Conquest of Nerath

Hey everybody!
It’s game day here at spalanz.com, and in celebration of my blog’s third birthday this Friday, I’m making this Fantasy Week! What better way, therefore, to celebrate, than with a game set in one of the most archetypal fantasy universes ever conceived: Dungeons and Dragons! Okay, so I’m not going to be looking at the RPG itself, having never played it, but instead, I’m taking a look at one of the stand-out board games from the product line: Conquest of Nerath!

War has come to the Dungeons & Dragons world! In the north, the undead legions of the Dark Empire of Karkoth march against the fragile League of Nerath, determined to sweep away the human kingdoms forever. To the south, the infernal Iron Circle launches its own goblin hordes in a campaign of conquest against the elves and corsairs of Vailin. From the snowy expanse of the Winterbole Forest to the sun-warmed coasts of ancient Vailin, four great powers struggle for survival.

Conquest of Nerath

I’ve only actually played with this game once, back in 2013, and had an absolute blast! It’s basically the sort of area-control game that is a lot like Risk for those familiar with more mainstream boardgames, where you control a faction from the D&D world and attempt to take over the board as much as possible. The board itself is beautifully illustrated, and each of the four factions comes with a whole host of miniatures that represent the hordes they can bring to bear, from foot soldiers and siege engines to warships and storm elementals!

Rather than me go through the rules of the game here, let me present Rodney Thompson, one of the D&D lead designers from back in the day, and who has presented a load of video tutorials on D&D games:

The game is a lot of fun. It looks deceptively complex, as there are a lot of pieces on the board, from all of those miniatures to all of the tokens and cards involved, but the rules are actually really streamlined, allowing you to focus more on the narrative and fun, than on game mechanics and such. There isn’t a great deal of magic involved, aside from the wizards’ First Strike rule and, I suppose, the way some Event cards work, which also helps to keep the game straightforward. Each faction has the same sorts of units, and yet feels quite different in the way they play, which also adds to the ease of gameplay.

Conquest of Nerath

Of course, what would a D&D game be without, well, dungeons or dragons? The dungeon delving aspect of the game is one that adds a lot of the flavour of the setting that I think is otherwise missing from the game. The four factions, while being traditional fantasy tropes, are just that – tropes. The dungeon guardians, however, include some of the more iconic D&D monsters and villains, including the Beholder and Drow Raiders. Defeating these guys will give you the gold to buy reinforcements, as well as treasures to use in your battles against your enemies, but the mechanic is crucial, for me, to keeping the game on-theme overall.

Conquest of Nerath was released in 2011, and aside from one promo treasure card released at GenCon that year, there has never been any kind of expansion for it. Which is absolutely fine, when you think about it! So many games in my collection have been expanded unto death, it feels oddly satisfying to have a game that is completely self-contained like this, and the strategic depth involved in your conquest is something that can keep the game going.

Highly recommended!

Upcoming Games!

Hey everybody!
It’s time for another game day extra, as I decided to catch up with some of the news around upcoming games over the weekend. So sit back and enjoy a look at three games that I’m really intrigued by, due out in the coming months!

Deathwatch: Overkill

Deathwatch: Overkill

Of course I’m going to start with something from Games Workshop! There have been rumours of a Deathwatch/Genestealer Cult boxed game coming out from GW for months now, but we finally have enough confirmation that I’m going to talk about it here! I am a huge fan of the Deathwatch – one of the first 40k novels I read was the short story collection, and I’ve always enjoyed the RPG from Fantasy Flight. I think the idea of a whole bunch of really great warriors from different chapters working together to purge the xenos just really captures my imagination! The pictures floating around of the Genestealer Cult are a little, erm, odd, but if it gets me some Deathwatch, then I’m in! It’ll be up for pre-order on Saturday, and released on 5 March, so I’ll no doubt have something to say about it then!

I’ve bought all of these boxed games they’ve released over the last few years, but this is the first one I feel that I really want to build up and paint to play the actual game, even though the details of it are still unknown. I simply want Deathwatch marines!

