Dungeon Command Heart of Cormyr – A Written Review
Review #38 – For All Your Board Game News and Reviews Visit 2D6.org!
Dungeon Command: Heart of Cormyr By Chris Dupuis, Peter Lee, Kevin Tatroe, and Rodney Thompson – Art By Kerem Beyit, Daarken, Jason Engle, Dan Scott, and Ben Wootten – Published By Wizards of the Coast
Aliszandra stared down her nose at the pathetic male standing before her, barely paying attention to his rambling about the ‘possible dangers in the cave ahead’. She was a chosen high priestess of Lolth she cared little for a few insignificant surface dwelling humans spotted heading for the same cavernous complex. The visions from her goddess were telling her untold riches would be found in the ancient abandoned Duergar city and if some filthy humans would happen to get in her way, so be it… they would make tantalizing sacrifices to Lolth. Aliszandra’s delicate hand moved faster than the naked eye could see backhanding the drow male and sending him sprawling to the ground where he lay stunned from the unexpected blow. “SILENCE!” she hissed between clenched teeth her patience obviously worn thin. “Take your miserable hide, the drider, and a few spiders and bring me those humans!” Her voice then turned soft as she added “Alive I might add, I could use a few… play things to entertain the rest of us this evening”.
Valnar held his hand up to his compatriots as he signaled for silence. Caverns were always treacherous and sound had an odd way to travel but unless his ears deceived him that last muffled sound was a grunt of pain. Rhynseera had warned him this abandoned dark dwarven city was bound to be guarded by ‘something’ she just couldn’t scry exactly what that ‘something’ was. No treasure was worth losing his life or the life of his loyal guards over. Valnar quietly motions for the War Wizard and the Dwarven Cleric to take point while the Dragon Knight and Human Ranger cautiously advance deeper into the complex…
* * * * * * *
Dungeon Command, is a small scale fantasy based skirmish level tactical miniatures game for 2-4 players that uses pre-built or custom war bands. The game is played on double sided interlocking battlefield tiles representing a “Dungeon” or an “Outdoor scene” that is placed before the game starts to form the battlefield. The Battlefield Tiles come in 2 sizes, 4×8 and 8×8 square grids used for determining movement and range. Each team has a “Morale Level” based on the General chosen to lead the war band (usually in the low to mid teens), Morale can be raised by finding the treasures placed on the board before the game starts or playing order cards and Morale can be lost by losing units or having units “Cower”. When a player loses all their Morale or ends their turn without a unit on the battlefield the game is over and a winner is declared.
In a unique twist, the game does not use dice, instead opting for one time use “Command Cards” that grant your units additional abilities such as extra attacks, dodges, ripostes and the ability to move across the board. Don’t panic though while it sounds weird at first Dungeon Command has done an amazing job mixing Magic: The Gathering with the fantastic game Dungeon Twister to create a memorable game play experience.
What’s In The Box
Dungeon Command comes in an 11.5”x9”x3” clamshell design box that includes a fantastic molded insert that holds all the games components in a nice clean manner.
The first thing about the game box that might gain your attention (besides the more unique clamshell design) is the decision to use thin cardstock for the box itself. While at first the collector in me frowned upon this, my more environmental side realized that the molded insert was more than durable enough to hold the box shape even when stacked on the game shelf, and I am actually happy about the less wasteful choice.
The molded box insert does a fantastic job of holding all the miniatures in place and there are compartments for the tokens and cards (with the card compartment large enough to snuggly hold the cards even after sleeving them).
12 prepainted plastic miniatures
1 Full Color Rulebook
1 Molded Storage tray
2 large double-sided battlefield tiles
2 small double-sided battlefield tiles
2 Commander Cards
- 12 Creature cards (one for each miniature)
- 36 Order cards
- 12 D&D Adventure System Board Game Cards
68 Die-Cut Pieces:
- 30 Damage tokens
- 6 Treasure Chest markers
- 12 Treasure tokens
- 4 Morale and Leadership markers
- 8 Creature identification tokens
- 8 Miniature identification tokens
All of this gaming goodness can be yours for $39.99 but of course some astute crystal ball scrying could save you a few Waterdhavian Gold Dragons.
