Inside Pulse 12

Tabletop Review: Dungeon Command (Dungeons & Dragons)

Dungeon Command: Heart of Cormyr & Sting of Lolth
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Cost: $39.99 per pack ($26.39 at Amazon.com)
Release Date: 07/17/2012
Get it Here: Amazon.com (Sting of Lolth/Heart of Cormyr

I was a huge fan of the Dungeons & Dragons miniatures skirmish game. I’d played other collectable skirmish games like Mage Knight, Heroclix, Bakugan, and even the ill-fated Pok√©mon version, but none of them were as good as the D&D one to me. I got so good at the game I was ranked #2 in the game at one point. So, it’s no surprised I was sad when they completely did away with the game as they introduced Fourth Edition. Well, after years of nagging from the fanbase and watching Heroclix rise from the grave, Wizards of the Coast has decided to return to skirmish wargaming in a very new and very different way.

Dungeon Command is an odd mix of the old D&D minis game with Magic: The Gathering. The end result is a game that uses several small decks to determine combat results instead of dice similar to Soda Pop Miniatures’ Relic Knights. Instead of being sold in randomized booster packs, Dungeon Command has set warbands for purchase. Currently only the two we are looking at today, Heart of Cormyr and Sting of Lolth, are available, but later releases with include Goblin, Undead and Orc warbands. Odd that there is only a single good aligned warband, but perhaps more will be on the way if these sets are successful. Because the warbands are set, you are stuck with the twelve figures you get it in. The rulebook does tell you how to design your own warband, but that still means purchasing multiple sets instead of being able to buy singles or booster packs. Personally, I think boosters will help the game a lot, especially with the aforementioned issue that only one of the five planned warbands is good-aligned.

Each Warband comes with twelve figures. Each figure is a re-release from the old skirmish game, albeit it with a new paint job. The paint jobs for these mass produced plastic minis are quite good, all things considered, but I do think I prefer the original paint schemes on some of these better, especially the spiders in the Lolth set and most of the Cormyr set. I should also point out that twelve minis for $40 is pretty expensive when compared to the original boosters that sold for $12 for eight figures. However, each warband does come with cards, tiles, and a rulebook, which softens the blow to your wallet a bit, but it’s still far more expensive than the old starter sets that you could get with the original collectible minis games. That’s why I’m glad you can get these for under thirty dollars on Amazon. That’s a nearly perfect price point for these warbands and I strongly suggest you get them there if you are interested in the game.

As mentioned, each warband comes with twelve figures. Heart of Cormyr comes with ten regular sized minis, one small. and one large while Sting of Lolth comes with nine regular and three large figures. HoC gives you two Dwarven Defenders, two Elf Archers, a Dragon Knight, a Dwarf Cleric, a Human Ranger, a Half-Orc Thug, a Halfling sneak, a War Wizard, an Earth Guardian and a Copper Dragon. The SoL warband comes with two Demonweb Spiders, two Drow House Guard, a Shadow Mastiff, a Drow Priestess, a Drow Assassin, a Drow Wizard, a Drow Blademaster, a Giant Spider, an Umber Hulk and of course, a Drider. Whichever set of figures sounds best to you is the one you should pick up. Remember, each player will need a warband of their own, so for two people, it’ll be between fifty and eighty dollars to even begin to start to play the game.

The game also comes with four tiles – two large and two small. Each player contributes their tiles to make a grid based board to play on. This is similar to the tile system that the D&D skirmish miniatures game started with, but abandoned in favor of maps. Each tile has two sides – one depicting an outdoor wilderness and the other being a dark dank dungeon. Players decide before hand which side they want to play on. The game also comes with three sets of cards. The first set is not one that can be used with the skirmish game but instead allows each of the minis from the warband to be used with the D&D Adventure System board games like Castle Ravenloft and The Legend of Drizzt. This is a nice little touch to increase the life of both the new skirmish game and the now abandoned Adventure System. The other two sets of cards are decks. One is a twelve card Creature Deck, containing a card for each creature in your warband. The cards you draw determine which creatures you can play, similar to a summon spell in M:TG. Your other deck is the Order Deck, which contains thirty-six cards. These cards are the equivalents of enchantments, interrupts, instants, and all the other types of spells in Magic: The Gathering. The catch is that instead of a Planeswalker casting spells, these special moves are done directly by one of the creatures on the field. The catch is that one of your characters has to be the right level AND have the right trait in order to use an Order card. Think of it like Mana in M:TG. If you have only white Mana, you can’t cast a spell that requires blue.

Here’s an example. The Drow Blademaster is a Level 3 Creature with the DEX (Dexterity) attribute. He can use the Shadowy Ambush card as it has a Level 3 Rating and requires the DEX attribute. The Blademaster however could NOT use Sneak Attack which requires a Level 6 character and the Dex Attribute. Likewise it could not use Faerie Fire as it may only be a Level 1 card, but it requires the INT (intelligence) attribute, which the Blademaster does not have. Some creatures in each warband have two or three traits. The Drow Wizard, for example has DEX and INT and so can use both cards. The Umber Hulk has STR and DEX but as there aren’t any STR cards in the Sting of Lolth set, it’s a bit useless. In fact, for SoL, twenty-seven of the thirty-six cards require the DEX trait, four require INT, three require WIS and two are ANY (basically colorless Mana). This is really well balanced as ALL twelve creatures in this warband have the DEX trait. The Drow Wizard is the only one that can use the INT cards, and the Drow Priestess is the only one that can use the WIS, so that means you only have a one in six chance of pulling a card that you might not be able to use.

