Dungeons & Dragons: The Legend of Drizzt Board Game
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Release Date: 10/18/2011
Get it Here: Amazon.com
Two weeks ago we did an interview with WotC’s Peter lee about The Legend of Drizzt. As I’ve been a big fan of the previous two “D&D Adventure System Cooperative Games (Yes, that’s the full branding), I was looking forward to The Legend of Drizzt, even though I’ve only read one or two Drizzt novels in my life. Yes, I was more into the Ravenloft, Spelljammer and Planescape books than the adventures of the world’s most famous Drow. Although this means I’m not as infinitely familiar with the particular characters of this game as Salvatore’s most faithful readers, it also means I won’t be writing a multi-page rant on where the game diverges from the novels. “Oh no, you can’t use Athrogate against Shimmergloom. The dwarven battlerager wasn’t even written about when that happened.” Stuff like that. At the same time I’m very familiar with Castle Ravenloft and Wrath of Ashardalon, the two previous D&D random tile board games, so I know the system quite well, which I feel is the important thing here. Now I reviewed the Conquest of Nerath board game that came out this summer, but that’s a very different beast from The Legend of Drizzt. This will be our first time putting the Adventure System under the magnifying glass so read on to see if it’s worth sixty-five dollars or not.
The Legend of Drizzt is a game for between one and five players. Yes, it’s set up so that you can solo the game if you want, but it’s obviously far more fun to play with other people. The game doesn’t contain an actual board or a map. Instead it uses randomly drawn tiles to create the field you play upon. This means you can play each adventure in the game book numerous times, and the field will always be different. Factor in the randomly monsters and encounters as well, and no two games will play the same.
There are thirteen adventures in the game, which chronicles Drizzt’s life from the book Exile to the current Neverwinter trilogy. Although they only bear lip service to the actual books by R.A. Salvatore, fans of Drizzt will recognize the adventures for what they are and will be able to fill in the blanks with both recollection and imagination. For those that pick up The Legend of Drizzt simply because they liked the previous two games, you’ll find the adventures to be somewhat similar, but with new characters and monsters to experience. There are some unique adventures though such as “The Deeps” which basically has each character try to survive as long as possible, or “Race for Gauntlgrym” which is the first competitive adventure for this series of games. I was very pleased to see a wide range of adventure rather than “get to point A” or “Kill the boss monster” which were the norm for Castle Ravenloft Wrath of Ashardalon .
Speaking of characters The Legend of Drizzt contains eight playable characters. Compare this to the previous two adventure system games which only contained five characters. The playables include Drizzt, Bruneor, Wulfgar, Catti-Brie, Jarlaxle, Artemis Entreri, Regis, and Athrogate. Each character has their own unique stats but some are noticeably better than others. Although each adventure gives you a list of suggested heroes so that you can follow the actual stories (Such as not playing Artemis as a player character when he’s a villain in the adventure.), after fooling around with a few characters it will be obvious which ones are superior to the others. It’s probably no surprise that Drizzt is the best character in the game, with the ability to attack twice per round, the best speed of any character, best armour class and second highest hit point count. It’s insane how powerful he is compared to the others. The other thing that makes Drizzt stand out is his ability to summon Guenhwyvar the obsidian panther. The ability to have another playable ally on the team is extremely powerful. The second best character, Athrograte also has this ability, albeit it with a boar named snort). Using both these characters in a two person game can give double the size of your party and really help you to dominate things. Athrogate also has an insane amount of damage and offers board control. If you don’t care about the adventures being thematically correct, then these two should be in every adventure. After that Bruneor and Artemis make up the second tier of characters the other four have serious problems that keep them from being used if you’re trying to actually win the adventure. Catti-Brie and Regis are especially terrible. Crappy AC and next to no hit points means that you are pretty much guaranteed to lose the adventure if one or both of these characters are used.
Setting up The Legend of Drizzt takes a bit of time due to the sheer number of parts. The first time you play, punching out all the cardboard pieces, shuffling all the decks and making sure everything is in its correct pile will take longer than an actual adventure. That’s how many pieces there are. We’re talking thirty-two tiles, several dozen figures, three decks of cards and a fourth set of player ability cards and a ton of tokens/markers. There are a lot of little pieces to this game, so make sure you play it out of the reach of small children and pets. Even once you have pieces unwrapped or popped out from their cardboard backing, setup will still take about ten to fifteen minutes each time – not counting the time spent picking your character and their powers. This isn’t too bad compared to something like Conquest of Nerath where setup can take up to half an hour, and the more people you have playing, the quicker setup will go.