Battlefield Tiles: Dungeon Command is played on a game board made up of interlocking tiles. Each tile is double sided with one side representing a dungeon complex and the other representing an outdoor area. The tiles are thick, full color, and actually contain extra graphical flourishes such as cave entrances, magical circles, skeletons, walls of brambles and more. The tiles loosely interlock with each other and are also cut to match the Dungeons and Dragons Adventure System Board Game tiles allowing them to be fully interchangeable. If only more companies had this kind of interchangeability thinking. One minor note though and I believe this might be limited to a batch from the factory, my tiles from Sting of Lolth are still pristine after numerous plays, yet the tiles from Heart of Cormyr have an ever so slight warp to them. For the most part it is hardly a bother and honestly it is only noticeable where the tiles interlock creating an ever so slight lip where the tiles interlock. The tiles are designed to be placed in various different layouts creating different game boards each time you play.
Die-Cut Pieces: The cardboard tokens are made out of thick durable cardboard. The art is a nice touch and the numbers on the tokens are very large and easily legible. There are also some nice extra touches for example the 50 points of damage and the 10 points of damage tokens are different sizes easily making them distinguishable at a glance. The chest markers and treasure tokens use a different font again aiding in easy identification. Nice touches all around and good design decisions.
Cards: The cards are very nice. Anyone who complained about the more reserved use of art in the Adventure System games will be more than happy with these cards. Each card has full color artwork that I believe is actually original artwork. All of the artwork is very thematic and matches their respective faction very well; Drow cards show spiders/spider webs and a general darkness matching that evil race while Heart of Cormyr cards depict more “heroic” surface dwelling action. The cards are separated into 2 different decks with each deck having a different back which again assists in easy clean up at the end of a game. The cards themselves use a nice easy to read font on top of a nicely contrasting background and occasionally include some nice thematic text and even quotes from the “Generals” the players will be playing. One additional very nice touch is a small image of the miniature that goes with the creature card in the lower right hand corner making it very easy to learn which card goes with which miniature during the first couple early learning games. The cardstock on the cards appears to be in the middle range, not the thickest I have ever seen in a game, but definitely not as paper thin as some games I own. I would put them at just ever so slightly thinner than your average current market Collectible Card Game. Since these cards are not shuffled often (generally only once per game) you really don’t need to sleeve these cards unless it is just something you are inclined to do. After a dozen plays the cards are still holding up very well without any signs of wear or tear. As a final note, the cards are numbered and have a set symbol on them should you choose to customize your war bands yet occasionally want to play with the original prepackaged war band.
Commander Cards: Each faction pack comes with 2 unique Commander Cards with different statistics and special abilities. These cards are made of the same card stock as the game box, have full color artwork depicting the commander, easily legible game play information, and they each include minor game mechanic reminders on them reducing reliance on repeatedly returning to the rule book when trying to learn the game.
Miniatures: Each Dungeon Command faction pack comes with 12 pre-painted soft plastic miniatures. The sculpts are fairly well made with some embellishments like insignias, armor details, and the units name on the bottom of the base. As stated the plastic used is the softer malleable plastic which adds to the longevity of the miniatures where you will have little fear of swords or staves breaking. The downside to the softer plastic though is that while the sculpts are nice they do not hold the finer details that the harder plastics and metals can.
The paint jobs are pretty decent about on par with a “Dip Method” paint job. A hobby painter could (and easily can if so inclined) paint better but honestly the paint jobs are a nice touch and sometimes it is nice to just open up a game, toss the components onto the table, and just start playing. I am more than happy with the included paint jobs because I know I can easily pull out my paints and spruce them up quite easily; I most likely will eventually do so when I start building war bands to keep units from the same faction controlled by different players more distinct. The miniatures are the same scale as used in the Dungeons and Dragons Role playing game and the Adventure System games making them 100% interchangeable.