Star Wars: Rebellion

Star Wars: Rebellion

This has been the next big thing from Fantasy Flight for a while now, and a few weeks back they essentially had a publicity week where the only news published on their site was a series of previews for this.

When it was first announced, I wasn’t particularly chomping at the bit for it, I have to say. It looked a bit too messy, and I was worried it might be a huge time sink, the sort of game that you spend all night playing, only to feel like you would have been better off playing a lot of smaller games. At any rate, I wasn’t exactly going to drop £80 or whatever it turns out costing me on day one. However, the more I’ve seen of it, the more I’m beginning to revise that opinion somewhat.

The game looks like a juggernaut, there’s no denying this, but it looks like the kind of game that I would really enjoy sitting down for a few hours to pit myself against my opponent. There are actually very few games that I like that are both long and competitive. So while I still might not actually buy it on day one, I’m nevertheless changing my entire viewpoint on this one now, and may well be investing later this year!

Tyrants of the Underdark

Tyrants of the Underdark

A deck-building game coming in May, Tyrants of the Underdark pits players together as the drow houses of Menzoberranzan! This sounds really cool, as you play members of the ruling houses trying to control the most of the Underdark by the game end. I really like this idea, and while I’m not quite sure how it would work as a deck-builder – I think I’d prefer to see a more traditional CCG/LCG style of game, where each house feels different rather than just all being able to use the same cards – it’s still very exciting, I’ve got to say!

So those are three of the most-anticipated games, for me, that are due out in the coming weeks and months!

Feel the Wrath…

Hey everybody,
It’s time for another game day blog! Today’s will be a little short, but nevertheless awesome, as we delve once more into the dungeon, and face the Wrath of Ashardalon!

Wrath of Ashardalon

The second of the D&D Adventure System games, the rules are basically the same as those for Legend of Drizzt, which featured on my blog during my D&D week earlier in the year. You play an adventure as outlined in the adventure book, laying tiles as you explore the dungeon, and overcoming the fearsome enemies that live there. And my goodness, there are enemies!

Wrath of Ashardalon

This is perhaps my favourite box of the three games, simply because it has some wonderful miniatures for you to battle – least of all, the Beholder! Classic D&D monster. Ashardalon himself is also an impressive miniature there, and there are some truly horrible things like the formless Gibbering Mouthers, or the tentacled Grell. Wonderful stuff!

Wrath of Ashardalon

The dungeon itself feels more like an actual building this time, rather than the caverns of the Underdark, and instead of mushroom clusters to place the monsters, we have scorch marks. Fitting, given there’s a massive dragon down there! There are also doors on some tiles, as shown on the Vault above for instance, which need to be opened to continue the adventure.

Wrath of Ashardalon

Something more unique to this box, however, are the Chamber tiles, which are laid down all at once when instructed by the adventure. So you’ll draw the entrance tile, which has a black arrow as shown above so you’re having an Encounter there as well as facing a fairly closely-placed monster, then you set out the remaining tiles of the chamber to create a fairly wide space. Which is usually then filled with monsters. Yay.

Wrath of Ashardalon

The game is one of my all-time favourites, and was actually the first Adventure System game I bought. There’s not a lot to say beyond what has already been said for Legend of Drizzt, if I’m honest, but this is a truly great experience, and for me as a non-D&D RPG player (sigh), it feels generic enough that you can break it out whenever you like, rather than the more focused Drizzt or Ravenloft (still haven’t got Elemental Evil yet!)

At any rate, it’s highly recommended!

More Drizzt! More games! Just, more!

Hey everybody!
The last week or so has been filled with lots of awesome, predominantly from getting back to the amazing Legend of Drizzt series!

