Yesterday I picked up a copy of the D&D Board Game for a bargain price at The Works bookshop. For an RPG fan like me, it’s a great set – 40 plastic figures, lots of dungeon tiles plus pillars, trees and counters for treasure, traps, etc. There’s plenty of use and re-use in this set, even aside from the Board Game itself.
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In terms of gameplay, it’s designed for 2-5 players (though it’s also pretty enjoyable as a single player romp too), and the rules fall into the “more complicated to explain than they are to play” category. This is an awkward position for them to be, and probably explains it’s lack of overall success as a big seller. It’s got a high tactile value – lots of stuff to pick up, move around, and there’s gobs of dice and cards to play with too. I’d expect this to get a typical 10 year old very excited, then bored very quickly when they start to work out the rules.
Which is a shame, as it really is a fun, fast game to play. What there should have been was a leaf out of Magic‘s book – a fast-play walkthrough with explains the basics so that a game can be up and running the minute the box is open.
The rules themselves are very simple, just explained in a complicated manner. There’s four heroes (the iconics from D&D – Fighter, Rogue, Wizard and Cleric) who are controlled by one or more players. Then there’s the DM, who manages the dungeon rooms and all the monsters. Every time a door is opened the DM sets the newly discovered room out, then everyone draws a card which dictates the turn order until the next door is opened, presumably after any monsters have been killed, traps cleared and treasure chests explored.
Combat is resolved using funky dice. Each weapon or spell rolls different types and colour of d6s and the number of “swords” counted. Take away the Armour Class of the defender and what’s left (if anything) is the number of Hit Points lost. It’s ironic that as a system it’s superior to the d20 mechanic of core D&D.
Each player character also has one or more special abilities which are modelled on their D&D counterparts. The Fighter gets to add one to his combat dice roll, the Rogue gets a Sneak attack and can find/disarm traps (using more funky dice), the Cleric can heal and Turn Undead (funky dice again) and the Wizard can cast spells. The differences do influence how each character plays too, which mimics the role-playing experience very well.
Treasure chests hold new magic items, spells or a nasty surprise for the opener which means it’s fun to load up on new artifacts as the game progresses. There’s a limit to how many items each character can carry, so there’s a degree of planning involved too.
Inside the DM’s guidebook there are a set of scenarios that build from simple (kill the Goblins!) to very complex where the setup looks more reminiscent of a game of Gauntlet than an RPG dungeon. The characters advance in abilities too, gaining more Hit Points, equipment and Spell Points as the scenarios progress.
It’s the open-ended nature of the game the wins out though. Once a group has played through the pre-defined setups, there’s plenty of options left with setups only limited by the imagination of a DM. Given that figures (especially fold-up paper PDF ones) are dirt cheap too and it’s simple to convert core D&D stats into Board Game equivalents, there’s no reason why this game couldn’t become a staple for a group of role-players wanting a quick fix.