Rulebook: The rulebook contains 15 full color pages and includes game play examples using actual game play, a table of contents, and even a turn summary on the back page. The rulebook does a fantastic job of breaking down the components including a full page allotted just to describing the cards themselves (not that they are difficult to understand mind you). The rulebook is made out of standard paper though so expect it to tear easily if you are not careful. Aside from the use of standard paper though the rulebook is very nice and lays out the game rules very well in a logical easy to follow manner. The final page of the rule book includes directions on 3 or 4 player free for all or team based games and rules on building your own war bands from scratch.
Components and Presentation Verdict: 9.0/10 – Overall the components are really nicely done in Dungeon Command. The figures are painted, the cards have nice artwork, and even the Battlefield Tiles are nice to look at with additional artistic flourishes. Aside from the fact that the Battlefield Tiles interlock very loosely and the ever so slight warping of the tiles I cannot find anything about the components to complain about.
How Does It Play?
Dungeon Command is a small scale skirmish level war game where each player takes control of a small fantasy war band that will slowly grow in power as the game rounds pass. Players will gain treasures and fight the opponent but the eventual goal is to either remove all your opponents units from the board or drop their Morale to zero or lower forcing them to retreat from the battlefield. Morale is gained by finding treasures but lost by having your units defeated. On a players turn they will Move all their units and usually perform only one action but Order Cards let players occasionally do other things such as attack multiple times, move units on the board, heal allies, and even prevent damage. After moving, players will have the opportunity to add more allies to the battlefield if their Commander has enough Leadership to control the additional forces. Players must use resources wisely though for each Order Card can only be used once and Creatures removed from the battlefield do not come back.
Can you lead your War Band to victory or will they suffer crushing and humiliating defeat at the hands of your enemies!
Before I break down the game components there are a few mechanics that need to be explained:
Tapping: If you have played Magic: The Gathering this mechanic should be very familiar to you. Many games actually use the mechanic but refer to it as “Exhausting”, “Rotating”, or even “Bowing” cards. Tapping is a simple mechanic used to signify when an action has been performed and is represented by turning the activating card sideways 90 degrees. Many actions require a creature to be “Un-Tapped” to perform and in turn “Tap” the creature after the action is performed. All creatures controlled by the active player are Untapped at the beginning and again at the end of the active players turn.
Standard, Minor, and Immediate Actions
Every single Order Card is classified as a Standard, Minor, or Immediate Action.
Standard: Most actions are standard, often an attack of some sort. A creature you control can take a standard action only during your Activate phase and only during that creature’s activation. Taking a standard action taps the acting creature. Each Creatures basic melee and/or ranged attack is also classified as a Standard Action.
Minor: These represent quick actions, such as drawing a hidden blade, drinking a potion, or setting up for an attack. A creature you control can take minor actions at any time during its activation, whether it’s untapped or tapped. There’s no limit to the number of minor actions a creature can take during its activation.
Immediate: Immediate actions are usually responses to other actions. They can be played on any player’s turn. Taking an immediate action taps the acting creature.
Creature Card: The creature cards (and hence the creatures themselves) are the heart of Dungeon Command. Each miniature you control will have a matching Creature Card (even if you have multiple similar miniatures they each need a matching card in your creature deck). Each Creature Card is broken down as follows – The upper left hand corner will list the Creatures Level which denotes what Order Cards that Creature Can use. For instance a Level 6 Creature like this Copper Dragon can use any Order Card of level 6 or under (but miniatures can assist each other to temporarily raise their current level to use higher level Order Cards). Underneath the Creatures level will be one (or more) statistics which will be very familiar to anyone who has played Dungeons and Dragons. They are Strength (STR), Dexterity (DEX), Intelligence (INT), Constitution (CON), Wisdom (WIS), and Charisma (CHA). As with level, Order cards have a matching statistic for example the Copper Dragon has the statistics of STR and INT, so a Copper Dragon can use any Order Card level 6 or under that uses Strength or Intelligence. So while the Copper Dragon could use Fireball (level 3 INT) it could not use Quick Shot (Level 1 DEX). Next under the Creatures Statistics is a Sword in a circle (melee attack) and possibly a Bow and arrow in a circle (ranged attack). Next to each symbol is how much damage that creature does every time it attacks and is not blocked by an order card (range is next to the listed damage for ranged attacks). Creatures always do the exact same damage and always hit for that listed damage unless modified by Order Cards played by the attacker and/or defender. The upper right hand corner lists how many Hit Points the Creature has (all damage and hence Hit Points in Dungeon Command so far is listed in multiples of 10). The very bottom of the Creature lists the Creatures Speed (how many squares the creature can move on its turn). The rest of the card is dedicated to any possible special abilities the creature might have and under its name will be some keywords that interact with Order Cards. There are also colored symbols on the bottom left of the card that are used if you plan to play a 2 player game using only 1 faction box.
