almost ephemeral. It’s little more than two people hunkering down by the campfire, telling stories.

Which is just how I like my RPGs, really. I’ve attempted to roll characters and conjure worlds so many times before. “It’ll be fun!” I tell myself. “Or at least, it’ll make a nice story for next week’s Tales.”

Three minutes later and I’m throttling myself to alleviate dice-induced boredom. Oh, I know it’s not a problem with the game. Maybe if I had a party to adventure with and a kind, understanding games master it’d all seem worthwhile. But sitting here in the Campfire treehouse mansion I feel like an amateur fortune teller throwing bones and not understanding their cryptic results.

If I’m going to be a role-player extraordinaire I’m going to need to call in the big guns. To help in my quest I’ve enlisted my good friends Liz and Lexx – the Trinny and Susannah of RPG makeovers – who are veritable fountains of knowledge on all things White Wolf and Wizards of the Coast. They know everything there is to know about every facet of role-playing games…

…except for live action role-playing, or LARPing.

“We aren’t LARPers,” says Liz, coolly.

“WE DON’T DO THAT HERE,” Lexx adds in block capitals.

Okay, I’m sorry. Don’t eat my face.

I cornered them online and coerced them into an interview which may or may not contain fevered elaboration. But that’s all right, isn’t it? I mean, tall tales – that’s what we’re all here for.

Anyway, let’s start at the very beginning. How did two young ladies who should have known better end up getting into role-playing games?

“This is a funny story,” says Lexx. “I was friends with a girl who was trying to impress a guy in her little brother’s gaming group. She didn’t want to join it alone so she roped me into going with her. The relationship never happened, she quit after a month, but by that point I was hooked.”

“A girl role-playing to impress a boy is probably the most ironic thing I’ve heard in a long time.” says Liz, who got into role-playing games through ‘nerdy friends’.

“I really liked the whole creating a world idea, talking with others to solve problems and killing things, whereas she was mostly using it as a way to spend time with people. I think she got a boyfriend in the end, but don’t quote me on that.”

For Lexx, Dungeons and Dragons was her ‘gateway drug’. For Liz it was White Wolf, the publishers behind Vampire: The Masquerade and the World of Darkness game series. “I found my first game through the girl who later stole my boyfriend,” she elaborates. ”It took place in those glass conference rooms they have at the library. I was a motorcycling vampire with sexy lips, as I recall. And a falcon.”

A sexy falcon?

“Oh, adolescence,” she sighs, obviously pining for the days of imaginary bike leathers and microfiche. I never realised RPG sessions could be so filled with tragic romance.

“Gamers are like actors,” says Lexx. “They love drama.”

Do they think there’s a lot of crossover between RPGs and acting?

“Yes, absolutely. Most of us were also in theatre,” says Liz.

“When I got to college,” Lexx interjects, “and we were trying to recruit friends to play, it was a lot easier to convince the actors than the non-actors.”

“I think there’s a certain appeal to one’s creative side,” says Liz.

I take it they’re more into the role-play aspect of these games than the combat and dice rolls?

“Yes,” says Lexx. “But combat has its time and place. Not to mention sometimes it’s fun to just ruin something.” She grins devilishly for a moment. “It just helps if there’s a motivation for it.”

At this point Liz and Lexx fall into one of their story-telling interludes, something they do quite often. Like pinballs they bounce and spark off one another, and when they get caught in reminisces of adventures long past it can be difficult to pull them back to the present.

“I still hold Stone and Odion killing Silhouette as one of my favorite sessions ever,” says Lexx, misty-eyed.

Whoah whoah whoah – who, who and who?

Together they tell a yarn that unspooled over a protracted campaign for Exalted, a White Wolf game about ancient gods and high adventure. The adventurers were plagued by an antagonistic duo – one, a little yappy ninja, the other a silent lunk reminiscent of Pyramid Head from the Silent Hill games. As the story goes, the two of them kidnapped one of the party members and trapped her in a tower.

