Boardgames Dungeon Command - First Game

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    Dungeon Command - First Game

    The fine people at Wizards of the Coast have sent me a review copy of their new Dungeon Command miniatures game - a copy of both the Sting of Lolth and the Heart of Cormyr sets, enough for two players to play the game. By adding more sets, a three or four player game can be played, but the game is mainly designed for two players. I'm sure we'll see three- and four-player games shortly when it goes into full release in a couple of weeks.

    After receiving the game on a Tuesday (the one day my FLGS is closed), I was able to bring it out the next night and play one game of it with Daniel, who is an experienced miniature gamer (BattleTech, Warhammer, Warmachine and so on) and board gamer. Together, we put it through its paces.

    We also got one rule dreadfully wrong, which affected me more than Daniel. I still almost won! Still, this is why I read the rulebook again after a game to see what I missed. Our preconceptions about games, especially when they have mechanics similar to other games, can really trip us up.

    Daniel thought it was really good (8/10), while I wasn't so sure after the game; knowing know what we got wrong, my estimation of the game has gone up markedly. This is a very good game, and a worthy addition to both the miniature skirmish library and the D&D-inspired games.

    The first part of set-up is to place the map boards: each player arranges two large pieces and two small pieces to form their half of the battlefield, then they are placed together. Treasure tokens are randomly assigned face-down to the six treasure locations on the board (each token has a value of 1 to 3 that is only revealed when a figure enters its square).

    Then the players draw starting cards according to the commander they have chosen. (Each faction has two possible commanders). The first player places initial figures onto the battlefield in his or her starting area, as does his opponent, choosing from the creature cards in hand; the cards are also placed on their side of the table. Finally, the players draw to replace their creature cards in hand, and they're ready to go.

    As you can see in the picture, I've deployed a Giant Spider and a Drow Assassin on my side of the table (lower-left), and Daniel has played a Half-Orc Thug and an Earth Guardian in his starting area.

    Morale, Treasure and How To Win
    Each commander has a morale value, which indicates the "will to fight" of their force. Whenever a creature is defeated, the morale of the force is lowered by the level of that creature (generally 1-5). Once it reaches zero, you lose the game.

    Alternatively, if one player has no figures on the battlefield, the game also ends but with the player with the higher remaining Morale winning the game.

    You can gain morale by gathering Treasure: one morale for each piece picked up. This seemed pretty good to me, so I moved my Drow Assassin onto the treasure chest, and revealed a "3". The chest was replaced by three treasure tokens, my Drow Assassin then used his standard action to pick up one of the tokens, increasing my Morale by one. I tapped his card to show he'd performed his standard action for the turn.

    I then moved my spider up (hiding it behind a wall), and ended my turn by summoning another creature: a medium Demonweb Spider.

    Controlling and Summoning Creatures
    Each creature has a level score (in these two sets, the levels range from one to six). The commander also has a Leadership score: that Leadership is the total number of creature levels you can control at one time on the battlefield. So, if I have a Leadership of 13 and control a total of 13 levels of creatures, I can't summon any more.

    However, Leadership increases by one at the end of each of your turns, and when monsters die also frees up Leadership.

    After increasing my Leadership by one, I was on eight Leadership, with seven levels of creatures on the table (Giant Spider is level 3 and the Drow Assassin is level 4). I played the level 1 Demonweb Spider and ended my turn.

    Daniel moved his creatures up, and ended his turn without summoning anything. However, this brought him within range of my creatures, and the battle was about to start properly.

    Attacking, Moving, and Order Cards
    During your turn, you activate each of your creatures one by one, with each creature completely finishing its activation before the next one begins. During their activation, they can (normally) do one Move, one Standard action, and any number of Minor actions. Performing a Standard action generally 'taps' the creature (you rotate its card to indicate it can't do another Standard action this turn).

    Each creature has a Speed, which indicates how many squares it can move (orthogonally or diagonally), although starting to move when next to an opposing creature reduces your Speed to one. You can move before or after your Standard Action, but not before and after. Moving next to an opposing creature means you have to stop, unless you can Shift, Fly or Burrow.

