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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.

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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


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Zarithar

Adventurer
As far as the D&D/AD&D discussion goes... I was one of those confused kids who picked up Basic only to be told that it wasn't "real" D&D (AD&D if you had asked my friends). When I started DM'ing a year or so later - I was running a bastardized system that pulled from both Basic and AD&D. Even then, as a pre-teen kid I thought it strange that these two seemingly competing products existed under the same company.
 

bulletmeat

Explorer
My first 'official' intro to D&D was also the black box of 90 (still got that bad boy). I read it and took me a while to get my head around the rules. When HeroQuest (which I originally thought was part of D&D) came out I got that too and was more inclined to play because a) easier rules to absorb & b) had plastic minis vs. the paper ones. When I started AD&D a year later those things fell to the way side. But for me & one other friend BD&D was like frosted shredded wheat; the AD&D was advanced enough for the 'adult' in me but BD&D was fun for the 'kid' in me.
If they include some decent plastic minis, keep rules in a simple style, fun map it will sell to younger kids. That's how you get them hooked.
 

Retreater

Legend
I've already stated my take on this new board game, but I'd like to address the "Adventure System Series" that we've had since 2010, starting with "Castle Ravenloft."
First, I've long been a fan of dungeon crawlers since HeroQuest. I collected every one of the Adventure System games I could get my hands on (Ravenloft, Ashardalon, Drizzt, and Elemental Evil - though I sadly missed out on Tomb of Annihilation and Dungeon of the Mad Mage). The minis were pretty good quality, and I've painted most of them in my sets. The tiles are also okay, just not well designed for general dungeon tiles based on the layout (and not even very good for the board games, as I'll describe below.)
The gameplay isn't the same story. First, it's hard. Like, I think I have completed one mission in the decade I've had them. Monsters and traps spawn at a ridiculous rate. Second, there is little customization to be found. You can level up to 2nd level, but you don't get significant new abilities. You can't customize your characters with equipment. There's a sameness to all of the powers.
That said, there was a lot of potential to the Adventure System games. Having a "DM mode," having character progression and customization options. Having movement mean something - monsters moved and attacked by tile, not by square (either have everyone move by tiles or squares and not this hodgepodge).
In the end, I would just like HeroQuest (and I would suspect many of my age group would agree). Honestly, just give us HQ, repackaged and slightly updated. If you can't get the rights to it, change it just enough to be like HQ but to avoid the IP. If BECMI and other editions can be copied in the OSR movement, certainly someone can create something like HQ. Such a game wouldn't be "D&D" (unless, it was of course made with the official branding), but I can tell you it would appeal to many kids (and adults) and encourage many to branch out into TTRPGs.
 

Sabathius42

Bree-Yark
When it comes to bored games, I am rather apathetic. But I do not think that they need to make D&D more boring.
I will assume you pun misspelling was intentional and go from there....

If you think that board games don't have something interesting to offer alongside of tabletop RPGs, then I think you are doing yourself a disservice by putting them all in the "boring" category.

Our Gloomhaven campaign took us a bit over a year to complete (it was 75 games of it, usually 2 per gaming session) and over that time all the players were invested to the point of discussing plans and tactics throughout the week in anticipation of Friday Night Game Night. The tactical combat puzzle that is the core of the Gloomhaven game was much more engaging and tactical than any combat in our 5e game during that time. Levelling up a character and unlocking a new power in Gloomhaven led to mutual admiration and "Wow, that's awesome!" moments during the game, much more so than when the wizard got their new spells in D&D, and by new I mean "Pretty much do the same thing they did 30 years ago and you have seen it many times before".

The storyline of Gloomhaven is not even in the same zip code as engaging as even a from-the-book campaign, that cannot be denied. There are some decisions to be made but ultimately you are constrained by what the rules have been predesigned to let you do. Because of this when people ask if GH is a good substitue for D&D without a GM I ultimately answer now, its a totally different experience.

It is my opinion, however, that boardgames CAN give you a better experience than D&D if you are focusing on the combat pillar as the core of your tabletop game.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
It is my opinion, however, that boardgames CAN give you a better experience than D&D if you are focusing on the combat pillar as the core of your tabletop game.

There are only two board games worth playing.

The surf board.

And the ironing board.

And the second one isn't worth playing yourself, it's just a cruel trick you play on other people, like any other board game, so that they end up doing your laundry. "Dude, you have to try this new board game about the 90s. It's called the Irony Board. I think. Here's some pants to get started!"
 



GreyLord

Hero
They're already available via Target. If the Hasbro imprint is going to give the new D&D boardgame any marketing/distribution muscle, it's going to be something beyond Target. I'm just not sure what.

With it going through Hasbro rather than WotC it can be positioned to be placed in Walmart or other such stores, or at least possibly. It may be seen more as a board game in line with toy sales rather than specialized product (like MtG, though MtG has a pretty decent spot at Walmart, in many locations placed near the front of the store), which means those browsing may find it among the boardgames in the toy section of those stores (or, it could be placed unfortunately in the specialized card section with MtG...I suppose it depends on the management).
 

Marandahir

Crown-Forester
I think this is definitely true.