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Moving on to #Drizzt book 8! #D&D #novels

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I finally got back to this series, after a nearly two-year hiatus, back in March, when I read the end of book 6, and moved onto book 7, The Legacy. That was a really great read, you can see more on that here, but I didn’t move on to the next one until now. I don’t actually remember if there was a reason, but anyway. Spoilers incoming! Starless Night picks up the story of Drizzt and his friends in the wake of Wulfgar’s death, and begins as Drizzt decides to return to Menzoberranzan, to avoid any further drow incursions into Mithral Hall. Little does he know that Matron Baenre plots the destruction of the dwarven kingdom no matter what, of course, as we saw briefly in the last book. Catti-brie discovers Drizzt has gone and, determined not to see another of her friends needlessly die, heads off in pursuit. The two eventually meet up in the Underdark, and manage to escape the Baenre compound with the help of none other than Artemis Entreri, though their hearts are heavy with the knowledge that the drow are amassing for war against the dwarves.

While I enjoyed The Legacy, after all that time spent on the surface, I loved Starless Night. It is perhaps a little formulaic at parts, but as always with these Drizzt books, the execution is just amazing. Salvatore continues to develop the Underdark beyond what we have already seen from the Dark Elf trilogy, this time particularly as we get to see more inside House Baenre, the first house of Menzoberranzan. The Matron Mother is just as cruel and twisted as you’d expect, as are some of her children. Most interesting among them are Dantrag, the weapons master who wields a sentient sword. It was a shame that he didn’t make it through the book, but I suppose there’s little else you could do with a character like that. Triel Baenre, the mistress mother of Arach-Tinilith, is another intriguing character, and her scenes with the flamboyant mercenary Jarlaxle were always fun to read. Jarlaxle has a prominent role to play here as well, which serves to deepen his character.

The whole story was pretty great, with a terrific sense of foreboding, or “things are about to happen tonight”. Weirdly, I kept feeling a comparison with the finale to the third Harry Potter book, with that sense of wheels being in motion and whatnot. It was a great read, and I’ve since propelled myself into the ninth book, Siege of Darkness, which has been excellent so far – look out for that one to grace this blog very soon!

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The Beetroot Beefburgers, man they were good…

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Saturday was, of course, Independence Day, so to celebrate(?), I made burgers and watched American Dad. Not just any burgers, however! I came across a recipe somewhere for beetroot beefburgers and, being a lover of beetroot, had to give it a try! On reflection, I probably used too much, so they were a tad dry, but overall they were really good, and I will definitely be trying these again! Grating beetroot into the minced beef left my kitchen looking something like a crime scene, but even so! Very simple to make, just grate the beets into the beef (I used three with 200g of mince, one might be a better idea), mix in an egg, and away we go!

Marvellous!

Despite having multiple projects on the go already, this weekend also saw me make up some more Necron Immortals, along with Trazyn the Infinite. I’ve been slowly getting back into painting, as I’ve been trying to finish off the Canoptek Wraiths I started over a month ago. I’ve not gotten very far, unfortunately, but that seems to be the story of my life where big stuff is concerned – bigger than your average foot soldier, that is. I’ve had four Tomb Blades awaiting their finishing touches for ages now, as well. As I seem to be better at getting the smaller guys finished, I thought I’d make up some more, get them done, and then (hopefully!) get back into the swing of things that way. Miniatures painting is something that I really enjoy, after all, but has felt more akin to a drudgery of late.

Immortals

Trazyn the Infinite is perhaps the most hilarious of the special character models, with his backstory of wanting to preserve everything in the universe in his own collection. If I remember rightly, he has some weird ability that allows you to replace him with any other member of the unit he’s attached to when in combat, due to some kind of phase-shifting technology. He seems interesting, but more than that, I enjoy the special models for the fact that I can paint them with different colour schemes and such. That said, I’m considering doing something different with the Immortals this time, as well – the new golden paints coming out soon look very interesting, after all, so I think I might try something more special with these guys…

Immortals

This week has been pretty good for games, of course. Along with the announcements of new cycles for both Android Netrunner and Star Wars, we’ve had a new data pack for Netrunner as well as the inaugural pack in the Angmar Awakened cycle for Lord of the Rings! There’s an interesting day/night mechanic in this one, and I cannot wait to try it out, but feel like I need to first play through the Lost Realm box. I’ve got all the quests sleeved now, anyway, so I’m ready to go on that front. No doubt there’ll be some posts here where I bemoan my performance…

