Magic Item Compendium Premium Reprint (Dungeons & Dragons 3.5)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Page Count: 286
Cost: $49.95 ($33.41 at Amazon.com)
Release Date: 07/16/2013 (Originally 3/13/2007)
Wizards of the Coast has done a great job with the premium reprints of Dungeons & Dragons books from past editions. I’ve been especially happy with the adventure collections and the reprints of AD&D 2.5. Having it in my hands now, I have to admit, it’s a wonderful resource for any person who likes to run a Dungeons & Dragons game using 3.0/3.5 rules. Is it necessary? No. After all, it’s missing a lot of basic items, so if you just have the big Compendiums from 3.5 (Rules and Spells) you’re going to be missing out on the common items of all, ranging from simple staves to the mighty vorpal sword or Holy Avenger. So unfortunately, while a fine resource, the Magic Item Compendium is missing a few item and isn’t as complete as I would like it to be.
I have to admit, I was surprised when I saw the Magic Item Compendium on the docket for a premium reprinting back when it first came out. After all, it originally was released in March of 2007 – a little over six years ago. You can find the original quite easily still, and for a fraction of the premium reprint, so unlike a lot of the other premium reprints which were out of print for at least a decade and a half, the Magic Item Compendium reprint feels like it will be a hard sell.
When you first take a look at the premium reprint of the Magic Item Compendium, you can instantly tell the difference between this and the original printing. The original had greenish-blue cover and the art featured a long haired, one-eyed Paladin with a red scroll in one hand and a magic sword in the other. The art and cover design was not very appealing. The premium reprint, however is so much better, it’s hard to put it into words. The cover is bone white with gold lettering and it both looks and feels like a mystical tome. The cover art is simple but amazingly effective. You have a potion with a red stopper and a gold dragon curled around it. The cover also features both etching and embossing, which just makes the book fun to just rub your fingertips across. Had I seen the original Magic Item Compendium back in 2007, I would have derided the cover and not even bothered to look at the contents. With the premium reprint however, I wanted to rip open the shrink wrap and read what lay between the hardcover binding, simply from the cover design. It’s hard to justify paying for just a swanky cover, but if you’re a 3.5 fan and have yet to pick up the Magic Item Compendium, this is definitely the version you want.
The book is divided into six chapters: Armor, Weapons, Clothing, Tools, Magic Item Sets and Using Magic Items. Each chapter gives you a list of qualities or effects to the chapter’s item for a magic effect. Then the chapter moves into specific premade items, for those of you who don’t want to build and calculate your own magic items. Oddly enough, a lot of key, almost iconic powers are missing from these chapters. For example, with weapons you’ll find there is no way to build a Defender, Flame Tongue, Frostbrand and the like, yet you CAN make a permanently blessed weapon. This, to me, is a perfect example of why I didn’t care for Edition 3.5, as it tries too hard to come up with “wacky” or overpowered unbalanced options, but then forgets the core and/or simple ones that made D&D popular and memorable to begin with. I understand they are easily found in the DMG, but the Magic Item Compendium really needed to include some of those iconic powers in the same manner they list all the new ones. This needed to be a one-stop shop, rather than just another weighty tome you carry around just IN CASE you might have a use for it at some point. Most D&D fans would rather be able to have, say, a sword of sharpness and know that, with a certain roll of the die, a limb gets lopped off, rather than to have to keep track of the fact their sword is a desiccating, fleshgrinding mindfeeder with Ghost Strike, and all the different rules, DCs and rolls that go along with it. In an attempt to include every possibility for a magic item, the Magic Item Compendium forgets the most basic and important magic weapons, and also overcomplicated the entire concept of magic items to the point where it feels like all the fun is sucked out of them by this process. I know some people must find having to have a separate piece of paper just to keep track of how to use your weapon fun, but I sure do not fall under that category.
