Title: Dungeon Command
Release Date: July 2012
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Recommended Age: 12 and older
Pros: Beautiful components, random deployment keeps games varied.
Cons: Expensive, early turns are complicated, many little rules that are easily forgotten.
Overall Score: Two thumbs up, 91/100, A-, ****1/2 out of 5.
Dungeons and Dragons Miniatures (DDM) was a great miniatures game in its day. Players could assemble armies of goblins, slimes, soldiers or demons and slug it out in a variety of environments. The only problem was it was just too bloody expensive and players quickly ran out of the money (and space) to get more miniatures, no matter how awesome they were. DDM also used rules more like 3rd edition Dungeons and Dragons (D&D), which made for some problems when the 4th edition of D&D came out. Whatever the reason, sales died out, and DDM was no more, leaving Wizards of the Coast (WotC) to figure what to do with zillions of little plastic figures.
WotC has released a number of games using those miniatures but those are boardgames that use miniatures. None of them captured the same type of fun of a miniatures game. At long last, WotC is trying another miniatures game, this time with their Dungeon Command system. Instead of buying boxes of random miniatures, WotC plans to sell themed boxes, with a fixed set of miniatures in each box. While it is sort of possible to play a game with just one box, Dungeon Command is clearly designed for each player to have his own box.
Right now, the two themes available are Heart of Cormyr (the good guys, with humans, elves and dwarves) and Sting of Lolth (bad guys, evil elves and their spider minions). Each $40 box has a dozen figures, along with map pieces, cards, and tokens needed for play.
Where’s My D20?
The game begins with a map set-up, choosing a leader ability and drawing of order and creature cards by both players. There’s not much you can do with the map, although it’s double sided for outdoor or dungeon battles. Various treasure chests then get placed, granting treasure (improving morale or some other effect depending on leader) to the player that sends a creature to empty the chest.
Each player then lays down some (possibly all) of his creatures, and then the battle begins! Starting deployment is determined by those cards, and very random. A player might be forced to lay down one big creature, or several small ones, focusing on melee or ranged attacks depending on the draw.
The big, big change from a D&D game is the lack of dice. There is no roll to-hit, no armor class, no saving throw, nothing that a D&D player would know. On the other hand, Magic: The Gathering (M:TG) players will recognize the mechanics well. When a creature attacks, you tap its card (turning it sideways), dealing a fixed amount of damage.
Well, maybe the damage is dealt. Players also have Order cards, which can be used to generate a wide array of effects. By far, the most potent are those that prevent damage, neutralizing a creature’s move and leaving it vulnerable to counter-attack when it’s the next player’s turn. The early game, when players have multiple such “surprise effect” cards, can be complicated as players try to figure out how to best use their cards…as the game progresses, and players run out of cards, the game moves much more smoothly.
Release The Dragon
I can’t emphasize enough how cool-looking the figures are. Most creatures are pretty tough, requiring multiple hits (or a good order card) to go down. When a creature dies, its controller loses morale points; the loser is whoever gets to zero morale first.
Dungeon Command is a fun game but it’s also a little complicated considering there are only a half dozen figures on the board at any time. Keeping track of Order cards can get messy and many figures have extra fiddly powers that are easy to forget. In addition, a leadership mechanic controls how many figures (and of what power) a player can control at once. It rises one point a turn but I’ll be darned if I played a single game where we were all confident we remembered to raise it every time. Using tiny and often accidentally moved markers to keep track of leadership and morale didn’t help things.
Many of the Order cards are devastating but less so if the opposing player knows what can come up. For example the Cormyr player can toss a fireball, which will wreck the Lolth player the first game but won’t be nearly as useful after that, as he’ll keep his creatures more spread out. Players with basically equal knowledge will find the two expansions equally matched, however.
The price is a bit of a choking point for me: You need $80 to really get a decent game together. WotC has thrown in extra cards to make the miniatures compatible with their other games, and that’s a sweet gesture. Fans that purchased WotC’s other dungeon crawling boardgames, like Castle Ravenloft, can get dual benefit over buying Dungeon Command (although truth be told, those other games are pretty good as-is, I’m not sure expanding them really helps). D&D players will likewise get extra use out of the miniatures for their role playing games, especially since they know exactly what’s in a given box.
Dungeon Command is a little too complicated for what it is so far but play might get more intuitive after a few dozen games (much like with M:TG). Overall, it’s a good thing that the game is complicated, since that adds the kind of depth that justifies an $80 (or more) game. Fans of D&D, especially those that miss DDM, will find this a worthy version of a D&D miniatures game, with enough alternate uses of the miniatures and other pieces that the price probably won’t be too big an issue.