I started my love of hobby board gaming with the D&D Adventure Board games many years ago, let the games sit idle and unplayed for quite some time, and then had my love for the system rekindled a little under two years ago with the release of Tomb of Annihilation. When the chance game to review the newest of these games, Dungeons and Dragons: Waterdeep - Dungeon of the Mad Mage, I jumped at the chance. These games hold a special place in my heart, and my gaming group and I really enjoy our excursions into the not-so-deep depths of these light dungeon crawlers, and so we were quite looking forward to this installment. While it does have some issues, there is still a ton of fun to be had here especially for people who've played and enjoyed any of the prior games.
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If you've played any of the prior games in this series then you'll feel right at home with Dungeon of the Mad Mage. Everything is familiar, but the game and missions have a unique feel from past titles. This time the name of the game is swarms of monsters. Typically in these games when you explore a new tile at the end of your turn you'll be met with one or two monsters, who then activate and deal a bit of damage before the turn passes to the next player. Here though, a single tile flip can result in an absolute swarm of monsters. During one mission Trosper (the rogue) revealed a new tile that led to a cascading effect of new tiles and monsters. When the dust had cleared Trosper had spawned no less than NINE new monsters on the board in one fell swoop. Dangerous, and a bit hilarious, stuff.
So, since swarms of monsters are the norm then each of the heroes comes with a way to deal with multiple monsters then? Well, yes and no. This group of heroes is a really odd bunch as far as the adventure games go. There always seems to be that one key hero that is a bit more powerful than the others, and for Dungeon of the Mad Mage it's Marcon. Marcon can re-use his Daily and Utility powers (normally single-use only) up to three times before he has to start flipping them face down, and without his ability to drop major bombs on groups of enemies things heat up and get out of hand really quickly. Marcon is a glass canon though, with low armor and low HP, so keeping him alive to wreak havoc on the monsters is a group effort.
That's where the rest of the group comes in. While you could get away with playing with fewer than 5 characters in previous titles in the series Dungeon of the Mad Mage really feels tailored to an entire party of 5. The other four characters definitely have roles to play, but next to Marcon's flashy death-explosions they all tend to live in his shadow a bit, especially the rogue Trosper. That's all well and good if you are playing with fewer than 5 players, and having people control more than 1 character, or playing with younger players who get an extra thrill from being the most powerful of the lot, but it's a bit underwhelming to walk around disabling traps or taking a swing at a single monster the turn after Marcon turned an entire room full of the baddies into gibs with the wave of his hand.
There are levels to be gained if you are playing the game as the intended campaign, and each character does get better, and there is even more power to be gained with purchasable Advancement tokens and treasures that can be bought or looted. Each character can be taken up to 4th level, and each has a some Expert Powers that can be learned that really feel powerful, and necessary in the later missions, and missions give better rewards if players can manage to fulfill the victory conditions without using any Healing Surges, and it can take planning and teamwork to manage that, so even though Marcon is your lynch pin everyone still has a role to play.
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If you've played any of the games in this system before, assuming you are like me and liked them of course, then Dungeons & Dragons: Waterdeep - Dungeon of the Mad Mage is a great addition to the system, clunky title and all. The compatibility between systems means that you could easily replace a few of the less exciting characters here with your favorites from past games, or insert some of the crazier monsters from the other games to really make this a monster party. Despite the hiccups with the misprinted verbiage and cards we still really enjoy this system, and the subtle tweaks to the overall formula keep things familiar yet interesting game to game.
A note on “chrome”: Dungeons & Dragons: Waterdeep - Dungeon of the Mad Mage has really solid components, especially in the Premium Edition (used for this review) that comes with pre-painted miniatures. The card and cardboard quality are all nice, although a few of the double-sized tiles showed a bit of warping, but a night under a few other heavy board game boxes fixed that issue. The rulebook and some of the cards have misprints though, which can cause confusion, especially if you are new to the system. There is an official FAQ available that addresses most of these, but they do let the overall experience down a bit.
The bottom line:
Waterdeep - Dungeon of the Mad Mage is a fun next entry into the now 6-game-strong D&D Adventure board game system, but it has a few warts that mean it's probably not the best game in the system to start with if you haven't played these games before. Once you get past the misprints in the rules and on some cards the game is still really solid. These aren't the types of games you buy to play a months-long campaign, but rather the games you buy when you want a lighter game that still gives you a sense of challenge, character growth and accomplishment in a relatively brisk play time. Waterdeep - Dungeon of the Mad Mage is an excellent choice if you are looking to play with new players, or younger gamers who want to be involved in a campaign driven dungeon crawl, but aren't quite ready for a game with a heavy rulebook and intricate mechanical nuances.
Get this game if:
You've enjoyed the other games in the D&D Adventure board game system.
You like campaign games with minimal bookkeeping.
You like beer & pretzels-style games that are easy to learn and play.
You want to buy in to a game system that is compatible across many titles.
Avoid this game if:
You prefer games that don't rely on luck.
You like competitive games.
You like games with deep story and character customization.
The copy of Dungeons & Dragons: Waterdeep - Dungeon of the Mad Mage Premium Edition used for this review was provided by WizKids.
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