Dungeon Command: Curse of Undeath (Dungeons & Dragons)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Cost: $39.99 ($26.39 at Amazon.com)
Release Date: 11/20/2012
Get it Here: Amazon.com
This is my third review of the Dungeon Command line of products put out by Wizards of the Coast and the warband I have wanted to get my hands on since Wizards first announced the concept back in 2011. What can I say, I loved the undead figures from the D&D minis line, and since I was never into Goblinoids or Drow, this was the warband that was going to make or break Dungeon Command for me. The good news is that this is the best looking set yet in terms of mini sculpts and paint job, and it probably is the best overall warband released in terms of playability. The bad news is that there are a few signs in this package that Wizards is either doing Dungeon Command to make money off the old D&D Minis sculpts lying around rather than focusing on putting out a quality product, or has a really bad set of editors/quality control people working on this product.
For those new to Dungeon Command, it’s an odd but fun mash-up of the old skirmish mini games Wizards used to put out as a collectable figure series known as Dungeons & Dragons Minis, along with the card aspects of Magic: The Gathering. Unlike most miniatures games, no dice are involved, and all attacks automatically hit. The deck of cards lets a player switch up attacks from the basic ones each creature has, and you tap figures in a similar way to tapping cards in M:TG. As well, instead of randomized boosters allowing for creativity and flexibility, Dungeon Command uses preset warbands that are about three times the cost of the old boosters (only twice on Amazon), but the increased cost guarantees you have a balanced, playable army instead of trying to make something work with randomized figures. The end result is a fun game with balanced armies. You actually save money in the long run by not buying stacks of boosters for Dungeon Command, but with only four armies, strategy and tactics only go so far, as everyone quickly learns what each army is capable of and how to counter it, if they can. Checks and balances.
If you’re interested in learning more about the previous three warbands, click here to learn about Sting of Lolth and Heart of Cormyr, or click here to learn about Tyranny of Goblins. If you read those and this review, you’ll know which of the current four warbands suit your play style and/or figure preference.
So let’s talk Curse of Undeath. Wow, these figures look great. Again, the figures included are not only some of my favorites from the old D&D Minis game getting new (un)life via Dungeon Command, but the paint jobs are far and away the best I’ve seen yet in this series. Some of the paint jobs in the other warbands were a bit sketchy, and all were definitely weaker than the original ones the figures had via D&D Minis, but Curse of Undeath is gorgeous across the board – save for one exception. That would be the “Hypnotic Spirit” which is a repaint of the original “Cursed Spirit.” The original was painted while the new version is translucent blue plastic. I prefer the original, but I can see why some would prefer this one. Still, beautiful pieces.
The warband itself consists of twelve figures. You get two Warrior Skeletons, two Zombies (actually the awesome Terror Wights from Unhallowed. Why they didn’t use any of the actual zombie figures from D&D Minis is beyond me, but these are still some of my favorite undead to field in the original game, so I’m not complaining), one Vampire Stalker, one Gravehound, One Hypnotic Spirit, one Disciple of Kyuss, one Skeletal Tomb Guardian (gorgeous sculpt), one Lich Necromancer, one Skeletal Lancer (one of my favorite figures) and one Dracolich (not the same one as in the Castle Ravenloft board game). On paper, this army would destroy any of the other three. Hell, in actual D&D terms, just the Lich and Dracolich could wipe out the other armies, but Dungeon Command is all about balance, and so the Drow and humans can actually stand up to this marauding horde of revenants. That said, after looking at all four warbands, the figure stats and the decks, Curse of Undeath is by far the most powerful, and in the hands of someone that has played a lot of skirmish games, this set is positively lethal.
Let’s talk staying power. The two zombies can come back at any time with full health by paying 1 Morale. This is definitely worth it, and the best thing is that the wording doesn’t let them apply to your leadership max, so it’s a cheap way to overpower your opponent. The Skeletal Tomb Guardian has a great defense against flanking. It does 20 damage to every adjacent opponent when it attacks someone. The Vampire Stalker heals 10 Hit Points with every successful attack. If the Skeletal Lancer dies you can immediately replace it with another Skeleton between levels 1 and 3, and yes, that includes the Tomb Guardian. Crazy. Any enemy adjacent to the Disciple of Kyuss takes 10 Damage when it activates each round. The Lich can have any new undead deployed next to it instead of in the deployment area and the Dracolich can be tapped to make three ranged attacks AND it can fly. Truly this is a very powerful force, and a good strategist will come up with some killer combos. Say, summoning dead zombies back onto the field to act as a buffer for the Lich. Perhaps make sure the Skeletal Lancer dies with lots of opponents around it, then turn it into the Tomb Guardian and do damage to ALL of then, great stuff here across the board. I mean, this warband is SO overpowered that I have to wonder if they did any playtesting or quality control here.