    The most basic forms of Standard Action are the attacks: ranged or melee, which deal damage according to the creature card. Not all creatures have ranged attacks, but I believe everyone has a melee attack. Some creatures have other powers as written on their cards, and creatures might also be able to use special actions granted by cards in hand.

    Note that attacks just deal damage; there's no attack roll involved. Cards can modify attacks though, and that provides a lot of the unpredictability. And I demonstrated that to Daniel immediately:

    I used one of these special order cards on my Giant Spider: Spring Attack. It allowed the Spider to shift 6 squares, attack, then shift 6 more squares - one of the few times I could move before and after attacking. It ran up and inflicted 20 damage (it's basic melee damage) on Daniel's Earth Guardian - a small part of his 90 hit points - then moved back. My Assassin hid using the Stealth card, which removed him from the battlefield. He'd return next turn in any unoccupied space on the battlefield! And my Demonweb Spider ran up and grabbed some more treasure, bringing my Morale score to 15.

    Daniel came back strongly, hitting my Giant Spider with the Earth Guardian for 30 damage, and sliding it adjacent to my Demonweb Spider (a special ability of the Earth Guardian). And then the Half-Orc Thug used his Explosive Arrows ability to deal 20 more damage to the Giant Spider and 10 to the adjacent Demonweb Spider - ouch!

    Daniel ended his turn by playing a Dwarven Defender, and it was obvious he'd had the best of that exchange.

    Immediate Actions, and the Rule We Got Wrong
    Apart from Standard, Move and Minor actions, the other major action type is the Immediate Action, which you can play during your opponent's turn. My deck was full of them. Cards like Riposte: "Prevent 20 damage to this creature from 1 source. Make a melee attack that deals 10 damage". Using an Immediate Action taps a creature, like a standard action, so you can't keep saving creatures.

    An untapped character with cover from a ranged attack can also tap to prevent the attack dealing damage. That can be really useful - and is a lovely, elegant way of representing cover.

    Unfortunately, this is where Daniel and I misread the rules: you untap creatures at the beginning and the end of your turn. We're both really experienced Magic players, so the mistake is understandable. It's still wrong, and it cut out a major part of my deck: I could only use my immediate actions if I didn't attack. I mention this just in case anyone else misreads the rule: don't! It will make the game much better when you get it right.

    My Drow Assassin came back; I was very tempted to put him in Daniel's starting area and take out the Dwarven Defender, but I really needed to deal with the creatures that were nearer to me. He appeared next to the Earth Guardian and hit it for 20 - and a further 10 because it was tapped. (It shouldn't have been, so that's the one time the misread rule worked in my favour). And then I moved up the Giant Spider *and didn't attack with it* because I wanted to try an Immediate Action card.

    Daniel laughed at this poor attempt to confuse him, and instead just attacked the Drow Assassin with the Earth Guardian. For fifty damage, killing it. He'd found the Invigorating Smite card, which also healed the Earth Guardian. I was sad. Then, for good measure, his thug took out the Demonweb Spider, and I was left with a very damaged Giant Spider with my morale in tatters. Oh, and his Dwarven Defender came up to join the party.

    The Drow Fight Back, and Terrain
    There was only one thing to do: summon more creatures. My Giant Spider scuttled away out of the action after Spring Attacking the Earth Guardian once more. One lovely thing about my commander was that she increased the speed of my spiders and drow by two.

    And then I played an Umber Hulk and a Drow House Guard. Let's see if Daniel could deal with them! Oh, and the Spider put the Earth Guardian in a web, so it couldn't move - it needed to remove the Web with a Standard action.

    Incidentally, the Immediate Order cards came in handy now as Daniel attacked - my monsters hadn't attacked and so could dodge!

    The Umber Hulk was a brute, and its special power was terrifying: a Confusing Gaze, which allowed it to slide an opposing character up to 3 squares and then the Hulk could make a melee attack. (It occurs to me that perhaps the confused creature should be making the attack, but it isn't clear from the card). In any case, I slid Daniel's Earth Guardian into a fiery brazier, which dealt it 10 damage, then hit it for 30 more damage. That felt good.

