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D&D: The Board Game?

Dungeons & Dragons' classification has sometimes befuddled stores in how to place it on shelves. Is it a book? A game? A toy? Some settled on treating it as a board game. That's a classification increasingly obfuscated by the fact that D&D actually spawned several board games.



Technically, a Tabletop Game

Board games share something in common with the original D&D: they both took place on a tabletop. These days, emphasis on "theater of the mind" styles of play don't require a tabletop at all, but early D&D -- itself a direct descendant of Chainmail -- assumed graph paper and miniatures. Both implied that they were centered on a table in front of the players, and co-creator Gary Gygax's games reflected just that, with up to 20 players at his sand table.

Why a sand table? Gygax was a wargamer before he helped invent D&D, and sand tables were a malleable form of gaming terrain commonly used for both military strategists and wargamers to easily create maps to scale. Wargaming and its connection to military planning goes as far back as Kriegsspiel, specifically "Free" Kriegsspiel which included a "confidant" analogous to modern game masters. Edward Burnett Tylor made the connection between board games and Kriegsspielin the June, 1879 edition of Popular Mechanics:

The other hint is that board-games, from the rudest up to chess, are so generally of the nature of Kriegspiel, or war-game, the men marching on the field to unite their forces or capture their enemies, that this notion of mimic war may have been the very key to their invention.


The idea that dungeon crawling is in itself like a board game was not lost on Gygax's peers, who created a board game to mimic dungeon crawling.

The Original D&D Board Game

The first proper D&D-style board game wasn't created from D&D but developed in parallel. Dave Wesely inspired both Dave Arneson and Dave Megarry with his freewheeling Braunstein campaign, which transformed a standard wargame into one with player agency.

Wesley's Braunstein inspired Arneson's Blackmoor, which in turn inspired Megarry to create the DUNGEON! board game It was originally based off of The Dungeons of Pasha Kada. Jon Peterson explains in Playing at the World:

This fragmentation of the Blackmoor campaign even resulted in the invention of an entirely separate and novel game: the underworld component alone inspired “The Dungeons of Pasha Cada” by David R. Megarry ( who played the King of Prussia in the Strategic Campaign), a boardgame which isolates the dungeon exploration mode of Blackmoor.

DUNGEON! turned dungeon exploration into a competitive board game:

DUNGEON! combined the dungeon exploration mechanic with the familiarity of a parlor board game and the simplicity of an eight-page rulebook. No longer does a referee carefully guard the secret plans to the dungeon— the dungeon is clearly printed on the board for everyone to see, and no referee governs play. Two ordinary six-sided dice resolve all combat. It is furthermore a competitive game, with concrete victory conditions. Players take turns moving their pieces (Elves, Heroes, Super-heroes or Wizards) through the dungeon attempting to accumulate treasure. The first to acquire a set total of gold pieces wins, but this total varies with the power of the piece, so Elves and Heroes require less than Super-heroes to win, and Wizards need the most of all. As players explore the dungeon and enter rooms, they encounter random monsters who guard random prizes, both drawn like the Community Chest in Monopoly from card decks. The dungeon has six levels, and the farther one descends, the greater the dangers and rewards: the “monster” and “prize” cards are coded by level.

DUNGEON! may have been the first of the D&D-style games, but it certainly wasn't the last.

Modern D&D Board Games

The 4th Edition of D&D has been criticized for its elements that emphasize grid-based combat over role-playing, so it's perhaps no surprise just how much the D&D Adventure Board Games have in common with 4E. Adventure board games, a term Wesley preferred over "role-playing game," were part of the growth of Wizards of the Coast under parent company Hasbro, itself a major producer of popular board games. The WOTC-produced board games, including Castle Ravenloft, Wrath of Ashardalon, and The Legend of Drizzt, each feature common 4th Edition rules such at-will vs daily powers, healing surges, and save-ends effects.

Is D&D a board game? To the extent that it can require a table and miniatures, it could be. But D&D has moved so far beyond its original roots that a board game is no longer sufficient to encapsulate the D&D experience. Instead, board games have adopted D&D's traits, with their own hit points, level systems, die rolls, and treasure quests. Even though they focus on only one aspect of D&D, adventure board games and their ilk bolster brand awareness for the role-playing game, and that's a good thing.

Mike "Talien" Tresca is a freelance game columnist, author, communicator, and a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to http://amazon.com. You can follow him at Patreon.
 
Michael Tresca

Comments

philreed

Villager
Dungeon remains a personal favorite, if only because one of my earliest encounters was playing the game at a friend's house. I have three editions in my collection, though I still need to chase down one of the first editions from 1975 . . . for research, of course.
 

LuisCarlos17f

Registered User
For me the ultimate dungeon crawler board game (for casual players) is the Hero Quest. What a pity it hasn't come back yet, but the scandal about the kickstarter 25 anniversary project is annoying.
 

Ath-kethin

Explorer
For me the ultimate dungeon crawler board game (for casual players) is the Hero Quest. What a pity it hasn't come back yet, but the scandal about the kickstarter 25 anniversary project is annoying.
+1. My 4 year old and I play HeroQuest all the time; it's his favorite board game. And HeroQuest is a great way to scratch the D&D itch when I'm around people who don't play and/or lack the imagination training to play a game without pieces and a board.

Of course, it isn't hard to find cooperative dungeon crawl boardgames these days (plus I still have my original HQ set anyway), so I didn't cry too hard when the Kickstarter was torpedoed a few years back. It's still a bummer though.
 

