Guild Companion Review: Dungeons and Dragons Miniatures

Copyright Robert Defendi © 2003

Edited by Suzanne Campbell for The Guild Companion

"What's even more annoying is that I want to go buy them anyway"

Well, Chain Mail has come and gone and now Wizards of the Coast is trying its second foray into the miniatures gaming market. On the heels of the WizKids figure games, Wizards has released the D&D Miniatures Line, starting with an entry pack and followed up by a set of boosters in the first release, called the Harbinger line. Harbinger consists of 80 miniatures, 27 of which are rare. The entry pack includes 16 of these miniatures (1 rare, 5 uncommon, and 10 common) and maps and tiles necessary to play.

Let's start by discussing what this game is and what it is not.

It's a line of painted figures meant for play in the D&D game. Some of these figures are familiar (I own two tiefling captains now, having bought one from Chain Mail), but none have ever before been sold by Wizards already painted. The cards included inside have stats for both the miniatures game and D&D (there's one per figure), for use in your tabletop game.

It's an entry-level game for players that don't play D&D. It's also a method of rating costs of each member of a force, for those who wish to run skirmish battles with equally matched sides.

It's NOT an exciting new game for those who already play D&D. There is very little difference between these rules and those of the D&D game. There are some additional rules-- the value of each piece, routing and command rules, as well as rules for setting up the board in a manner that is fair for both sides--but at its heart it's just a slightly different subset (although that word might do the system a disservice) of the D&D rules.

Marketing

Okay, now I'm going to go into rant mode, because this is the part of the system that annoys me the most. I'm not a fan of collectable miniatures marketing. I've actually boycotted the new Mechwarrior game for exactly that reason. If I want an Umber Hulk figure, I want to be able to go out and buy an Umber Hulk figure. Because more than a quarter of the 80 figures in the D&D Miniatures line are rare-- despite the fact that only one out of eight figures purchased in booster have that same level of value--you must buy 216 figures to even have the CHANCE to get a complete set! There are people selling the individual figures outside the box, but all the online sources that I've found are charging up to $10 for a rare figure, the price of an entire booster.

So the fact that Wizards has bought into this line of thinking (not that it's a big step for them, considering they created it with Magic: The Gathering) has made me very sad and a little angry. This won't be a consideration for many of you, but I couldn't write a review in good conscience and not mention it.

What's even more annoying is that I want to go buy them anyway ...

The Figures

The figures themselves are passable. The sculpting is decent but the details are somewhat blurry, probably due to the fact they're made out of plastic. The paint jobs are merely passable, but I believe these figures are smaller than those coming out in other games (which isn't a mark against them, because they're scaled for D&D) and that probably accounts for the disparity of quality. I could paint them better, but these days I just don't have the time.

The game is broken into four factions. The entry pack has 16 figures, some of which can be used by multiple factions. You can have up to 100 points and 12 figures on one side. Here are the armies you could make from what I received in my entry pack:

Lawful Good:
Ember Human Monk 18 Points
Evoker's Apprentice 10 Points
Wolf (Any Alignment) 5 Points
Total 23 points

Chaotic Good:

Centaur 20 Points
Wolf (Any Alignment) 5 Points
Total 25 Points

Lawful Evil:

Half Orc Fighter (Commander) 21 Points
Azer Raider (LE or CE) 5 Points
Zombie (LE or CE) 4 Points
Wolf (Any Alignment) 5 Points
Goblin Sneak 6 Points
Kobold Warrior 3 Points
Hell Hound 10 Points
Total 54 Points

Chaotic Evil:
Teifling Captain (Commander) 21 Points
Orc Spearfighter 5 Points
Orc Archer 8 Points
Ghoul 14 Points
Hyena 4 Points
Human Bandit 3 Points
Azer Raider (LE or CE) 5 Points
Zombie (LE or CE) 4 Points
Wolf (Any Alignment) 5 Points
Total 69 Points

So I can, from the box, field a decent Chaotic Evil force and a so/so Lawful Evil force. Because of the command rules, I can't field a Good force at all, without buying more boosters (I have no good commanders). Since I'm the type that usually plays the guys in the white hats, this means that I can't get the most out of my game.

Still, setting that aside, I now have some decent figures for my D&D game. I've quizzed down some of the local retailers in my area and it seems that this is the reason MOST people are buying the figures.

Gameplay

As I said above, the rules are a straightforward adaptation of the D&D rules. They made things a little simpler. Criticals don't need to be activated. Damage is a set value. There is only one value for cover. Other than that, the rules are much as you'd expect.

They've been expanded, too. Characters must be in command to act in a tactical fashion, but for swarm tactics, with figures with the same movement, you can launch good plans involving out-of-command flanking units. There are also morale checks, with the usual triggers, such as when a figure reaches half hit points. The terrain consists of a straightforward grid with terrain pieces (essentially pieces of printed cardboard) which the players can use to try to build an environment conducive to their strategy.

The game plays quickly and is fun. When I played it again, before writing this review, I essentially played myself. Despite the inherent bore of playing without an opponent, I found myself eager to set up again when the game was done, to see if I could win with the losing side in a rematch.

I'm actually excited to see the Miniatures Handbook, which may or may not be available by the time you read this review. It proposes to offer what Wizards needs the most, and that is a strategic miniatures game, to act as a mass combat system. We'll see if it can deliver what the community needs the most, and turn this into a game that can appeal to the D&D player who's looking for more than a line of figures to pretty up his or her gaming table.

Conclusion

The miniatures game is fast enough and easy enough to play, but it probably won't have a lot of appeal to the D&D player, who could have done most of this on their own. The cheap miniatures with their adequate paint jobs will be the biggest draw for most people, if they don't mind buying blind boosters. I think this has something for everyone, though it might not be the hit for which Wizards is looking.

Editor's Note

D&D Miniatures is produced by Wizards of the Coast. The Entry Pack retails for $19.99 USD, and the Harbinger Expansion Pack retails for $9.99 USD. They can be ordered from the WotC website at: http://www.wizards.com/ or your local gaming store.