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Subject: NinjaDorg's Dungeon Command Review rss

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Tristan Hall
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From the original article on my blog here:

http://ratdorg.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/ninjadorgs-dungeon-com...



Prelude:

Wizards of the Coast cash in on their Dungeons and Dragons miniatures product line by producing this compartmentalised collectible board game series, the first two sets in this series are: Sting of Lolth (a Drow Elf themed Underdark set) and Heart of Cormyr (a bog standard Forgotten Realms D&D Heroes set), which this review concerns. Each box gives a player enough components to play half of a game of Dungeon Command, and whilst there are rules for breaking the game down into quarters and playing a slim line version of the rule set using only one box, the game is best served when two players have access to and battle using one box set each.

Every box also contains monster cards for the Dungeons & Dragons Adventure System games which allows you to use the included miniatures in Legend of Drizzt, Castle Ravenloft and/or Wrath of Ashardalon. Also the Dungeon Command tiles are jigsaw fit compatible with the D&D Adventure System game tiles, and whilst there are no specific rules supplied to use these in your ‘AS’ games if you have any vested interest in those games, the cross compatibility possibilities between both sets of games are indeed very tantalising.

Biases - I love the D&D Adventure System games! They are great little dungeon crawlers with cool components which are easy to set up and play and deliver great cooperative play. The fact that Dungeon Command’s components work in tandem with the AS games was the driving force behind my interest in Dungeon Command.


What is it?

Dungeon Command is a straight up miniatures battle game. There is no particular driving narrative or theme, no asymmetrical victory objectives, just straight up war. Each player chooses a leader character for his misfit war band who provides certain in game benefits and bonuses and determines the starting key characteristics which will win or lose the game: Leadership and Morale.

A player’s Leadership increases by one each turn and represents the total number of levels’ worth of figures he can have in play, e.g. Leadership 6 means a player could have 3 x Level 2 minis, 6 x Level 1 minis, etc, or any combination thereof.

The object of the game is to reduce your opponent’s Morale to 0 by destroying his creatures. Each time a creature is destroyed, its owner loses Morale equal to its level.


How does it play?

A diceless cross over between Magic the Gathering and any standard miniatures battle game with a stripped down rule set that allows fast and clean play. There are deeper strategies to be pursued over time through devious card play and careful positioning and defence, but on the surface the game is very easy to just pick up and play and get into in a short amount of time.

Each player deploys troops into his sort of ’end zone’ and then takes turns to activate all of his creatures one by one. At the end of each of his turns a player can then deploy more reinforcements if his Leadership allows.

Activating a creature allows you to move up to its speed and then perform an action, which is usually an attack, but which can be boosted or altered using Order Cards.

There are simple and easy to grasp line of sight and movement rules, and built in terrain on the tiles (some dangerous, some just blocking) which can hinder vision and movement, all of which deepen the strategic placement and advancement of your miniatures.

Each player starts with a hand of special Order Cards and gains another one every turn, which allow him to play sneak attacks, special moves, spells and various other cool effects that will help his war band or hinder or attack his enemies. After you finish a turn you untap all your ‘used’ creatures and may use them again during your opponent’s turn to try and defend themselves with defensive Order cards you might have, or you can also tap them to take advantage of terrain cover shown on the tiles to try to block attacks.

Some of the order cards are very cool and some even quite thematic for a Forgotten Realms-set war band battle. One card in particular comes to mind: “Behind Enemy Lines” – the Heart of Cormyr player can play this to put a hero into play in his opponent’s play area. He must then race this hero back to his own ‘end zone’ and if he is successful he can boost his Morale by 4 points. The chances are that his enemies will hunt this hero down and exact bloody revenge before this is all possible but the morale boost reward can be awesome if timed correctly! There are many other cards with similar game changing effects and abilities.
There are Treasure Chests strewn about the map which act as a great potential distraction for players. If you detour to go and grab them you can boost the morale of your warband, but you need to balance this with actively making attempts to defeat your enemies. Going out of your way to collect Chests whilst neglecting your opponent can prove disastrous.

Every creature has its own attack set and some even have their own cool special abilities such as different types of movement like flying over or burrowing under tricky terrain. Some units can heal or summon other units.

