RPG Evolution: Why the New D&D Board Game is a Big Deal

Hasbro’s recent announcement of new D&D board game is welcome but not necessarily new—Wizards of the Coast has published several D&D-themed board games in the past. What is new is that the product is listed under Hasbro Games rather than Wizards, which might be indicative of the parent company finally putting its muscle behind the tabletop role-playing game.

Hasbro’s recent announcement of new D&D board game is welcome but not necessarily new—Wizards of the Coast has published several D&D-themed board games in the past. What is new is that the product is listed under Hasbro Games rather than Wizards, which might be indicative of the parent company finally putting its muscle behind the tabletop role-playing game.

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D&D’s Always Been a Board Game

Dungeons & Dragons’ roots originated with tabletop play, albeit not on a board but rather a sand table with the first iteration of Chainmail. The game that inspired D&D, a freewheeling Braunstein campaign that featured a dungeon crawl, also inspired Dave Megarry DUNGEON! board game.

TSR dabbled with a variety of crossover formats for the tabletop game, returning to the concept of a “game in a box” again and again as a means of getting the game on toy store shelves and making it more accessible to new and younger players.

Since then, Wizards of the Coast has flirted with a similar approach to introducing the game to a new audience. Wizards used the same molds for its miniature games, repurposing them for the Dungeons and Dragons Adventure System series with the launch of Castle Ravenloft back in 2010. WOTC even produced Dungeons & Dragons: The Fantasy Adventure Board Game … distributed to the European market only.

One thing all these games had in common? They didn’t use the D&D rules!

But Not Recently

Although DUNGEON! is much venerated as the premiere dungeon crawl board game, the most popular is HeroQuest. Created by Milton Bradley in conjunction with Games Workshop, it was in print until 1997. A worthy successor, Descent: Journeys in the Dark, from Fantasy Flight Games followed in 2005. And yet, although all three of these games feature dungeon-crawling adventures, they are not actual D&D.

Hasbro has been willing to license the D&D brand to many of its longstanding game staples, like Clue. And Wizards of the Coast has produced other board games set in D&D settings, like the Euro-style Lords of Waterdeep. But the last proper game in a box using D&D miniatures and rules was back in 2004 with the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Game, produced by Wizards of the Coast.

Like the invisible wall that Wizards of the Coast built between Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons, there seems to be something preventing divisions within the company from cross-pollinating. With the arrival of new CEO Chris Cocks, those obstacles were removed, which is why D&D now has several Magic: The Gathering/D&D crossover supplements. With this new board game, we may see history repeating itself.

What’s Different This Time

What makes this new version of the D&D board game unique? For one, it’s a D&D starter set using the full production values of Hasbro’s board game division. A quick glance of its listing on Amazon confirms that the game is being produced by Hasbro Games, not Wizards of the Coast. Moreover, it’s listed as available on Hasbro Pulse. What’s Hasbro Pulse?

Hasbro Pulse is a place where fans come first. As fans ourselves, we have an idea of what you – our fans – want. Hasbro Pulse is where you’ll find some of the best product offerings and experiences from the brands you love, a glimpse at more behind-the-scenes material and insider details that you can’t get anywhere else. We made Hasbro Pulse with you, the fans, in mind. We hope you’ll make it your first stop when you’re looking for insider info about your favorite Hasbro brands.

Given that Dungeons & Dragons is a brand powerful enough to launch a battle over the film rights, you’d think that there would be several D&D products on Hasbro Pulse. But as of today, the only product that is listed under the D&D brand is this new board game. Not even the My Little Pony/D&D crossover figures are listed under D&D!

In short, something changed, and from the looks of it, Hasbro is finally embracing D&D as a brand worthy of the parent company’s publishing muscle. Here’s hoping the board game is just the beginning.
 

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Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca

My very first introduction to D&D was the 1991 "Black Box" set I'd bought at Toys R Us. It's biggest flaw was that when I actually found people who wanted to play D&D, they played 2e AD&D, instead of the RC-derived rules in the Black Box, so I had to re-learn the game I'd been studying to actually play.

I've long seen that D&D relying on specialist gaming hobby stores (or Amazon) for sales is a huge weakness, and that not paying attention to the toy & board game sales channels was leaving a lot of money on the table.

