It's been a while since our group played this game, and I wrote this review a few days later. It's a little old, but it still has some points based on our thoughts and experiences with the game.
Initially, we thought the game was unbalanced. The game was *not* unbalanced, but what I saw was a shift in game play with the way we had decided to play it, and that's OUR fault, not the game's fault. We made it unbalanced.
The basic rundown of the game is that you have two factions, in our case Cormyr and the Drow. Each faction pack comes with an equal number of creature levels and two commanders. Commanders have a "morale" rank, which is reduced each time one of their creatures is taken out of the game. When a commander's morale hits zero, they're beaten. Commanders also have a "leadership" rank, which increases after each turn. Leadership dictates the maximum number of creature levels you can have on the board. So, each time you have a turn, you have a chance of deploying more creatures to the board. Different creatures have different levels (which dictate damage done and hit points). The Drow's umber hulk, for instance, was a level 5 creature with 100 hit points. If the umber hulk was defeated, the Drow commander would have to reduce their morale by 5.
Each faction pack also comes with nicely designed interlocking map tiles. The map is your standard D&D 3-4e map, with 1" squares and areas of dangerous or rough terrain. The maps have two sides, one for a dungeon battle, the other for a wilderness battle. Each creature has a speed rating which dictates how many squares they can move, and the standard rules apply that most familiar with D&D know – you can pass through an ally's square, but not an enemy square. Rough terrain takes more time to move through. Dangerous terrain can damage you. Scattered throughout the map are treasure squares, and through collecting treasure a Commander can increase their morale score, which is important once their creatures start getting their asses handed to them. Morale is essentially your "life", and once it hits zero, you're done. Collecting treasure extends your "life" in the game.
The game is made for two players, but you can play with multiple people controlling the same faction and just split up control of faction creatures and commanders between two people. You can purchase more faction packs to give yourself access to more creatures and more commanders, but the standard miniature battles rules apply – equal levels of creatures must be used by both players. We were using the Cormyr and Drow factions (one pack each), but there are 4 packs per faction, and I believe a total of 4 factions. So if you want them all, that's $640.00 worth of faction packs – a pretty steep order, but if you want to play with more friends, you're going to need more factions and more packs to play with.
Each creature in the faction pack comes with it's own monster card so it can be used in other D&D games, like Ravenloft. This is a nice perk that they didn't need to throw in, but if you don't own a game like Ravenloft, they're useless. Each creature is also represented by a pre-painted miniature which can be used in any tabletop fantasy game, and the maps can be re-purposed as well, so that's an added bonus for those who want to use these resources for other games.
The game mechanics are nothing new or visionary, with the same flow of play being used in other games like this – you refresh your creatures ("un-tap" any creature that had been "tapped" in a previous turn due to defending themselves or some other action), then each of your creature can act through movement, attack, treasure collection or some other means, then you deploy any new creatures if you can, then you un-tap any creature that was tapped during your turn. Each player collects Order cards which offer special defensive and offensive abilities. Some cards can be used immediately, for instance block damage when somebody attacks your creature. Some need to be used on your turn and "tap" a creature when used. Some are minor actions which can be used on your turn but do not "tap" the creature using it.
What will attract people to this game is the theme of Forgotten Realms, the same reason that the X-Wing Combat game will draw people because the theme is Star Wars. You're being given popular FR factions to play with as well as well-crafted miniatures and nice maps. It's a lot of damned money to build an optimized faction to take into battle, but people will do it.
After playing a few times, I can see how players would be able to organize their strategy a bit more. One player had a major advantage during the game, with being able to pull many more Order cards than the rest of us, but we did nothing to stop that, which we could have (partially, we couldn't have stopped his Commander's innate ability). Not alternating team players (going Cormyr, Cormyr, Drow, Drow) was a big mistake, which we can see in hindsight. Had we gone Cormyr, Drow, Cormyr, Drow it would have flowed a lot better and not allowed for the dogpiling we saw happening on both sides of the table. The dragon would have been a much better threat had Chris and I not been able to deal so much damage to it so quickly. The same can be said for my Umber Hulk and the Drider (which went down in one round, dammit).
Aside from us breaking the game, I did enjoy it and would like to try it again (but this time play it the way I stated above). It's never going to be my go-to game, but it certainly was enjoyable.
>>>the standard miniature battles rules apply – equal levels of creatures must be used by both players
This is untrue. The only constrution rule is minimum 12 creatures per creature deck.
>>>We were using the Cormyr and Drow factions (one pack each), but there are 4 packs per faction, and I believe a total of 4 factions.
I don't understand that part. There is only one pack per faction and three factions currently (a fourth one coming out in November, a fifth early next year). You can use up to four of each card or monster so in theory you might need to purchase up to four of each pack to get everything in max playable amount (some cards or monsters being only 1 copy in the pack). In practice I found that the vast majority of cards and monsters that are single copies you need at most three of, and can do quite well with two. I've purchased 2x of everything and picked up a few extra copies of single cards at tournaments (we open packs and distribute the remains using the tournament entry cost).
I think there is no need to purchase more than 2x of everything if you want a competitive collection. At retail 30 CAN$ from my local game store, that's 180$ total to get the full set of available minis and cards, 240$ once they release Curse of Undeath. Or just about half the cost of obtaining a competitive collection of World of Warcraft miniatures core set or Dreamblade core set, the first year those games came out. That's kind of cheap. (I guess being a competitive collectible games player, my expectations on what is an expensive game are a lot higher than for the common mortals.)