I think the 5E Starter and Essentials boxes have been brilliant in using the regular rules, even if they only give purchasers a portion of the full character creation rules (in one case, just giving them premades).

It's amazing how long it took TSR and WotC to figure this particular idea out.

Tell me about it.

I was incendiary when I found out that despite being a part of 4e Essentials, the 4e Red Box Starter Set had a THIRD and completely different set of rules for the 4 classes included in it. Rogues acted entirely differently from both 4e PHB Rogues and 4e Essentials Heroes of the Fallen Lands Rogues.

It made me wonder why play the 4e Red Box at all if it's just going to be entirely different rules than what the game was pushing towards?

I love that the 5e Essentials Kit just takes the Basic Rules up to 3rd level, and adds in some UA playtested rules about NPC companions and solo campaigns so as to help DM/Player's families bring their tentative relatives into the fold in a one-on-one session.

This is what a Starter Set should have been all along. Also, the free pdf Basic Rules make so much sense and have been game changers for pulling in new players. No need to buy anything if you don't want to! But you will want to if you want to use our online tools (DDB) or access some of the cool other classes, ancestries, and subclasses!

It's ingenious but also obvious: it's still surprising how self-defeating entry-level products were in the past.
 

Sunsword

Adventurer
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.

First, rereading my post came off more chiding than I meant, so I apologize for that.

Its tough because we do get kids coming in here and while you can find the Starter set, Essentials kit, and dice in some big box stores you are going to need an online store a local game store for the rest. And having both RPGs and Comics would broaden the industry.

I'm just trying to figure out the answers.
 


Sunsword

Adventurer
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.

Do you know what replaced comics in convenient stores? L'eggs nylons. They had the exact same footprint and tons more sales. Isn't that wild?

Comics is it's own issue (pun intended). Publishers created the monopoly that is DIamond Comics because Marvel tried and failed to become its own Distributor. And Diamond isn't considered to have a monopoly because they sell monthly items. I was glad to see DC leave them, but they chose their two biggest deep discount merchants to be those distributors in the middle of a global pandemic. SMH.
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
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.

However, as I said before, I think that making the introductory products Basic D&D, and the main product line that most players used AD&D, you imposed a needless learning curve on players having to re-learn things.

As far as the D&D/AD&D discussion goes... I was one of those confused kids who picked up Basic only to be told that it wasn't "real" D&D (AD&D if you had asked my friends). When I started DM'ing a year or so later - I was running a bastardized system that pulled from both Basic and AD&D. Even then, as a pre-teen kid I thought it strange that these two seemingly competing products existed under the same company.

In late 1981 I remember the ads for D&D in the comics I was getting and the toy store in the mall had all the books on the left wall, visible as you walked by.

I started with the basic set with my friends, but the local comic/record/book/game shop owner who ran for a big group had some folks using OD&D, some using B/X, and some using AD&D for their characters. I don't know if I ever found out which version she used. I'm guessing that switch was much easier than it would have been going from the Black Box to 2e. I don't remember anyone having trouble at the time when me and my friends started picking up the AD&D books.

In any case, I used Dungeon! (and flipping through the pictures in my PF books) to hook my now 10 yo on the idea several ago. Last year I got out my old B/X books to get him started, and now he's in 5e in a game I'm running for some of his friends. I can see myself being anxious to get this a year or two ago -- Dungeon! does it's thing, but some variety would have been nice. Jumping right into B/X worked, but it could have used a smoother landing to some of the ideas.
 
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Zander

Explorer
Instead of this being "more marketing muscle," this could also be evidence of some sort of turf battle inside Hasbro. I've worked for enough corporations to see poorly supported initiatives happen just because someone wanted to stake out (or defend) territory.
You may well be right. Another possibility is that MtG and D&D had separate P&Ls. Merging P&Ls is both complex and costly, and makes divestment of one without the other very involved. Bringing them together suggests that Hasbro is committing to WotC indefinitely. Having this new board game in Hasbro’s toy division is further evidence of that commitment.
 


Parmandur

Book-Friend
My local Target has been steadily churning through Starter and Essentials boxes since the pandemic begins. (The selection and ratio is different each time.) They've got it stocked in the board games section, adjacent to the toys. It's within five feet of Monopoly games and couldn't be more positioned toward the mainstream.

I would love to hear from WotC how these two boxed sets are selling; I bet they're burning through inventory.

They told the Washington Post in that recent article that the box sets are selling like gangbusters through the pandemic.
 

Von Ether

Adventurer
For me the fascinating thing is that Target came to Hasbro and asked for the Essentials box to be created.

Either there's a Target buyer who's a big D&D fan, or the retailer thought Hasbro was leaving money on the table by not having a follow-up product.
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
For me the fascinating thing is that Target came to Hasbro and asked for the Essentials box to be created.

Either there's a Target buyer who's a big D&D fan, or the retailer thought Hasbro was leaving money on the table by not having a follow-up product.

Probably both: Target's board game section is legit enough that someone, probably a number, high up is a hobbyist. And the D&D boxes sell like hotcakes at my local Target...they even have other sets of polyhedral dice right next to he boxes, to help a group get going.
 


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