I actually got a few games of Netrunner in at the local store again last week, with my tried and trusted Shaper deck, and lost both. But they were fantastic losses, so I can’t complain! Very thematic, so definitely lots of fun. I feel like I want to try out new decks now, however, as I spent one night reorganising my entire Netrunner collection. I usually keep LCGs in their expansion boxes, as it’s convenient and I like the packaging, but now FFG has moved to this horrible plastic nonsense, I’ve decided to change that, and have instead gone for keeping the entire cardpool in both core set boxes (I’m one of these who bought two core sets). So far it works, but I foresee a time very soon where I’m going to run out of space there, as well! Hm. At any rate, going through that reorganisation, and seeing the entire card pool for each faction all at once, has really opened up my eyes to the deckbuilding possibilities in the game, so I’m keen to explore with that, rather than continually playing my one Shaper deck.

We’ll see just how splendidly that works out, anyway…

The Legacy

Ah, Drizzt. I’ve been loving this series for years now – you can read all about that here, of course! Last night saw me finish the seventh installment, The Legecy.

The Legacy

The book picks up right off following the last one – in fact, it starts as the last one is ending! HOWEVER! (Oh, ahem… here be spoilers!) We see Bruenor Battlehammer preparing for the wedding of Wulfgar and Cattie-Brie, when the report of goblin activity in the lower mines draws the dwarves out to investigate. A series of dungeon-delving adventures ensue, with Drizzt separated from the others. Why? Well, because we finally get to see what his family has been up to since he left Menzoberranzan in the Dark Elf trilogy!

Following the raid on the Do’Urden compound that left all but Dinin and Vierna dead, things have been pretty rough. Dinin has fallen in with the mercenary band of Braegan D’arthe, headed by the flamboyant Jarlaxle, while Vierna has become obsessed with recovering her former glory. Are the Do’Urdens really out of favour with Lolth? Vierna’s ability first to wield a snake-headed whip, then to turn Dinin into a dreaded Drider (remember the spoiler from the board game?!), to say nothing of her ability to summon a yochlol, seem to point to the fact that they are once again on the up. However, the behind-the-scenes machinations of House Baenre might point to a more convoluted theory. Following a long period of mine chases, Drizzt finally manages to defeat his sister in combat, but Wulfgar is killed by the yochlol, leading to an utter desolation in Mithral Hall.

Dun dun duuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuun!

For me, this book turned out to be quite difficult to categorise. On the one hand, I really enjoyed the return to the Underdark, and seeing the evil drow once more. It was really good to catch up with the surviving members of Drizzt’s family, and to see what evil schemes were being hatched this time around. However, the repetitive nature of the book, with the bulk of it taking place in the twisting corridors beneath Mithral Hall, it felt, well, repetitive.

Artemis Entreri is back, in a completely unexpected manner, and I really enjoyed seeing him once again, though his obsession with battling Drizzt did begin to wear a little thin after a while. Just what all those shenanigans with the bat-wings were towards the end, that was just a little too goofy, as well. Not really sure about that at all.

Wulfgar was a real jerk for the majority of this book, as well. Seeing his character development, while it did kinda make sense, annoyed me so utterly that I was actually glad to see the yochlol eat him. A part of me, of course, hasn’t actually written him off yet. Until I see his mangled corpse, I’m not entirely convinced. As an aside, I got the impression that Salvatore, seeing how successful the character of Drizzt became in his trilogy about Wulfgar, decided to kill off the barbarian in order to concentrate on the elf. Of course, I don’t yet know if he’s really dead – along with the ‘no body rule’, I’m suspicious because of the fact they turned up Aegis-fang in that mound of rubble, but no sign of the big guy. Hm.

I am, however, trying to avoid reading anything on this subject, in case it proves or disproves my suspicions before I read the rest of the books!

So a strong beginning, but a bit of a mess the longer it went on. I’m actually going to take a break for a while, as I want to get reading some other stuff, so will likely move on to book eight after a couple of weeks. It’ll be interesting to see what happens next, though!

Back to the Dungeon!

Hey everybody!
As D&D week comes to a close here at spalanz.com, I wanted to take some time to talk about something particularly special to me, the D&D cartoon!

