Board Game Review: Legend of Drizzt—D&D Fun for All

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the fantastic opportunity to play some Legend of Drizzt. Drizzt is the third in the Adventure System games produced by Wizards of the Coast. In it, the players take on the roles of adventuring heroes exploring an underground cavern.

Drizzt is based on the book series featuring the titular drow and his companions. Fans of the book series will find numerous references and much familiarity. If you are like me and the book series is foreign to you, you can still have a great time with this game. It’s a little (well, not little at all, really) box of D&D, with simple rules and no need for a DM.

The Basics. You and your merry band of heroes are going on an adventure. The game comes with an Adventure book with 13 scenarios included. The majority are cooperative engagements, though there are a few team or competitive affairs for those that want the head-to-head competition.

Most adventures require you to retrieve an item or kill a powerful villain. While some are straightforward, others have multiple steps or require you to take on numerous minions in addition to the main bad guy.

Yes, "numerous" is a good way to describe them.

The board itself consists of numerous interlocking tiles. As players explore the dungeon, they draw new tiles at random to expand the playing area. Each time a new tile is revealed, a monster is randomly drawn and placed on the tile. And, potentially, a deadly encounter is also drawn. The monsters operate on simple if-then commands “If the monster is next to a hero it attacks,” “if it is within one tile it attacks the nearest hero,” “otherwise, it moves one tile closer.” That sort of thing.

Heroes must defeat the monsters, avoid traps, and successfully complete the adventure in order to win the scenario. If a hero is dead and there are no “Healing Surges” left to raise him back up, then the heroes all lose. This deftly avoids player elimination that sometimes cripples highly thematic games.

The modular board means every dungeon you explore will be unique.

The Feel. As someone who enjoyed a healthy dose of D&D back in my middle school years, I loved this game. Drizzt effectively recaptures the feeling of conquering an old school dungeon crawl while attempting to heroically complete a quest. What’s more, it does it with a randomly generated board and tangible figures that can be held, observed, and moved around.

And, lest I forget, the figures are fantastic! The box comes packed to the brim with the various monsters of the Underdark that you will face. Lots of goblins and evil drow, sure, but also Spiders, Mind Flayers, Elementals, Spirits, Trolls, and all kinds of big bads. The scaling and size of some of these monsters, especially when compared to your heroes, is enough to intimidate.

Tokens, chits, and tiles abound. Even with the cavern pieces and monsters removed, the box is still filled.

Each character has a unique special power, and all of the characters have several abilities to choose from. In fact, you can select from a variety of different abilities before game starts. Drizzt, for example, has a potential pool of about eight abilities—and you can select four of them for the adventure. In this way, it keeps things interesting as you try to select the powers that will be of most benefit on a given scenario.

Drizzt provides just enough of the min/maxing element of D&D without being overbearing. Armor Class and attacks are dramatically simplified to keep the game accessible and running smoothly. But, there are still a wealth of tactics and considerations to keep even a veteran D&Der engaged.

Ladies and Gentleman, may I present the saviors of the realm.

If I had a nit to pick (and, I should stress, I’m searching for one here), it’s that set-up can be kind of a chore. When introducing this game to nongamers, it was easy for them to get bored or distracted during set-up. There’s a lot to do—shuffle cavern tiles, shuffle cards, select powers, drag out some monsters, nab adventure specific components, reference the adventure book, and so forth— and it can seem a bit overwhelming.

The other potential negative is that, in a five-player game, it can take some time before your turn comes back around. And, especially in the beginning adventures, you might only get to explore once before the villain is unleashed. Down time can be an issue, but the game scales very well and it does not have that problem with two to four players.

(Almost) all put away. This game really has it going on, components wise.

Components: 5 of 5. Drizzt is gorgeous. The cavern tiles are very thick and have excellent detailing. The wealth of components is incredible—especially considering that many tokens and pieces are used in only one adventure, yet still have considerable detail and care in their construction. And the monsters! Tons of scale monsters to really enhance the experience. You get tons of game in this box.

Strategy/Luck Balance: 4.5 of 5. Dice exist in Drizzt. Every attack, every trap disarm attempt, is made with the roll of a twenty sided die. But, that’s just one piece of the equation. The game is extremely tactical. You have to decide who will attack the monster, who will explore and see if you can use abilities to do both. Tactical considerations are primary and while individual die rolls may go for or against you, it only helps create the narrative of the story. Plus, with the attack bonuses built in to the game, the vast majority of attacks will hit.

Mechanics: 4 of 5. Drizzt creates a very successful cooperative game that provides tension and unpredictability for a terrific experience. The adventures each work well and provide a good amount of challenge. Because of so many moving parts, though, there will be the occasional unintended rules weirdness.

For example, in one adventure we fought a mindflayer. Her top ability is, “If she is on a tile with a monster, that monster activates.” This can be incredibly dangerous as monsters just come out of the woodwork and start attacking the heroes. But, lucky for us, the only monster on the tile was a Hypnotic spirit. When the Spirit activates, it attacks heroes on its tile or draws heroes to it. So, the heroes would get drawn right to the villain, then attack her and move off the tile so that the Spirit drew them back in. We had to use some abilities here or there, but it effectively nullified the villain.

Those strange situations are very rare, but they can and do happen from time to time.

Replayability: 3 of 5. I have loved every game of Drizzt. And it comes with 13 adventures—plus I’m sure additional adventures will be available as both official and fan creations. However, I still worry about replayability. Almost every adventure has the characters drawing cavern tiles and fighting monsters for the first little bit. That’s the same start every time, and it can feel a little repetitive. So, while I am still up for more games, I have to wonder if it will have staying power.

Spite: 0.5 of 5. Played in co-op mode, there is no spite whatsoever. Played in a competitive or team game, there are some “take that” moves here and there, but largely you are simply competing against the opposite team. Drizzt features minimal spite.

A Sample Monster: The Drow Duelist attacks twice with his swift blades.

Overall: 4.5 of 5. Drizzt has provided fantastic experiences for me. It is accessible to both the hardcore gamer crowd as well as more casual types. While I appreciate the strong theme, those averse to fantasy may want to pass on this title (lamers). But if you’re looking for a quick D&D experience in a box, Drizzt fits that bill to a T. The game plays in about an hour or less. Drizzt provides tons of quality components and little toys monster figures. Definitely worth a look.

(A special thanks to Wizards of the Coast for providing a review copy of this game).

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