The tiles in The Legend of Drizzt are noticeably different than in the previous two games. Before we had dungeon/castle tiles, which simulated the general feel of a dungeon crawl. In The Legend of Drizzt, you get cavern tiles. Since much of the adventures of Drizzt take place either underground in lost cities or in the Underdark (where the Drow reside), it makes sense to go with a different design for the tiles. Now it’s not just a change in appearance here. Tiles can be given more of a rounded edge here with add-on pieces. There are also some unique tiles like “narrow corridor” which lowers everyone’s AC by 4 due to the cramped quarters. There are the dreaded “volcanic vent” tiles you will come to hate as many an Encounter Card causes those to deal damage to all the heroes on or near them (but not the monsters…). I really liked the new design here and it helped to make The Legend of Drizzt stand out from the previous two games. The downside is that you can’t really mix and match the titles together with the previous two games, but if you’re looking to make your own adventures, you’ll probably be creative enough to find a way around this problem (say, a castle than has sunken into the ground and been eroded by time)
The flow of each adventure is roughly the same, but unfortunately it’s not without the same issues that hurt the previous two Adventure System games. A player gets to do one of the following: Attack then move, move than attack, or move twice. After these actions are done, the player draws a new tile card if they are on the edge of a tile without anything attached to it. At this point a new monster is placed on the tile and an encounter card is drawn if there is a black triangle on the card. Then your hero’s turn ends. If there isn’t a new tile drawn, you draw an encounter card and end your turn. I have two problems with this format. The first is that this means monsters ALWAYS get first strike because as soon as one appears, your turn ends. Not only does it feel unfair, but it’s nowhere close to how a D&D encounter should go down. Honestly, the rules should let you reveal the new tile as part of your move and then attack if you can (say, distance weapon or a magic spell). Most people I’ve encountered with the D&D adventure system do comment on the fact that the rules for monsters need some house rules/fine-tuning in order to work properly, and The Legend of Drizzt is the same way. The second problem I have is that EVERY encounter card is something negative and is usually damage dealing. Again, this isn’t very Dungeons & Dragons as no DM in their right mind would constantly throw damage at a PC just for sitting and exploring. The problem with encounter cards has been a big gripe with these games since Castle Ravenloft and I’m surprised to see that Wizards of the Coast hasn’t listened to these issues. Some of the encounter cards should be neutral and a few could even be beneficial. It’s not very much fun to see a PC killed by an encounter card or have the entire game lost because of one especially as the rules state that once a single player is knocked down to 0 health and doesn’t have any more healing, everyone loses. It also doesn’t help that encounters only affect PCs when certain ones should affect everything on a tile or the board. Honestly, the Adventure System games often feel like they are made by a DM who feels they need to beat the PCs rather than providing everyone with a fun and challenging story. Now granted, we’ve never lost an adventure in these games yet, but the problem with game flow and encounter cards is something that has been noticed and talked about since Castle Ravenloft and they’ve yet to be addressed.
Another issue that might bother long time miniature gamers or D&D fans is how the monsters attack. After every player’s turn, the monsters get to go. So if there are two players and two monsters with the same name on the board, it would go like this: Player 1, Monster 1, Monster 2, Player 2, Monster 1, Monster 2. So yes, the monsters would get twice as many attacks as each player. Add in a third player and it would be come thrice as many attacks. Obviously this isn’t how either D&D Miniatures or Dungeons & Dragons in general plays and in conjunction with the fact monsters get first strike, this puts the players at disadvantage. The other issue is that monsters can move one or even several complete tiles AND attack where your characters can only move a few squares on a tile – how many they can is based on their speed stat. This will no doubt drive wargamer or fans of miniature games like Mage Knight insane with how enemies get such a nasty advantage. Even worse, the monsters are noticeably stronger in The Legend of Drizzt while there are far less chances to heal in this game. This game lacks clerics and/or paladins (which were in the first two), so the combination of harder enemies and less opportunities to heal are just another hurdle to deal with in The Legend of Drizzt.
Overall The Legend of Drizzt is easily the least balanced of the three games. Monsters are harder and several have area of effect attacks, while the PCs are without any mages, clerics or paladins – rendering the team without distance attacks (aside from Catti-Brie, whose pitiful AC and hit points less than even that ability out). When that is combined with the odd flow of rules and how many attacks monsters get compared to the players and The Legend of Drizzt becomes more annoying than fun at times. The game really needed to be more balanced. Since the enemies are harder and you lack healing and distance attacks why not increase the number of healing surges available to the group? If that wasn’t an option, why not lower enemy AC? That way you have an easier time hitting which balanced out their extra attacks. It’s just kind of sad to see some generic player characters in the previous Adventure System games are better designed and balanced than the ones in The Legend on Drizzt – and all of these are supposed to be famous legendary warriors in Toril.
Now, since the last three paragraphs really reamed The Legend of Drizzt, you probably are thinking I didn’t enjoy my time with it. That’s not actually true. While it was the weakest of the Adventure System games in terms of balancing – the game was still quite fun at times. It’s just the inherent flaws with the Adventure System rules are simply even more noticeable here. The strengths, such as extreme replayability from the random tiles and the ability to somewhat customize your character are all still here. It also features some of the best adventures our of all the games and the fact both the protagonists and antagonists are recognizable instead of generic adds to the fun.
I should also point out that the game is made of some high quality materials. The box contains all the parts is high quality and very durable. It also has a very striking image of Drizzt and Guenhwyvar on the front. The miniatures are the same awesome pieces we saw in the now defunct Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures collectable figure game. While these figures here aren’t painted, they are no less fun to look at and use. I had fun recognizing the sculpts and I was happy to finally have an Archfiends Drizzt figure without paying the $75 for him. I also loved the new sculpts for characters like Regis and Jarlaxle and that gives me hope that if we do get the Dragonlance game Peter Lee wants to make that it’ll have a lot of new sculpts as well (The only D&D minis made of Dragonlance characters were Mina, Tanis, Lord Soth and Raistlin.). You are really getting $65 dollars worth of materials (and then some here). Everything is of the highest quality and you can’t help but be impressed by everything in the box – especially when most fourth edition D&D adventures come with little cardboard tokens for their figures.
All in all, I had fun with The Legend of Drizzt. It has its issues and it’s the weakest of the Adventure System games so far, but it’s still a fun way to while away an afternoon if you don’t have a large enough group to engage in a proper tabletop session or no one has the inclination to be a Dungeon Master. I’d definitely recommend starting with Castle Ravenloft or Wrath of Ashardalon so you can get a more balanced experience along with a wider range of character classes and abilities, but if you liked either of those games, The Legend of Drizzt is well worth purchasing as there are new tiles, adventures, player characters and miniatures to have fun with. Fun but flawed is the best way to describe The Legend of Drizzt. Fans of the characters contained within will enjoy the game more than those who have never read about Drizzt’s exploits, but there’s still fun to be had here.
Tags: Dungeons & Dragons