    There are four basic types of terrain in the game:

    Clear - most of the map.
    Walls - which block movement, line of sight and provide cover
    Difficult - which make movement more difficult: it costs two movement points to move into a square of difficult terrain rather than one
    Hazardous - which is Difficult terrain that also damages your figures. The first time a figure moves into hazardous terrain during an activation, it takes 10 damage. At the end of your turn, it takes a further 10 damage if still in hazardous terrain. Sliding other characters into hazardous terrain? Awesome!

    Monsters can have special movement modes - Burrow goes underground and ignores walls, difficult, hazardous and opposing creatures, whilst Flight goes above and ignores difficult, hazardous and opposing creatures - but not walls. Strangely, on the outdoors map, flying creatures can't fly over cliffs!

    The one other interesting point is that a creature can't move diagonally past a wall: it has to walk around it orthogonally. This can be important!

    Daniel summoned a War Wizard and a Halfling Sneak to make up for the loss of his Dwarven Defender and Half-Orc Thug, whilst I brought out my own Drow Wizard. Things were getting tight!

    Cowering and Card Requirements
    The Drow Wizard and the Umber Hulk were able to account for most of Daniel's forces - but not before the Umber Hulk was almost destroyed by the Earth Guardian. One of the really interesting rules in the game is that of Cowering: if a creature would be destroyed by an attack, you can Cower - instead of taking damage, you lose one Morale per 10 points of the attack. In my case, it made perfect sense: instead of taking 30 damage and losing 5 morale (level 5 Umber Hulk), I'd Cower and lose 3 morale instead... and then take out the Guardian with the Umber Hulk. This worked very well, and so Daniel was left with his War Wizard.

    Having the Wizard did allow Daniel to start playing some the cards in his hand. Not every creature can use every card: they require a minimum level, and the creature to have a matching attribute. The cards requiring INT in Daniel's deck needed his Wizard in play - he was happy that he finally got to play them. Mind you, his commander alleviated the pain of drawing the wrong cards, as it could discard one card to draw another, once every turn. A very useful ability.

    Another way of playing cards that you have the right attributes for but not the required level is to tap creatures to assist; this adds their level to the level of the creature performing the action. Thus, a Level 2 and a Level 3 could together perform a Level 5 attack. It's a very nice mechanic. Unfortunately, the one time Daniel tried that, I dodged the attack!

    Daniel summoned a Dragon Knight, a Dwarven Defender and a Human Ranger whilst using his War Wizard to finally take out my Giant Spider. I was now on three Morale, and Daniel was on four: the game was almost over.

    I did what I could: I summoned a Shadow Mastiff adjacent to his War Wizard (its special ability is to appear adjacent to a wall rather than in your starting area), which played merry havoc with his plans, and used my Drow Wizard to take out his Dwarven Defender. This brought Daniel down to two morale.

    Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get rid of that last two morale. My best option was to take out the Ranger - a level two creature - but, before I could land the killing blow, Daniel moved his War Wizard onto some treasure and took some, bringing his Morale to three. I could no longer win that way, and was left with an exposed Shadow Mastiff. Daniel attacked it in force, and dropped my Morale to zero. The game was over, and Daniel had won!

    Conclusions and Final Thoughts
    When I read the rules of Dungeon Command, earlier in the game, I was struck by the elegance and ingenuity of a number of rules: cowering, ranged cover and assistance in particular. The removal of dice from the finished product made the game much more elegant in my regard, and more dependent on skill and good play.

    My actual play of the game has confirmed that impression: it is a well thought-out game that plays very well indeed. The one area where I was dissatisfied with the game (the difficulty to play immediate order cards) proved to be a misreading of the rules, and the game becomes even more a game of move and counter-move and of you pitting your wits against your opponent.

    As of yet, I've still only played the game once: I don't know yet if it will become predictable with repeated plays. I'm not unfamiliar with skirmish games: in the last few weeks, I've played a number of games of Manoeuvre, Summoner Wars and Heroclix, all of which I think are excellent. There are elements of Dungeon Command that remind me of those games, but it is very much its own beast. It's a game that I'm looking forward to playing more of over the next few days.