And every unit has the fun ability to Cower! If one of your dudes is about to take fatal damage you can have him Cower and take the damage to your warband’s overall Morale instead. Whilst this can occasionally be useful for keeping a crucial unit in play, more often than not it can prove a false economy because if you let your unit go, it allows you to bring in more, bigger units instead on your next turn. This provides a nice, tricky balancing act.


What are the bits like?


Some good:

Each set comes with 12 pre-painted D&D minis which are mostly reprints from the old line of the Dungeons and Dragons Miniatures games, 2 big 8x8 jigsaw fit tiles and 2 little 8x4 end tiles, a bunch of little tokens representing Hit Points for the figures, and some tokens to differentiate between duplicate minis.

The tile art is fantastic, some of the best in fact – by the very talented Jason Engle, and the tiles are double sided to allow for indoor dungeon and outdoor grassland arenas. But you only get four tiles in each set, which means you’ll play through the variability of these setups in short order.

Full colour art on all the cards! WOTC dropped the ball with this big time on the D&D AS games, and up until those games released it kind of became the standard to get decent looking cards in fantasy adventure board games. With expectations duly lowered with monochrome decks and single colour hero cards it was nice to see them step it back up for Dungeon Command (and Lords of Waterdeep). Some of the art is really nice, some not as good, but on the whole pretty impressive stuff, and nicely thematic for the D&D setting.

The minis are pretty good quality with wildly varying quality paint jobs. From a non-painter’s point of view it has to be said that some paint jobs are pretty shocking in fact. One wonders how much WOTC would have saved had they simply included unpainted models, without seriously impacting the overall quality of the product.

And there are no dice – but this is D&D heresy! I actually think this is a really good thing. Having the characters deal out a set amount of damage with each attack allows the designers room to develop boosts for these attacks through play of order cards and by making attacks Sneaky or Poisonous or whatever. So yes, a dice-less D&D combat board game – but it works.


Some not so good:


The rulebook is coarse but paper thin and feels like a homemade print out more than an official glossy manual – a big step down from the Adventure System games. As is the game box itself, which is made from flimsy card which does not feel like it will last the test of time at all.

Hit Points and damage, etc are in tens instead of units. This adds an extra layer of maths (well, an extra zero anyway) to the proceedings, but is supposedly designed to make you feel like characters have lots of health and are inflicting tons of damage. It’s unnecessary, but hardly game breaking.

The plastic insert housing the minis takes up most of the box and was the first thing to go. Whilst it serves a purpose in preserving the minis from damage players should take extra care to prise the minis from their homes as the various bending appendages or pointy swords and weapons can undergo undue stress if one is not careful.
And there are no.... umm.... dice - D&D heresy for sure!


How does it compare to the Dungeons and Dragons Adventure System games?

The comparison isn’t really fair because the AS games are cooperative dungeon exploration games, but if you imagine them more abstractly as a sort of minis skirmish game where one side is the players’ heroes and the other side is the game’s AI monsters, you’d actually get a fairly close approximation. Mainly because the order cards in Dungeon Command add so much variance to the proceedings. Whereas in the AS games you could draw traps and encounters and use hero powers to attack, in Dungeon Command you’ll actively be playing these cards from your hand against your opponent instead.

As it is, the games stand side by side nicely – one for a cooperative dungeon crawl fix and one as a competitive tactical skirmish game. The cards supplied in Dungeon Command to allow you to use your figures in the AS games are a really nice touch, and it wouldn’t be difficult to convert other D&D minis into the existing Dungeon Command system. In fact, many fans are already doing this as we speak.


Is it any good?


Yes.

There’s a deceptive amount things happening at once in this game, and it feels like there is always something to be doing, even during your opponent’s turn. Because of the nature of the card play, you can play some effects during your opponent’s attacks, deflecting blows or escaping from attack, or Cowering. The upshot of this is that the downtime feels very minimal once you both have a handle on the game, although some decisions can be appropriately agonising.

Considering that this was purchased primarily as in expansion addition to the cooperative D&D board games it has been an absolutely pleasant surprise to find a wholly playable and intensive skirmish battle game in Dungeon Command.


Summary


Whether or not you have a vested interest in the D&D franchise Dungeon Command makes for a great, light skirmish game, with deeper tactics emerging through devious card play and positioning, and which can be played in under an hour with a little experience under your belt. With a ton of new expansion material in the works too, there should be a wealth of further replayability and variability beyond what is already in the box.