Basically, what I took away from the Magic Item Compendium is that it is for gamers that want to roll-play instead of role-play. It’s for munchkin min/maxing gamers who would rather spend more time looking up precisely how and what to roll (and when) rather than trying to tell a fun story with friends. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s not the type of gaming I enjoy. The second edition AD&D DMG has pretty much all the rules you need to make magic items, and it takes up, what, one-thirtieth of the space and works just as well? As does the regular DMG for both 3.0 and 3.5. Now, if you like to design magic items or are looking to supplement a previous list of magic weapons with the sheer myriad of options that the Magic Item Compendium offers, then knock yourself out, as this book works wonderfully as a detailed supplement that is nothing but “100% crunch”, as they say. However, it just doesn’t work as a standalone compendium (which is what the name implies), as it’s missing too much stuff. When you think of a compendium like the rules, spells or Monstrous ones, it implies a book you can just pick up and be the only one you will need for that specific niche. Unfortunately, it’s just not true in this case. I hate to be so negative in this review, as I’ve loved all the premium edition reprints Wizards of the Coast has put out so far, but the Magic Item Compendium just seems to be a mish-mash of well meaning ideas without the necessary common sense to make them stand on their own. I guess when you advertise a book as quote, “collecting the most popular magic items in the D&D game and presents them in one easy-to-reference tome” and its not all there as NONE of the most popular magic items from D&D are in this book AT ALL, I get a little disappointed.
Wizards of the Coast is celebrating two new digital releases this week: Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara, which released on June 18th, and today’s launch of the critically-acclaimed Neverwinter MMORPG. These releases are just two of several exciting Dungeons & Dragons digital games scheduled for release in 2013.
Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara from Capcom features up to four players battling against mythical beasts from the D&D universe with a mix of melee, range and magic attacks. The game is available as a digital download on PS3, Xbox 360, Wii U and PC.
Neverwinter is an action RPG set in an immersive massively multiplayer world that lets players explore and defend one of the most beloved cities in the Forgotten Realms. The MMORPG is free-to-play and can be downloaded at http://nw.perfectworld.com/.
The release of Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara and Neverwinter join many other partnerships and digital releases in the works, establishing D&D as a major force in the digital space. Other upcoming releases include Arena of War, a mobile game for Android, iPhone and iPad devices from DeNA available later this year; Shadowfell Conspiracy, the second expansion pack to the Dungeons & Dragons Online MMORPG releasing on August 19; the upcoming release of Baldur’s Gate on Android followed by Baldur’s Gate II Enhanced Edition; and a yet-to-be-announced game from Playdek.
The fun and versatility of the Dungeon Command series has made Flagoon and Revan huge fans of the game. Not only is the game wonderfully fun, but the good folks at Wizards of the Coast have included monster cards for each of the twelve monsters in each kit so you can repurpose them as foes in D&D Adventure System games like Wrath of Ashardalon and Castle Ravenloft. Also these great looking minis can be used in your table top, pencil & paper game as well!!
But with all those choices, the straight Dungeon Command game is quickly becoming one of our favorites. In Dungeon Command you don’t have to worry about the luck of dice rolling in your favor, It comes down to pure strategy when going up against another commander’s mind. The action is quick and bloody and there is plenty of attrition. In Blood of Gruumsh, there are a half dozen types of Orcs to choose from – druids, chieftains, drudges, archers, clerics, and barbarians – as well as a boar, wereboar, an owlbear, and a big, mean, and nasty Ogre.
Read our previous posts about Dungeon Command to get a better understanding of the game play and keep in mind that, while you can play the game with a single faction pack, Dungeon Command is intended to be played with a faction pack for each of the suggested two to four players. Blood of Gruumsh is in stores now so go pick up your copy today!
I recently was invited to play in a new gaming group and it was just my luck that they were playing the new Iron Kingdoms RPG. So for the last few days I have been reading through the new Iron Kingdoms Core Rules book graciously provided by my GM for the purpose creating my character and learning more about the game.. And I have to admit I have been smiling from ear to ear all the time.
The new Iron Kingdoms Core Rules book is a 358-paged full-color hardcover book which contains all the rules and background needed to run games set in the Iron Kingdoms campaign setting. As expected from a Privateer Press product the production quality is extremely high. Artwork and layout are on par with what you’ve seen in any of the WARMACHINE products. It’s a pleasure just to leaf through the book and enjoy the artwork. Yes, it’s that good.
