Admittedly, Dungeons and Dragons isn't always an easy sell on the uninitiated. Geekdom has made a huge surge in credibility over the last few decades, granted, but D&D still has a bit of a social stigma to overcome when trying to introduce new players. And once you get them to the table, it's occasionally a tough sell to explain that the campaign could take days, weeks, even months to complete (or, in our case, years. Stupid dragon, JUST GIVE US THE GEM ALREADY.) Once they've rolled up their characters and gotten into the swing of things, validation is surely near...but it's that first climb up the mountain that can be rough.
Enter the D&D board games... Wizard of the Coast's D&D gateway drug.
Here's the skinny. Each board game comes with 'dungeon tiles', miniatures, players cards, and other bits and pieces. Each player chooses a pre-created character, and selects their powers from the appropriate pile of supplied 'power cards'. An adventure is selected from the game's Adventure Book, and the action starts. As the character explores the dungeon, a random dungeon tile is taken from the stack and placed on the newly explored edge of the map. As the game progresses, 'Encounter' cards are flipped, monsters and other obstacles appear, treasure is discovered, powers are used, and victory is (sometimes) achieved. The selected Adventure specifies what the goal is, and the target tile is placed at a certain range down the stack of Dungeon tiles so as to keep the length of the adventure reasonable. All in all, a single adventure can be completed in an hour or so. Characters can level up once during the adventure under certain circumstances if they have accrued enough XP from combat, becoming more powerful in the process, and XP can also be used to avoid those oft-painful Encounter cards. It's D&D Lite for the board game crowd...4E flavor in fun-pack size.
The most recent iteration of the D&D board game is Legend of Drizzt, based on R.A. Salvatore's popular Forgotten Realms books chronicling the adventures of the titular drow. The game features 32 cavern tiles, with obstacles like Narrow Passages, Underground Rivers, and those goddamn Volcanic Vents.
Oh, how I hate you, volcanic vents.
There are 42 minis in total, including all of the heroes, villains, and monsters needed for any of the Adventures. The power cards are separated by standard and advanced, the advanced cards being more powerful and complex. As with the previous games, you will also be supplied with tokens and markers in the way of Healing Surges, status conditions, HP markers, and anything else you would likely need. They also throw in a single d20, but in this house, that's but a drop in the ocean.
Now, on to the review bit.
This game, much like the Adventure System board games before it, it awesome. It serves well as a capsulized version of a D&D game, and has the right feel for a Drizzt game. The minis, while unpainted, are worth the cost of the game on their own. There's trolls, goblins, driders, and the massive balro-...I mean balor, Errtu.
The game mechanics are similar to the previous systems, with some Encounter Card additions like the Volcanic Spray, as well as the Mark of Lolth. The former does 1 damage to any hero within one tile of the aforementioned Volcanic Vents, and the latter curses your character, dealing damage each time another Mark of Lolth is pulled. These cards will undoubtedly have you uttering new and creative curses yourself, but are nonetheless masochistically enjoyable. The characters themselves are pulled right from a Salvatore novel, with Regis the rogue, Wulfgar the barbarian, Catti-Brie the archer, and others, as well as Drizzt himself. Familiar villains are there too, with Artemis Entreri and Shimmergloom hunting the heroes throughout the dungeons. The adventure themselves range from simple co-op seek and destroys, to competitive escape attempts and solo dungeon crawls. Legend of Drizzt is a little more advanced than the previous games, not only in the scope of the Encounter cards, but even in the characters themselves. Drizzt and companions are more powerful than their preceding counterparts, and with the addition of Stance cards and the Advanced cards they can be a little more complex to manage. It's by no means impossible to start with Drizzt, as it is a stand-alone game, but if you are dealing with players entirely green to D&D and 4e in particular it may be easier to start with Ravenloft or Ashardalon.
There are still some things in the system I am not entirely content with, for one, the leveling system. Leveling can only occur if you roll a natural 20, and if you have the XP available in the pool (and your party's consent to use it). Understandably, leveling shouldn't be too easy as you can only do it once, but it seems that the current mechanic has it happening too infrequently. Nothing that a house rule can't fix.
The difficulty of the game occasionally has a bit of feast or famine to it...either the characters seem overpowered and breeze right through, or your party is starved for healing surges 15 minutes in after a stretch of particularly cruel Encounter cards. Granted, that is in a large part due to the randomness of the adventure itself as it unfolds, and isn't inherently indicative of a problem, more of just an understanding that if one bout goes dramatically one way or the other, you'll want to give it a few more spins for a more 'accurate' playthrough.
So, there you have it. Legend of Drizzt is great fun all around. Non D&Ders will enjoy it for the gameplay alone, and perhaps it will pique their interest in D&D as a whole, and/or the other adventures of Drizzt in the novels. And for us D&Ders, it's a great way to enjoy the game we love in a limited amount of time, or maybe just as an appetizer for the real campaign while we wait for the rest of the crew to show up.
45 minutes late? You better have beer.