There are probably only a handful of people on the planet who have never heard the title Dungeons & Dragons. The words are synonymous with RPG gaming and have recently been brought to the attention of a whole new audience through features in TV and movies. Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Begins provides a simple but charming introduction to the world of fantasy gaming and is the ideal entry point for anyone wanting to start their adventure into D&D.
Set in the lands of Neverwinter, Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Begins is a board game for 2 – 4 players with elements of role playing sprinkled throughout. The game contains four different boss monsters with unique story lines to play through. The stories are written on cards which are revealed throughout the game. Unlike the main Dungeons & Dragons game, there is no singular dungeon master.
The role of the DM passes from player to player as the game progresses, meaning that everyone gets to have a go at telling the story. But perhaps more importantly, it also means that everyone gets involved in the action and no one is left on the side-lines. Your four boss monsters are Felbris (Beholder), Orn (Fire Giant), the aptly-named Deathsleep (Green Dragon) and finally The Kraken.
The choice of boss monster is one you need to make at the very start of the game and will dictate which area of Neverwinter you arrive in last. Within the box there are four game maps. The final area is determined by the gatekeeper boss you choose. The other three can be placed in whatever order you desire. During the game your merry band of misfits, or heroes, will make their way through all four areas before reaching the final boss.
Choosing Your Character
Creation is simplified in this game. Choices are limited to the pre-created cards included in box. Each member of your party plays as a different hero. There are four classes to choose from: fighter, sorcerer, bard or rouge. In this version of the game, each class is a different race. The fighter is a dwarf by the name of Tak or Ris Strongheart. The bard is an elf and the rogue a red dragonborn. The sorcerer is a human. Each character can be played as either a male or female. The hero tile can be changed depending on your preference, although the personality and combat tiles are not affected by that choice.
For each hero class, there are four personality cards and 2 combat cards to choose from. The personality cards contain a personality type and special ability. The personality types give you a ‘flavour’ to play the game with.
How do you want your hero to react to encounters or events? Are they defiant, aggressive and loyal or clever, playful and impatient? The special ability gives your character a skill which can be used once per dungeon board to give your team of adventures an advantage in certain situations. Combat tiles contain your attacks. There are two different combinations of attacks for each class and each contains two set and one creative attack.
The creative attack is where the fun is. This is the roleplaying element where you can decide how you wish to fight a monster. The prompts are different for each combat type, but the damage rolls are the same. In fact, the damage rolls for every attack in the game are the same. The intention was probably to create equality between all characters so that players would not feel disadvantaged compared to others as a result of their character choice.
However it does feel slightly artificial. It feels as though there ought to be a difference in strength between, for example, a bard and a fighter. Yet in this game there is not. I can see why this choice may have been made, but the game is supposed to be cooperative. Taking away this difference does not encourage players to make strategic decisions about which actions different characters should perform and, in all likelihood, renders character creation in this game more aesthetic than substantial.
Playing The Game
Take a backpack card from Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Begins, a colour-matched mini-figure, a 20-sided dice and we’re ready to play. The first DM takes the deck holder containing the cards for the first dungeon map. Each map has a deck of cards particular to that area and they contain the encounters and events which will make up the story.
The game centres around the path through the middle of the game board. As the players move down the path, the DM for that turn will draw a card, read the scenario or monster and then follow the instructions. Think choose-your-own-adventure books, but on a board game with actions decided by 20-sided dice and you wouldn’t be far off.
Each card also contains an outcome which will be read by the then-DM after the scenario or combat is completed. Play then moves on to the next space on the map, until the party reaches a gatekeeper space at the end of the map. Play is still the same, except it is the gatekeeper card which is read instead of a card from the deck.
Once the gatekeeper card is completed, play moves to the next map and so on. Play continues like this until the party reaches the final boss. This can lead to the game feeling stale pretty quickly. Gameplay can be repetitive and it is up to the DM on each turn to breathe life into the game and up to the players during combat to try to make their actions as interesting as possible. In that way it is very similar to the main Dungeons & Dragons game because, without an interesting DM or motivated players, it can feel like a drag.
Rotating the DM does help with this, however, and there are enough story cards in the deck to vary the scenarios enough to keep players interested.
The combat system is also simplified from what experienced D&D players may be used to. Heroes declare the attack that they want to use and roll their 20-sided dice. Each attack has a required number, if that number is met or exceeded the attack is successful. The monster takes the damage listed for that attack.
If the number rolled is lower than required, it is unsuccessful. The monster can also attack and its attacks will be listed on the back of its card. The steps of combat repeat for each player until the monster is dead. Players then receive the reward in gold or items described. The items awarded can be used during combat to increase a hero’s damage or block an attack. Gold can be used to purchase items, level up (there is a second level available to each combat tile which increases the damage of attacks) or to revive.
It is possible for a character to die if their HP drops to zero. This doesn’t mean that they are out of the game and they may return to the action by trading in all of their gold to revive themselves.
Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Begins is an enjoyable entry to the world of D&D. With four story lines and 24 adventure cards for each map (96 total), the game can be played multiple times whilst limiting repetition in the storyline.
Unfortunately the game does suffer potential feelings of repetition in its mechanics but that can be minimised by enthusiastic DMs and imaginative play. If you are looking for a way to dip your toe into the turbulent waters of Neverwinter, this game is for you.
It is also a great game for those who know the world of D&D, but perhaps want to introduce family and friends who have never played before and may be intimidated by being thrown into a campaign at the deep-end. There are no daunting rules and play takes only a couple of hours, instead of a couple of days. However this is not a game which is going to keep seasoned D&D-ers coming back for more.