Review: Dungeon Command
It’s no secret, I love miniatures! As a longtime fan of the D&D Miniatures range of products (our first podcast was actually devoted to the subject), I was sorely disappointed when the range was discontinued. Now I love painting miniatures, but as a gamer who loves using them in fantasy roleplay, it was hard to keep up with every goblin, kobold, and orc that the party could slay. Having a solid range of prepainted miniatures was extremely useful to say the least. Luckily, companies such as Reaper, and Paizo have stepped in to fill the void.
Since that time Wizards of the Coast have had a smattering of miniature releases in the form of themed monster packs, and the awesome D&D Adventure System board games, and these were great. But, these releases didn’t quite “scratch the itch” that the original D&D Miniatures range and game did, both as a quick play skirmish game, and a prepainted miniature range useable for fantasy RPGs.
Fast forward to July of 2012 and we have WotC’s return to prepainted miniatures with Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Command: Sting of Lloth, and Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Command: Heart of Cormyr and what a triumphant return it has been! Let’s get this out of the way right off the bat: these sets are excellent, and if you are a fan of previous iterations of the D&D miniature skirmish games, I would definitely consider purchasing one or both of these sets. Ok, let’s get on to the contents.
Those of you familiar with Wizards of the Coast products will note that their trademark product quality is here. The processed cardboard board pieces and tokens, as well as game’s cards are all high quality. The board pieces are great, both versatile and durable. The Order and Creature Cards are full color and beautifully illustrated. It is worth noting that most of this art is recycled from other Wizards products, but the pieces are pleasing and fit the cards, so I did not find this too distracting.
The Dungeon Command rulebook (identical in both sets, except in regard to cover) is printed full color, in a magazine like form. The Commander Cards are also printed in full color on a thinner card board (similar to the card stock). These are the least durable of the components, and it would be best to store these carefully in the game’s box, which I do wish was a bit more sturdy. It does have a tray which nicely holds all the components, including individual spaces for each figure (reducing bent weapons and the like), but the space between the tray and the lid will mean that you will be sorting tokens if you accidentally turn it upside down.
Those familiar with D&D Miniatures will know what to expect from the prepainted miniatures in the set. They are well sculpted plastic figures, painted in a utilitarian fashion. The figures won’t win any painting awards, but they certainly pass muster for use on the gaming table. One pleasing attention to detail was the use of unifying color schemes. The humanoids in each force look like they come from a company with Cormyr bedecked royally in purple and gold, and Lloth’s host garbbed in black, blue, and mauve.
One criticism that can be leveled against these sets is that the majority of the figures in each have already been released in one form or another. I don’t feel this is a deal-breaker for me because the large monsters and more powerful figures were more difficult to get so I generally only have one or two of them (if any at all), and I can always use more basic warrior miniatures of all races and classes. However, if you have an incredibly deep collection, this could be a problem for you.
The Dungeon Command game is a nice mixture of previous iterations of the skirmish miniature game, 4E, and some mechanics from Magic: The Gathering. “MTG? Really?!?!” You state incredulously. Well… yes, and they work magnificently! However, let me detail the basics before we get into that.
At it’s core, the goal of Dungeon Command is to reduce your opponent’s forces morale to zero, before your opponent reduces your morale pool. Your primary method for doing so is by having your creatures attack and kill your opponents creatures. Who are you? Well, interestingly for a miniature game, you are not present on the battlefield, as there are no command figures. You are instead represented by a Commander Card. Commander Cards hold all the vital information about your commander. The size of their Creature and Order Card hands, their morale and leadership trackers, and their special ability. Each set comes with two Commander Cards to chose from, and the commander you select can radically change the strategy you implement.
You begin play by creating the board. I really wish that each game came with a whole board, but so long as you and your opponent have a set it’s not a problem. You then place treasure tokens randomly on treasure token spaces. These tokens when revealed, can be collected to regain morale throughout play. Each player draws a hand of Creature and Order Cards. After determining who will deploy first each player takes their turns starting with the player who deployed first. The turn sequence looks like this:
Creature Cards are played using your commanders leadership. Each turn you can deploy a number of levels worth of new creatures equal to your leadership, during your Deploy phase. Every turn your leadership increases by one and you will find that you have deployed all your creatures by turn three or four.
Creatures can move up to their speed and make Standard, Minor, and Immediate actions (terms familiar to those who have played 4E). The Standard action you will usually take is to attack either in melee or at range, but picking up treasure and activating certain other abilities are also standard actions. Minor actions are quick and can be done any time in a creature’s activation. Immediate actions are generally in response to a trigger and can happen outside your turn sequence.
So where does the Magic come in? Well, you’ll notice that sets of Dungeon Command do not contain any dice. The reason is you don’t need any. When a creature takes a standard or immediate action it “taps.” You turn the card sideways to show it has activated and cannot make that type of action again this turn. This adds some interesting tactics as firstly, you know that an attack you make will hit (barring a surprise from an Order Card). Also, if a creature has an immediate ability, you can bait them to use it with a fodder creature and then commit with a more powerful threat once that ability is wasted.
The second ability co-opted from MTG is “the stack.” Any time an action would take place it goes on the stack, allowing any other players to respond to it. If no one responds the action occurs. However, if someone responds their action goes on top of the stack and the process begins again. Once everyone has chosen whether or not to respond, each action on the stack goes off starting with the last response. (Check out Mike Eaton’s article on the stack for a more detailed description.)
Responses will usually come from the Order Cards. These cards allow you to do anything from more damage on an attack, to shifting damage to an allied miniature, to moving without being locked in combat. These are very slick in design and implementation. Each card has a level and an ability. A creature can use the card if it is equal or greater its level and has the appropriate stat. These can really change the game state and saved my bacon multiple times in our demonstration games.
The downside to all these card mechanics is that you will have cards laid out everywhere. It’s a minor gripe, but this game takes up a lot of room, even when you are only playing with one other person. That said, all these cards make tracking the action easier, so there is a benefit to using all that space.
Other mechanics are pretty standard WotC fair. Movement is by squares and can be hindered by difficult terrain. Line of sight is measured from the corners of one miniature’s square to its target’s square and can be obstructed by cover and other enemy miniatures. Cowering allows you to save a model by taking a hit to your morale equal to the damage total divided by 10, but I found the hit to morale was almost always too great to justify it.
The last thing that is important to mention is that Dungeon Command box sets are a “triple duty” product. You can play the skirmish game as intended, and you will have a great time. You can also use the miniatures to play D&D or any other fantasy game that benefits from miniatures. Lastly, and one of the coolest features in the box is the addition of cards that make these miniatures usable with the D&D Adventure System board games. Cormyr features tons of allies, while Lolth adds a lot of new monsters to fight. Either way, this was an extremely thoughtful addition that rewards customer loyalty to the product.
+ high quality components
+ two diverse forces that play differently
+ modular board pieces
+ solid, high quality miniatures
+ great mix of tactical game play with enough randomness to keep it interesting
+ no blind purchase
– requires a larger than expected amount of space
– reused artwork
– most sculpts are rereleases (a negative for those with very deep collections)
– lack of customizability (for now)
Heart of Cormyr and Sting of Lolth are two great box sets which will hopefully set the tone for more excellent products to come. Wizards has already announced two more box sets in the series, and I’m looking forward to seeing what they will have to offer. Players who enjoy skirmish gaming with a minimal time investment, enjoy prepainted miniatures, or who are already deeply invested in the D&D product line will enjoy this versatile product. You can purchase each Dungeon Command set from your friendly local game store at the suggested retail price of $39.99.