Parties of Adventurers Skirmish in ‘Dungeons & Dragons: Onslaught’

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Dungeons & Dragons has been around for nearly 50 years. Introduced first in 1974, the game grew in popularity during the 1980s and saw a resurgence in the last decade. While it began as a role playing game, it has been licensed and converted into a variety of different products including movies, video games, and several types of tabletop games including card games and worker placement games. Now players can focus on combat skirmishes between adventure parties in Dungeons & Dragons: Onslaught.

What Is Dungeons & Dragons: Onslaught?

Dungeons & Dragons: Onslaught is a competitive skirmish game for 2 players, ages 14 and up, and takes about 90 minutes to play. Each player takes control of a party of adventurers and fights against not only the opposing party but monsters who attack everyone. It’s currently available from your FLGS or online retailers such as Amazon with a suggested retail price of $139.99 for a copy of the game.

Dungeons & Dragons: Onslaught was designed by Nicholas Yu and Travis Severance and published by WizKids, with graphic design by Richard Dadisman and art by Gong Studios.

Dungeons & Dragons: Onslaught Components

Here is what you get in the game box:

  • 21 Fully-Painted Miniatures
  • 1 Double-Sided Game Board
  • 4 Twenty-Sided Dice
  • 16 Dial Cards
  • 26 Standard Cards
  • 44 Mini Cards
  • 71 Tokens
  • 1 token Bag
  • 14 Terrain Elements
  • 1 Rule Book
  • 1 Scenario Guide
  • 4 Plastic Standees
Harper faction
The characters of the Harper faction. Photo by Michael Knight.

One of the two factions included in the game, the Harpers are an organization dedicated to preserving history and balance between civilization and nature. This organization is skilled in employing area control, supportive abilities, and teamwork to turn the tide of battle. 

Zhentarium faction
The characters of the Zhentarim faction. Photo by Michael Knight.

The second faction in the game, the Zhentarim are a mercenary company full of self-serving assassins, warriors, and spellcasters. These mercenaries use cunning tricks and powerful abilities to overcome their opponents and achieve objectives.

monsters
The monsters come in all sizes from the small Kobolds to the giant Young Black Dragon. Photo by Michael Knight.

In addition to fighting against each other, the factions must also battle against monsters. The core includes Kobolds, Gnolls, a Trolll, an Ettin, and even a Young Black Dragon. 

dial cards
A monster dial cards and a character dial card. Photo by Michael Knight.

Dial cards contain all of the information needed for each character and monster. They also use dials to keep track of important stats such as health, speed, and armor as well as cool-downs for special abilities and effects. 

monster cards
Cards for the monsters without dials. Photo by Michael Knight.

The monster cards provide information about the monsters that do not have their own dial cards. 

initiative cards
Examples of the Initiative cards. Photo by Michael Knight.

The initiative cards are used determine the order in which characters and monsters take their turns. Player initiative cards are always whole numbers while monster initiatives cards have numbers between the player cards such as 1.5, 2.5, and so forth. 

level up cards
Players gain a new ability or increase their stats when they level up. Photo by Michael Knight.

Each of the 12 characters have two specific level up cards. During a game, when a character gains enough experience points so that dial shows the level up symbol, the player can choose one of the two level up cards for that character. Some of these cards are active throughout the rest of the game while some can only be used once and are then exhausted. 

item cards
Items cards match loot tokens and can be obtained by looting treasure chests. Photo by Michael Knight.

The 20 item cards are used to represent items the players discover during a game. They can be weapons or equipment used by the characters or things that are integral to the current scenario such as keys. Some have passive abilities while others are used once and then exhausted. 

map
One side of the double-sided map. Photo by Michael Knight.

The game comes with a double-sided map that folds out in one piece so you don’t have to worry about parts of the map sliding apart from each other. 

tokens
Some of the tokens from the game. Photo by Michael Knight.

Dungeons & Dragons: Onslaught includes many different tokens that are used for loot, treasure, conditions, and much more. There are also 14 terrain elements which can be placed on the map as called out in scenarios to represent doors, barriers, control points, portals, and end zones. 

How to Play Dungeons & Dragons: Onslaught

The Goal

The goal of the game is to defeat all of your opponents characters and earn victory points. 

Setup

At the start, players choose which faction they will play as. They then choose five characters from their faction, each with a different role. Players place the character cards, level up cards, and character tokens in front of them. The map for the chosen scenario is placed in the middle of the play area. Each player sets their characters’ battle wheels on their character cards to their maximum hit points and each of the cooldown dials to the ready symbol. Players then place their character miniatures onto the map according to the scenario instructions. The tracker card is placed near the map and the round counter on it set to 1.

Next the monsters are prepared. Following the directions in the scenario, the monster miniatures and monster cards are collected. Dials are set accordingly and the monster miniatures are placed on the map as indicated in the scenario. The monster initiative cards are placed next to the monster cards. Chest tokens and other tokens and/or terrain features are placed on the map. The loot is prepared as directed. Item cards for that scenario are set aside and the designated loot tokens are placed in the token bag. Unless stated otherwise in the scenario, players each roll two dice and compare their highest results. The winner chooses which player gets the initiative 1 card and becomes the active player at the start. You are now ready to begin the game.

setup
A skirmish all setup and ready to play. Photo by Michael Knight.