The first section of the book (about 100 pages) focuses on the world of Caen in general and the area of Western Immoren in particular. You get a detailed description of the history of the Iron Kingdoms, the cosmology and an overview of life in Western Immoren. By the way, some of you might not have heard of the Iron Kingdoms before, so let me give you a short introduction: The world of Caen is not your regular fantasy world. Yes, there are the typical fantasy races you’d expect and yes, there is magic, but Western Immoen (which is the area the game is set in) also went through an industrial revolution, which led to all kinds of mechanical marvels like Steamjacks (coal-driven golems), trains, steam engines and firearms. The nations of Western Immoren which are also called the Iron Kingdoms were formed after the successful rebellion against the evil Orgoth Empire who had conquered the area four centuries earlier. Nowadays the Iron Kingdoms consist of the human nations of Cygnar, Khador, Llael, Ord, the Protectorate of Menoth, the dwarven nation of Rhul, Ios, the homeland of the elves and the hostile island nation of Cryx. The Iron Kingdoms are ripe for conflict and there are countless opportunities for adventures.
The second section of the book (about 70 pages) is all about characters. Character creation in the IK RPG is a pretty straight forward process but allows for a huge variety of different characters. You start by choosing your character’s race (Human, Dwarf, Iosan (Elf), Nyss (Elf), Gobber, Ogrun, and Trollkin). After that you pick one of the four archetypes: Gifted, Intellectual, Mighty and Skilled. Each archetype grants the character with a special ability (like an additional die on melee damage rolls in the case of the Mighty) and allows the player to pick once from a list of benefits (like Photographic Memory or Genius for the Intellectual). Archetypes also play a role when it comes to picking careers. Each character gets to pick two careers. Some careers have prerequisites (like Gifted only or Human only), but aside from that you’re free to mix and match.
In my opinion the career system is a stroke of genius. It takes the best aspects of class systems but none of the inherent problems. Class systems have the advantage that they make things much easier especially for new players like myself. But often classes can also be restrictive in certain ways. The careers in the IK RPG provide the character with a set of skills, abilities, spells (if the career allows spellcasting) and starting gear. Each career also comes with a list of skills and abilities a character following said career can learn in the future. By combining two careers you basically get a huge number of different combinations that allow for a wide variety of character types. You want to play a noble mage? Then combine Arcanist with Aristocrat. Your perfect character started out as a priest but decided to join the military instead, why not combine Priest and Soldier? The following careers are in the book: Alchemist, Arcane Mechanik, Arcanist, Aristocrat, Bounty Hunter, Cutthroat, Duellist, Explorer, Fell Caller, Field Mechanik, Gun Mage, Highwayman, Investigator, Iron Fang, Knight, Mage Hunter, Man-at-Arms, Military Officer, Pirate, Priest, Rifleman, Soldier, Sorcerer, Spy, Stormblade, Thief, Trencher, and last but not least Warcaster.
After picking your career you get to increase your character’s stats (each member of a race starts with the same stat profile) and then you can apply some finishing touches. What I like most about the system is that character creation is very quick and quite straightforward while still giving the players access to a huge variety of character concepts. The Character section of the book also contains an extensive description of all the skills and abilities and gives examples for target numbers with each skill.
Then after creating your characters the party comes together and picks from one of the available Adventuring Companies. These companies not only provide a theme and some special benefits, they also give a reason why the characters are working together. Choosing an adventuring company is of course optional and subject to GM discretion, but it’s another idea that could help players and GM to get into the game quicker.
The third section of the book covers the rules of the game. I have to admit that I was actually surprised that the general rules section (including combat rules) is just about 30 pages. Skill rolls are done by rolling 2d6 and adding the relevant Skill Level and Stat. The result is then combined with a target number set by the GM. The game gives examples for appropriate target numbers for all the skills, but an experienced GM may basically use handwaving to come up with target numbers if he or she wishes to. Especially when it comes to non-combat actions the crunch level is surprisingly low.
Things get a bit more complex when combat is involved and the Iron Kingdoms RPG shows its kinship to the WARMACHINE miniature game here. If you have played WARMACHINE or HORDES before, you should feel right at home. The rules recommend that you use miniatures and a battlemap for combat, but there are also guidelines for people who prefer not to. Ranges are given in both inches (for miniature play) and feet, which is something I wish other games would have done as well (D&D 4th Edition I am looking at you!). Explaining all the various combat rules would probably be beyond the scope of the review. If you wish to get an idea of what combat in the IK RPG looks like, check out the WARMACHINE quick start rules which are freely available on the Privateer Press site. As you would expect from a combat system based on a miniatures game there are rules for every situation and there’s not a lot of room for GM fiat when it comes to combat. The combat rules are also a bit more crunchy than I usually prefer but it’s definitely less complex than games like D&D 3rd Edition.