Dungeons & Dragons

A product of the early 80s, I must admit to having come quite late to this one, being introduced to it around 2 years ago – again, my friend Tony has a lot to answer for! Something that I haven’t yet delved into on this blog is my love of retro cartoons. Being a child of the 80s, these are things I’ve grown up with and loved, and will always have a special place for me! Hopefully this year, I’ll get to share more of these classics with you, in my own inimitable fashion!

Anyway.

The D&D cartoon, as I said, is something that I’d been aware of, but hadn’t any real recollection of from my childhood. I recall a trip to the local HMV store back when I was in college, where Tony was eyeing up the D&D boxset, but I went for Visionaries back then… ah, happy days! But then, around two or so years ago, he loaned me his copies of the DVDs, so I sat down to watch them with a bag of tortilla chips and some salsa (this is very important!), and found myself really enjoying them!

The show tells the story of a group of kids who, after going on a D&D ride at a theme park, are transported to the realm of D&D and need to find their way home. They are pursued by Venger, but assisted by the Dungeon Master, who gives each a power weapon to assist in their quest. The feel of the show is very much along the lines of an adventure in the sense of the RPG, with the kids set a task they have to accomplish.

Enjoyed that? I hope you did! The second episode in the series is particularly good, featuring the classic D&D monster, the Beholder!

It wasn’t long after being introduced to this cartoon that I found myself having to move house, and what was a very stressful time became so much easier thanks to the little bit of escapism these shows offered to me! This, and BraveStarr, but that’s a subject for another blog! I’d watched maybe ten episodes before I was in my new place, and one of the first things I did was begin watching them again from the beginning, of course, with tortilla chips and salsa!

D&D

Over the course of about a month, I made it through all 27 episodes of the show, including this one, episode 13, a loose retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk:

OH MY GOODNESS ME, I remembered this episode almost word-for-word from when I was about 5 or 6! While it’s hardly a particularly awesome tale, for me it was absolutely awesome from start to finish! What a tidal wave of memories.

Yes, sadly, 27 episodes is the entire run. A 28th was written, but never produced. The kids never did find their way home on the screen, but in a way that’s not really a bad thing. I mean, we never really saw the beginning of the story, only the truncated events of the opening credits (which, really, is all that’s needed anyway). The show really doesn’t have a beginning or an end, it’s just a series of adventures. And I’m pretty fine with that, I must say!

I love this series, though. I hope that, in sharing some of these cartoons, I’ve been able to share some of the awesome with you – remember, if you want the whole lot, the box set is available!

dungeons-dragons_L39

Dungeons and Dragons week may be over now, but this is definitely not the last you’ll be reading of it on my blog, anyway!

Until next time!

Tales of the Drow

Dungeons and Dragons week continues!

Following my look at the Legend of Drizzt boardgame on Tuesday, it’s only fair that I look at the books that inspired it all. As I mentioned in that blog, I came to Drizzt in early 2013, and was a bit hesitant at first, due to my prior commitments to the Star Wars universe. I suppose I felt like I didn’t have the room for something as big as this in my head. A similar argument was made in the early days for Warhammer, but that didn’t last, either. My friend and gaming buddy Tony has been a D&D fan for as long as I can remember, and had frequently tried to get me into the fantasy realm, though I’d always resisted. However, after playing and enjoying the offerings of the Adventure System boardgames, I thought I’d see what the fuss was all about, and bought the box set of the first three books in the Legend of Drizzt line. A line that, I hadn’t realised at the time, stretches to thirteen novels, with an anthology of short stories!

The Legend of Drizzt

So I embarked on Homeland, snowed up at home, and found myself utterly enraptured. From that first chapter, describing the drow raid against the backdrop of Drizzt Do’Urden’s birth, I was hooked. The intricacies of drow society sucked me in even further, and within a matter of days I’d finished it. Homeland is one of those books that took me along for a truly incredible ride, one that I needed to have a break after, to catch my breath and digest it all. While I find the trope of a misunderstood hero not fitting in with his society really quite hackneyed, the execution here is just fabulous.