Gameplay

Dungeons & Dragons: Onslaught is played over a series of rounds, usually consisting of 8 rounds unless otherwise stated in the scenario. Each round is divided into three phases: initiative, action, and end phases. Let’s take a look at each phase in turn. 

Initiative Phase

During this phase, players determine the order in which characters activate over the course of the current game round. The active player, which was chosen during setup, shuffles initiative cards 2-6 and then randomly deals three cards to their opponent and two cards to themselves. Next the active player shuffles the 7-10 initiative cards and deals two cards to each player. Now the active player chooses one of their character cards and places the initiative 1 cards on it face up. The players then secretly assign the remaining initiative cards by placing one facedown on each of the other character cards. 

Action Phase

Characters and monsters activate during this phase in the order of their initiative cards beginning with 1. When a character activates, the player who controls it can perform actions with it and upon completion of the actions, remove all fading conditions which were not assigned during the current activation. A character can perform one standard action, 1 move action, 1 bonus action, and any number of free actions for its activation. Attacks are usually standard actions. A character can forgo a standard action to take an additional move action and standard and move actions can be changed to additional bonus actions. 

attack
Grabbleshanks attacks the Gnoll with his Shortbow ranged attack. He rolls a 20, a critical hit, and inflicts a total of 4 damage. Photo by Michael Knight.

For a move action, the player looks at the character’s speed on its battle wheel and gain a number of move points equal to its speed. Characters must move orthogonally and not diagonally. It usually costs one move point to move one space. Moving into a space with hindering terrain or one elevation higher costs two move points. Characters cannot move onto or through blocking terrain. 

Each character can one or more basic attacks listed at the top of their character card. They may also have one or two abilities with cooldown dials at the bottom of their card which act as attacks. Attacks often count as standard actions, but a few may cost both a standard and move action. To make an attack, the controlling player chooses one of the characters attacks. If the attack has a cooldown dial, rotate the dial one space counter-clockwise. Now choose one or more targets that are in range and line of sight (not behind blocking terrain, enemy miniatures, or elevated terrain). A melee attack must be against an target adjacent to the character. The target can be diagonally or orthogonally adjacent. Ranged attacks are usually against targets 2 or more spaces away. Next it is determined if the target is in cover. This means that the target is partially blocked by blocking, hindering, or elevated terrain or enemy miniatures. Now the player rolls two dice (only one die if the target has cover). The player chooses the highest number rolled, adds any modifiers such as attack modifiers, and then compares the result against the target’s armor class. If the final number is greater or equal to the armor value, then the target is hit. The target suffers damage equal to the damage value of the attack and their battle wheel is reduced accordingly. Defeated monsters are removed from the map while defeated characters have their miniature removed and replaced with their defeated character token. If during an attack, an unmodified or natural 20 is rolled, it automatically succeeds and a critical bonus is applied as listed on the character card. If a natural 1 is rolled and the other dice is not a natural 20, then the roll automatically fails, even if the other die would have been a noncritical success. 

looting treasure
Bedlam loots a treasure chest and finds the Flametongue sword. Photo by Michael Knight.

Some characters have other actions they can take as well. These may include healing themselves or other characters. These have cooldown dials and may have range requirements. When healing, rotate the battle wheel of the target to increase its hit points. Healing cannot raise the hit points above the character’s maximum nor can it be used on a defeated character. Each character also has a reaction ability which are performed in response to a specific trigger. Often it is when an adjacent enemy moves away from the character. These can only be performed if the reaction cooldown dial is set to ready. 

Monsters activate according to their monster initiative card. If there are more than one monster of that type that activates, the one closest to the northwest corner of the map goes first. The scenario usually describes what a monster does during its activation. Normally it will move towards the closest character. In case of a tie, the non-active player chooses. It will then attack the closest target. In case of a tie, the active player’s character is chosen as the target or the non-active player chooses if there is still more than one possible target. The attack process follows the same steps as a character attack, but the player whose character is not being attacked rolls for the monster. After one monster of a group is finished with its activation, then activate the next until all have activated. 

Gnoll attack
A Gnoll attacks Lightning-Dancer and gets a hit, inflicting 3 damage. Photo by Michael Knight.

End Phase

Once all characters and monsters have activated in their turn, the end phase begins and players prepare for the next round. First any effects that trigger at the end of the round are resolved, starting with the active player. Next reduce each cooldown dial by one unless they show either a ready or exhausted symbol. Advance the round counter on the tracker card. Finally, the active player passes the initiative 1 card to the other player who will be the active player for the next round. 

Game End

The game ends when all of one player’s characters are defeated which results in a victory for the other player. Otherwise it ends at the end of 8 rounds (or number of rounds specified by the scenario). Players add up their victory points which are earned according to the scenario and the player with the most victory points is the winner. 

Dungeons & Dragons: Onslaught is GeekDad Approved!