One aspect of the combat rules I like a lot are the Life Spirals. In the case of simple NPCs the game usually just uses Vitality points to track damage. But in the case of important NPCs and Player Character the Life Spiral is used. As you can see to the right each character has a life spiral with 6 branches grouped into three aspects tied to the character’s main stats: Physique, Agility and Intellect. Whenever a character takes damage, you roll a d6 to determine where you start marking off Vitality points. Are there no more unmarked Vitality points in the branch, you move to the next one clockwise. If all Vitality points are filled the character succumbs to his or her wounds. So what’s the deal with the branches then? When all Vitality points of a branch are filled the character suffers from the effects listed next to the Life Spiral. A crippled physique reduces a characters STR by two for example. It’s not as elaborate as other systems, but quite effective.
Another thing I like a lot is the Injury Table you roll on after a character has been incapacitated. The long-term effects of the injuries the character sustained can reach from death (on a roll of 3 on 3d6) to being scarred or even crippled. The table in my opinion perfectly fits into the somewhat gritty feel of the Iron Kingdoms setting.
The next chapter in the book is about Magic. In the Iron Kingdoms there are two kinds of magic traditions: will weavers and focusers. Will weavers use their own willpower to harness arcane energies while focusers tap into the ambient magical energies around them. As a Gifted character you have to choose between those traditions. Will Weavers are a lot like the spell casters you know from other games, while focusers are a bit different. They can use their arcane energies to control steamjacks and also use their magic to boost attack and damage rolls (even for non-magical attacks). The book contains a quite extensive list of spells and each Gifted career has its own spell list. The only thing that bothers me a bit is that the spells are very combat focused and the spell descriptions are extremely short. Some more fluff texts would have been nice there. But this is nothing that couldn’t be remedied in later books.
Gear, Mechanika, and Alchemy are the topics of the following chapter and again it’s one of the highlights of the book. The gear list covers everything your character could ever have dreamed of from a simple knife to Warcaster armor and the iconic Iron Kingdoms Great Coat. The rules for creating your own mechnika like mechanikal weapons or armor are another highlight of the book. For a lot of people (including me) the mechanikal marvels of the setting were what made us fall in love with the Iron Kingdoms, so having some crafting rules at our fingertips is a huge thing! The section on Alchemy starts by giving us some information on the origins and usage of Alchemy in Western Immoren and the rules needed to create Alchemical items in-game. There are basically sixteen primary ingredients alchemists can buy or gather which can be used to mix several alchemical items including grenades.
The next chapter is all about Steamjacks, probably the most iconic aspect of the setting. Steamjacks are mechanikal constructs, not unlike golems in other settings, that are given the ability to think by a magical brain called the cortex. Steamjacks are usually powered by coal and can be commanded by simple spoken commands or by a Warcaster through telepathy. Steamjacks are used in all parts of Western Immoen. There are Laborjacks built for physical labor and the more elaborate military Warjacks. The chapter describes the components of Steamjacks in detail and provides rules for assembling and updating your own steamjack. In addition to that additional combat rules for steamjacks are given, which are – not surprisingly – based on the WARMACHINE rules for steamjacks. There are also rules for steamjack development. Yes, your Warcaster’s steamjack can get better over time and even develop a personality. Thumbs up!
The last chapter is on “Full-Metal Fantasy Game Mastering”. Luckily it doesn’t try to give you game mastering advice you have heard thousands of times before but focuses on what you need to successfully run a game set into the Iron Kingdoms. There are guidelines on how to create NPCs, how to design encounters and the book gives you some advice on what kind of scenarios and campaigns to run. Last but not least some tips on how to play without miniatures are given.
The book concludes with a very short bestiary that looks more like an afterthought than a proper bestiary, a couple of useful (and very good-looking) sheets and an extensive index.