If you can find a decent deal on the first two sets and you’re looking for a lighter fantasy skirmish game, jump on in.


Pros:

• Fun, tense game!
• Beautiful tile art with varying terrain effects
• Interesting order cards with colour art and cool, thematic in-game effects
• 12 cool minis with varying quality paint jobs
• Lots of replayability in the Order card decks, less so in the creatures available (unless you buy more boxed sets...)
• Fast paced – actions are resolved quickly and easily with no dice rolls!
• Simple, easy to learn rules
• Tons of expansion material in the works (this could be a Con if you’re a completist)
• No dice!


Cons:


• Price – make sure you get a deal, as this can be over-priced for what it is (your country’s price may vary)
• Space-consuming plastic insert – be careful popping out your minis!
• Crappy paper rulebook
• Crappy paper box
• No dice! (just kidding – this is a big bonus in this game)

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Keith Wilson
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Love the review.

Just one quick question. You mention that the game includes monster cards for using these miniatures in the Adventure System Games, but how much of what you get in the Dungeon Command box can you actually use in those games? I mean without house ruling anything, so straight out of the box.

Is it all of the stuff? Or only a select number of pieces?
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Brent Lloyd
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There are cards for all 12 minis to directly use in the D&D Adventure System. The card art follows the same style, the card backs are the same...just shuffle up and yer good to go.

The Monsters are Monsters and the Heros have Ally cards.

No house ruling needed. Ready to play out of the box.

The Dungeon Command system is a solid Mini Skirmish Head to Head Combat Game. The addition of the D&D AS cards was a great move on their part.

Peace

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Keith Wilson
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So it seems if I could get a cheap enough deal on them it would be worth it just to get expansions for my Wrath of Ashardalon. Of course this will also have the extra added bonus of a second game if I ever create an opponent.
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Tristan Hall
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kjpw_88 wrote:
So it seems if I could get a cheap enough deal on them it would be worth it just to get expansions for my Wrath of Ashardalon. Of course this will also have the extra added bonus of a second game if I ever create an opponent.


Thunder already covered your questions, but it's worth pointing out that though the Dungeon Command tiles also jigsaw fit with the Adventure System games, they're bigger, a bit like the AS Start tiles (4x8 and 8x8 squares), so you would have to house rule bringing them into play. Very easy to do though - for example, you can just replace the Ashardalon Chamber tiles with the DC tiles.

You get some treasure chest tokens too, which you could use in WoA, but again you'd need to house rule them (e.g.: they only appear on black tiles, give you x treasure cards when flipped, guarded by x monsters, etc).

But basically, I bought them for the same reasons you probably will, Keith - to expand the D&D games. Got a super cheap deal on amazon.co.uk (£11 each) so keep your eye on there. And the DC skirmish game is just an awesome bonus game basically! cool
 
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Dicky P
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Nice review.
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Keith Wilson
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ninjadorg wrote:
kjpw_88 wrote:
So it seems if I could get a cheap enough deal on them it would be worth it just to get expansions for my Wrath of Ashardalon. Of course this will also have the extra added bonus of a second game if I ever create an opponent.


Thunder already covered your questions, but it's worth pointing out that though the Dungeon Command tiles also jigsaw fit with the Adventure System games, they're bigger, a bit like the AS Start tiles (4x8 and 8x8 squares), so you would have to house rule bringing them into play. Very easy to do though - for example, you can just replace the Ashardalon Chamber tiles with the DC tiles.

You get some treasure chest tokens too, which you could use in WoA, but again you'd need to house rule them (e.g.: they only appear on black tiles, give you x treasure cards when flipped, guarded by x monsters, etc).

But basically, I bought them for the same reasons you probably will, Keith - to expand the D&D games. Got a super cheap deal on amazon.co.uk (£11 each) so keep your eye on there. And the DC skirmish game is just an awesome bonus game basically! cool


Thanks
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Marco Fattimiei
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thanks NinjaDorg for sharing this review, I already own the game but I find it interesting and agree with most of your review.

Do you think the first two sets are well balanced out of the box? What do you think of the third set(goblins)?

One more question: how did you use these material with Castle Ravenloft/Wrath/LoD did you create a specific Adventure or just added them in the existing bunch?

ninjadorg wrote:


Considering that this was purchased primarily as in expansion addition to the cooperative D&D board games it has been an absolutely pleasant surprise to find a wholly playable and intensive skirmish battle game in Dungeon Command.