Damage Tokens: Damage tokens are placed on Creature Cards to represent damage taken and come in 10 and 50 point values (there are more than enough included with the game).
Order Cards: If Creature Cards are the heart of Dungeon Command then the Order Cards are the soul of the game! Order Cards come in 3 varieties each with their type listed under the cards name. Those varieties are Minor, Standard, and Immediate matching the 3 Action Types. The upper left hand corner matches Creature Cards listing the level of the Order Card and the matching Statistic (STR, DEX, INT, etc). Below the artwork is listed what effect the card has when played and any possible requirements for playing the Order Card. Like Creature cards the lower left hand corner has a colored symbol used when playing 2 player using only 1 faction deck.
Treasure Chest Markers: Each faction pack comes with 6 Treasure Chest Markers and 12 Treasure Chest Tokens. The Treasure Chest Markers are numbered 1-3 on one side and are randomly placed face down on the Battlefield, when a Miniature lands on a Treasure Chest it is flipped over and replaced with a number of Treasure Chest Tokens. As a Standard Action a Creature can claim one of the Tokens if they are on that space, doing so raises that teams Morale by one point.
Commander Card: The Commanders are the leaders of the war bands and are not represented by a miniature on the Battlefield. Each Commander has a unique special ability, a Creature Hand Value (how many Creature Cards they keep in hand), Starting Order Hand (how many Order Cards they draw at the beginning of the game), Morale (lose all your Morale and you lose the game), and finally Leadership (how many Total Levels of Creatures they can control on the Battlefield at once). Of all the statistics on a Commander Card, Leadership is one that deserves special mention. Your leadership determines how many units you can have on the Battlefield at any time. To total Level (found on the upper left hand corner of every Creature Card) of all Creatures you control on the Battlefield cannot surpass your Leadership Score. For example if you have a Leadership of 7 you could have a level 6 and a level 1 Creature out or 3 level 2 Creatures and a level 1 Creature. Your Leadership Score raises 1 point on every one of your turns though so you will slowly be adding more (or more powerful) creatures to the Battlefield (dead Creatures DO NOT count towards your Leadership, only living Creatures do).
Setup is pretty quick and easy:
Set up the Battlefield.
Place Treasure Chest markers in their respective spots on the board.
Choose your Commander.
Shuffle Your Order and Creature Card Decks separately.
Place the markers at the starting point of the Morale and Leadership Tracks on your Commander Card.
Draw your starting Order Hand.
Draw your Creature Hand and deploy Creatures onto the Battlefield whose total levels are equal to or less than your Leadership Score.
Draw Creature Cards to refill your Creature Hand.
You are now ready to begin playing!
Rulebook Turn Summary.
A turn is divided into four phases, which must be taken in the following order.
1. Refresh: Resolve start-of-turn effects, un-tap your creatures to ready them for action, and draw 1 Order card.
2. Activate: Activate your creatures, one at a time, in any order you choose.
3. Deploy: Increase Leadership by 1 and place new creatures on the battlefield.
4. Cleanup: Resolve end-of-turn effects, draw back up to your Creature hand size, and un-tap your creatures to allow them to respond to enemy actions.
The most important thing to remember is that your Creatures Un-tap at the beginning AND end of your turn so they can play Immediate Order Cards on other players turns. It is important to remember especially in a 3 or 4 player game they only Un-tap on their controllers turn NOT every players turn.