Overall the Iron Kingdoms roleplaying is exactly what I hoped for when I first saw the Privateer Press booth and information on Iron Kingdoms RPG at Gen Con this last year. The production value of the book is top-notch, the career system is pure genius and the background chapters are the most in-depth look on the Iron Kingdoms I’ve read so far. The combat rules are a bit on the crunchy side, but because of the compatibility to the WARMACHINE rules, veteran WARMACHINE players should have no trouble getting into the RPG as well. The only disappointing aspects of the book is the very short bestiary and the lack of an introductory adventure. Luckily Privateer Press already provided an expanded bestiary as a free PDF on their site. The Iron Kingdoms RPG by Privateer Press is definitely a must-have for every Iron Kingdom fan!
Curse of Undeath is yet another installment in the wonderful miniature-skirmish-card game from Wizards of the Coast. Readers of the DCR blog know that I have a lot of love for this game, and it comes as no surprise that I'm doing another review for this. November and December have been crazy months for me and so this review is coming out a little late with my apologies. I barely had time to sit down and play with this new box until recently and what I’ve seen so far pleases me.
All of the boxes we’ve seen have been thematic and I expect this trend to continue. The theme extends into the art, card mechanics and inbuilt strategy all the way to what’s depicted on the tiles. The set oozes undeath and that’s how it should be. Flagoon pointed out earlier when we spoke with peter Lee and Laura Tommervik on the show that when the game will definitely feature some sort of a re-animation mechanic and he was spot on – zombies can come back from the figuratively dead. Although if I were honest, I was really wishing for an order card that would let you resurrect any miniature. This sort of card would be very powerful but there can always be drawbacks.
The miniatures are, as usual, lovely. I think in terms of sculpt quality, cool factor and paint job, these are easily the best out of the four sets. The skeletons come carrying axes but otherwise look exactly like the ones from Lords of Madness, which I think is a really cool touch. It’s a model that everyone liked but they’ve added a little variety to it and now your DnD game can feature an army of skeletons with different weapons. And to spruce up that army you also get another skeleton – with four arms and four swords and also a skeletal lancer on a horse. The other miniatures round out the undead theme with zombies, vampires, spirits and necromancers. Oh and let’s not forget the Dracolich!!
The set focuses on Constitution as the main attribute. The undead are hardy and tough to kill – just as they should be. Every monster is iconically represented in the rules – a vampire will sap life, a zombie will come back from the dead, and a spirit will phase through walls. There is enough variety in the box to bring out various strategies and plenty of ideas for unique custom warbands.
Many have drawn similarities to this game with Magic: the Gathering and I have to agree. Just looking at making custom warbands makes you realize that you probably have to quickly abandon the idea of a ragtag army of various miniatures and if you really want to play this game competitively – invest in some multiples. Whether it’s buying a second (or third, or fourth) box, or just getting singles from eBay, the fact of the matter is – it has to be done. One box is just not enough. Of course, if you’re not planning to play competitively and just want to play this game with some friends on your kitchen table – that’s fine. One box is probably all you need.
When I was younger my friends and I would play Dungeon! by TSR. I was playing Dungeon! before I ever played an actual role playing game, and I remember the fantasy characters and monsters had captured my imagination from a young age. I was crossing my fingers that this new edition of Dungeon! would be as awesome as I remembered it, but I also knew WotC would be making some changes. After all, this is the fourth edition of Dungeon to come out and it would have to mirror Fourth Edition Dungeons & Dragons (it even has the D&D logo on the game, which previous versions did not), whereas my version of Dungeon! was from the era of first edition red box advance-less D&D. So how does the remake hold up? Honestly, pretty well. What you will find as you read this review, is that Dungeon! is still an amazingly fun budget priced board game that anyone can pick up and fall in love with.
First of all, the package Dungeon! comes in is a fraction of the size previous versions were boxed in. The board is roughly the same, though, in terms of layout. The previous versions of the game had a much more realistic and dingy looking dungeon along with artwork of monsters here and there on the board. The layout is still very similar and the game also has basic rules printed on the side of the board, including what levels are best for each character class. I was a little sad to see how much more hand holding this version of the game is, as even in single digits I instantly got how to play the game and even make house rules for it, but I have to admit having the basic rules on the board is nice for when children invariably lose the rulebook.