I want to underline the above: this game had a quite poor advertising, and a lot of people (I'm one of these) arrived here from D&D AS board games, but actually felt in love for this game even more than the D&D AS itself

I'would rate this game 8 at least, but I never used it with C. Ravenloft yet, anyway I'm quite disappointed by it's role as expansion: a lot of units are not as interesting in CR as they re in DC (the scripts are quite poor) and the use of allies is quite odd, with just one card added ally's encounter will be really a rare event.

I think they should have created a specific adventure for each set, using some of the new tiles as a final room, and even a few new heroes for the new miniatures (even one hero/box would be great).

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BigBoar wrote:
thanks NinjaDorg for sharing this review, I already own the game but I find it interesting and agree with most of your review.

Do you think the first two sets are well balanced out of the box? What do you think of the third set(goblins)?


Well the sets are asymmetrical so balance is definitely tricky, but I’d say Lolth and Cormyr are pretty evenly matched if you pick the right leaders (the drow Leader who gives extra movement is not much cop). I did pick up the third Goblins set but we’ve not had much experience with it yet. So far it doesn’t seem to measure up to the other two, but we might not have found its major strategies yet.



BigBoar wrote:
One more question: how did you use these material with Castle Ravenloft/Wrath/LoD did you create a specific Adventure or just added them in the existing bunch?


So far we’ve just shuffled the Lolth monsters into Legend of Drizzt and the Goblins into Wrath of Ashardalon because they fit thematically. The Cormyr heroes have just been shuffled in with the other NPCs, though I’m a bit disappointed that there is only one single Encounter card which allows you to meet them. You have to take that Encounter card out and put it into the relevant CR/WoA/LoD Encounter card deck you’re playing with every time if you want to use them, which I think is very inelegant. Chances are good that you won’t even draw it, which means the chances are also good that you will literally never see some of those ally cards in your games. Given how weedy some of the Cormyr NPCs are it would have been nice if they had a cash value and you could just hire them between adventures. But I’m working up a price list for that anyway...



BigBoar wrote:
ninjadorg wrote:
Considering that this was purchased primarily as in expansion addition to the cooperative D&D board games it has been an absolutely pleasant surprise to find a wholly playable and intensive skirmish battle game in Dungeon Command.


I want to underline the above: this game had a quite poor advertising, and a lot of people (I'm one of these) arrived here from D&D board games, but actually fell in love for this game even more than the D&D bg itself

I'would rate this game 8 at least, but I never used it with C. Ravenloft yet, anyway I'm quite disappointed by it's role as expansion: a lot of units are not as interesting in CR as they re in DC (a very simple script), I think they should have created a specific adventure, using some of the new tiles as a final room.


Yeah, it’s a bit fiddly taking the minis from DC and putting them into your D&D AS games, but I do think it’s a really nice touch, even if some of the AI is unimaginative. You’d think that WOTC would have taken a lesson or two from all of ChromaticDragon’s cool Monster designs. But it’s nice to have all that extra variation in the D&D games.

But yes, I think it’s a great skirmish game with cool minis and tiles, and I intend to use the big DC tiles for boss battles in our D&D campaign games. And for £11 a box it was one of the best Amazon deals I’ve seen.
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BigBoar wrote:
I think they should have created a specific adventure for each set, using some of the new tiles as a final room, and even a few new heroes for the new miniatures (even one hero/box would be great).

Agreed, when 2D6.org interviewed Peter Lee, I posted this comment:
chromaticdragon wrote:
Quote:
2D6.org: Will the Adventure System board games continue to be big box sets, or have you considered expansions? Maybe small box sets with new adventures, cards and higher level monsters and/or heroes?

PL: We’ve considered expansions, but there are a lot of options and decisions still up on the air. The biggest question would be which game to expand? I don’t think an all-in-one expansion works, as if you have just one box, you can’t use up to two-thirds of the product. An expansion that expands just one of the games may not be compelling. I’m thinking about it, but I haven’t yet hit a good solution.

Imo, Wizards already has all the main physical components of a perfect solution in place, they just need go that 1 step further and tie it all together.

To owners of the adventure games, the Dungeon Command sets already offer excellent potential as pick-and-choose expansions for the adventure games.

