As all of you are already well aware, I love minis. Tokens may be nice, but nothing says, “Shit just got real!” quite like setting down a huge Nightwalker mini in front of your party, seeing it easily tower over their own minis. For one reason or another, however, Wizards pulled the plug on their miniatures line, much to my dismay. Now what was I going to spend copious coin on?!
For those of you who miss those minis, well, fret no more! Dungeon Command sets to fill that void in your sad, miniless life. Each faction pack (of which there are currently two, The Sting of Lolth, and The Heart of Cormyr) comes with 12 miniatures, and everything you will need to play the Dungeon Command game.
When I took the survey several months ago about Wizards of the Coast’s then-upcoming miniatures line, I would not have thought that it would take the form that it did in Dungeon Command. The implication was that it would simply be prepackaged sets of miniatures that were thematically tied together, with everything a DM might need when presenting that particular enemy. An, “Encounter in a Box,” if you will. The idea had promise, but with an accompanying proposed price tag of $45, the entire concept smelled too foul of Games Workshop for my personal tastes.
To its benefit (and its detriment), Dungeon Command is a standalone miniature skirmish game, in addition to being a product for the tabletop RPG. The difference between this game and the previous incarnation of the miniatures line is now the standalone game is the primary focus, and the tabletop supplement is an added benefit. But does it all hold up?
The Minis: On the whole, all of the minis are exceptionally well-painted, with vibrant colors throughout, and a distinct lack of what I came to so lovingly call, “Cheek Eyes.” The new sculpts are also very dynamic and dramatic, without having the, “I’m about to bludgeon the fuck out of you,” feel of previously mentioned Pathfinder Beginner Box Heroes minis from WizKids. I also have to say that it’s nice to see drider women, as I’ve never understood the whole concept of being half-spider as a punishment from a goddess that adores spiders (but that’s another show).
The plastic also seems to be of better quality.
The Game: As a standalone product, the Dungeon Command game is a pretty tight product. From the simplicity of the rules, to the streamlined interactions of the 4th edition combat rules, it all works really well. Removing the d20 seemed odd at first, but the randomness of combat is instead represented in the Creature and Order decks, respectively. Adding a die roll on top of that would also make things too random, as the designers said in a recent podcast.
Unlike other skirmish games (the previous D&D Minis game, included), your warband isn’t all on the field at the start. Your Leadership score and your starting hand determine what creatures you initially bring to fore, with new creatures appearing whenever your increased Leadership and hand will allow. This adds some of the tense gameplay from Magic into your typical minis game, which is much more appealing (at least, to me) than the cold calculations and tape measure cuts of some other tactical miniature games.
Also, for those interested, each Dungeon Command set includes cards for the minis in the sets to be included in the D&D Adventure System boardgames, with some as monsters, and others as allies.
The Minis: While a few new sculpts appear (like the Drow Wizard, above, in its standard and promo paint), many of the minis are reissues from previous sets. This is even more apparent if you’re playing in the current season of Dungeon & Dragons Encounters, Web of the Spider Queen, and your DM (especially if your DM is yours truly) favors minis to tokens. While it’s certainly nice to have alternate paint jobs for some of these, I feel like there was a missed opportunity to start fresh, with brand new sculpts across the board(game).
The Game: With only two sets currently on the market, the skirmishes tend to feel samey after a while. There’s no mystery as to what creatures your opponent is playing, and there is not enough variety just yet to build your own warband. This is a small complaint, however, as this should correct itself over time.
Much like the minis, many of the cards feature art reprinted from earlier Dungeons & Dragons products. This normally isn’t be a problem, as it’s been policy at Wizards to buy works of art outright and print the hell out of it. Unfortunately for the Sting of Lolth cards, much of the reprinted art comes from the woefully dull Drow of the Underdark. There’s just something about Wayne England’s work in that book, and subsequently, the Sting of Lolth, that just looks so very brutish, which feel entirely inappropriate for a race that prides itself on cunning over force.
I jokingly said over Twitter during the Dungeon Command Game Day that it felt as if Richard Garfield had designed the original minis game, but in all honesty, it’s fairly accurate. Ability scores on the Order and Creature cards are analogous to the 5 colors, and the levels of the creatures and maneuvers feel like mana costs. And with the random element of the decks, the game can become a matter of who has the best opening hand. Ask any Magic player, and they’ll tell you the worst defeat is to someone lucky enough to top deck their winning combo.
As I mentioned, this past weekend was the Dungeon Command Game Day, and I was all set to run it for my local store (who, for the sake of diplomacy, shall remain nameless). I had ordered the kits through the Event Reporter, did my research, and was all set to run. However, I didn’t get the Game Day kit until the day of, so I pretty much had a half hour to learn the ins and outs of the game, the individual warbands, and how to handle the promo items in the kit.
It turns out that my worries were for naught, as the store had not advertised that they were hosting Game Day, thus no one showed up. By the time I had any sort of inkling that the store actually intended to partake, it was only a week away, which is too short of notice for many people’s precious, precious weekends.
Overall, I think it’s good. There are definite places that I feel could use improvement, but considering that it serves dual functions as a gaming aid and as a standalone skirmish game, it’s certainly executes both adequately enough. At $40 per band, it still seems pricey to me, but it still works out better, per mini, than the Pathfinder Battles minis that I reviewed before. And they’re not randomized. Which was a problem for some people…apparently…
I’m Walking Into Spiderwebs.