Let’s talk character classes, by the way. The original game has Elf, Hero, Superhero and Wizard. Late versions of Dungeon! would change things up and have six different characters: Elf, Warrior, Wizard, Paladin, Dwarf and Thief. This latest version of the game changes things again. We’ve back to four basic character classes, but they are now called Rogue, Cleric, Fighter and Wizard. The Wizard Class is untouched from the original game, the Fighter is the Superhero, Cleric is the original Hero and Rogue is the original Elf class. The Rogue is the weakest class, physically, in the game, but has a 50% chance of finding a secret door instead of the two-in-six chance the other three classes have. I do remember that we used to play with the Elf being able to cast one of each of the three spells in the game to more mimic their “red box” rules, but that was definitely a house rule rather than an “official” one. It was the only way to get someone to play an Elf. The Cleric is just a basic fighter in this game, so don’t look for it to have any spells or healing abilities. The Warrior is exactly the same as the Cleric, except it has a better chance of killing monsters than the Cleric. The Wizard is not very strong, but it can cast powerful magic spells. These spells are limited, and once exhausted, the Wizard has to return to the start space to recharge his or her spells. One thing worth noting is that the magic spells in this newest version of Dungeon! are far more powerful. In the original they gave the Wizard a slightly better chance of success. Here it’s far easier.
So with all this in mind, you’re probably wondering why anyone would play a Cleric or Rogue. God knows we never played as Elves or Heroes as kids, except on rare occasions, because we wanted the toughest and most powerful classes. The answer is simple. To balance out their weaker chance to hit and defeat enemies, Rogues and Clerics only need to amass a total of 10,000 Gold Pieces in loot to win the game. Warriors need 20,000 GP and Wizards need a whopping 30,000! This means Rogues and Clerics can hang out in the easier levels of the dungeon (1-3) where enemies are weaker but there is also less loot. Warriors and Wizards will have to go deeper into the dungeon to face tougher enemies and deal with the greater risk and reward. If all four characters stuck only to Level 1, the Rogues and Clerics would almost be assured a win, as they would collect their totals at a faster pace, even though they are the less powerful characters. So basically, things are balanced out with the more powerful classes having to travel farther, face tougher enemies AND collect more treasure in exchange for more powerful abilities. In fact, with all this in mind, if you played according to the rules, the Cleric, with no special abilities or powerful attacks, actually stood the best chance of winning the game. Of course, I’ve never known anyone that played by the official rules. Everyone I’ve ever talked to had some house rule variant going on for this game, which is part of what has made it so popular and endearing over the decades.
Enemies and Treasure are different from previous versions of the game, but mostly in superficial ways. There are some new treasures along with new artwork. The monsters have been completely reworked. There are a lot of new monsters like Dracolitches and Driders, and the rolls for what kills a monster are tweaked as well. How Magic Swords work has changed too. In the original versions of the game, a Magic Sword had a set bonus to your die roll. The further into the dungeon you went, the more likely you were to find a +2 or +3 weapon. Levels closer to the surface were almost always +1 weapons. In the new version of Dungeon!, when you find a magic sword, you roll two dice. You check the result with what the card says, and if you roll high enough, you get a +2 weapon. Otherwise it’s a +1 weapon. Some may not like the randomization, and there are also FAR less Magic Swords in this edition than in other games, with only a single one appearing in Levels 5 or 6. Again, this is a minor quibble that only long time anal fans of the original version will notice or care about.
Let’s take a look at some monsters to better understand how combat works. A sample Level 1 monster is the Goblin. A Rogue needs a 3 or higher (on 2d6) to kill it. A Cleric needs a 4, a Warrior needs a 2, a Wizard needs a 5, a Fireball spell needs 2 and a Lightning Bolt, oddly, needs a 6 or higher. At Level 3, you might encounter an Ogre. Here a Rogue needs an 8, a Cleric a 9, a Warrior a 6, a Wizard an 8, a Fireball a 4 and a Lightning bolt a 5. In the foulest recesses of the dungeon (Level 6), you might be unlucky enough to come across a Blue Dragon. Here a Rogue doesn’t even get a CHANCE to kill it. Nor does a Lightning Bolt. Clerics and Wizards need a 12 and a Warrior needs a 10 or higher. A Fireball needs a 7 or higher, but still, the odds are against everyone here. Of course, with risk comes reward. A sample Level 1 treasure is a 250GP “Sack of Loot.” At Level 3, you might find a Silver Cup worth 1,000GP. At Level 6? 5,000GP emeralds are not uncommon. Again, this balances out the harsher requirements put on the more powerful classes.
