Published on January 13th, 2014 | by Luke Turpeinen2
Top 5 Dungeons and Dragons Board Games
As someone who writes about board games, I’m used to answering questions about games or offering recommendations to people looking for a new game. When I find that I have strong opinions on a certain topic or know of a lot of games that might suit someone’s needs I make a Top 5 article to put all of those thoughts together.
Recently I’ve been asked what the best “D&D games” on the market are. I choose to interpret this as not strictly meaning Dungeons & Dragons the brand as much as “high fantasy adventure in Medieval not-Europe.” After much discussion, these are the five games that I feel are truly the best at being D&D board games.
Super Dungeon Explore: The Forgotten King
Super Dungeon Explore is basically the love child of a tactics RPG, like D&D 4th Edition, and the video game Gauntlet. There are three tiles that represent different rooms of a dungeon, and within each of those rooms is a physical marker called a Spawn Point. These spawn points poop out dudes for you to fight throughout the game, until you destroy the spawn point. Destroying a spawn point summons a mini-boss, who drops a key to a treasure chest- unless it’s the last spawn point of the board in which case it summons the final boss. Kill the final boss and you win!
I have always liked the chibi anime style of the characters in Super Dungeon Explore. I get tired of so much serious business in my fantasy all of the time, and I appreciate it when a company gets art for their game that is fun and has bright colors. Super Dungeon Explore is cartoony but that does not take away their attention to detail in the art. Similarly, the minis that Soda Pop Miniatures makes for the game are extremely high quality. Half of me wants to get every set so I can paint the minis that come with it for use in other fantasy roleplaying.
Super Dungeon Explore: The Forgotten King Component List:
52 Pre-Assembled Plastic Models · 6 Fully Illustrated, Double-Sided, Dungeon Tiles · 150+ Full Color Game Cards · 150+ Full Color Tokens · 32-page Classic Mode Rulebook · 32-page Arcade Mode Rulebook · 16-page Explorer’s Handbook
Conquest of Nerath
Wizards of the Coast has really been stepping up its D&D license board games over the last several years. One of the first games to come out of this new focus on brand/product diversity was Conquest of Nerath, a tie-in to the setting of the then-current D&D 4th Edition. Nerath was known as the “implied setting” of 4th Edition, as there was never a formal setting book or campaign guide. Instead, adventures and monster manuals gradually revealed a new world of D&D over the course of the product line- starting with Nentir Vale in the Dungeon Master’s Guide corebook.
Conquest of Nerath took this new lore and these new countries, stitched it all together, filled in a lot of holes and then added references to all of the classic D&D dungeons. In the game you play of four factions that were important in the 4th Edition adventure lines: the good human faction, the bad human faction, the elves and the hobgoblins. The mechanics of each of the factions are mostly the same, but where you start on the board and your turn order are determined by which faction you choose.
Truth be told, Conquest of Nerath is mostly Axis & Allies with a Dungeons & Dragons paint job. You buy units and take over territory, laughing as you pillage the other players’ homesteads. What makes Conquest of Nerath different is that you have access to spell or event cards that are themed to your faction and can have really drastic effects (or be almost worthless, it’s a bit random). There are also special Dungeon spaces where you can send heroes to adventure for victory points.
Conquest of Nerath Component List
Rulebook · Dice · Game board · 80 Event Cards (20 per faction) · 30 Treasure cards · 252 plastic playing pieces.
Talisman is probably the most well known fantasy board game on the market. It was originally published in 1983 by Games Workshop, where its second edition gained a huge amount of popularity. After the disastrous reception of it’s third edition, where the game was changed to exist in the Warhammer Fantasy setting, the license eventually came around to Fantasy Flight Games. The game is currently in its Revised Fourth Edition and is still occasionally getting expansions (the last one was September 2014). These expansions vary in size and complexity, and you can read my opinion on all of them here.
What makes Talisman engaging for many people is exactly what turns many others off of it. The main mechanic is a roll-and-move, then encounter the space game- exactly the kind of game many of us would have made in high school. Each player has a character with unique stats, with archetypes that are as thematic and close knit as the Gladiator, the Barmaid, the Ogre and the Leprechaun. While the theme of the game is fairly nonsensical, and the mechanics are bloated and the expansions make everything much more complicated and fiddly, there is a certain charm to it all.