All that is missing for consumers to make the obvious connection are official adventures that show players how to use the figures in Dungeon Command with 1 or more of the adventure boxed sets. As Peter said himself, the Dungeon Command tiles could also be used for these special adventures.

The indirect nod to modders on BGG is appreciated but BGG users are still only a small segment of the larger market which only looks at official products.

So a low-cost all-in-one expansion with campaign rules, an adventure book and maybe some required cards would have a strong appeal (even if buyers only use part of it) and imo, really push sales of all the products in their line-up.
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ninjadorg wrote:
Yeah, it’s a bit fiddly taking the minis from DC and putting them into your D&D AS games, but I do think it’s a really nice touch, even if some of the AI is unimaginative. You’d think that WOTC would have taken a lesson or two from all of ChromaticDragon’s cool Monster designs. But it’s nice to have all that extra variation in the D&D games.

The AI is indeed hit & miss but there are at least another 2 positives from having the extra cards:
1. Quite a number are repeated monsters and just by adding them into the deck increases the chance for multiple activations. Imagine 3 Trolls...
2. The extra cards have authentic cardbacks so you could sleeve them together with any custom Monster cards.
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ninjadorg wrote:


Yeah, it’s a bit fiddly taking the minis from DC and putting them into your D&D AS games, but I do think it’s a really nice touch, even if some of the AI is unimaginative. You’d think that WOTC would have taken a lesson or two from all of ChromaticDragon’s cool Monster designs. But it’s nice to have all that extra variation in the D&D games.

But yes, I think it’s a great skirmish game with cool minis and tiles, and I intend to use the big DC tiles for boss battles in our D&D campaign games. And for £11 a box it was one of the best Amazon deals I’ve seen.

What about creating a Chamber card for each big creature in DC (Dragon, Troll, Devil...) each one on a big tile, adding a small creature for each player?... That should be close to WoA's system although they not as strong as bosses... or do you think it will be too easy?

Are there any Chamber cards template?

True, Amazon give Quality/Price of this game a huge boost! mine are from amazon.it (26€) but I will keep an eye on the uk version after your advice!
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BigBoar wrote:
ninjadorg wrote:


Yeah, it’s a bit fiddly taking the minis from DC and putting them into your D&D AS games, but I do think it’s a really nice touch, even if some of the AI is unimaginative. You’d think that WOTC would have taken a lesson or two from all of ChromaticDragon’s cool Monster designs. But it’s nice to have all that extra variation in the D&D games.

But yes, I think it’s a great skirmish game with cool minis and tiles, and I intend to use the big DC tiles for boss battles in our D&D campaign games. And for £11 a box it was one of the best Amazon deals I’ve seen.

What about creating a Chamber card for each big creature in DC (Dragon, Troll, Devil...) each one on a big tile, adding a small creature for each player?... That should be close to WoA's system although they not as strong as bosses... or do you think it will be too easy?

Are there any Chamber cards template?

True, Amazon give Quality/Price of this game a huge boost! mine are from amazon.it (26€) but I will keep an eye on the uk version after your advice!



You could use the tougher DC monsters as mini bosses in the D&D games - so half way through a quest when you draw a predetermined tile you set up a couple of the bigger DC tiles attached to it as a Chamber and place the mini boss in there. You have to beat it to continue on, like when you have to destroy Strahd's bodyguard first in CR.

GeckoTH has made templates for Chambers and pretty much everything else you can imagine in his awesome geeklist, which you can find here:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/72602/geckoths-photosh...

cool
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chromaticdragon wrote:
So a low-cost all-in-one expansion with campaign rules, an adventure book and maybe some required cards would have a strong appeal (even if buyers only use part of it) and imo, really push sales of all the products in their line-up.


I think this is a great idea, but I honestly just don't see WOTC going for it unfortunately. The play-testing required would be more intensive than for the regular D&D games and they'd have a smaller target market (i.e. only people who have already bought one D&D game) than any of the other board games. I also think it would have to contain minis and tiles for WOTC to consider pushing it so that it would still have potential value to their main audience of RPGers.

Since Servants of the Thunder Shaman there has been very little ongoing official support for the existing games as they already are, but who knows - maybe Peter Lee and co have something very cool up their sleeves.

But whilst they're dithering on delivering official campaign rules in the meantime my blog with the unofficial D&D AS campaign rules has racked up over 200,000 hits so I'm pretty content. whistle
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