Although the game doesn’t contain any of the house rules that have been accumulated and popularized over the past three and a half decades, it does contain some solo rules for playing a single person version of Dungeon! such as “Treasure Hunt,” where you try to survive long enough to find a specific treasure, “Timed Game,” where you try to see how much gold you can amass in a specific time period, and “Become the Hunted,” where a Level 6 monster chases you around the dungeon trying to kill you before you get the allotted amount of treasure you need.
Overall, I’m happy with the game. I’m glad they got rid of the new classes and PvP rules in the 1989 and 1992 versions of the game which really bogged things down. This is a return (for the most part) to the original late seventies and eighties version of the game that was awesome just the way it was. Playing this definitely brings back memories. Dungeon! is still probably best left in the hands of younger gamers, but even older ones can have fun with this very simple and streamlined dungeon crawl. With a price tag of less than twenty dollars, this is definitely a game any fantasy fan should be on the lookout for – especially if you played one of the earlier editions as a child. Nostalgia abounds here.
The game Dungeon Command is a miniatures skirmish game by Wizards of the Coast for two to four players. It takes about 20-40 minutes to play the two-player game, which this review will address.
A chief concept in Dungeon Command is that each player maintains their own warband; it is a customisable game. Players construct their warbands from creatures, order cards, map tiles and commander cards. The game is sold in set called faction packs. At the time of writing, only the first three: Sting of Lolth, Heart of Cormyr, And Tyranny of Goblins are available.
It is worth noting that miniature games, like trading card games, tend to require a moderate buy-in cost. It isn't the same paradigm as a board game where you get everything you need for all players in one box. You can play a starter scenario using just one faction box, but it won't really give you the full experience of the game. One faction box per player is really the minimum for really interesting game play.
There are a number of design decisions in Dungeon Command that distinguish it from other miniature games I've played. I'm not a big player of miniature games, although I've played a some D&D Miniatures, MageKnight and Heroclix over the years. Let's have a look at them and how they add to the game. This review does not contain a detailed description of the rules and gameplay. This review looks at elements that I believe are notable about the Dungeon Command game.
No Dice, just Cards
Dungeon Command doesn't use dice to determine success. Instead, all creatures do set damage with basic attacks. Order cards allow more effective attacks, special maneuvers, or defensive parries. If you and your opponent have no cards in hand, you know exactly what the result of your attacks will be. However, if your opponent has a card in hand, then comes some uncertainty. Is it a powerful attack? Will it allow a counter to my play?
The game will also work if you don’t use any cards, in the same way that Chess works: it is a game about positioning and maneuvering. The cards allow for more variety of action than the basic 'Chess' game, as well as providing uncertainty as to results.
Cards have requirements to play. Each creature has a level and a list of attributes, which the card has to match. A Level 2 STR creature can't play a Level 1 DEX card. The cards for each attribute emphasize different effects, and some cards relax requirements to allow play by creatures of a certain type: Spiders, for instance, can play "Web" despite them being DEX creatures rather than the INT required by the card.
I didn't expect this design decision for this game, but it has proved to be an inspired one. It has become very frustrating over the years with a single dice roll determining a game, despite all the good play on a player's part. In this game, controlling the timing of the game (and thus players' access to cards) can be crucial. It should also be noted that each faction has one commander that helps you gain access to more order cards (or at least better quality cards).
Growing Your Warband
Each player has a leadership score that is based on the commander they've chosen (each set comes with two choices). This score increases at the end of each turn, and determines the maximum levels of creatures you can control on the battlefield at one time.
This means that when a creature dies, the hole it creates can be filled with an equally powerful creature. Unlike D&D Miniatures and Heroclix, your entire force doesn't begin on the battlefield. Instead, you start with a small portion of your force and play new creatures as the game continues. There isn't a death spiral where once you start losing, you'll continue losing because you have fewer creatures than your opponent: instead, you'll have equivalent forces for the entire battle, keeping the game interesting until the end. If there's one design decision that I think really makes this game special, this is it.