“We went to go rescue her and he (“Tears Become Silhouette, the little talker,” Liz elucidates) decided to pick a fight,” says Lexx. “The scrappy ninja took a shot at us when we were trying to free our other player character and PCs Stone and Odion just ruined him.”

How many sessions did this take place over?

“I want to say he showed up randomly over a couple of months, but the murder took place in one session.” A beatific, time-lost smile spreads across her face, “One glorious session.” I half suspect that if she had a cigarette, she’d be smoking it right now.

Liz’s original hope was for Lexx and the other players to kill the larger of the two villains, sending the shorter one into a murderous rage. A few impetuous decisions and successful rolls of the dice later and her plans had been completely derailed. Not that she didn’t have back-up, of course. A good GM is always prepared.

“Killing the other guy caused me to branch off into a different murderous rampage.” she says, and shrugs.

“It also resulted in another bad guy who’d harassed us forever losing his arm,” says Lexx. “My favorite NPC got kind of messed up while my character was off killing this other guy. We weren’t sure whether or not he would make it. I was very upset by this and raided the liquor cabinet.”

In the game?

“It drove Lexx to drink,” says Liz.

So, not in the game.

“NPC friends are a great way to get to the players,” she continues. “Even the more action-oriented, kick-in-the-door types can get upset if their little sidekick is threatened.”

Yikes. So what kind of prep-work would be involved in creating a story like that?

“It depends on the GM,” says Lexx. “There are those who have scripted descriptions written out, and fully statted characters. I knew one guy who made a plot tree for some sort of social intrigue game. But there’s also a certain amount of just being able to come up with stuff on the spot if things don’t go how you planned. It’s great having a plan and games are usually better if you know where they’re headed, but it’s necessary to be able to answer the crazy questions you never thought of when a player asks them.”

“If Lexx and Anna hadn’t killed Silhouette, I can’t recall for the life of me what he would have done originally,” says Liz. “I just remember thinking, ‘Wait–they left the kids and mortal friend unattended, and the other guy is angry.’ I improvised from there.”

She continues: “I have ideas sketched for characters, and ideas for any major events or cool moments I want to happen – major events like ‘Siceon’s mother will be assassinated’ and cool moments like ‘They’ll see this guy fill a great hall with bloody writing’“ Quick thinking is necessary, in my experience.”

——————–

Part Two of this piece will be published on Thursday. Contact Campfire Burning via email – campfire@littlemetaldog.com

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Basements and Beholders

Here’s the second part of Chris’ splendid tutoreview (it’s a new word, honest) of Dungeons & Dragons. If you’ve missed out on the first bit, it’s right here: Kobolds & Cave Crawling. Enjoy!

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Dungeons & Dragons‘ focus is on combat: this has been the case since the earliest editions, and this continues to be true to date. As mentioned before, when picking attributes, most decisions will relate to how the choice will affect your class in combat. That said, attributes are also the base for the limited number of skills you can choose from, that will be of use outside the realm of bashing in skulls. D&D4E is not a game where you will find ‘Basket-weaving’ on anyone’s character sheet, and the skills that are present are all tightly focussed around the games core aspect. They cover the essentials of What You Know (such as Religion, or History), What You Can Do (including Stealth, Endurance, and Athletics), Interacting with Others (Bluff, Diplomacy) and What’s Going On Around You (Insight, Perception). Each skill is based off of a stat, and then a small number of skills can be increased further by being Trained in them. At early levels, if you are Trained in a skill, you’ll probably be quite good at it, otherwise, you’ll probably be quite bad at it.

You don’t have much choice when it comes to skills; you’re either Trained or Untrained, and you won’t be trained in more than three or four of the seventeen skills on average. Compared to many other roleplaying games, this is very limited, but that’s not the point of D&D. If you want to play a deeply political game, with intrigue, subterfuge, with an emphasis on specialist skills and very little combat, then you can do that with D&D, but that’s not what it is best at. Criticising D&D’s lack of skill depth would be like complaining that Fluxx is too random, or that Diplomacy isn’t fast-paced enough. Combat is what D&D is all about, and that’s what it does well.

