Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Dungeon Game Review - The D&D Fantasy Adventure Game

I know many of my readers really love it when I beat the hell out of a game. For that matter, so do I. It's cathartic to lay into a game with both feet and a crowbar. Plus it's usually funny. When I can compare a game to a lazy whore, or crusted snot, or even retarded children, it saves my kids from a couple nights of painful beatings as I release my pent-up anger over their constant yammering.

(That was a joke. I do not beat my kids. Please do not call Child Protective Services.)

But I can't verbally abuse every game. Sometimes - okay, most of the time - the games I review are at least decent. Sometimes they're very good. And sometimes they are, to borrow a phrase from Jimmy Walker, DINO-MITE!

That last one would be the poorly-named Dungeons & Dragons: The Fantasy Adventure Board Game. I say the game is poorly named because, unlike nearly every other game ever published, this game is very easy to confuse with other games. You've got D&D: Basic. You've got Third Edition (and 3.5, and 4). You've got D&D: Starter. But the real kick in the scrotum about this game is that it totally could have had a different name, because aside from the decorations, this game has more in common with HeroQuest than the reigning emperor-for-life of RPGs. So for the sake of this review, I'm going to call this game the D&D Adventure Game, despite the fact that such a name does almost nothing to distinguish it from all the other games it could be.

So anyway, DINO-MITE. I love the D&D Adventure Game, no matter how unwieldy the title. It's one of my favorite games. I play it a whole hell of a lot more than HeroQuest. It's been a year or so since I broke out HeroQuest; it's been a couple weeks for this one. I mean no disrespect to HeroQuest - that is one magnificent game, and if I didn't have this one, I would play that one. But the D&D Adventure Game is just so damned fun.

You've got four basic characters - Lidda, Mailee, Regdar and Jozan. Aficionados of Third Edition and later will recognize those characters as the example characters from the Player's Handbook. They are a rogue, a wizard, a fighter and a cleric, respectively. And they just love to bust goblin heads and kick bugbear ass. You can't customize these characters for a damn - you get a character card, and it tells you what they carry for weapons and spells and abilities, and you're stuck with 'em. And that's fine, because you don't need to come up with names or anything. This isn't really an RPG, it's a board game. It says so right in the extremely clumsy title.

The dungeon master player is called the dungeon master, because after all, this is D&D. Simplifies a lot that way. And the dungeon master (DM to you and me) has a book full of scenarios, and he lays out the dungeon and tells the characters when they're about to get jumped by monsters. Then he does his level best to beat the unholy bejeezus out of them - and sometimes he pulls it off.

The board is a series of thick card boards that show different layout for dungeon areas. There are lots of dungeon rooms, a couple grassy areas, and even a bridge over burning lava (which almost never gets used, because seriously, how often do you cross a river of molten rock?). A diagram shows the DM where these go, and he lays them out before the game starts. Like the HeroQuest boards, these rooms don't have doors, so the only way to get from one room to the next is when the DM puts a door token on the board. Then the heroes line up at it, open the door, and get ready to rumble.

Before the trigger-happy adventurers can enter a room, the DM sets up the monsters with some really great miniatures. They're not as stylistically brilliant as HeroQuest monsters, but they're made from much sturdier stuff, and the sculpts are still damned good. Better than Dragon Strike, I'll tell you that. And the DM can put the monsters wherever he wants inside the next room, but he has to be careful - there's a good chance all the heroes will be able to take their turns before he can, and if he sets up too close, he could lose his whole team before they get a turn at bat. But if he sets up too far away, he might end up out of range and have to just wave at the heroes and offer them candy if they'll go away.

And the reason the DM doesn't know when it's his turn is because of the excellent initiative mechanic. Because there will always be four adventurers (in the case of less than five players, someone will have to double up), you know there will be five turns. And the DM has a deck with five cards, numbered 1 to 5, which he shuffles and deals. It's so simple, but for some reason so many games keep making us roll dice. Which makes it a lot harder to cheat - and I admit without apology to cheating like a Vegas con-man. See, I usually play with my kids, and even if I act like I really want to kill them and use their ribs for toothpicks, I actually want them to win, so about once a game I deliberately deal myself the five, when the chips are down and a failed initiative is probably a dead character.

Combat is so freaking brilliant and fun it screams to be played. Every weapon card shows a number of colored dice, and different colored dice have different numbers of sides showing little swords. The yellow die has two blanks and four single-sword sides; the purple has two triples and four doubles. Obviously, it's better to roll the purple than the yellow. You roll your weapon's dice, tell the DM how many swords you got, and he subtracts the monster's armor from that roll. Anything left is damage.

Combat is fast and furious, and one of my favorite ways to play this game is to describe the horrific ways that monsters die:

"Your throwing star sticks in the gnoll's helmet, and just as he starts to laugh, it explodes and blows his forehead out his ears."
"Your spiked gauntlet catches him right underneath the armor below his stomach, and rips metal and furry skin to shreds. The bugbear drops to the ground, trying desperately to stop his gushing belly wound."
"The electricity from your spell plays over the ogre's body, and he roars in pain, twitching uncontrollably, then falls dead, limbs still flailing. The smell of burnt hair is almost overpowering."

And when I do that, my daughter always acts like she's grossed out. "Ew, Dad!" To which I always reply, "Oh please. Quit pretending you don't love it."

Anyway, once the heroes rack up a body count that would make Charles Manson send you fan mail, they can search the room. They have to be careful - it's best to let Lidda use the special trap die to look for traps, and then the special disarming die to make them safe. The DM knows where there are traps; the characters are not quite as lucky. I've snagged God knows how many heroes with pit traps, snares, explosions, gas bombs and my personal favorite, the resurrection trap - the most recently slain monster pops up, ready to brawl. This is a great one to pull off just as the heroes think they have cleared a room, finally killed the big ugly beast, just to have it rise up and beat them down a little more.