Morale, Treasure, and Cowering
If you always have creatures on the battlefield, with new ones being played to replace those lost, how do you win the game? A second rating that of Morale covers this. Morale is lost when a creature is killed, an amount equal to the killed creature's level. Once your Morale reaches zero, then you lose the game. (It is also possible that when one player has no creatures left on the battlefield, in which case whoever has the higher Morale wins).
That's easy enough; however, the addition of Treasure and Cowering make the game tactically richer. Six treasure piles are placed around the board at the beginning of the game. By picking them up, you can increase your morale. You can also save a creature from dying by cowering - you lose morale to prevent the damage.
These rules work really well. I've seen fast movement creatures - though weak in combat - gather enough treasure to take victory because the slow-moving force against them couldn't kill enough to make up the difference. I've also seen players take 3 morale hits to protect a Level 2 creature because the positioning of that creature was important and losing it would hurt more than the morale hit.
A Game and Three Expansions
Apart from the primary Dungeon Command game, a set also comes with 12 cards for using the miniatures in the D&D Adventure System games - Castle Ravenloft, Wrath of Ashardalon and Legend of Drizzt. The Sting of Lolth set provides more monsters for your foes to face, but the Heart of Cormyr set introduces a new mechanic: the Ally, which adds a new encounter card to the mix that allows one of the miniatures to join your forces as a non-player 'Hero'.
And, of course, the miniatures are also of the proper scale to add them to a Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game (or the Fantasy RPG of your choice). Heart of Cormyr gives you a selection of heroic miniatures, while Sting of Lolth is a drow-themed set that is particularly useful at present, it being the "Year of the Underdark" for D&D products from Wizards of the Coast, and the Tyranny of Goblins gives you an assortment of goblins, a troll, and Devil to play with.
Customization of Forces
A starting box comes with 12 miniatures and 36 order cards, along with 2 commanders and 4 tiles. Each player requires 12 miniatures, 30 order cards, 1 commander and 4 tiles, so there is a small amount of customization available immediately. It just isn't that interesting.
Once you add a second box to your collection, you have a lot more meaningful options. You are restricted to having four copies of any card or miniature in your warband, and you get one or two copies of each in a faction box. Getting four of everything is likely to be frustrating, as you'll have a lot of duplicate components you don't need.
The secondary market will likely help there, especially due to the separate markets the components have: the order cards are only useful to Dungeon Command players, as people wanting the miniatures for D&D or the Adventure System board games won't need them.
All of the components in Dungeon Command are quite attractive to look at, although I've seen better prepainted miniatures than those in these sets. I very much appreciate how durable the miniatures are; they are attractive enough for my purposes, although good miniature painters could do a much better job.
The dungeon tiles have artwork by Jason Engle, who has been designing tiles for the D&D game for many years now. I love the design of his tiles and these ones look very good. I, and others, have noticed slight warping of the tiles in moist conditions, just enough to prove troublesome. This is disappointing, to say the least. The tiles are double-sided, with wilderness on one side and a dungeon on the other. I particularly like the set-up tiles, which depict entrances/exits from the caves and castles for the various factions. There are several terrain types on the tiles, which make for variety in the battles.
The cards - unlike those in the Adventure System games - are full color and all have original art on them. They really look very nice, and I appreciate that the creature cards have pictures of the miniatures for identification purposes.
The Right Amount of Luck?
Although Dungeon Command does not have chance-based resolution of effects, the game does still possess uncertainty, primarily in the order of creature cards and order cards drawn to hand; you can't play a creature if you haven't drawn it, likewise with the order cards. Not everyone is going to appreciate this method, which is also used in such games as Magic and Summoner Wars.
I enjoy managing chaos (rather than being managed by chaos, which is how I feel about luck-based resolution at times), and the amount of unpredictability in your draws can be ameliorated by the customization of the game and the way you can replace dead creatures. However, there will be times where your draw just works against you. It is something to be aware of before you play this game.
As I played more and more of Dungeon Command in preparation for this review, I realized how good the design is. "Good" then became "Great": I really enjoy this game!
The game solves problems I've had with miniature skirmish games before, and does it with solutions that are elegant and effective. The way you can reinforce your warband, the cowering rules, and the card-based gameplay make for a game that I really enjoy. Dungeon Command is an exceptional game, and I am eagerly awaiting the release of new sets so I can see more of what is possible in the game.