Each Miniature can move its speed on its turn even if it is Tapped and moving does not Tap a miniature.
The game also includes rules for Multiple Order Cards (last in first out), terrain (those pretty graphics on the battlefield can actually occasionally impede and/or hurt creatures), Special movement (flying, burrowing, shifting, etc), adjacent enemy miniatures impeding movement, assisting (to use Order Cards on lower level Creatures), Line of Sight and Cover/Dodging, and even Cowering (a mechanic where instead of taking damage a Commander can sacrifice Morale to save a Creature… the catch is if you lose all your Morale you lose the game making it something to use very sparingly).
The game ends immediately when any player’s Morale reaches 0 or below. Also, if any player ends his or her turn with no creatures on the battlefield, the game ends at that point. The player with the highest Morale is the winner. (However, you cannot win if you caused the game to end because you had no creatures on the battlefield.) If several players are tied for Morale, then the winner is the player with the most total Levels of creatures on the battlefield. If there is still a tie, the game ends in a draw.
A sample game might look something like this:
It is a few turns into a 2 player gaming using only 1 faction pack. It is Rhynseera’s turn and she currently controls an Elf Archer, Dwarf Cleric, and Human Ranger totaling 6 levels (out of her current 10 Leadership leaving 4 points unspent). Valnar controls an Elf Archer, Dwarven Defender, and an Earth Guardian which are all quickly closing in on Rhynseera’s forces. Rhynseera un-Taps all her Creatures and draws an Order Card getting “Behind Enemy Lines” – Immediately deploy 1 Adventurer (keyword under a Creatures name) in an opponents start zone. Rhynseera plays the card to bring a “War Wizard” (level 4 60hit points, for a total of 10 levels of creatures on the board which is not over her current Leadership score) onto Valnar’s starting zone. Since Behind Enemy Lines is a Minor Action the War Wizard can still move and perform an action! The War Wizard moves 6 spaces to line up with the Earth Guardian and is well within the 10 space range of his Ranged Attack. The War Wizard Taps and targets the Earth Guardian for 30 damage. Valnar responds by playing “Recoil” – Prevent 30 damage and 1 opponent draws an Order Card. The Earth Guardian is now Tapped but undamaged and Rhynseera’s turn continues after she draws an Order Card. Next Rhynseera plays “Quick Shot” – Minor Action DEX based so the War Wizard cannot use it but the Elven Archer can, targeting the now Tapped Earth Guardian who takes 10 points of damage. Next the Elf Archer Taps for another 10 damage to the Tapped Earth Guardian for a total of 20 damage (leaving it with 70 hit points. The Human Ranger charges into the fray targets the Earth Guardian (who at this point is getting whittled down slowly but surely) and plays “Power Attack” – Add +20 to a melee attack dealing a total of 30 more damage to the now very angry Earth Guardian who has now suffered 50 damage. Unfortunately for Valnar his Elf Archer was adjacent to the Earth Guardian who now suffers the wrath of the Human Rangers “Flashing Blades” special power, slaying the Elf Ranger and reducing Valnar’s Morale by 1 point down to 9.
Rhynseera is a devious one and uses the Human Ranger to play the minor action “Shove Aside” – move 1 creature up to 3 squares. Rhynseera grins at Valnar as she slides the Earth Guardian into some Brambles (a space on the board that injures any Creature that enters it for 10 damage), the Earth Guardian now only has 30 of its 90 hit points left. Next Rhynseera plays “Heroic Surge” – unTap an Adventurer (keyword),targets the War Wizard to unTap it, and then Taps the War Wizard to hit the beleaguered Earth Guardian for 30 ranged damage slaying the beast (Valnar could have chosen to Cower at this point but isn’t comfortable with his current Morale level and is holding a Dragon in his hand itching to enter the fight). Valnar lowers his Morale another 4 points (for the death of the Earth Guardian) leaving him with only 5 points of Morale left over! Rhynseera ends her Activate Phase by grabbing a Treasure Chest with her Dwarf Cleric and raises her Morale 1 point to 9.