Tony Vargas

Adventurer
Dungeons & Dragons' classification has sometimes befuddled stores in how to place it on shelves. Is it a book? A game? A toy?
Of the three: a game.

It was originally a miniatures wargame, an outgrowth of Chainmail. It quickly became recognized as the first Table Top Roleplaying Game. It was also immediately, as you note, knocked off by actual boardgames like Dungeon! or Talisman, and early text-based adventure games like Zork. Then there were actual D&D-IP CRPGs. And it's been knocked off by MMOs, as well (and by their MUD precursors, obviously). Hasbro has put out multiple boardgams using D&D's IP, including the ones you mentioned, which retain a few D&D-ish rules, and others, like Lords of Waterdeep, that do not. (With boardgames so hot the last few years, it's odd they're not pushing those harder. Or, maybe they are and I just haven't noticed, as I'm not so into bardgames in the first place.)

But, D&D, itself, is a TTRPG. Period.
Heck, it's /the/ TTRPG.
 

tgmoore

Villager
I’m baffled why a mainstream boardgame publisher doesn’t put out a simple dungeon crawler in the same vein as HeroQuest. The only thing that comes close is Mantic’s Dungeon Saga.
 

Richards

Adventurer
I used Hero Quest as a "gateway drug" to introduce my sons - at ages 8 and 10 - to the basic concepts of fantasy roleplaying. Then, after they had a good grasp of the basics, I transitioned them over to AD&D 2nd Edition (the current edition at the time). That was...24 years ago. (Boy, do I feel old all of a sudden!)

Johnathan
 

Ricochet

Villager
Best D&D board game is "Waterdeep", a worker/placement game.
They also recently made some other non-Drizzt'y board games with themes and keywords from D&D.
 
I have some fond memories of playing that Dungeon board game when I was about 8 or 9 years old, the same time I started playing D&D (AD&D). Enjoyed reading this article.
 

Ricochet

Villager
I have some fond memories of playing that Dungeon board game when I was about 8 or 9 years old, the same time I started playing D&D (AD&D). Enjoyed reading this article.
It was relaunched a few years ago. Simple game still, and one I expect to introduce to my kids before long, along with Heroquest and Mice & Mystics. :)
 

Jhaelen

Villager
Best D&D board game is "Waterdeep", a worker/placement game.
While technically probably true, I don't consider Waterdeep a D&D board game. The theme is completely pasted on.

I've heard good things about Tyrants of the Underdark but haven't played it myself, yet.

I also enjoy playing the various D&D Adventure System Games, but many feel that they're too simplistic.

Oh, and I think Roll Player deserves to be mentioned: It turns rolling up a D&D character into a board game!
 

Retreater

Explorer
How I wish I could find a dungeon crawler that came close to offering me the same experience I had with Hero Quest back in the day! I've tried various games from Fantasy Flight (Doom, Descent, and Imperial Assault), Shadows of Brimstone, D&D Adventure Games, etc.

Some minor customization and replayability, with fast play, little GM work/setup (which takes out Brimstone and the FF games), and balance with some GM oversight (which rules out D&D adventure games).
 

Jhaelen

Villager
How I wish I could find a dungeon crawler that came close to offering me the same experience I had with Hero Quest back in the day!
Imho, the reason there's no dungeon crawler able to offer you the same experience as Hero Quest back in the day is that you're not the same person you were back in the day.

We sat down to play a session of Hero Quest last year and it really wasn't great. It was kind of fun to revisit the game for nostalgic reasons, but boy have board games evolved since then! However, having said that:
[video=youtube;Cx8sl2uC46A]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cx8sl2uC46A[/video]
 

Retreater

Explorer
Imho, the reason there's no dungeon crawler able to offer you the same experience as Hero Quest back in the day is that you're not the same person you were back in the day.

We sat down to play a session of Hero Quest last year and it really wasn't great. It was kind of fun to revisit the game for nostalgic reasons, but boy have board games evolved since then! However, having said that:
[video=youtube;Cx8sl2uC46A]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cx8sl2uC46A[/video]
I can agree that nostalgia is likely a big factor, but I think I would still like certain things about the game: ease of play, quick pace, GM interaction, etc.
 

Orius

Villager
HeroQuest is great, but it's properly Warhammer. I have some Warhammer figs I use with it to supplement the base selection. At least it helped me get out of the killer DM and Monty Haul tendencies (sometimes both at the same time!) before I got into D&D. The guy in that video seems like he has a beef with GW or at least is parodying guys who bitch about them. Kind of amusing really.
 

rounser

Villager
The D&D boardgame is Talisman with an expansion or two, so far as I am concerned.

Beware of including most of the expansions though, they wreck the game.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I’m baffled why a mainstream boardgame publisher doesn’t put out a simple dungeon crawler in the same vein as HeroQuest.
Maybe because "simple" in the boardgame market is already saturated?

Meanwhile, there's Gloomhaven. Which is a complete miss in "simple setup"....
 

pogre

Adventurer
Played Dungeon back in the day and even made a complete 3d board out of Hirst Arts to run at Conventions.

I have all the Warhammer Quest stuff and my kids always enjoyed playing that game more than Dungeon.

As I recall, TSR bought Dungeon in part to avoid potential conflict over the game name.
 
C

Catacombs

Guest
The closest thing to a D&D boardgame I played was Lords of Waterdeep. Fun, but not the regular party-based RPG we all know and love.
 

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