When Wizards of the Coast announced the release of the Legend of Drizzt board game in their Adventure Game System line, fans of the legendary Drow Ranger Drizzt Do’urden were no doubt pleased. In fact, the game includes many elements of the R.A. Salvatore novels, including Drizzt himself and many of the important characters and villains. However, while ostensibly using the same rules as Castle Ravenloft and Wrath of Ashardalon, the other two board games in the series, Drizzt seems in places to depart in several important ways from the two previous titles. In spite of these thematic departures, the game does introduce some really neat concepts that can be easily extended to the previous games.
First, it is important to understand that the previous two titles, Castle Ravenloft and Wrath of Ashardalon, are so similar to one another that Wizards of the Coast (WotC) has released a three-adventure campaign utilizing components from both. Wrath of Ashardalon introduces a few new elements like doors and campaigns, but ultimately it cleaves to the thematic and mechanical precedents set by Castle Ravenloft. While it is worth exploring the new elements in Legend of Drizzt (LoD) that are in fact fully compatible with the rest of the series, let us first explore a few minor to moderate issues of back compatibility from Legend of Drizzt to the other two games.
First of all, the heroes, particulary Drizzt Do’urden, are generally more powerful than the heroes in the other two sets. Right off the bat, if one simply uses a LoD hero in one of the other games (again, particularly Drizzt), one can expect to have an easier time of it. This can be salvaged, of course, if one considers that the other games, especially Wrath of Ashardalon, have some very challenging scenarios. The newer heroes can simply be used in lieu of adding an extra healing surge token to the heroes in those other sets. But if you are looking for heroes that are balanced against the other two games, you won’t find it here.
Other differences besides mere power exist for the heroes. They tend to get more assigned powers, similar to Healing Word for the Cleric in Raveloft, and are allowed to make fewer choices, particularly for the At-wills. However, heroes tend to get to choose two Utility powers, and some of these, called Stances, can be used repeatedly throughout the game. This actually makes the heroes somewhat more fun to play, once you get past the fact that they are a step above the heroes from Ravenloft and Ashardalon. You will even find heroes that have a Speed of 7, which is yet another stretched limit.
In spite of the more robust heroes, the game is rather challenging, and the newer monsters and encounters make it more dangerous for lesser heroes. Several monsters such as the Hypnotic Spirit and Water Elemental attack each hero on a tile. The Spider Swarm can poison everyone, and the Drow Wizard damages all of the heroes on a miss. (Only one monster in each of the previous sets can attack all heroes on a tile). If the Goblin Champion starts adjacent to a hero, he gets to attack, also damaging on a miss, and then he can immediately run away! The Drow Duellist can attack twice, and the Hunting Drake moves two tiles toward the hero with the fewest hit points, making him deadlier than the otherwise similar Castle Ravenloft Wolf.
Then there are the monsters worth 4 experience. Two Feral Trolls and a Drider named Dinin Do’urden are each have 3 or 4 hit points and get passed to the player to the right after each villain phase, thereby activating on each player’s turn like Villains. The greater hp and activations on each player’s turn effectively make them semi-villains. This precedent was actually set by the promo figures from GenCon for the previous two games, but was made standard in this set. These ‘level four’ monsters also close the threat gap between the level 1-3 monsters of previous sets and the level 5 and 6 Villains. And while there aren’t quite as many monsters in this set, the amount of plastic used for the Feral Trolls and Dinin Do’urden make up for it.
A surprising departure from the previous sets was the lack of any level 6 Villains in Drizzt. Castle Ravenloft had Straud and a Dracolich, Wrath of Ashardalon had the Ancient Red Dragon Ashardalon and a Gauth Beholder – but all of the villains in Legend of Drizzt, including the mega-sized Demon sculpt and the epically cool Shadow Dragon, are each only level 5. This is puzzling, especially since the set upped the ante with the 4 experience point monsters. For what it’s worth, the villain cards in this set are all of the same smaller level 5 villain size, which makes more room for double-size tiles, like the Start Tile.