I’d only previously encountered RA Salvatore through his Star Wars novels – Vector Prime, and the novel for Attack of the Clones. Both of these had been a bit wordy, and a bit heavy-going, so this only added to my suspicions about the series. However, Homeland threw all that out of the window, and proved to be an immensely enjoyable experience. Seriously, I cannot tell you just how much this book has pleased me – you just need to read it and see for yourself.

Real life intervened at this point, however, and I found myself moving house, so unable to move onto book two, Exile. When I finally made it to this book, I was ensconced in my new place, no snow on the ground, but had a similarly enjoyable experience. It’s set ten years after Homeland, so I suppose the break helped… We get to see even more of the Underdark, the land of eternal night. Dark Elf (drow) society is further expounded upon, and the characters of the previous book further developed. Even though Drizzt is now an outcast of his society, due to his conscience, we still see plenty of Matron Malice and her brood.

Drizzt’s mother is actually among the pantheon of amazing fantasy characters, for me. Literally every scene she was in had me engrossed utterly, so that when I’d put the book down to, say, get another coffee, I’d be surprised by the fact that I was in daylight! Yes, it really was that incredible. However, the whole story is just propelled along so well that it’s really easy to become so embroiled. Without the burden of exposition that Homeland has, Exile is consequently just an awesome adventure!

Book three, Sojourn, unfortunately started to let me down. At the end of Exile, we know Drizzt is now determined to live his life on the surface of the world, and of course this whole trilogy has been a prequel to the Icewind Dale trilogy, where we see Drizzt on the surface like he’s been there for years. Sojourn, therefore, has classic “bridge syndrome” of needing to get a character from A to B. The story is still good, of course, but it does feel a little ploddy at times.

All in all, however, the Dark Elf trilogy is bloody marvellous! You really need to go out there and get a copy of these books!

The Crystal Shard full cover

As I said, anyway, Drizzt first appeared in The Crystal Shard, where he was actually a supporting character to the tale of the young barbarian, Wulfgar. The popularity of the Dark Elf, however, led to the Legend being born, and it didn’t take long for the prequels and sequels to come, and the whole to be repackaged as the Legend of Drizzt. However, reading The Crystal Shard now, it feels a little uneven at times, as it’s being sold as a Drizzt novel, though there is a lot of focus placed on Wulfgar. At any rate, The Crystal Shard is a big difference from the previous stories, if you read them in this order as I did!

Inspired by traditional fantasy rather than the RPG, there is a lot of Tolkien in The Crystal Shard. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though. I’m not actually a fan of Tolkien’s prose, as I find him unnecessarily long-winded, but his inspiration is beyond question, and his influence tremendous. Here, we get a lot of Tolkienesque scenes and sequences that feel like they’re trying too hard to be Tolkienesque. If they had been more Salvatore-esque, perhaps they would have succeeded much better? Well, anyway, this was Salvatore’s first published novel.

All of this aside, it’s pretty epic in its scope, and features a handful of story kernels scattered throughout that would spin off later novels in a completely natural way. Awesome stuff. While the story is notable for just how human the main characters are, it’s particularly noteworthy for the issues of race it addresses. Drizzt is a Dark Elf, a species also called drow, which I have mentioned before of course, but in D&D, Dark Elves are literally dark, with black skin and white hair. That the drow are reviled on the surface of the world for their evil deeds is a really nice metaphor for addressing racism in the modern world. Of course, this was before the Dark Elf trilogy, when we discovered that the drow really are evil and heartless. But I was particularly impressed with how Salvatore worked this into the book, and it goes to show how fantasy writing isn’t all about escapism. Written in the late 1980s, though, this perhaps also helped legitimize D&D, at a time when it was being demonized for encouraging Satanism.

Moving on!