Why You Should Play Dungeons & Dragons: Onslaught

Dungeons & Dragons: Onslaught is a great game in its own right, without even considering the fact that it it themed around an popular intellectual property. First off, the components are of good quality. The map is a thick gameboard and not just a fold out paper map. With two sides, you have two different areas in which to skirmish. The cards and tokens are of good stock and the 21 pre-painted miniatures look great. I like how on the bottom of their base they also include the name of the character and faction or the name of the monster to help ensure players are using the correct miniature. However, I think, the dial cards are a wonderful way to keep track of changing stats. Each character and the more powerful monsters each have their own dial card. The monster dial cards are double sided so they can be used for two different versions of each monster. What I really like about the character dial cards is that they have all the information about the character that you need without having to use counters or tokens. Not only does one dial keep track of the characters speed, armor, and health, the other dials keep track of experience and cool-downs for abilities. This helps maintain the feel of the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game with lots of options for characters while keeping things simple for a skirmish so players can focus on the fight rather than record keeping. At first, all the icons and symbols listed next to each ability or attack can seem confusing, so the inclusion of reference cards really helps new players. 

Another feature of Dungeons & Dragons: Onslaught that I really like is how quick you can get into a game. There are seven scenarios that form a campaign and provide all the details you need to setup these games. There are also three types of skirmishes: Deathmatch, Contention, and Capture. These are even quicker to set up. With the exception of the first scenario, where the setup instructions tell players which three characters they each get to use, players will select five characters from the six in their faction. There are no points to calculate for balancing, they just pick five. Each of the characters in a faction have their own unique role: vanguard, healer, melee damage, ranged damage, tactician, or hybrid. Therefore, players can choose the five characters based on their roles to fit the scenario or skirmish. This concept solves one of the time-consuming parts of setting up most skirmish games by eliminating the need to calculate points for each side and it does it well. 

counter attack
Bedlam is attacked by a Gnoll and takes 3 damage. However she uses her Hellish Rebuke reaction and inflicts 3 damage back at the Gnoll. Photo by Michael Knight.

When it comes to gameplay, Dungeons & Dragons: Onslaught has a lot going for itself. The initiative system works great. While the initiative 1 card changes between players each round, the rest of the initiative cards are randomized. By dividing up the initiative deck into two parts and then dealing each independently, one player does not end up with being able to using all their characters at the start. This keeps the turn orders more balanced. Plus I like that players can then assign their initiative cards to their characters as they want. This provides some strategy to the game as players plan ahead what their characters will do. It is also nice to know where in the round the monsters will activate. You may want to try to defeat a monster before it activates, or run away from a monster before it attacks. I also really like the way actions are divided up so that each character gets one standard, one move, one bonus, and unlimited free actions. Plus the ability to downgrade a standard to either a move or bonus action, or downgrade a move to a bonus action provides even more flexibility for the player. For example, if a player wants to get a treasure chest that is farther away than their speed value, they could change their standard action for a move action, then move twice their speed using both move actions, loot the chest with their bonus action, and equip the item they found with a free action. Finally, the unique abilities of each character can provide some interesting tactics. Sedonna Sparklebang is a Harper wizard and not physically strong. By using her Twitch ability, she can move a target one space as a bonus action. This can be handy when an enemy is adjacent to the wizard and may attack her as a reaction when she moves away from them. 

There is a lot of play in the core box for this game. Yet WizKids is ready to add even more with several expansion packs due to release in the next few months. These include two new faction packs: the Red Wizards and the Many Arrows. Each has a complete party of six characters complete with miniatures, dial cards, level up cards, and more. Plus there will be expansion packs for both the Harpers and the Zhentarim, each with four new characters. If that were not enough, there is also a Sellswords expansion with four new characters who act as mercenaries and can join any faction.

Dungeons & Dragons: Onslaught stands on its own as a game. By adding the rich lore and theme of Dungeons & Dragons, this game gets even better. Fans of fantasy combat will enjoy this game. Players of skirmish games will also find a lot to like in it as well whether they are fans of Dungeons & Dragons or not. In fact, a play needs no background or experience with Dungeons & Dragons in order to have a great time playing Dungeons & Dragons: Onslaught. When I first learned of this game, I was excited to try it. Yet I was also apprehensive since there are many poor games out their with a popular theme. I can honestly say that my doubts were unfounded. In fact, while I liked the game just after open the box and reading the rules, I gained an even greater appreciation after I played through a few of the scenarios. The first scenario acts as a tutorial and the scenario guide sets everything up and even walks players through the first round. Though I had read through the rules a couple times, this walkthrough really helped me understand the game better and how players can use the four types of actions to do quite a bit during a round if planned right. I thoroughly enjoyed playing this game and highly recommend Dungeons & Dragons: Onslaught as a great addition to the collections of players who like skirmish games with some depth and story, but don’t have the time or desire for lengthy setups or for painting miniatures. For these many reasons, Dungeons & Dragons: Onslaught is GeekDad Approved!

For more information, visit the Dungeons & Dragons: Onslaught page!

Here is a trailer. 


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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.

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