Since 1974, players have been gathering around tables to live out adventures in the many worlds of the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game. Across multiple editions of the game, players and DMs craft emergent stories and live out the lives of heroes and their adventures. D&D spawned an entire medium of other tabletop role-playing games, but the franchise has also spread into other arenas of tabletop play.
This week, we’re taking a look at some of the great Dungeons & Dragons board, card, and miniatures games. Tapping into the campaign settings, concepts, and flavor of the brand, these games nonetheless aren’t role-playing games. Rather, they offer fascinating twists on the familiar fiction, sometimes emulating the feeling of a classic dungeon crawl but without the need for a DM, and at other times exploring entirely different genres of play, like worker placement or deck-building.
If you’re a big fan of Dungeons & Dragons, or even if you’ve always been intrigued with that universe but have never felt ready to confront the complexity of the role-playing game, these are releases worth checking out.
Lords of Waterdeep
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
A personal favorite in my game collection, Lords of Waterdeep transports players to the most famous of D&D communities – the sprawling city of splendors known as Waterdeep. Players are the mysterious masked lords of the city, endlessly conniving against one another for control of the fantasy urban sprawl. Excellent worker placement mechanics demand players think carefully about where to devote resources, expressed as adventurer cubes of different colors that represent different D&D classes. Lords of Waterdeep is a deep and rewarding strategy game, but it also boasts a relatively short play session time; that’s a rare combo. Several years ago, I wrote a more extensive piece about the game, which you can check out for more info.
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
Deck-building card games function on an intriguing loop; cards in your hand are played, which leads to new cards being shuffled into your deck, gradually growing the potential power at your disposal in an ever-expanding circle. That core principle is applied to Dragonfire, a fully cooperative card game that emulates the flow of a D&D campaign, but with a focus on tactical cooperation and card-suit matching rather than role-playing. Even so, the Dungeons & Dragons universe is fully on display, especially thanks to excellent artwork and graphic design on nearly every component in the game. Players have tremendous flexibility to shape their character, choosing unique race and class combos, and then building out a deck of cards. Leveling up improves your character’s potential, as do special magic item cards that can turn the tide of a fight. Dragonfire is a deep and complex deck-builder, and its interwoven cooperative elements and leveling might be overwhelming to newcomers to this style of card game. It’s also clearly designed to be played by the same group over many sessions; if you have a group that loves this style of card game, I highly recommend giving it a shot.
Assault of the Giants
Flipping the script on the classic D&D experience, Assault of the Giants puts three to six players in charge of competing clans of giants as they attempt to consolidate power and rise to new heights within the hierarchy of giant folk, often at the expense of small people like humans and elves that might get caught in the crossfire. Through some especially clever design work, every one of the playable races features different victory conditions (from reviving an ancient titan to eating the most halflings), and yet I’ve found the game to be exceptionally well balanced every time I’ve played. The strategic depth is significant, but event cards also do a great job of communicating an unfolding narrative. For experienced groups eager for a novel perspective on the Forgotten Realms D&D world, you can’t go wrong with this one. Read my complete review for more detail.
Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate
Publisher: Avalon Hill/Wizards of the Coast
Betrayal at House on the Hill is a perennial favorite for many gaming groups. That horror-themed semi-cooperative original sent you into a haunted mansion, with the full knowledge that one of the other players might be working against you the whole time. Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate is a spin-off that trades the horror theme for fantasy, and the modern-day visitors are transformed into hearty adventurers skulking through the dangers of Baldur’s Gate. The scenario-based approach to play ensures that every time you play is different from the last, and several unique features make the D&D makeover more than just cosmetic, including some fun character abilities/powers that can help you confront the inevitable danger that crops up. This one is ideal for gaming groups that enjoy the tension of a potential traitor, and the nods to D&D spells, classic magic items, and specific monsters are plentiful.
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