Your two commander choices are pretty nice too. Morgana Valistova has a small creature hand (only three cards), but a Morale of 14 and a Leadership of 7. That’s all you really need with a hand that size. All of her creatures also gain the ability to tap and cost the team 1 Morale in exchange for preventing 20 damage from hitting it. This is a pretty good ability, but some creatures, like the zombies, are ones you won’t mind taking damage because you can just bring them back, and with the Lich on the field, with better fielding. Delthrin Everet is a much different commander. Both his hands are only three cards, and he has a lower Morale and Leadership (12 and 6). His special ability is kind of crap though. Bloodthirsty raises the Leadership level by 1 for every creature the undead warband destroys. Eh. That might be helpful in round one or two, but past that, it’s useless. Stick with Morgana. She’s superior in every way.
Then there’s the deck. It’s very oddly done. One problem right off the bat is that several of your Order cards will be confusing to new players, making this a bad choice for your first deck. Cloud of Bats is a Level 5 INT card. This means you need a Level 5 character with the Intelligence tribute to use it. This is fine as the Lich and Dracolich can use it. It also has a status called Vampire Affinity which means any vampire can use this card. Well, you only have one vampire in the deck. He’s only Level 4, and while he has three attributes (DEX, CON, CHA), he does NOT have INT, which means players are going to be confused by this. On one hand it says any vampire can use the card, but on the other it says you also need to be Level 5 with the INT ability. Newcomers and even people who have been playing for months will find the wording and how to deal with this card (and two others) a bit confusing. Instead of reading the card like it’s totally unplayable, look at it that all three creatures (the vampire and both liches) can play the card. Vampire Affinity trumps the requirements. Otherwise you have a useless card in the deck and if that’s the case, Wizards needs new editors and playtesters.
Out of the thirty six cards in the deck, eleven are CHA, nine are INT, thirteen are CON, and 3 are ANY. The problem here is the balance. Eight of the twelve creatures can use CON cards, but less than a third of the deck has that attribute. This is not very user friendly. Meanwhile, only five of the twelve creatures have CHA, and that attribute has nearly as many cards. Two of those cards can only be used by the Dracolich too. Then only three creatures can use the INT cards, but again, that’s a fourth of the deck! Remember, you have the weirdness that is Cloud of Bats, but TWO OTHER CARDS suffer that same problem. Vampiric Touch appears twice in the deck, and again, and although it can be used by any vampire creature, once again the only vampire in the warband DOESN’T HAVE THE INT ATTRIBUTE. So there will be debate and arguments over how to use these three cards. Unfortunately the rules don’t specifically state that Affinity trumps ability and level requirements, but it’s the only way to interpret things with this particular issue.
Now I know the deck balancing and design has been pretty poor for all four warbands, but this is the only one that has three cards that will outright cause confusion, especially with newcomers. That means you have a one in twelve chance of drawing a card that you’ll have to re-explain every time you play someone who has never encountered this deck before. Of course, there is no customization, nor any boosters, so there’s nothing you can do to make these cards more easily playable, say with a Vampire that has INT and is Level 5. It is what it is. Again, I’m not sure if this shows Wizards is just making a cheap cash grab and really aren’t putting any care into product or this shows the inherent problem with trying to edit your own stuff and/or playtesting from the inside. Really this should be a minor issue, but after years of playing Heroclix, D&D Minis and other collectible games, some people will start a rules argument over ANYTHING. What Wizards of the Coast needs to do is either clarify the cards or the rules. Another option is to just errata the Vampire to have the INT attribute instead of the DEX (there are no DEX cards in the deck) so at least TWO of the three cards could be used without someone trying to rules-lawyer and bog play down. Cloud of Bats is still screwed in this manner though. See the importance of proper verbiage?
So, I don’t know what to tell you here. The miniatures are great, but the actual warband is massively unbalanced and prone to dragging the usual pace of the game down due to the card issue and the fact that the figures it contains are way overpowered compared to the other bands. I love this set, and it’s definitely the best overall warband out of the four currently available. It also has the best looking figures in terms of style and paint job. If Wizards could just fix the three poorly worded cards in Curse of Undeath, this would have been a home run. Instead, it’s a mixed bag. Again, it’s pretty obvious WotC is neither playtesting nor really paying attention to Dungeon Command, which is a shame as it has a lot of potential. If you know people that are really playing this, expect to see this warband dominate the game for some time.