Dungeon Command is a head to head miniatures skirmish game by Wizards of the Coast. The game combines elements of D&D and Magic to create a game that is unique. We got a review copy in the mail and tried it out…
Fun Factor/ tl;dr
This game comes with a lot of pretty stuff. There are 12 minis in each box, one of which is large sized. I love me some minis, so this was pretty exciting for me. The map pieces are cool, and they’re double sided. There are a bunch of different treasure and status tokens. And also minis. Have I mentioned how much I like minis?
Each box is sort of like a deck. Strategy changes based on which one you use, and each player is supposed to have their own. The list price per box is $39.99, so a 2 player game would run you about $80. This is pricy, so you’ll probably want to buy them at a discount from someplace like Amazon. You can also run a 2 player game out of 1 box in a pinch.
The minis come with extra cards so that they can be used in any of the D&D Adventure System games, including Castle Ravenloft, Wrath of Ashardalon and The Legend of Drizzt. These minis can also be used with any fantasy tabletop RPG. Thus, if you already play, say, D&D and Castle Ravenloft, you can enhance both of those games with this one. Additionally, all of the map pieces, while not very large, are fully illustrated and scaled the same as a D&D map, so they could be used in a tabletop game. This versatility can help offset the cost.
The directions are extremely long, which is a downside for me, but they were well written and easy to understand (not to mention thorough). There are pictures and diagrams to help explain the game if you have the patience to read them.
The game is designed for hardcore strategizing, so everything has stats. This might be off-putting to more casual players, but if strategy is your thing, the terrain, captain, creature cards and order cards can all be used to orchestrate your opponent’s demise.
Despite the strategy element, the game play isn’t long or tedious (after reading the directions, that is). Turns move quickly and there’s plenty of stuff for both players to do on their turn so there’s no boredom or waiting around.
Fun Factor: 7/10 - Fun to play, but it’s got a steep learning curve. The price is offset somewhat by the versatility of the minis and the map.
There’s no getting around it. This game is complicated. It comes with a 15 page booklet (with pictures) that explains the directions: how to move, how to read your cards, how to resolve actions. That’s long. How long? It took us 30-40 minutes to read through all the directions and understand them well enough to start. That said, I’ve never played Magic before, so I had to learn even basic things like tapping. Still, even with a thorough understanding of both Magic cards and D&D, there are a lot of things to learn: movement is similar to D&D, but combat is resolved differently; Order cards work sort of like Instants, but they read differently from Magic cards.
This is not the kind of game you set out at a party or take on a road trip. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. The game is designed for two players, so you can play it if you’re hanging out with a buddy (or a captive spouse) and you have a couple of hours to kill. The game runs about 90 minutes, so even if you have to read the manual, you can open the box and finish the first game in the time it takes to see the Dark Knight Rises.
Again, not a fast paced party game, but you won’t be trapped interminably in a game that goes on all night (I’m looking at you, Risk).
Ease of Play/Rule Clarity: 5/10 – The directions are clearly written with helpful pictures, but there are a lot of them and they are complicated.
Gameplay, once you figure it out, is pretty fun. Each turn has 4 phases: Refresh, Activate, Deploy and Clean-up.
During the Refresh phase, you do a few minor things and then draw an order card. Order cards are like feats that can give special traits to members of your war party. You have to match up the stat and level on the order card with the stat and level of the party member in order to assign it.
During the Activate phase, you can move, tap creatures, collect treasure, attack or put effects on other players. Your opponent can throw down cards to try and stop you.
You can’t start with your whole war party on the board. During the Deploy phase, you have the opportunity to add party members from your reserve and put them into play (but you can’t activate them yet).
Finally during the Clean-up phase (what’s more fun than clean up?) you do a few more minor things, draw more creature cards, untap everything and resolve any lingering effects.
The “minor things” mostly have to do with your Commander card, which keeps track of your “Morale” (health) and another stat called “Leadership” which controls how many party members you can have on the board.
Turns go fairly quickly. Part of this is because you participate in your opponents turn. You can respond as soon as they attack and you don’t have to wait 20 minutes while they enact their grand strategy. This is also good for the player who’s turn it is. You can adapt your plan based on your opponent’s response, without having to set up a bunch of cards only to learn it was for nothing as your opponent knocks them down one by one.
Even though the turn system is straight forward, the interplay between the order cards and the creature cards is complex and takes multiple games to master. If you’re playing with 2 boxes, you might not even get to use all of your order cards in the first game. Your strategy will also be affected by the stats on your Commander card and by the terrain of the map.
Game Mechanics: 10/10 – The game is complex, but not tedious or clunky.