Dungeon Command Offers D&D Enjoyment Without the Dice

Geek Culture

Image courtesy Wizards of the Coast

What’s a tabletop adventurer to do when dungeoneering’s got him down? Dice rolls aren’t going his way and it’s just one boring goblin after another. One option is the new Dungeon Command games from Dungeons and Dragons. These fast-paced, constantly changing games are both incredibly fun and intensely satisfying … and they’re unlike any D&D game you’ve ever played in the past.

Dungeon Command is available in three titles right now — Sting of Lolth and Heart of Cormyr and the recently released Tyranny of Goblins. Two more, Curse of Undeath and Blood of Gruumsh, are due in the coming months. Each of these titles is referred to as a faction pack and the games are meant to be combined with one another.

In fact, after bringing home a box, you may be surprised to learn that a complete game requires a second box. You can still play a 2-player game with a single box, but to experience the game as it is meant to be played, a second faction pack is needed.

To play a game against an opponent, each player opens his faction pack and builds a battlefield by alternating placement of dungeon tiles. (For detail on what’s in each box, check out John Baichtal’s unboxing post.) Next, treasure is positioned and each player selects one leader from his two commander cards.

Each leader has a power that can be used for advantage, a couple of card limits and two important statistics – morale and leadership. The morale number is the equivalent your faction’s hit points. When this number hits zero, your game is over. The leadership number dictates how many creatures you can have in play.

With your leadership number in mind, you assemble your initial attackers. Each creature card has a level assigned to it. By adding the level number of all the creatures you want to begin with, you must keep that total at (or below) your commander’s leadership number.

Each player also draws order cards equal to their hand limit, as dictated by the commander card. Order cards are special powers that can be assigned to creatures and encompass everything from attack bonuses to immediate interrupts. All order cards have level and ability requirements for their use.

With the battlefield constructed and the armies set, it’s time for battle.

Turns are built from four separate phases. During the initial, refresh phase, a player resolves any start-of-turn effects, most of which will be dictated by order cards. Next any tapped creatures are untapped and the current player draws one order card.

Next, each creature enters battle. This is called the activate phase and is the meat of the game. Movement is dictated by creature speed, noted on each creature’s card. For the most part, standard D&D movement rules apply. Creatures can shift, but there is no talk of opportunity attacks. If you begin your turn adjacent to an enemy, you may move away, but your speed is reduced to one.

Also in the activate phase, you can play order cards on your (or your opponent’s) creatures. Some of these effects are ongoing, others are not. While the order cards require certain level and abilities, your creatures can team up to assist each other in implementing an order by combining their levels to satisfy the order requirement.

Image by Dave Banks

During this phase, creatures can attack their enemies with melee or ranged attacks. This part differs from traditional D&D in a huge way. Instead of rolling a d20, as long as your creature is adjacent to an enemy (or satisfies a ranged or other attack requirement), the attack hits and it deals full damage every time.

You’re not totally vulnerable though. Rather than, say, take a fist to the face from a feral troll, the recipient can cower. By tapping a creature’s card, instead of taking the damage, the faction’s morale is docked a number equal to the expected damage, divided by 10. But beware, morale points are tough to come by and when you lose them all, the game is done.

When a creature is hit, you pile damage tokens on the creature’s card and, when the damage tokens equal or exceed that creature’s hit points, it dies. The creature is removed from the game and the commander loses morale equal to that creature’s level.

In the third phase, the commander gains a leadership point and adds creatures to the battle, if possible. Creatures are added by the same rules followed at the beginning of the game.

Finally, in the fourth phase, end-of-turn effects are resolved, tapped creatures are untapped, and players draw back up to the creature hand limit. If you have no creatures in play at the end of your turn, you automatically lose.

There are some other rules beyond these basics, but not many. If you’re familiar with D&D rules, the game is a breeze to learn and even easier to play. If not, you’ll still be up to speed and having fun in a very short time. While a game can last upwards of an hour and a half, it never feels like it because action borders on frenetic, making for a very enjoyable experience.

No matter how much fun it is, it’s not without a few complaints. Compared to other board games from Dungeons & Dragons, Dungeon Command doesn’t feel like you get as much for your money. Each faction costs about half of the price of D&D Adventure System games like Castle Ravenloft and Legend of Drizzt, yet you get less than half the minis, dungeon tiles, and cardboard bits. Maybe it’s just that the box is flimsy, but it doesn’t seem like as good of a deal. Another lament is that you can’t really play with just one faction pack, driving up your cost unless you can convince a friend or your children to buy their own.

Still, Dungeon Command is a heck of a lot of fun. With the order cards and wide option of minis, gameplay feels very fluid, moving very fast, while still maintaining an incredibly well balanced feel. The concept is a refreshing change from traditional combat rules, especially if you’ve ever had a day when the dice just had it out for you. (Or is that just me?)

It’s a bloody game, with creatures disappearing from the board almost as quickly as they appeared. Don’t get too attached to any one! Interestingly, this quick pace and rapid combat results in plenty of room for strategy. Will you deploy your bigger creatures right away or wait for the end game? Using order cards results in an experience that is never the same twice. Should you charge in and mix it up melee style or hang back with ranged attackers — or will the terrain even allow for ranged attacks?

There are plenty of options and choices to be made and, given how mush fun can be had in a game, you’ll have plenty of opportunity to try out lots of different strategies. If you’re looking for a change from the same old RPG or want to try a unique and enjoyable board game, give one of the Dungeon Command games a try.


Disclosure: GeekDad received a review copy of this game.

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