The first three or four times I had a conversation about this game, I had to figure out that we were not talking about the computer game contemporary of Doom. Nope, this is a board game. An old fashioned, dice-rolling, moving pieces around on cardboard kinda game. And, when I say pieces, I don’t mean just onesy-twosy like if you’re playing Chutes and Ladders. This is a game that makes Risk plus Stratego look like Sorry. Seriously, I went to Wallyworld and bought a fishing tacklebox (yes, that one) when I bought this game so that I’d be able to keep everything sorted.
Surprisingly, the sheer number of tokens ceased to be intimidating the second I started playing the game. I had tokens to keep track of my hit points, tokens to keep track of my stamina points, tokens to keep track of what I was doing, and tokens to keep track of my inventory. Instead of there being too many to keep track of, they become devices to make the game move much more quickly than if the group was using pencil and paper like the old days. That’s all the tokens are: physical representations of things that, once upon a time, you’d have to write down. The realization that they make the game less complicated rather than more complicated is a huge relief to your players (because they won’t believe you when you tell them… but they’ll get it in fewer than 5 turns).
Which brings us to the plastic monsters: The plastic monsters are *AWESOME*. There are skeletons with bows, beastmen, hellhounds, nagas, giants, demons, and dragons. Additionally, the map pieces are built like puzzle pieces so you can easily put together a map (either one of the pre-planned ones from the game or build one on the fly). On top of *THAT*, the map and creature pieces are *PERFECT* for 3rd and 4th edition D&D. You can build the map for the players as they explore, easily calculate line of sight, and figure out range with no hassle.
As for the gameplay itself, it is a game of the Dungeon Master *AGAINST* the players. The players have a definite goal as they play (generally it’s to kill the big bad boss of the dungeon) and the DM has a definite goal of killing the players. There are very specific rules for both sides of the table… the DM can’t just smash the players and the players are limited in movement/killing ability so that they can’t automatically winnow through all of the DM’s monsters. There has to be a lot of tactical play on both sides. Given that the DM gets his options drawn from a deck, and given that there are 20ish characters for the players to choose from, it’s easy to say that you’ll never play the same game twice.
The characters range from melee (they do the most damage but have to stand next to what they’re hitting) to archers (who have absolutely insane range but don’t do a whole lot of damage) to magic (who do more damage than archers but have about half of their range). Additionally, there are characters who have some mixture of melee and archery, melee and magic, and magic and archery (or all three… but I find those characters get spread a little thin). Each character also gets three “skills” based on his or her abilities (magic characters tend to get magic skills, for example) each of which is granted randomly (or according to house rules, I suppose) and range from simple (like additional armor against certain attacks or additional damage when using ranged weapons) to complex (familiars or “necromancy” or the like) making even the characters you play different from game to game.
The DM, as previously stated, gets his attacks from a deck, so s/he may start off with a handful of creatures, or with a handful of traps, or with a handful of (expensive!) long-term dungeon effects (traps do more damage, creatures get stronger). So the DM can attack the players head on with wave after wave of monsters… or can make them really regret opening that oh-so-tempting door or chest.
Combat is done by, hurray!, dice-rolling. There are dice that are unique to the game and, much like the tokens, these make things easier. They tell you whether you botched the roll (1 out of 6 chance for that), how much range you got, how much damage you did, and there are little “surges” on certain faces of the die that give you different potential to do different things depending on your weapon (melee tends to trade surges for damage, bows trade surges for range or, more expensively, damage, magic tends to trade surges for damage or, more expensively, range).
This game is a hoot to play and the only problem is that it’s pricey (and you have to buy a tacklebox for it on top of that price) but, once you start, you’ll find yourself thinking about expansions and, eventually, the “Road To Legends” kit that turns the game from a one-night 2-4 hour game into a storyline week after week epic.
If you miss tabletop gaming, this is a great way to get back into play (and, hey, you don’t *NEED* a tacklebox… you can get by with half a box of ziploc bags… it’s just that the tacklebox makes everything so much neater).
So that’s my recommendation for you this week.