While knowing that the ideas from The Crystal Shard would be picked up in later novels, I was nevertheless surprised to discover the next book in the trilogy, Streams of Silver, went a completely different route. Bruenor Battlehammer takes centre stage as we follow him on his quest to find his ancestral homeland of Mithral Hall. This book introduces the assassin Artemis Entreri, sent to pursue the halfling Regis to regain a valuable gemstone. Essentially a road trip story, it is actually really enjoyable, with a lot of twists along the way as we explore more of the world. By the end, however, all appears lost, as Bruenor appears to have died in his battle with the dragon Shimmergloom, and Regis has been captured by Entreri.

The Halfling’s Gem concludes the trilogy, though I have yet to actually finish this installment! Shameful, I know. A huge chunk of the beginning of this novel takes place as a boat trip, and I have to admit, I felt a bit journey-ed out by this point. I tend not to like road-trip stories where the focus is on that journey, I have to say. They tend to have a rambling quality that I find unfocused, but that’s just me. I abandoned book three roughly in the middle, over the summer of 2013, and I’m not entirely sure what I moved onto in its place! However, I have now embarked upon my attempt to finish it.

There are, after all, so many more Drizzt books out there…

The Legend of Drizzt

Buy it from amazon:
The Legend of Drizzt, set I (out of print, I believe, but linked because it’s the box set I mention)
Homeland
Exile
Sojourn
The Legend of Drizzt, set II (also out of print, it appears)
The Crystal Shard
Streams of SIlver
The Halfling’s Gem

25th Anniversary Edition, book one (the Dark Elf trilogy)
25th Anniversary Edition, book two (the Icewind Dale trilogy)

Adventures in the Underdark

It’s D&D week!

Over the weekend, I read this post from fellow blogger Man of Yesterday (who I highly recommend you follow!) on playing a D&D adventure, and have been inspired to make a feature week here on my blog! I’ve talked about my own roleplaying experiences but briefly, but suffice it to say, I love it. D&D has existed on my radar for years now, as my good friend and sparring partner Tony is a huge fan, but it was only recently that I really delved into that world.

I recently mentioned that I like to read at least one new book in January. Well, in 2013, that new book was RA Salvatore’s Homeland. I was immediately blown away by this book, which I started almost begrudgingly, if I’m honest. I’m going to talk about that in a later blog this week, but the reason for my hesitation was that I’m primarily a Star Wars geek, and wasn’t sure I had room in my head for another big franchise. However, I wanted to read it because of this:

The Legend of Drizzt

Part of the D&D Adventure System board game line, this box – and its two siblings – is just awesome! Essentially a dungeon-crawl in the manner of Descent (which I will get to, one day!), these games are among my absolute favourites. Based on the d20 D&D RPG line, the games feature a strong role-playing element, and include classic monsters from the line such as the Beholder. And the AI makes them playable solo! Fantastic.

You start out with a character card, one of the major players in the saga such as Bruenor Battlehammer, his adopted daughter Catti-Brie, the young barbarian Wulfgar, or maybe even Drizzt himself – and receive a number of power cards much like in the RPG. The character cards are double-sided, and certain events (such as rolling a natural 20, or the Battlefield Promotion Treasure card) allow you to level up, flipping the card for slightly increased stats!

Once you’ve got your character sorted, you place the corresponding miniature on the starting tile, and the adventure begins! The game comes with a whole host of miniatures, for all the monsters as well as the heroes.

The game comes with an Adventure Book, which sets out a number of scenarios you can play with the game. (As a side note, each of the three boxes are meant to be compatible, and in the early days, Wizards brought out a couple of web-scenarios that specifically integrated the first two box sets. Nothing has come out to integrate all three, though there are fan expansions in this vein available online).

Each adventure has a slightly different layout, depending on the objective. For illustrative purposes, I was playing scenario 2, the Search for Mirthril Hall. This one requires a specific ‘cavern tile’ to be shuffled into three ordinary tiles, then all four are placed at the bottom of a stack of eight other tiles, timing the adventure to last between 9 and 12 tile-reveals. There are some pretty awesome map tiles in this set, some used for specific scenarios – such as the Broken Door tile in the adventure I’m playing:

The Legend of Drizzt

Each tile has an arrow on it, as well as a cluster of mushrooms. On your hero’s turn, if you are at an “unexplored edge” of a tile, you draw a new one, placing it so that the arrow points to that edge. If the arrow is white, you’re (reasonably) fine and draw a Monster card, and place the corresponding miniature on the mushroom cluster. If the arrow is black, you first draw an Encounter card, which can denote all sorts of nastiness, from area-attacks on your tile, to specific traps being laid!