All of this focus on combat might lead you to think that there’s not much scope for roleplaying in D&D. Thankfully, this is far from the truth. You don’t need hundreds of stats to role-play a character well, in fact, too many rules can stifle a character, or distract from the elements that make them entertaining. The key details to flesh out your character’s personality are there in D&D4E. Is your character a scoundrel? Then take the Bluff skill. Are they big and tough? Endurance sounds good then.

By focussing on a few key aspects, D&D characters keep that fantastical, larger-than-life element that fits the game so well, and also means that there usually won’t be one character who can do everything, out of combat: usually, each person in the party will have a skill that will allow them to shine. There’s plenty of scope for dialogue and discussion in town, and the Dungeon Master is encouraged to fill the game world with as much, or as little, roleplaying and character interaction as their players want. It’s quite possible for entire sessions to pass without the immortal words “ok, roll for initiative” being spoken, if the group is enjoying some tense negotiation, or investigation, in-character, with a few Skill Checks thrown in to help determine how their efforts are received. Even once the gridmap goes down and the dice get picked up, that shouldn’t be the end for roleplaying: combat contains plenty of opportunity for heroic action, or amusing banter between the characters, and angry taunting of their enemies. D&D4E can be tailored to whatever the group finds enjoyable: it’s playable as a pure dungeon-crawl, with little or no roleplaying, right through to constant roleplaying with a detailed and exciting plot for the heroes to solve.

One of Dungeons & Dragons’ strengths is the amazing number of supplement books that are available to buy, to flesh out characters, add new features, and to describe the fantastical worlds that the game is set in. There’s a wonderful history that has been built up over the various editions; or I should say, there are wonderful histories, as a number of different D&D settings exist, many of which are supported with their own rulebooks today. Alongside this, there are books for the domain of the gods, books about demons, books for each of the varieties of character classes, books about the different races and peoples… If it’s part of the setting, chances are there’s a special book telling you more about it that you can add to your collection. This gives the option of tremendous depth, and is an excellent source of inspiration for any budding Dungeon Master, but can also sometimes be a drawback to the game however: there’s just so MUCH stuff out there that it can be overwhelming, and the books aren’t exactly cheap.

Thankfully, to be a player in a D&D game, you only need one book: the Player’s Handbook, which contains all the rules, and core races and classes (human, dwarf, elf, eldarin, dragonborn, halfling, and fighter, paladin, wizard, rogue, cleric, ranger, warlord). The DM (Dungeon Master, the person running the game, controlling all the monsters, describing the setting, and ultimately making sure everyone has a good time!) will also need at least a copy of the Monster Manual, which contains rules for bad guys to throw at the player characters across all levels, and will benefit a lot from a copy of the Dungeon Master’s Guide, which contains extra rules, info on traps, and general good advice on how to run a game. Any of the other books are entirely optional: a tasty sauce to go with the meal.

I’ve been playing roleplaying games for many years: 18 of them in fact, ever since I started going to school on a schoolbus every day, and played freeform roleplaying games with my friends to pass the time. Despite that, I’m a relative newcomer to D&D, having only been playing for a year or so. The things I like about D&D4E are the combat system, which has satisfying depth without being overly complicated, the wide choice of characters that there are to choose from, the simplicity of the skills setup that doesn’t distract the player with too many variables, and the rich background(s) that can be used as inspiration for your game. As with any roleplaying game, what you get out of D&D4E is very much dependant on what your group put into it. With some thought and effort from the DM, and a group of players working together, very soon you’ll be raiding the Dungeon of the Dragon Lich to seize the Eye of Vecna before it can be used by the Cult of the Hidden Eye to conquer the world, and all before bedtime to boot!

Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition was released in June 2008 with the three core books, and supplements have been released almost constantly from then on. The D&D Player’s Handbook 1 can be acquired from games shops and good bookstores, for around £20/$30, or for a basic introduction that covers all the important bits you can also check out the recent reprinting of the legendary Red Box Starter Set – it’s around £15/$20. Availability and prices for the other books vary, but usually weigh in at around the £20/$30 mark. Many games stores will advertise local gaming groups who are looking for players, which can be a good way to find a group to play with if you’re new to the hobby. Give it a try, you never know – you may actually enjoy it.

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Adventure Time! D&D Wrath of Ashardalon review

It used to be that to play Dungeons & Dragons was to bear the mark of the geek, the scarlet letters D&D were marked on your chest making you the prime target for mockery. Of course, as most of us have grown up, we have moved on and now see it more as a badge of honour, something to wear proudly. All of those evenings spent around kitchen tables, carrying a d20 in your pocket, lugging a stack of books around with you… we enjoy our games, we love to play. However, if you’re going to throw yourself into a decent D&D campaign, you need to make sure you’re there for the long run. You’re looking at hours of play, spread over the course of weeks or months. You’re looking at commitment. But what if you don’t have that time? We get older and our free time goes out the window, but we still want to play. How can we scratch that itch?

Last year Wizards of the Coast released something new in their D&D line – Castle Ravenloft. This was a new bite-sized approach that took elements from the 4th Edition books and turned adventuring into accessible chunks. With no Dungeon Master involved, this was stripped down dungeon crawling, the players versus the game. What WotC didn’t quite get was how ridiculously popular it would be – Ravenloft sold out within days of release as the followers from the Cult of the New fell for it in a big way. Copies of the game exchanged for well above RRP as Wizards scrambled to put together a second print run, which is now at least vaguely available. So what does the company do? Announce a second game in this new modular line and get the hype train rolling all over again – Wrath of Ashardalon!

So, it’s basically more of the same… but considering how highly I regarded Castle Ravenloft, I was incredibly excited about the follow-up. Wrath takes the original game and expands on it, enhancing the streamlined D&D experience a little more – not so much to make it scary and hard to understand, but there are a few differences. More on those soon, but first (if you’ve not tried this format before) how does it work? With no DM, the responsibility for running the game lies with the players themselves. Set characters are chosen with pre-rolled stats and (to begin with, anyway) an adventure is chosen with a set objective – the box comes complete with a book of scenarios to try out. Complete the mission and you win, fail to do so (and there are so many ways this can happen) and your days of glory come to a swift end. Each turn follows a set pattern, beginning with the Hero Phase – here you move around the board and attack any enemies unfortunate enough to encounter you. In traditional D&D style, everything is resolved using the ubiquitous d20 along with any modifiers. Rolling equal or more than the target number generally sees success, and recalling this single rule is probably the hardest part of the game.

The next phase is Exploration. The expansion of the board is controlled by players, as any players who have characters standing at an unexplored edge of a tile draw a new one from the stack. A small arrow shows the direction it should face (pointing towards the character who discovered the new area) and a scorch mark signifies where that tile’s monster should stand to begin with. This monster is decided by drawing a card from the Monster pile, placing it in front of the player and grabbing said monster from the box to be put on the tile’s starting spot. Something else to take note of is the colour of the arrow; white is fine, but a black arrow means another card must be drawn and resolved immediately from the Encounter Deck. This also happens automatically if no new dungeon tiles are drawn, thus encouraging exploration of a new area at least once per turn. Encounters could be anything from stacking the monster deck in a certain way, triggering a particularly nasty trap or (occasionally) spotting some treasure – but yes… most of the time it’s something pretty awful.

Midway through a solo adventure. This one ended in an ass-kicking. It *always* ends in an ass-kicking.

