Published on May 15th, 2013 | by Luke Turpeinen
Dark as a Dungeon
Your word is my command
If you have ever wanted Magic the Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons to have an awesome little game baby, then have I got news for you! Dungeon Command, by Wizards of the Coast, is the design child of the best parts of M:tG and D&D, all in one game.
At its core, Dungeon Command is a tactics battle game much in the same vein as Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition. But where D&D 4th Edition has hundreds of complex rules for power usage, movement restrictions and 5 kinds of actions- Dungeon Command has a simplified tactic system and simplified version of Magic’s mana ramp and card timing for special actions. The system is faster, more thought provoking and more forgiving (without being easy) than any other tactical or strategic board game I’ve ever seen.
Dungeon Command does a lot of things right. It fills a niche that has been waiting to be filled for a long time: fantasy tactics board game. Why is that so hard? We’ve seen the success of many tactics style Japanese console RPGs, so much so that “TRPG” is an entire genre of video games now (with my personal favorite Disgaea 2 as a good example). In the past Dungeons & Dragons has tried to fill this empty spot in our gaming collective, mostly by making their RPGs more and more “board gamey” in recent years, starting with Third Edition, moving through the D&D Minis line, Fourth Edition and the re-vamped Minis game. None of WotC’s previous attempts here truly succeeded, for the same reasons that Dungeon Command does succeed.
Prior games that tried to fill this role have had essentially two problems: 1. The rules are too complicated and/or 2. The games are too hard to buy into. Let’s break this down.
While there has always been a history of wargaming and guys playing with little army dudes, at the tactical level the field has been pretty sparse. Companies like Games Workshop, who make Warhammer Fantasy and Warhammer 40k, deal mostly in strategic war games- their tactic or squad based games tended to die out quickly (Inquisition and Mordheim specifically). More recent minis games like Warmachine and Hordes by Priviteer Press or Infinity by Corvus Belli have focused on smaller groups but the minis involved must be bought individually, are usually metal, expensive and unpainted. In addition, there is usually a 200+ page rule book, additional rules for each faction and special rules for each additional force you include. These things all serve to make games that hardcore fans can really sink their teeth into, but more casual players might have a hard time committing to.
Which is why Dungeon Command is so great- with one box and a simple set of rules you have a game whose buy in is incredibly small, both in the learning-the-rules and on-your-wallet departments. One box is all anyone needs to play a full game. (Editor’s Note: Technically you can play the game with just the contents of one box, the cards come with colored symbols that tell you how to divide the components and there is a section in the rules that tells you the modified set up for a half-game. One box is intended to be one person though.)
Can I say that I really like the packaging of the game? Whoever did the packaging here really deserves an award for design. Seriously, if someone reading this knows of some award out there for excellence in packaging design could you please comment or message me because this stuff is great. The box art is superbly placed, the card art and information layout is perfect. They even put a picture of the mini the card represents in the corner so you don’t have to guess! The interior of the box was not just empty like I thought it would be- each mini gets its own crafted spot in the plastic where it snaps in perfectly without bouncing around. The trays to hold the cards and the cardboard are well placed and everything is snug.
I will say that the minis involved are not of the highest quality. They are the same sculpts as the old D&D minis game and as such are really soft plastic that always comes bent and the paint tends to be a very simple slap-dash job. The cards are also very prone to warping/curling (as you can see in the open box picture up top) and seem to be made of a much lower quality stock than magic cards. When compared to other minis games these pieces are obviously much inferior in quality, but they are also much much cheaper. That counts for a lot here.
The real proof is in the pudding, as they say. And the real pudding is the gameplay. Dungeon Command has you assume the role of a commander (re: Dungeon Command) who summons troops to fight against their foe until the other runs out of life. You have a limited pool of points that you can use to summon your troops, though this pool increases by one every turn. Actions are played by troops themselves according to keywords on their cards.
Every troop can activate on your turn and when it does it can move and use a single “standard action” card as well as any “minor actions” you have compatible cards for. Each unit has a set of keywords that actions are tied to (STR, DEX, CON, etc), as well as a level. Any unit of the appropriate level and keyword can play that action. It’s simple, streamlined, and intuitive. As someone who plays both Magic and D&D casually this was very easy to learn.
Dungeon Command battles are usually very quick paced, assuming people know their creatures, their cards and are comfortable with the rules. I’ve had games drag on a little longer than I’d like, but this has been because the other player was less versed in the set they were using than I.
There are five different Dungeon Command sets out right now: the Good Guys, Evil Elves, Goblins, Orcs, and Undead. Why the designers felt the need to do goblins and orcs separately and before they made tree-people or dwarves, I’ll never be sure. The cool thing about all of this is that if you want to buy more than one set and mix-and-match them, that is a totally feasible thing to do. The only things you really need to consider are the keywords your troops use and which commander will best assist them. We found it very easy to do an impromptu three way draft between Orcs, Goblins and Undead.
Overall this game is fun. If you like tactics games and you don’t want to spend a fortune or dedicate a lot of time to painting or either, then Dungeon Command is worth checking out.