Unfortunately the Heart of Comryr deck isn’t as well balanced. Here you have a wide range of abilities, making it hard to pull the cards you need for your current characters. Three are DEX only, two are STR/DEX, three STR/CON, one STR/CON/WIS, one STR, one INT, and one INT/STR. That is way too wide a range. It would be like playing a five color deck in M:TG, which is insane. Then you have a massive imbalance with the cards, There are only two cards for DEX, a whopping SIX cards for INT (of which only two characters can use…), nineteen STR cards and nine ANY cards. This warband really needed to be reduced to be balanced better. No WIS cards for your CLERIC? No Con cards when a third of the warband has that trait. Only two deck cards in your deck when a full fourth of the warband has that trait and ONLY that trait? This could have been SO much better, but as it stands, cards alone give the Lolth warband a greater chance of coming out on top.

Each warband comes with two leader cards. Each leader has their own special ability, creature hand size, staring order hand size, morale and leadership. Creature hand size determines how many creature cards you have at any time. Starting order hand is how many order cards you start the game with. Morale is basically your Hit Points in the game. When you hit 0, you lose. Morale can be raised by finding treasure on the battlefield and is lowered whenever you lose a monster or choose to “cower.” Cowering lets a monster take no damage at a cost of one morale point per 10 points of damage. Leadership is the maximum total level of creatures allowed in play for your side. So if I choose Valnar Trueblade for the Cormyr side, my Leadership starts at 7 and so that’s how many total creature levels I can have to begin the game. So I could have say, the Earth Guardian (Level 4) and a Human Ranger (Level 2) and an Elf Archer (level 1) as that totals seven total character levels. I couldn’t, however, have the Earth Guardian and the War Wizard, as they are both Level 4 and that would be a total of 8 levels. Now leadership goes up by one point each round so eventually you can have 10 or 12 character levels on the board at once.

With all this in mind, the game unfolds rather like the old D&D minis game, or any skirmish game really. Each player gets a turn. They draw an order card, they activate their creatures one at a time and then tap (turn their character card to a 90 degree angle like in M:TG) to signify they have gone. Each creature can move their “Speed” and can then attack. You don’t have to move and attack. Sometimes you just might need to move while other times you might just need to attack. You CAN attack and then move though, which is a nice change of pace. As there are no dice in the game, attacks automatically hit unless the opponent has an order card to block or reverse the damage. If you don’t have an order card you want to use on an attack, every creature has at least one default attack (some have up to three), so that there is always a way to attack. This means if you have all three DEX characters from the Cormyr deck out but no DEX cards, you can still do damage to the opponent; you’re not screwed. The lack of dice is an interesting mechanic, and the use of cards and automatic hits makes things go a lot faster than the usual skirmish game. That said, the game really does need both card and figure boosters because there’s only so long you can play with these two sets before you know how things can unfold. The Cormyr set especially needs boosters to balance things out. Right now Sting of Lolth is far too dominant when the two are compared side by side. I hope the other three sets are better balanced but again, that means the only good aligned warband has the most issues and that disappoints me a lot.

All in all, I have mixed figures towards the two sets. I really enjoyed playing the game and having some form of the D&D skirmish game back on the market. However, the game really needs more tiles, figures and cards, be they in booster form or some other means of obtaining them, in order for Dungeon Command to gain a fraction of the traction the old D&D Minis game had. Without the concept of boosters for these (and none are planned), it feels like WoTC made Dungeon Command half-heartedly in an attempt to temporarily shut up the fans who wanted the skirmish game back while making money of the legions of mini molds they have lying around unused. Without some way to let players properly customize a warband, support for this line will falter and then WotC can say, “See? No one wanted a D&D skirmish game after all.” Which is FAR from the truth and they know it. The fact warbands are coming out every few months instead of a large release of collectible figures doesn’t help matters either. Basically, while Dungeon Command is a lot of fun and well worth playing, Wizards of the Coast has basically set this game up to fail from the get-go by not remembering three core rules of skirmish games. The first is that they need to be collectable like little plastic crack. That’s not the case here as warbands are complete and without any true way to customize them. The second is that boosters make up a lot of the profit for these types of games. If you only sell a few specific and complete warbands, there’s no draw or emotional tie to a team. It’s the same as everyone else’s. Booster packs also ensure that no two teams will play exactly alike, but here we just have two complete warbands and nothing else which causes the exact opposite to happen. Finally, you need to have a lot of options available at the start. If all five warbands were available since July 17th, people would have been a lot more excited about the game and you could have all sorts of different experiences rather than the same two warbands going at it over and over again. Having more options means not only more excitement but more time before the bloom is off the rose. Then, there would be more warbands which would perk excitement back up as players try new teams and/or figures and the cycle would repeat. Here, by the time the next warband (Goblins) comes out in September, a lot of people will be done with Dungeon Command as there was too little, too late from Wizards regarding support for it. It’s a shame too, as there’s a lot of potential in Dungeon Command, but bad planning and marketing will kill it before it has a chance to truly gain an audience.

If you’re a fan of skirmish games, you don’t have a lot of options these days and if you buy a warband on Amazon, you can get this for a pretty good price. Plus, you don’t have to paint anything. However, with only two sets to pick from, there’s not a lot to sustain interest in Dungeon Command. It’s a fun game, but don’t expect the variety, customization or popularity of the old D&D minis game – and thus it’ll be a lot harder to find people to play against. I’m happy I picked this up, but with warbands being released sporadically and no real chance of boosters for customization, you have to be a really big fan of skirmish games to pick this one up.

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