The Legend of Drizzt

In addition to lots of miniatures, there are lots of cards, and lots of tokens. Just how I like my boardgames, really!

The Legend of Drizzt

Monster Cards show that monster’s Armor Class (AC) and Hit Points (HP). When fighting a monster, the hero rolls a d20 and adds their attack value; if the result exceeds the AC, they do a number of damage that deducts HP from the monster until it is dead. If the monster is defeated, it goes into the Experience pile – Experience can be used to cancel Encounter Cards as well as to level up when you’ve rolled a natural 20. You also get to draw a Treasure Card when you defeat a monster, which can be anything from weapons to health boosts, to that Battlefield Promotion!

However, if you don’t defeat the monster in one round of combat, that monster will be coming for you! They have ‘Tactics’ printed on their cards, showing how they move and, in some cases, which weapon they use. They also have attack and damage values – you roll the d20 and add their attack value, comparing it to your own AC, etc. A very simple, yet tremendously effective AI!

The Legend of Drizzt

Sometimes, however, that shadow up ahead might just be a Stalagmite!

The Legend of Drizzt

Most adventures have some sort of set-up similar to that described above, and in Search for Mithril Hall, once the Broken Door tile is revealed, the Ancient Throne tile is placed alongside it. This is a double-tile, and involves the Crown token (if you’ve read the Icewind Dale trilogy, you’ll love this!). This also triggers the end-game, however, as the Artemis Entreri enemy figure is also placed on the Start Tile, and each turn, he’s coming for you!

The D&D Adventure System features some straightforward monsters, and some more complex. The latter type have quite lengthy stat cards akin to those of the heroes. However, Legend of Drizzt takes that one step further and provides Hero cards for two of the enemy figures, Artemis and also Jarlaxle. Fans of the Hunter’s Blades trilogy will be particularly enraptured! It’s a really nice twist being able to play these “grey” characters (who hilariously have grey miniatures in this game!).

The Legend of Drizzt

Oh yeah, there’s also a Guenhwyvar miniature you can use as an ally! Awesome!

The game is really quite straightforward to play, which allows you to focus on enjoying the adventure rather than getting bogged-down in rules. Its adventures draw mainly from the Icewind Dale trilogy, and there are quite a lot of moments where, if you’ve read those books, you’ll be enraptured as you play through the events in board game form!

Of course, this is Wizards of the Coast, so there are promos available. Well, promo, actually. A Vierna Do’Urden monster card was released, which I managed to snaffle online after the fact for a modest sum, and has shown up quite a few times, in some truly awesome epic storytelling moments – the first time I used her, she ended up Poisoning Drizzt, which actually killed him. Not quite a repeat of the scene in the books, but it was a hilarious move!

Dungeons and Dragons Adventure System Board Game

As mentioned before, The Legend of Drizzt is just one of the line of Adventure System board games, all three of which are fully compatible with each other. So you can play Drizzt and Wulfgar and face off against Ashardalon, for instance. Or use the Ranger or Fighter power cards from either game to equip Drizzt and Bruenor as you explore Castle Ravenloft. Personally, I like to keep all three games separate, but I’ve heard of people mixing everything together, and it seems to work well for them.

I’ll be featuring all of these games on Game Day blogs soon, anyway!

Legend of Drizzt came out in 2011, and the Adventure System has been really quiet until the end of last year, when it was announced that a fourth game would be released in the spring of 2015. We finally have a name for it, Temple of Elemental Evil! It seems to be some sort of ‘event’ in the D&D world happening this year, with the game tying in as a result. Well, whatever it is, I’m all for it!

For now, I’ll leave you with a last look at that fantastic Errtu miniature, the hulking fire demon from The Crystal Shard. Enjoy!

The Legend of Drizzt

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The Legend of Drizzt