The Legend of Drizzt
Enrico Nardini, Play Unplugged
Let me paint a picture in your mind. I met up with four friends this weekend to play The Legend of Drizzt board game for this review. The players had a huge age (up to 30 years difference) and experience range. Some had played 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons or one of the D&D Adventure System games, others had no experience with them at all. One hour… one harrowing adventure with moments of agony and exaltation (we did manage to pull out a victory by the barest margin)… and we were already making plans to play again next week!
For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, the D&D Adventure System series of products are cooperative exploration board games in which you and your friends (or you by yourself on a solo quest) play a party of fantasy adventurers exploring a dungeon in the hopes of completing a quest. This line of products produces a streamlined D&D experience that does not require a dungeon master (game master, storyteller, referee, etc.), allowing all your friends to get in on the monster slaying. The Legend of Drizzt is the latest installment in the series and boasts the playable inclusion of the titular character Drizzt Do‘ Urden.
Those of you who are familiar with this system will know what to expect from this product, as it shares many similarities with its predecessors Castle Ravenloft and Wrath of Ashardalon. The core gameplay mechanics in each of these games is fundamentally identical (a good thing actually, as you will soon see), with different elements added to keep each game’s experience fresh.
The Legend of Drizzt’s components are almost all high quality. The tiles, chits, and tokens are printed on durable card and the miniatures (many recasts of miniatures from previous D&D Miniatures sets) are well sculpted and cast in a different plastic then their counterparts. Whatever the difference between the castings, the board game miniatures seem more crisp and defined. Most of the miniatures in these sets are nicely sculpted and detailed, though it seems almost every set has one questionable sculpt (in this case, the dwarf berserker wielding two “mini” maces). These miniatures take paint well after priming, though I would leave the water elementals and spirits as is, to take advantage of Wizards’ use of clear plastic.
Players manage their characters with a character tile and power cards. The character tile contains the relevant stats and special abilities. The power cards are organized in a similar fashion to how a Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition character’s powers would be. You have at-will powers you can use… well… at-will (for the most part) and utilities and dailies which you can use once per adventure (though some circumstances can recharge them).
Wizards has done a nice job adding some of the flavor of Salvatore’s iconic characters to the board game. Drizzt’s signature two-weapon fighting style is on display, allowing him to strike twice with one attack action. Magical items from Salvatore’s work such as Icing Death, Aegis Fang, and the Ruby Pendent are all represented! My personal favorite special ability is Bruenor Battlehammer’s headbutt, which allows him to deal an automatic point of damage to one monster in exchange for one of his own hit points.
This set boasts a whopping 8 playable characters derived from the work of R.A. Salvatore. You can of course expect to play as Drizzt, Wulfgar, and company, but you can also skulk the shadows as the likes of master assassin Artemis Entreri or drow mercenary Jarlaxle Baenre.
Another great addition are stances. Undoubtably inspired by the abilities of the same name in 4th Edition, I had a blast messing around with these powers. I especially enjoyed Drizzt’s stance: Dancing Serpent. It was very immersive, moving to strike swiftly with his blades, and then parrying an incoming monster attack. Awesome!
All of these components fit snugly back into the box with a little planning and care. You may want to consider separate miniature storage in a foam case, especially if you decide to paint your game pieces.
Many components of this set can be used with the other Adventure System board games. Tired of running through Castle Ravenloft with the traditional party? Let’s see how Count Straud deals with the likes of Regis “Rumblebelly!”
At its core, each player controls both an adventurer and the enemies and hazards encountered in the dungeon. It works like this: Your turn comprises three phases.
- Hero Phase- In this phase your character moves and performs actions. The player can choose to act and move or vice-versa, or they can move twice to cover more ground. Like D&D some actions are free (don’t take up the characters combat action).
- Exploration Phase- If a hero is on an unexplored edge of a tile (the pieces that make up the growing dungeon) they can place a new piece. The pieces each have arrows and are placed with the arrow facing the unexplored edge. This helps prevent dead-ends and unwinnable game states. The arrows are also white or black. Black arrows trigger encounters. When a new tile is revealed a monster is drawn and placed on the tile’s designated area (in this case a mushroom patch).
- Villain Phase- In this phase you draw and play encounter cards (if necessary) and move and fight with monsters and villains.
The mechanics are clever and elegant, creating an experience that is both challenging and polished. Every turn players must manage their resources and judge the best course of action based on the victory conditions and the current status of the party. The victory conditions vary greatly (adding a tremendous amount of replayability), but a common losing condition is to have a party member at zero hit points and no healing surges (one of the healing mechanics) left. Do you explore further into the dungeon even though you are surrounded by monsters? You will definitely encounter another monster, but if you don’t explore you must draw an encounter card (which are often much worse than the monster)? To complicate matters some tiles activate encounters anyway! Who gets the precious healing? Wulfgar gains the most hit points back, but Catti-Brie’s close to zero! These are just a tiny sampling of the quandaries you will encounter on your quest.
Running the antagonists is generally a snap, but occasionally there will be situations where a monster’s/villain’s text directions are unclear. These are rare occurrences, but they can be momentarily frustrating, especially when you are in the middle of the climax and you don’t want to slow the pace. However, slow the pace you should, as a careful reading of the card and an examination of the situation will usually provide the necessary resolution.
Barring that, the only other criticism I can levy is that I wish there was a way to better protect the rule and adventure books. They are printed on high quality glossy paper and the pictures, rules, and overall layout are fantastic. Where these materials are lacking is durability. A slightly sturdier cover or a two-pocket folder, would have gone a long way in preventing damage.
+ An excellent cooperative board game experience at a great price
+ High quality components
+ Some components are useable with other games in the series
+ Play as Salvatore’s iconic characters
+ Clever, elegant, and just plain fun game mechanics
+ Multiple characters and adventures provide tons of replayability
- Villain text instructions can be confusing in some game situations
- Rule and Adventure books are a bit flimsy and could wear easily if not handled with care
The D&D Adventure System is an intriguing product line and I am very interested to see its continued evolution. It is not a substitute for a “true” RPG experience, nor does it try to be, but it has just enough of the essence of an RPG to be extremely immersive. The Legend of Drizzt, aside from being an excellent board game, would also be a great introduction to the D&D roleplaying game, particularly when you consider the similarities in certain mechanics.
I don’t like to gush too much over any product, but Wizards of the Coast certainly brought their “A game” here. Everything they learned from creating the previous Adventure System games is on display here with abundant additions and improvements. The overall quality of The Legend of Drizzt makes it a must buy for fans of the D&D Adventure System, R.A. Salvatore, Dungeons & Dragons, and cooperative board games, and I can’t imagine it disappointing any of them. The Legend of Drizzt retails for $64.99 and in the current high production board game market, is an absolute bargain! You can purchase The Legend of Drizzt and other games in the D&D Adventure System at your friendly local game store.