I remember the 2000 and 2004 releases of a basic box set game to go along with 3e's release, and they were distinctly underwhelming to someone who remembered the older D&D box sets, they were very "dumbed down" highly simplified versions of the game. IIRC, the 2000 one didn't even have any character creation rules, it just had pre-gen's of the 3e "iconic" characters.

I'm hoping this new board game version will be a more seamless entry point to D&D for new players.
 


My opinion is Hasbro had to have published a spiritual succesor of Hero-Quest by Milton Bradley. It had got to the elements to be a true classic: simple rules, labyrinth tour instead boring raidcoal, leveling-up without automatic milestones, (no-random but preset) hidden traps, doors and threasures to be discovered when the players chose to search. Today Hasbro could publish a "Endless-Quest" as crossovers of famous franchises, for example Legend of Zelda or Warcraft.
 

Jack Hooligan

Explorer
Didn't the D&D Adventure System (that started with Castle Ravenloft) use an abbreviated version of 4e? Those games were/are great and the best boardgame version of D&D to date, IMO. However, I wish they had done some small box expansions. just some monsters and cards you could add to games. Or a box of new heroes and their cards. An expansion box that had the kids from the cartoon as playable heroes would have been fun.
 

Sunsword

Adventurer
I've long seen that D&D relying on specialist gaming hobby stores (or Amazon) for sales is a huge weakness, and that not paying attention to the toy & board game sales channels was leaving a lot of money on the table.

I understand your point but hobby stores have kept the game alive for decades, we weren't that big of weakness. 3.x was pretty successful without the mass market.
 

I understand your point but hobby stores have kept the game alive for decades, we weren't that big of weakness. 3.x was pretty successful without the mass market.
I'm just thinking back to when I was a kid and didn't have access to specialty hobby stores, and it was just what I could buy at big-box stores or the mall. . .and neither of those were places where D&D was sold (aside from the basic box set I found at Toys R Us when I was in Junior High). I couldn't get actual AD&D books until I was in college and there was a gaming store next to campus.

For many of us, we find D&D as a pre-teen or teenager, but I wonder how many kids that age have means to access a FLGS, and how many would play if they could get access to it.

I know quite well that 3.x did well without that mass market access, I'm saying that it's "leaving money on the table", by not putting D&D out in sales channels where it could succeed, like mainstream toy and boardgame sales, which this looks like an attempt to rectify.
 

univoxs

That's my dog, Walter
Supporter
We have Castle Ravenloft. The few times it was played it left us feeling we should have just played actual D&D. Waterdeep on the other hand is one of my favorite board games, regardless of it being D&D. Not all D&D products have to be for people who are regular players, of course. More introductory products are just fine.

Wasn't it just recently reported, on this very site, that Hasbro, during an internal review of some kind, touted the growth of D&D and what it was meaning for them financially? This new embrace is due to that me thinks. There was even a discussion about what this would mean for the IP and whether blood was about to be squeezed from a stone.

To be sure, not all D&D board games are good, I am recalling Dragonlance in particular.
 

Whizbang Dustyboots

Gnometown Hero
My very first introduction to D&D was the 1991 "Black Box" set I'd bought at Toys R Us. It's biggest flaw was that when I actually found people who wanted to play D&D, they played 2e AD&D, instead of the RC-derived rules in the Black Box, so I had to re-learn the game I'd been studying to actually play.
The BD&D/AD&D split was a sign of the kind of bad business planning that eventually led to TSR cannibalizing itself to death with 10,000 different settings, each with supplements and modules, in the 2E era.

A better run company would A) have not created a new version of the game to screw Arneson legally and B) would have taken the best ideas from both versions of the game (and BD&D definitely had those) and had a single, strong game instead of a version most players had to unlearn in order to play with their friends.
 

Whizbang Dustyboots

Gnometown Hero
I understand your point but hobby stores have kept the game alive for decades, we weren't that big of weakness. 3.x was pretty successful without the mass market.
It's a chicken and egg situation, as it was with the comics industry. Yeah, specialist shops kept the lights on, but they also limited appeal and kept publishers from pushing back into mass market stores that could have resulted in the substantially stronger sales many of them are now seeing with the advent of Internet and electronic sales.
 

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