A last point of departure is the fact that all of the tiles are now labeled ‘Cavern Tile’ instead of ‘Dungeon Tile.’ This would seem to make mixing and matching tiles between sets more difficult, at least if you want generic scenarios. On other hand, the new style of tile is pretty nifty, and really captures the Underdark feel. And to add to that feel, there are Narrow Passage tiles that inflict a -4 Armor Class penalty to heroes and monsters on those tiles. These penalties are denoted by purple ‘-4 AC’ tile tokens that are shaped like the damage tokens that show damage on a monster. And while we are on it, there are now damage tokens that show 2 damage, in keeping with the higher hp monsters.
Now for the pluses. Legend of Drizzt adds several fun elements to an already exciting line. The tiles now include small, trapezoidal ‘Cavern Edge’ tiles that are about one-fourth the size of a regular tile, and which can be used to finish off a cave passage. These are especially useful in the scenarios where you build your own cavern maps at the start of the game. There are also volcanic vent tiles that are dangerous for heroes to linger on because certain encounter cards can cause damage to anyone on or near these tiles. Some of the encounters can also immobilize or poison the heroes, and condition tokens exist for each of these. It’s worth noting the the Immobilize token first appeared in Castle Ravenloft and the Poison token first appeared in Wrath of Ashardalon, so Legend of Drizzt took one from each.
Other terrain aspects include a Secret Tunnel (with two map tokens) that can be placed by a treasure card, a Camp (also with a token) that can be placed to allow a player to skip drawing and encounter card for that turn, and treasure chests that are sometimes trapped – and often hold treasure. Unfortunately, like the doors introduced in Wrath of Ashardalon, there is no way to disable a chest trap, not even a trick like the Mage Hand of the Dragonborn Wizard Hero included in that set. Several of the small, round item and similar tokens also boast full color print.
Allies bring some creativity to the turn sequence. For example, if you are playing Drizzt Do’urden and a friend is playing Catie-Brie in a two-player game, it is possible to have one of the other heroes appear as an ally, which is essentially a sort of friendly monster card that activates after Villains but before any monsters or traps you control during your villain phase. These allies are not as powerful as the same characters are when they are included as heroes in their own right, but it is nice to have the magical panther Genhwyvar (who actually does not appear as a hero in the game) or the Barbarian Wulfgar (who does) on one’s side in battle. The can be particularly useful since they activate after a new tile places a monster during the exploration phase, but before that monster can attack you!
The game also continues the concept of curse encounter cards from Wrath of Ashardalon. It does not do more with the multi-monster Legion Devil concept from Ashardalon, nor with the Sentry monster concept that causes a monster on a tile by itself near an unexplored edge to call other monsters for aid. But there is no need to recreate all of the newer stuff that made Ashardalon great. Besides, there is a monster card called Hunting Party that has you draw two monsters for the turn, and another, called Stalagmite, that is essentially a ‘no monster this turn card.’ These add some flavor to the monster deck, and the Hunting Party does it in a more elegant way than the Sentry monster in Ashardalon.
One of the most fascinating ideas they put into this box that really adds a new dimension to the game is the inclusion of both competitive and team scenarios. Competitive scenarios are ‘every hero for herself,’ while team scenarios pit one or more players against the remaining players. Artemis Entreri and Jarlaxle can be used both as heroes and as villains, depending on the scenario in question. And there is no question of theme in this set; it is dripping with it.
Ultimately, you will want this game if you like the others in the series, or if you like quest games in general. This might even be a great first game to get, particularly if you are only going to buy one. The cooperative, competitive and team scenarios offer more options for players looking for different gameplay experiences, and it doesn’t take long to overlook the differences between Legend of Drizzt and the earlier titles.
In the New York City Area, you can buy Legend of Drizzt in Legendary Realms (Plainview), The Compleat Strategist (Manhattan), and the Twenty Sided Store (Brooklyn).