So here’s the dealio. A few days ago WotC Europe have promised me a preview copy of Dungeon Command: Sting of Lolth. After I have picked up my jaw from the floor and rolled my tongue back into my mouth, I decided to check out the playtest rules that were made available last year, September, on the WotC community site (here’s a handy link – you need to have an account with Wizards and sign up for the playtesting group to download the rules). Even this early version feels like a solid product that is close to being finished.
Now, I used to be a fan of the old DnD miniatures game. But I know someone who’s a far bigger fan, and that would be my wife Elaine (hey gorgeous). Naturally, I decided she would be the perfect person to help me assess this. I wanted to familiarize myself with it before I got the final finished product, so this post mostly relates to the playtest rules.
The Rulebook. The actual rules take only four A4 pages of text. The rest of the printout consists of tiles and cards. There are two types of cards in the game, actions and creatures, and they both form their respective decks. Compared to the previous ruleset, it feels ‘lite’. That is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, Elaine’s final verdict was that she liked the new rules better than the old ones so there you go. But lets get down to the nitty and gritty. Dice rolls have been altogether eliminated and have been replaced with, what I like to call, the tapping economy, present in many contemporary card games, like the Lord of the Rings and A Game of Thrones LCGs. Basically, every miniature you control (or the card representing it) can be tapped once per turn, but you can tap it to do multiple things. You can issue a simple melee or ranged attack, use a special power on a card or maybe even leave him or her to defend and perform an interrupt or what is effectively an opportunity attack. A lot of strategies revolve around choosing to tap the mini at the right time, and to do the right thing. The movement rules are very similar to DnD 4E, but simplified, with shifting and sliding being present. There is also a glossary that is the same size as the rules themselves, detailing all the special terms and their functions.
I think my favorite part about the new rules is the gold mechanic. Essentially, gold allows you to purchase new units, but it also tracks how well you are doing. Every time you begin a turn, or one of your units die, you move gold from your Vault to your Supply. Running out of gold in your Vault signifies the end of the game approaching, and the players get VPs for every gold left over. You can also get VPs for forcing your opponents to move gold from their Vault when they no longer have any. The reason I think this idea is good is because it eliminates the ‘runaway winner’ problem. By that I mean, it is no longer possible for a player to do really well at the start and then dominate the rest of the game, since if someone loses a unit, they can use the gold they received to buy a new unit. They are still at a slight disadvantage because they run the risk of running out of gold in their vault.
The Gameplay. The actual game was very quick. It took me about 10 minutes to explain the rules to Elaine, and then another 30 minutes to actually play the game. Elaine was playing the drow faction, and I was piloting the Cormyrians. I seemed to have had the early advantage. The drow have no ranged attacks, and my elven archers were just what was needed to halt their advance. That all changed when Elaine deployed the Drider. Not only did it ignore moving restrictions, but paired with a close area of effect attack and high speed it managed to take out three of my units in one fell swoop. I thought all was lost, but then realized that on my next turn I could deploy the gold dragon. With a whopping sixty five hitpoints, and 20 damage, I was sure to cause some serious trouble. In the end we both had serious losses and were almost out of gold. And then the last turn came and we realized that at the end of it, we would both end up with the same amount of VPs, and there was nothing to be done. The playtest rules didn’t account for what to do in the situation of a draw, but we were happy with the outcome. If nothing else, at least you can’t fault the game for not being balanced.
Overall. I can’t wait for the final version. Now that I’ve played the game, I can honestly say I really enjoyed it, it felt like the game had so much scope for re-playability and expansion. I can see myself reusing old DnD minis maps, or crafting my own new ones out of dungeon tiles. The final version will probably be slightly different from the playtest, for example, I have noticed that action cards are now called orders. The more I find out about this game the more excited I am. Oh, and almost forgot to mention this. As an added bonus, the game will feature stat cards for the adventure system games, so all these new minis can be used in Castle Ravenloft, Wrath of Ashardalon and Legend of Drizz’t!
Note: I should probably mention that the minis I have used for the game probably won’t be the same minis that come with Dungeon Command – they simply seemed appropriate to represent the units in the game.
Note 2: If you live in England and within close proximity of St. Albans, just give me a shout and we can test out the game in my FLGS.