    Component-wise, the weakest parts of the package are the box it comes in and the rulebook. I would have preferred a thicker box and a glossier paper for the rulebook. The miniatures, tiles and counters are fantastic, and the cards look great (although I do recommend sleeving them).

    So, until tomorrow and my report on my next games, a very good night to you all!
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails DC01.jpg   DC03.jpg   DC04.jpg   DC05.jpg   DC06.jpg  

    Last edited by Morrus; Wednesday, 11th July, 2012 at 08:42 PM.
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    Mods: This should go on the front/news page if it already hasn't.

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  • #3

    Are the miniatures new, or are they repaints of old sculpts? What is the quality of the scupts if they are new?


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    Quote Originally Posted by Aluvial View Post

    Are the miniatures new, or are they repaints of old sculpts? What is the quality of the scupts if they are new?


    Mostly older miniatures with new paint jobs (some very nice), but I think there are one or two new in the sets.
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    I believe I read that there are 4 new ones, but I can't recall which.

  • #6

    Sculpts and Paints

    The minis are a mix of repaints and new sculpts, mostly repaints. You can see the minis for the first two sets on

    Dungeons & Dragons Roleplaying Game Official Home Page - Article (Gallery: Sting of Lolth)
    Dungeons & Dragons Roleplaying Game Official Home Page - Article (Gallery: Heart of Cormyr)

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    So the Drow are all repaints and the new miniatures (Dwarf Cleric, Human Ranger, Half-Orc Thug and War Wizard) are in the Cormyr box, which is a little off because they already have a very good miniature called War Wizard of Cormyr, though repainting it as it already matches the color scheme in this set may be weird or people complain it isn't even repainted.

  • #8
    So I picked up Dungeon Command: Heart of Cormyr and Sting of Lolth today. I always planned on doing so (I'm a sucker for pre-painted plastic minis) but Merric's review certainly did whet my appetite and actually had me interested in the underlying game. That was something I didn't expect.

    My FLGS, 401 Games here in Toronto had these on for reasonably cheap at $32.75 CDN, each. This is a low price point for the product in Toronto, where this is typically being sold closer to $39. In all honesty, I think it will probably sell at either price point, but there will definitely be diminishing returns. $30-$35 seemed about right to me for this product so far.

    I have yet to try the game, but I >>also<< am tempted to actually try the game out this weekend. Given the inherent *meh* which went with past D&D minis games I think this is a very favorable reaction. I'll see if I can try this one out with my son.

    I think it is important to be clear that I bought the game for the minis, but I'm happy about my purchase (so far at least) due to the overall packaging, tray and the rest of the components. I liked the tiles and I think over time, this could prove to be an interesting "deckbuilder" style minis game.

    While I don't disagree with Merric's comments on the cardboard box -- I nevertheless actually liked the design of the lid, the folding card clasp and the finish to the exterior cardstock. These are difficult concepts to discuss in a meaningful manner without sounding entirely superficial and banal, but the point is that *I liked it* and that I did not have any buyer's remorse. I was not tempted even in the slightest to throw away the rest of the components. Yes, I bought Dungeon Command for the minis -- but I'm keeping it all together as a game -- at least for now.

    As noted above, the sculpts were certainly not all original and most I have already. I did not have the PDK so I was happy to get it -- and spiders and driders are always cool and you can never have too many of those.

    The repaint jobs were competent and definitely themed in terms of color choices. Still, the paint jobs clearly had relatively few paint steps and there no shading on the minis at all. Frankly, I think all of these minis would benefit from a Minwax dip. I would peg these minis at the "Good" (Common) to "Medium" ("Uncommon") quality paint job 3E minis, if you know what I mean. That said, the overall accuracy of the paint jobs were certainly a cut above the slap-dash efforts which hurt so many of the 4E era D&D mini releases prior to Lords of Madness.