The final phase of each turn is the Villain Phase, where all monsters on the board spring to life. Working your way around each player in turn – remember, there’s no DM – any monster cards that are in front of them are activated. Again, the simplified rules come in to play – easily understood and followed explanations are given for each monster that cover every potential possibility, be they adjacent to a hero or on the other side of the board. All you need to know is that eventually they’ll hunt you down and attack, you’ll get poisoned or dazed and eventually get killed.

Death happens a lot in Wrath of Ashardalon, but thankfully you’re on the side of good so you have some Healing Surges. Rather than having individual surges there’s a collective pot, meaning that particularly inept and squishy wizards who enjoy throwing themselves into the thick of battle can use more than one if they need to, not that I speak from experience or anything. All the usual D&D tropes are there, Daily Powers, traps and treasures… but Wrath of Ashardalon expands on the previous experience by adding new tile types and cards. Boons can make your life easier, while the additional Adventure cards give you allies to control. Watch out for the new Chamber tiles though, because that’s where the really bad things happen.

If you ever managed to get your hands on a copy of Ravenloft (which is still quite the challenge, at least here in the UK) you’ll know that WotC really tried to push the boat out when it came to the components. I know that some of the design decisions made by the team rattled some cages – a few folks thought that the minimal approach just wasn’t D&D enough – but they’ve elected to stay with the look for Wrath of Ashardalon. Everything is of high quality, from cards to the thick cut tiles that will make the scene for your adventures. You can certainly tell that Wizards are going for a big franchise here, making a grab for the Descent market, with piles of beautifully sculpted minis that are aching to be painted – the main villain of the piece, the dragon Ashardalon, is particularly impressive. There’s no way I’m going anywhere near these with a brush though – I’d hate to ruin them due to ineptitude and thankfully they look great without the need for my childish attempts at ‘enhancement’.

Calling them miniatures doesn't feel right when one of them is THAT BIG.

So, the game plays very well and looks great. There’s little downtime as players are always involved as they negotiate their way around the dungeons, and even those who may have deemed D&D as frivolous before will admit that this is very well put together. There is, however, something intangible that I think requires a mention. Wrath of Ashardlon really feels like something exciting. It’s taken what Ravenloft started and expanded, adding in new elements while keeping the game system fun. As mentioned earlier, the package ships with a book of 12 adventures, but those merely feel like a beginning. This big box feels like opportunity, it feels like potential. After a few hours of playing, my mind began to wander back to another dungeon crawler that had a major effect on my childhood as a gamer – Advanced HeroQuest. The hours I spent coming up with maps and adventures, writing awful scripts to read out as my friends dragged their way through fight after fight… all this came back to me.

So much is possible with this system that WotC have developed (and are still refining). The fact that you can crossover with Ravenloft (and the upcoming Legend of Drizzt) means that there’s a wealth of opportunity here. To those who complain that the twelve adventures in the included book aren’t enough – and there are a few dissenting voices – I urge you to go back to your youth, go back to the reason you picked up these games, and use your imagination. The route that Wizards of the Coast are taking looks to be one that will provide you with a stack of adventures later down the line (I reckon we’ll see a release along the lines of Descent’s Road to Legend before too long) but in the meantime focus on that one word: PLAY. This is the tabletop equivalent of a sandbox – set yourself a target, randomly generate a dungeon and see what happens. I guarantee you that there’s little else out there at the moment that can provide such depth and enjoyment in comparatively bite-sized chunks. And if anyone mocks you for playing D&D in 2011? Chuck your d20 at them. Wear your badge with pride. It’s the grown-up thing to do.

Wrath of Ashardalon was released in 2011 by Wizards of the Coast and was designed by Peter Lee, Mike Mearls and Bill Slavicsek. Between 1 and 5 people can play and it will cost you around £40-50 in the UK (if you can find it, as it’s currently quite tricky to find in your local game shop!). Persevere though – it’s well worth trying to track down a copy.

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