After Hours

Geek Gifts 2012: Dungeons & Dragons Legend of Drizzt board game

If a board game version of Diablo sounds fun to you, Dungeons & Dragons Legend of Drizzt might be worth a look.

I'm a longtime Dungeons & Dragons player. I started with the blue cover, Red Dragon Basic D & D set that came with chits back in the late 70s, and I played the second basic and red-box advanced rules, as well as the hard-cover AD&D rules. My 10-year-old daughter expressed interest in playing D&D, and after some research, I decided that a new generation D&D board game might be the perfect way to introduce her to the world of paper-based fantasy role playing games. Dungeons & Dragons Legend of Drizzt board game seemed like a good place to start.

Product details

  • Product: Dungeons & Dragons Legend of Drizzt board game
  • Manufacturer: Wizards of the Coast
  • Price: $64.99 SRLP ($39.95 at Amazon.com)
  • What comes in the massive box: Rulebook, Adventure Book, 52 various game tokens, 56 dungeon tiles, 2 decks of adventure cards, 40 detailed plastic mini-figures, a single d20, and more.
  • Recommended Age: 12 and up

Photo credit: Donovan Colbert

Game play

The Legend of Drizzt isn't a dungeon crawl, it is a dungeon run. Instead of exploring a dank, dark, musty cavern, you feel like you're running through an underworld Grand Central station where monsters are bumping up against one another trying to get a shot at your heroes. The rules are designed this way, and they're initially vague and difficult to follow.

For example, the title character, Drizzt, has a move of 7. Every turn you can move twice, attack then move, or move then attack. Drizzt has the special ability to have an extra attack, so we can assume he has a little more flexibility here, but that isn't detailed in the rules. Regardless, a single tile is less than 7 squares across, and Drizzt has the ability to move 14 squares (more than two tiles) every movement turn.

Once you move to an "unexplored edge" of a single tile, you place a new tile, and you move into the "exploration phase" (regardless of whether you've used up all your moves or attacks), and your unused moves and attacks are gone. Once the tile is placed, you draw a monster card and place it. If the tile has a black triangle on it instead of a white triangle, you play an encounter card too, and then the monster takes its action, which is generally moving adjacent to the nearest character and attacking him. Did you follow this? Every time you reach an edge, your turn ends, you draw a monster, and the monster attacks you, and if you're really unlucky, you get an encounter card too (which is generally a lava vent burning you or trap immobilizing you). If you don't move to the unexplored edge of a tile on your turn, you play an encounter card anyway. Imagine a dungeon where every corner guaranteed an encounter and possibly an event like a trap, and if you just sat still, every turn you didn't move guaranteed another encounter.

The rolls required to hit are generally high on a D20, so be prepared to do a lot of missing. Miss, don't move, attack on your next turn, and you're going to get attacked in the next round by the monster you're engaged with, and then you'll have to pull an encounter card because you didn't move. Or miss, run, find an unexplored edge, and you're going to have to draw a new tile, a new monster, the old monster you ran from will probably auto-magically appear right next to you on its next move (seriously, the cards direct you to things like, "on the villain phase this monster moves adjacent to the nearest player within 1 tile and attacks with a million poison stings"); if you drew a tile with a black square, you'll play an encounter card and have the new monster attack you too. If that sounds convoluted, wait until you go through the 3 phases of a turn yourself.

Photo credit: Donovan Colbert

I went to the official website and posted on the Wizards of the Coast's forums asking for clarification about the rules and then watched walk-through videos on YouTube. (The video is a Ravenloft example, but the game play sequence is the same for all three titles in the D&D board game series.) The rules are unbelievable until you realize this is really how they expect the game to be played. Every 10 feet of dungeon, you're guaranteed another monster, and most likely an additional encounter too. It can be too complex and overwhelming for casual players and too simple and busy for more experienced players. In short, this is a game that begs for house rules.

(Caveats: I've only played the solo adventure and one adventure with my wife and daughter. My wife is not a gamer, and my daughter is younger than the recommended playing age.)

What I like

  • The quality of the game is superb. The components, graphics, and pieces are all very well done.
  • The rules are easier for casual gamers to pick up than a real FRP.
  • It's a nice break from traditional board games.
  • It seems quicker to play than one game of Monopoly or Risk but longer than a game of Life.

Photo credit: Donovan Colbert

What I don't like

  • It takes a while to set up the game.
  • The game play for encounters, monsters, and other events is too hectic. It feels more like a board game version of Diablo or Gauntlet than Dungeons & Dragons.
  • Encounter cards feel random and arbitrary.
  • The rules are confusing and incomplete even for an experienced FRP gamer.