Treasure is handled wonderfully, with a deck of cards that represent goodies you can find. There are spells, potions, weapons, armor and other cool stuff - and there are also booby traps, which I love. Yeah, I want my kids to win - but just barely, and when I can make the thief so wounded that she can't risk another treasure chest, it makes it that much easier to spread the pain to the rest of the group. Then it's a down-to-the-wire, desperate fight for survival. Just the way I like it.

Unlike HeroQuest, there is no gold in the D&D Adventure Game. There's no store, for one thing. The treasure in the chests is geared for the expertise of the heroes - at the beginning, the weapons are a little weak, but by the end, they'll have some pretty wicked gear. My son's Auger of Torment is a really gruesome weapon - but it sure gets the job done, and it gives me a chance to describe some really horrible wounds.

The adventures in the base game all follow a single story, but like most D&D games, the story is kind of irrelevant. The objectives change - you'll chase down an artifact you need for later, or kill a chieftain, or escape a dungeon - but you probably won't give a flying rat's ass about the story. I know I don't. I just love the adventure.

As the story progresses, the heroes will gain levels. This is almost silly, honestly - when the adventure says, 'now everyone is level two', they are. That's it. They get a couple more hit points, a few more spell points, and now they can use better gear. No point allocation, no skill shopping, no rolling for advancement. Now you're level three, because the game says you are. That's fine with me - saves me some trouble - but it seems kind of arbitrary.

It's difficult to describe the scope of kick-assery in the D&D Adventure Game (I know kick-assery isn't a word, but it should be). The art is awesome. The miniatures are brilliant. The dice are a blast. The different boards are extremely expandable, and even after you finish all the scenarios, there's still room to make more. But that doesn't sum up how much the D&D Adventure Game is ten pounds of awesome in a five pound bag. You'll have to play it for yourself.

As if this game couldn't get any better, there are two really fantastic expansions. One is a forest expansion, and the other is an arctic expansion, and they both come with more of everything, including another hero in each box. More great monsters to kill, places to explore, treasures to find, and villains to vanquish in their lairs. The snowy expansion even has an ice dragon.

If you don't have this game or HeroQuest... get them both. They're both really good. But if you're not sure which one to start with, here are a few considerations.

-The D&D Adventure Game is easy to learn and easy to play. So is HeroQuest, really, but the D&D Game is even easier.
-HeroQuest is a lot more expandable, and has a substantially larger fan base.
-HeroQuest has better miniatures.
-The D&D Game has better art.
-The D&D Game has way prettier boards that can be set up in a huge variety of configurations.
-The D&D Game requires no accounting or character sheets. HeroQuest has character sheets, and you'll have to do math.
-The D&D Game was only released in the UK, which means it's a real bastard to try to run down a copy in the US. They had it at GenCon a couple years ago, but good luck finding it now.

If you can think of anything I missed as you're reading this, feel free to comment below.

So there you have it - I love the D&D Adventure Game, and I don't even care if that's not the real name. It's my personal pick for dungeon games, barely edging out HeroQuest. It's great with the kids, and I've played it with adults and had a blast. The DM isn't going to win, but really, he's not supposed to win, so that works out pretty well.

Join us Friday for a review of the big dungeon game of the month - Descent. I'll even talk up Road to Legend, which should give you even more reason to make sure you don't miss it.


Great minis
Great boards
Great dice mechanic (with great dice)
Great treasure cards
Great googly moogly, I love this game

Silly level progression
No character customization
Really hard to find on my side of the pond

Here's you if you're trying to find this game:


Malechi said...

The Dungeons and Dragons the Fantasy Adventure Board Game along with its Eternal Winter and Forbidden Forest Expansion Packs has yet another thing in common with HeroQuest - It has been out of print for some time now (although no where near as long as HeroQuest)!

Anonymous said...

I found a flash site for this game - very neat.


Cheers, Nigel

Anonymous said...

Hard to get, yet it is a kick ass game, well I better start saving $. What else can I say.

Great Review, extra funny this week, thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

I REALLY hate this game.
I own the good ol' HeroQuest from the times it was published, and after some good match with my kids, i bought D&D-FA. My intention was to keep playing miniatures/dungeons crawl games with them, starting to introduce the D&D rpg in theyr minds.

Sadly, this game is boring for me and ofr them too.
The so called Heros are not event able to suicide: they can't hurt themselfs with the weapons they have. The "story" is a sad parody, and still my 6 old kid noticed that.

So i've done another attempt with D&D basic, which in turn was a success. The tiny adventure is not so bad, you have "standard" D&D minis to play with, and a scaled down D&D Char. sheet to play with.
After that game, i pèlayed a full, real 3.5 D&D game with a complete success.

So i hate this game: it is not D&D, it is not as good as the old HQ, and it have minis you can't reuse in other D&D miniature games.

Wiz-War said...

I have been interested in this game for years but never enough to pull the rigger and buy it.

After reading this review, I went for it. Base game and all expansions. Its really the only way to get the game as the additional content really does help the game overall.

Brand new copies are still around. I got mine from ebay, opened but otherwise unpunched for just slightly over what Paizo was selling it for almost half a decade ago.

In many ways, I think it is better than heroquest.

Thanks for the hilarious review of this dead game. It is definitely worth the effort to get a copy.

Anonymous said...

Sweet review - just came across it! Having just bought this game off eBay I'm now going to read you review of Decent to see if that's the game I should be buying :)

Wiz-War said...

This is for Matt. A session report with the original designer of Dungeon!


Matt Drake said...

Sweet! Thanks!