Rhynseera’s Deploy Phase begins and she raises her Leadership 1 point but doesn’t have enough Leadership to add any Creatures to the Battlefield. Finally Rhynseera performs her Cleanup Phase, making sure to unTap all her Creatures, and then ends her turn.
It’s now time for Valnar to even the score some using Level Up, Cleave, and a VERY hungry Copper Dragon…
Simplicity Of The Rules: 8.75/10 – I must admit that I have been playing Dungeons and Dragons in its various incarnations since the mid 1980’s and up through 4th edition so the rules really did click for me (they do after all pay homage to the 4th Edition Rules). Movement, shifting, assisting, even the statistics seemed like old hat to me. Having said that I can see some of the concepts taking a game or 2 to get all of them down without forgetting some minor details for example stopping movement any time you are adjacent to an enemy unless you have a card or power (shifting) that states otherwise. Speaking of cards they might cause the greatest confusion due to one rule “Any rule on a card trumps the rules in the rulebook”. Overall though after a game or 2 the rules are really easy to remember and play.
Daddy Why’s This Guy Got A Sword In His Belly?
As a father of 2 future board gamers, a large concern of mine is how secure am I in letting my eldest son play and or rummage through a game box. Granted, BGG and board games themselves very clearly tell you a minimum age, they don’t tell you exactly why that minimum age was chosen. My hope is to arbitrarily tell you why I think this age range was chosen for this game and then hopefully give a few ideas I might have for a game to make it easier on the young ones. Finally I will close with what seems to be the “sweet spot” for number of players and if the game has solo rules I’ll comment on those too.
Dungeon Command lists as a card based miniatures game for 2-4 players (as long as you have enough faction packs) ages 12+. It requires hand management, Action Point allowance, and strategy to play well. The artwork is very high fantasy including dwarves, elves, mythical beasts, and some violence such as the Elf Archer cutting an organ out of a Dragon. The artwork isn’t blatantly gory or anything along those lines but it does depict violence such as a half-orc impaling a drow with his sword, a Halfling with some bloody weapons from a few keen strikes, and what could be best described as a Paladin engaged in battle with a winged netherbeast. The artwork is very well done and the image usually covers about 2/5ths of the card so it will be very hard to hide it from younger eyes. The game itself can be on the slightly more complex side requiring proper timing, minor mathematics, and future turn planning and strategizing to get the greatest advantage you can from played cards.
All this is just to say you will probably want to keep the game in the 10+ crowd and keep it away from younger board game geeks. Again the game isn’t overly intentionally being dark or gory it is just high fantasy and it comes with those typical clichés.
Family Friendliness Verdict: 7.0/10 – The game can make a great family game for families with kids approaching the teen years especially with its scalable player count and customization of war bands increasing replay value. This isn’t Heroquest though and there really isn’t a way to sanitize it for younger eyes without gutting the core system. If you are looking for a game to play with the 7 year olds stick with the Adventure System games for now.
For all the potential complexity of the game it actually plays pretty quickly with your average 2 player game (after set up, etc.) clocking in at about 30-45 minutes tops. Even a 4 player game (using only 2 faction packs, sorry I don’t have a 4th faction pack yet to test with each player using a full faction pack) can end in 60 minutes or less (45 minutes still being more common to be honest). The game also does a fantastic job of scaling well with 2, 3, or even 4 players and while 3 player games would occasionally lead to preying on the weak (if you are leading in Morale it is best to kill whichever player has the least Morale to bring the game to an end and gain victory). A 4 player game mitigates this slightly though making this game best with 2 or 4 players depending on your group’s bloodthirstiness, yet I would not turn down a 3 player game if one was offered.