Geek bottom line

The 1980s D&D and The Dark Tower board games had their problems, but most of them found the balance between risk and reward. Legend of Drizzt seems all risk with very little reward -- it's as if the game was designed by a nightmare DM who doesn't understand that most players do not respond well to constant adversity without some sort of carrot. In most adventures in Legend of Drizzt, if even one player-character dies, you lose the adventure. I'd like to see less emphasis on constant action and more of a focus on exploration.

Experienced D&D players might find Legend of Drizzt a little difficult to grasp in the beginning, and should know not to expect methodical dungeon exploring or a lot of complexity in the nature of combat or encounters.

Legend of Drizzt feels more like an arcade oriented hack-and-slash adventure than traditional D&D, but that may not be so bad depending on your fellow players. If I got a few buddies over who are used to video game hack-and-slash titles, I might be able to get them into this goard game.

Even though Legend of Drizzt is a somewhat expensive introduction to D&D style FRP table-top gaming, I'd still rather play it than a traditional board game.

Geek Gift Score (out of 5)

  • Fun factor: ***
  • Geek factor: ****
  • Value: *** 1/2
  • Overall: ***

About

Donovan Colbert has over 16 years of experience in the IT Industry. He's worked in help-desk, enterprise software support, systems administration and engineering, IT management, and is a regular contributor for TechRepublic. Currently, his profession...

6 comments
dcolbert
dcolbert

As you can tell from the picture - you need a large play area for this game, really. It is probably best to play on a floor that has no obstructions in a large empty room - but a nice sized table will do. You may notice in the pictures, we played in our daily dining room and had to bust out the table extension - and even then, it was somewhat cramped quarters. It is a sprawling game, in play - and the game-board builds itself somewhat like Dominoes, so you never quite know which direction the board is going to grow in.

dcolbert
dcolbert

After the review was written and published, I played a game with my wife and two other adults over drinks. This game was the most entertaining yet - although two of us "got" the game (rules, flow and sequence) more than the other two. It still had a very hack and slash Diablo/Gauntlet quality to the game play, but it was relatively entertaining. I should note that these two new players had no previous non-computer FRP game experience. I don't think the experience would bump my review up significantly - but it does illustrate that in the right atmosphere, this is a passingly entertaining game to spend some time playing. The rules still could use some significant refinement - and I'd like to see a stronger emphasis placed on exploration and discovery and less on combat and adversity.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

Hm... isn't that a contradiction in terms? After all, arbitrary is "one picked from a selection of equally valid choices", and random means "one picked without deliberation or evaluation".

dcolbert
dcolbert

I've considered creating an initiative roll rule for combat - roll two d20 and high roll gets initiative in the "villain" segment of your turn if you had unused attacks during your exploration segment, for example. The problem is that many monsters have only 1 HP, which is probably why this rule doesn't exist by default. You may end up dispatching most monsters before they get a shot at you. Maybe any monster with more than a certain amount of HP should invoke the initiative roll. Another rule that might help is that when engaged with a monster, if you miss and forfeit your moves to attack the monster on your next turn, you do not have to draw an encounter card at the end of your exploration phase on your next turn. With a little tweaking of the rules, I think this could be a far more engaging game - and I haven't cracked into the advanced rules and card deck yet. Judging by the tokens and cards - I think that the more advanced adventures in the booklet may bring a little more complexity to the game including treasure tokens placed throughout caverns and monster encounters that are pre-determined at the beginning of game play. Have you played this or any of the other D&D board games? Do you share my opinions? Did you come up with any house rules or other modifiers to change the flow of the game play? I'd love to hear your feedback.

dcolbert
dcolbert

I just noticed that my Chain Mail Polyhedral dice bag ended up in one of the pictures above. For the sake of clarity that isn't included with the game - you can pick it up from Think Geek for $9.99. It is like a dice bag-of-holding, expanding to swallow multiple sets of poly-dice and enough d6 to satisfy a high level wizard intent on an Orcish BBQ. Dice not included. http://www.thinkgeek.com/geektoys/games/d562/?srp=1

dcolbert
dcolbert

The encounters are arbitrary. There is no rhyme nor reason to why a monster is encountered in a particular area - no reference to where it is encountered - no relevance to location or atmosphere or other trigger. This is not normal for a traditional D&D campaign, in general. You go into an underground hall and find the skeletal remains of a group of dwarves with goblin and orc arrows still in their chain mail and your magic sword that detects goblins and orcs starts glowing blue - and then you run into other underground denizens that aren't inappropriate - but seem... well... arbitrary. Random - as in... scattered here and there completely by happenstance, again, with no rhyme or reason. There is a CLASS of encounter in D&D called a RANDOM encounter that basically IS this - and it IS arbitrary (you roll a random die to determine if an encounter takes place - you roll another dice to arbitrarily pick the monster encountered from a list of valid possibilities - but it doesn't really matter WHAT creature you encounter). Hope that helps clarify your confusion about my choice of words, there and what it means in relation to how the game plays.

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