Talisman Fourth Edition Component List
1 Large 6-fold Game Board · Revised 4th Edition Rulebook · 14 Character Cards · 14 plastic character figures · 104 Adventure Cards · 24 Spell Cards · 28 Purchase Cards · 4 Talisman Cards · 4 Toad Cards · 1 plastic toad figure · 4 Alignment Cards · 6 Six-sided Dice · 120 (40 each) Strength, Craft, Life Counters · 8 large and 32 small plastic cones · 36 Fate Tokens · 30 Gold Coins
D&D Adventure System Cooperative Play
The Castle Ravenloft Board Game, and subsequent releases using the same rule set, are Wizards of the Coast’s newest addition to the dungeon crawling sub-genre of adventure games. Published in 2010, WotC incorporated many ideas from the Fourth Edition of Dungeons & Dragons into the game, mostly turn structure and game mechanic terminology.
Unlike many other games of this genre Castle Ravenloft, and the Drizzt and Ashardalon games that followed, were completely cooperative and did not require a player play the dungeon inhabitants. It achieved this by using interlocking pieces as the dungeon map. When exploring, you would draw the top tile in the random tile deck and place it connected to the rest of the board. Monster cards all followed certain patterns of attack and had what turns out to be very simple but effective “A.I.” for lack of a better term. This makes playing Castle Ravenloft an easier sell to a group because one person doesn’t have to do a play a totally different game than everyone else.
The first game in the Cooperative Play series is named after the old AD&D scenario Ravenloft and involves invading the castle of Count Strahd von Zarovich, a vampire, a count and Totally Not Dracula. The setting is pretty much about as serious or as loyal to the fiction that spawned it as Castlevannia, but if you’re okay with psuedo-victorian horror mixed with dragon people in full plate mail then you’ll like this.
The second game in the series, the Wrath of Ashardalon, revolves around taking out the minions of the eponymous elder red dragon and eventually the old beast himself. The third game was a tie into the very popular Drizzt Do’Urden novels by fantasy author R.A. Salvatore and included people and scenarios important to that storyline. Interestingly, all of the games have the same amount of components and the rules are all 100% compatible with each other. This means that if you want to switch the dragon people out of your Ravenloft set and give them to the more high fantasy sets it’s very simple to do so.
D&D Adventure System Cooperative Play Component List
42 plastic heroes and monsters · 13 sheets of interlocking cardstock dungeon tiles · 200 encounter cards and treasure cards · Rulebook Scenario book · 20-sided die
If you were to take Dungeons & Dragons and smash it together at high speeds with Magic the Gathering, Dungeon Command would be the game that came out of the mix. Dungeon Command is a tactical skirmish game published by Wizards of the Coast set in a D&D world that uses an interesting action mechanic and scaling rules that are inspired, in part, by Magic.
Dungeon Command is successful because it took the best parts of combat from D&D’s Fourth Edition and simplified it, while it also took the idea of “mana ramp” and timing rules from Magic the Gathering and incorporated it seamlessly into the experience. When it comes to streamlined fantasy battle games, there really isn’t anything else comparable to it in quality.
The game is published exclusively in pre-configured army boxes that correspond to the various factions available for play. Conveniently, units from various factions may be mixed together as much as one chooses, and the balancing systems in place ensure that matches are not one-sided affairs.
Each unit has Keywords and Stats labelled on them that help players understand which units work well together. Keywords tend to be things such as: Humanoid, Beast, Undead, Adventurer, etc. these traits are usually interacted with by effects stating things like “All adventurers get X until the end of turn.” Stats, on the other hand, are the primarily abilities that the unit is good at. These are tied to the action cards that units can play, the special abilities that let units break the normal rules of the game.
A unit must have the stat associated with the action, as well a a high enough level to be able to preform that action. What makes this fun is that each faction has about two stats that they specialize in, but there is some overlap between factions which makes mixing the factions easy and painless.
Dungeon Command Component List
Tuck box with tray • 16-page rulebook • 12 non-random pre-painted plastic miniatures (2 Large, 10 Medium) • 12 Creature cards • 1 Commander card • 36 Order cards • 4 interlocking, die-cut, card stock terrain tiles • 12 Monster cards designed for use in D&D Adventure System Cooperative Play games