* Great looking game components including pre-painted miniatures
* Great potential for expandability especially with future faction packs and customizable war bands
* Fairly quick playing skirmish level game
* Fairly logical rules that are easy to grasp after a game or two
* Cowering mechanics (while I didn’t cover them in great detail they add a certain level of strategy to the game)
* Powerful card combo’s but I have yet to find an unbeatable strategy
* 14 plays and it still feels balanced
* 2 sided Battlefield board offering game variety (and I like the environmental hazards on the Battlefield board)
* Morale mechanics making the game more strategic versus just blowing up all your opponents miniatures
* Does a fantastic job of doing away with dice
* The 2 current Factions play differently
* Some very minor warping issues with the Heart of Cormyr set (not present in the Sting of Lolth box so this might be a rare issue that will go away)
* The longevity of the game will hinge on how balanced future faction packs are (I doubt they will drop the ball here but they will need to avoid the Games Workshop model of Faction packs)
* First time players might want to create a printout listing all available actions so players don’t forget (Cowering, Dodge Rules, Sliding, Miniatures stopping movement if you start a turn next to an enemy, Line of sight/Dodging, Tapping actions versus none Tapping Actions) Hopefully future faction packs will come with a summary card
* Some of those powerful card combos are deadly if you do not have a counter for them – Killing Strike does 100 damage which will outright slay 90% of the Creatures in either Faction box
* Diceless playing might turn some players off
* The randomness of your starting forces might be a negative for some
But Is It Fun?
Wizards has done an admirable job creating a skirmish level game that is strategic, customizable, and plays with 2-4 players. The components are well made using thick cardstock, painted miniatures, fantastic artwork on the cards/double sided Battlefield, and even the insert is made extremely well and holds all the games components. There is some great potential for expandability and customization in this game. Faction packs can be mixed and matched to create war bands, there are at least 4 faction packs we know of and I am sure there will be a 5th announced within the next 6 months. The 2 faction packs so far play differently but feel balanced; Cormyr relies on slow moving, heavy hitting, damage absorbing, turtling forces and Sting of Lolth brings fast moving (the Drider can move up to 12 spaces with the right Commander), hit and run, hard to hit (Uncanny dodge can stop any one hit no matter how much damage it does – Yes even Killing blow), Creatures and Order cards. I have yet to see a blowout victory between the 2 faction packs and that really says a lot about the games balance so far. It will be interesting to see how future customized war bands keep the balance though, while I don’t foresee anything obnoxiously unbalancing yet I am leery of some combinations (War Wizards, Dwarf Clerics, Heroic Surge, and Fireballs seems interesting…). Time will tell if customized factions will continue to be balanced and if they fail to be I am sure house rules or just pre-built factions will still provide balance and entertainment.
The game plays quickly for what it is, my original concern was that it would be a 2 hour game (much like Dungeon Twister). I was pleasantly surprised when I noticed games taking 30 minutes on average to complete. I also like the interaction of the Order Cards and the bluffing they can create. Do I risk hitting a creature with Killing Blow when I see my opponent has a couple Order Cards in hand (especially if playing against Sting of Lolth)? Do I hit them with a small attack and hope they Tap so then I can lay into them with a heavy hitter later? There is definitely planning that goes into your actions.
I really like the inclusion of the Cowering rules they add a bit of a gamble to your strategies that you really appreciate after a few plays. Do I cower and hope I can get a few treasures to make up for the lost Morale? Do I let my Creature die knowing that my Creature reserves are finite and run out eventually (used Creature and Order Cards are NOT shuffled back into a draw deck when all your cards are gone)? I think the Morale rules do a great job of preventing the game from becoming a long boring slog, knowing I can lose not because I am out of creatures but because a few of my really powerful monsters were destroyed really makes me consider my moves and the possible ramifications of sacrificing a Creature. The Order cards do a great job of adding variety and strategy to the game. I really do not miss rolling dice in this game and honestly think dice would have detracted from the game. Also the Order Cards provided with the 2 factions really counteract each other well, a Dragon Knight using Killing Strike on the surface may seem too powerful, yet Uncanny Dodge stops it dead in its tracks. I actually love the “Bluffing” that can be created from the order cards. If your opponent has cards in their hand then they have the potential to mess up your plans… or do they? You just don’t know what cards they have in their hand. You really need to be strategic with your use of Order Cards, even when on the defensive, and tossing out cards without rhyme or reason will lead to a quick defeat.
