Years ago, I played quite a bit of Dungeons and Dragons Miniatures, despite the fact that I have never really been either a collectable card/item gamer and I’ve never been a table top miniature player. It helped that a lot of my friends were also playing DDM and the miniatures could be used the Dungeons and Dragons and that the price point was relatively low compared to, say, War Hammer.
I even played in some tournaments (although I didn’t do very well) and I spent a lot of free time trying craft interesting and gimmicky war bands. At that time, DDM was pretty much the center of my gaming experience and certainly my gaming dollar.
However, time and storage space and changing rule systems and just plain old fashioned burn out eventually ended my time in DDM. The fact that Wizards of the Coast ended up shutting the line down helped. My miniatures and cards got boxed up (after all, still handy for RPG purposes) and I went on to other games.
To be honest, my dabbling in a collectable system taught me that I really wasn’t that interested in them and I was glad that at least DDM let me have fun little plastic toys after I stopped playing. Magic the Gathering might be cool and a good game and important historically but it is not for me.
However, Wizards of the Coast, as many of you already know, has put out a new table top miniatures game, Dungeon Command. While I haven’t picked it up myself (and very well might not), one of my friends has and we sat down in a three-player learning game of the system over the weekend. While I feel pretty confident saying that the game is really balanced for two-players, the three-player model worked well enough as a learning game and I would play it that way again.
With three players, you don’t play until last man standing but until one player is eliminated. Yes, that means turtling until the other two players have beaten each other bloody and going out to kill the weaker one is a solid strategy (and won our game in fact) but I think that is better than last man standing, where two players team up to kill the third guy and then pound it out.
Dungeon Command is a much more abstracted game than DDM. In fact, it is sufficiently abstract that I have to wonder if it qualifies more as a regular board game than a table top miniatures game, if there really is a meaningful distinction between the two.
DDM’s various incarnations could be described as playing a simplified Dungeons and Dragons. Indeed, the last set of rules which came out right before fourth edition came out could be seen as a primer for fourth edition. Dungeon Command, while clearly inspired by D&D and set in the D&D universe, is much more of its own game.
In DDM, the tricks and rule-changers were all built into the actual pieces themselves. Now, the pieces are, for the most part, are fundamentally collections of hit points that do set amounts of damage to enemies. The tricks are in the order deck.
You also don’t put out all your pieces at once. Those are controlled by your leadership ranking and your creature deck. Which sounds terribly random except that I found the two elements tended to balance each other out. You have a set amount of power on the table and you adjust your play depending on how it ends up being divided up. In general, everyone has the same level of effectiveness on the table.
Once can ask “Does a deck of cards rather than a die roll decrease the random element of the game?” In the case of Dungeon Command, I would say the answer is yes. The movement of the pieces is not random, nor is their attack or damage. Your ability to do more damage or to cause your opponent to miss, those come from the cards. So the fundamental choices of your strategy and tactics are in your own hands, not the die which could cause you to miss or to cause a piece to route.
The dice and the nature of having commanders on the field could often make DDM very swingy. Dungeon Commander seems to have a more solid, less random system that fundamentally favors the better player. Crazy, out of nowhere wins seem much less likely.
All of this comes out of one play of the game and without reading the rule book. I’m sure I will play Dungeon Command again with my friend but I am not yet sure what my real opinion of the game is or if it is a system I want to personally buy into.
However, my initial impressions are that it is a system that has learned how to separate itself from its roots and stand as its own game.