    Overall, I was pleased with the product and quite impressed with the packaging, tray insert and the rest of the components at this price point. In fact, the tray insert held the minis so nicely, I'm storing them in the tray. That probably doesn't augur very well for how much tabletop use I'll get out of these, but ...whatever.

    I'll certainly buy the Goblin faction box when it is released in September and probably the follow-up to that set in November, too. What can I say? I'm a sucker for minis. Still, I was much happier with this purchase overall than I was with the Dragon Collector's Set.

    I'm not sure this is going to be a *hit* -- but based on my overall reaction to the product, I do think it's going to be successful, especially if they can keep the price far closer to $30 than $40.

    I am interested to see how the game plays and if there is significant replay value. Again, the fact that I am even thinking about this product in terms of the formal game that these minis and components are intended to be used to play speaks volumes about Dungeon Command. As a RPG pre-painted miniature buyer and collector, I really did not expect to have that genuine curiosity about Dungeon Command as a game.

    Kudos to WotC on this new product line. After so many missteps, it's nice to see WotC land a solid base hit for a change.
    Last edited by Steel_Wind; Saturday, 21st July, 2012 at 04:20 AM.

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  • #10
    I picked up both sets from my FLGS. I enjoyed the hell out of this game. I never really got into Magic, and I was never able to find people to play DDM back in the day. These days, I know more people, and I know people that would like to play this game.

    We did a three-way game at Game Day. I lost handily. My intial Creature draw was a Dwarven Defender (level 2), Halfling Sneak (level 1) and Elf Archer (level 1). The other Cormyr player came at me hard, while the Lolth player cut me off from any treasure to replenish my lost morale. Still, I had fun playing.

    A little bit ago, a friend of mine and I played against each other (giving ample opportunities for mulligans, as I am wont to do when learning a new game). I played the drow this time, and he played Cormyr. I was steadily knocking away at his morale, but he was able to pick up treasure to get it back up. I was able to save all my spiders until I got the priestess out (she allows you to deploy any spiders within 5 squares of her), so my spiders were starting in advanced positions near treasures and near weakened enemies. He was able to get the Dragon Knight out early, and then I was finally able to get the Umber Hulk on the board.

    And here came a great exchange (in my favor, I must say) that proved to me that the card aspect of the game is just as great as rolling dice. His Dragon Knight marched up to my Umber Hulk, and he played Killing Strike. Killing Strike allows the unit to make a melee attack for 100 damage--the entirety of my Umber Hulk's hit points. He was smug, thinking that he'd been able to remove the huge threat with a single attack, but I then countered with Uncanny Dodge, which allowed me to sacrifice an Order card to negate all damage done from a single source. My Umber Hulk came out of the encounter unscathed, and his Dragon Knight paid the price for overextending himself past his comrades, falling in my next turn.

    All in all, I think this is a great game. I love that they use the board game-style map pieces rather than poster maps. It allows for a small amount of variation even in a single set, but I'm sure it will also prove to be a serious consideration when doing advanced deckbuilding for tournament play, if WotC decides to do that.

    I'm looking forward to the other two announced warbands later this year (my friend said he'd like to buy the goblin set), and I'm also hoping for deck boosters, smaller mini packages with cards, and so on. I think the smaller packs of minis will be crucial, as not many people are going to want to drop $40 on multiple starters, especially if they're just looking for minis for the RPG or to supplement their board games.

    Kudos for Wizards for including cards for those board games, by the way. It's a fairly small addition that greatly increases value of the package.

    Quote Originally Posted by Herschel View Post
    So the Drow are all repaints and the new miniatures (Dwarf Cleric, Human Ranger, Half-Orc Thug and War Wizard) are in the Cormyr box
    The Human Ranger, Dwarf Cleric and the Half-orc Thug all appeared in the board games.

    The Human Ranger appeared in Castle Raveloft, while the Dwarf Cleric and Half-orc Thug appeared in Wrath of Ashardalon. This is, however, the first time they've shown up pre-painted.

    Castle Ravenloft minis

    Wrath of Ashardalon minis
    Last edited by thewok; Sunday, 22nd July, 2012 at 11:31 AM.

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