As a faction “Heroes of Cormyr” plays as a slow moving very defensive faction with high Hit Point Creatures (up to 120 hit points), the ability to heal damage/prevent damage, and as of now the best ranged DPS in the form of the War Mage. “Heart of Cormyr” also possesses some powerful Order cards such as; “Killing Strike” which is able to do 100 hit points of damage. “Heroic Surge” which allows a Creature to un-Tap, and “Fireball” which will make an adversary regret bunching up their Creatures. The downside to the faction though is their slow movement with some units like the dwarves possessing a movement of five and some units with a high level making them slow to bring out and extremely painful on the Morale level to lose.
There are a few caveats to the game system though. The game is playable with 2 players with only a single faction pack but it really doesn’t do the game justice. It is almost akin to playing Dominion with the same basic 10 cards every time you play, fun at first but eventually you will long for the full potential you know the game possesses.
You will want 2 faction packs to create more varied and larger Battlefield layouts using more Creatures per side and more Order Cards. Granted the game is a good value at $40 per faction pack it is basically an $80 minimum investment to really get the most out of the game. Eventually you will want to customize your factions but as of now that requires the purchase of a 2nd or even a 3rd copy of a faction pack even if you own a chest full of miniatures. Order Cards are not sold separately and I hope Wizards of the Coast corrects this oversight. Your average player will need 2 faction packs for the Battlefields but beyond that they would really only need a pack of Order and Creature cards to really get into customization.
The overall longevity of Dungeon Command will hinge on future faction packs. Wizards will have to work hard to avoid the perils of faction bloat, where each new faction is more powerful than the last (I don’t see it happening but it would be detrimental to the overall game experience). So far the balance is there, if they can keep the factions interchangeable and balanced they will definitely have a winner on their hands.
There is some randomness to the game, from random starting order cards to random starting creatures, occasionally you might get a starting hand that is not optimal for the strategy you want to play. Strategy plays more of a role in the game than luck of the draw though and luck of the draw has yet to cause any landslide losses. To be honest though I like games that offer a little randomness and would have enjoyed Dungeon Command less if it used the same starting Creature and Order cards every time you play.
The game does have quite a few rules that could have used a few summary cards for those first early learning games. Granted after a couple games this isn’t as much of an issue and the rules become easy enough to remember. Finally there is no getting around the diceless gameplay I personally like it and think the Order Cards are a fantastic alternative to the randomness dice create but I can appreciate that some people just crave the randomness of dice in their games. I would say give the game a try before you make a final opinion about the diceless game play, the game just might surprise you.
Overall Final Game Verdict: 8.75/10 Dungeon Command is a fun skirmish level game with customizability, strategic decisions, and a great fantasy theme. Wizards of the Coast is really continuing to surprise me with some fantastic game designs lately and Dungeon Command is no different. I do hope they eventually release the Creature and Order cards for separate purchase, between Heroscape and the Adventure System Games, I have more than enough plastic to field customized war bands but not enough cards. I am looking forward to future faction packs and would like to humbly put in my vote now for an elemental faction.
Cross promotions are a wonderful thing and Dungeon Command definitely stepped up to the plate here. Ignoring the fact that the miniatures are fully compatible with the Dungeons and Dragons role playing game Wizards of the Coast also added cards making all these miniatures fully compatible with the Adventure System Board Games. Heart of Cormyr comes with cards to add Allies to your adventuring party
Allies come into play when drawn as an Event Card from the Event Deck
There are also cards to add 2 new monsters to the game and oppose your intrepid heroes.
All of these cards are compatible with all 3 Adventure System games and add a little bit of variety.
The tiles from Dungeon Command are about 95% compatible with the Adventure System tiles allowing you to either create a larger Battlefield for Dungeon Command or alternately the Dungeon Command tiles can be used as a “Final Battle Room” for the Adventure System games. The only minor issue I had is that the double sized tiles from the Adventure System “Legend of Drizzt” do not line up perfectly with the large Battlefield tiles from Dungeon Command. The single sized tiles all connected quite easily though (as you can see from the included photo).
Michael V K
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