Review by Fish Popowich
Dragons of Unfamiliar Seasons
With the release of Dragonlance: Shadow of the Dragon Queen right around the corner and excitement mounting, my Companions and I gathered round the table to throw in our lot against the Dragon Armies and fight in the War of the Lance. Dragonlance: Warriors of Krynn is a companion board game that can be played separately or together with the 5th Edition adventure book; this is a chronicle of our first session.
Sitting at 25 pages, the rules for Warriors of Krynn are well laid out and include many illustrations showing off the beautiful components. This game does not focus on skirmish combat, but instead on whole fields of battle. The players each take control of a hero to affect the scenario by completing objectives and managing complications, but they do not directly participate in the actual mass combat. On their respective turns, each player performs 4 actions such as moving around the modular board and attempting to remove a problematic NPC guarding an objective and using their class abilities. Then a couple of dice are rolled and cards are flipped and the plastic chits that make up the two armies are abstractly updated on the map, which has the feeling of the wartable full of wooden markers you often see in fantasy media that the main characters are engaging in dramatic moments next to. In an effort to keep this phase from getting overly complicated, it almost feels too streamlined. One side is declared superior, inflicts effects, and then the focus switches away. Each flank also has an alliance commander who has an ability that can be triggered, but they also do not engage in combat. They can be Staggered or removed, however.
Because the game was designed to reuse components as much as possible, the story beats are told through reusable Key Moments and the second half of the book is comprised of 146 of these numbered entries which all have mechanical effects attached. For example, if a scenario calls for Key Moment 83, that activates the Flames of War which sets the Right Flank aflame and adds some reinforcements. Some of these are Quests or feel very specific, others feel like sensible random events.
Having read the rules, punched out the cardboard, and setup the table, we ran through Scenario 0 to try out the game. Building your hero entails picking a miniature and their corresponding reference card. These heroes do not have any unique abilities assigned to them, instead you pick one of 12 Class Cards based on the 5th Edition classes and those set your actual abilities. Each class has two Mastered Abilities which makes challenges of those kinds easier, and 4 Ability cards which are tactical options that can be used and refreshed. As this is a cooperative game, it would benefit the players to make these class decisions as a group. Because this was the first session, we did not think to do this, though we did try to cover the main 6 Abilities.
The scenario itself is a simple Capture the Flag-type configuration. There is one flag behind the starting point —we assumed we started at the Command Tent as it didn’t really say — one in the middle of the map, and one at the far side. There are four NPCs on the map apart from the armies that stand in the way and like Warcraft III creeps need just a simple smacking to defeat and loot. Once each flag is interacted with there is no need to bring them home as they automatically teleport back to base where they are safe and can’t be stolen.
Each player then started their turn flipping over a random event card that indicated if one branch of the army would be attacking or if all of them would, if there was a Key Moment activated that changed things, and any other special changes. Where my Paladin stuck mostly to the Right Flank putting out fires, our Fighter started hunting down NPCs on the right side of the map. The Druid headed to the Left Flank to bolster the troops as that was the active flank (only one is active at a time in Scenario 0). The Sorcerer headed to the far left to get the furthest flag. While we were spreading ourselves out, the Left Flank got overwhelmed and shut down. Losing both Flanks is a defeat condition, so the Druid and I fell back to defend. The secondary tiles often have Encounters that can be engaged to help, so reinforcements were called and the Left Flank was able to be mostly restored in the time in took to get two of the three flags.
The third flag turned out to be far more critical than we expected, however. Due to the Sorcerer’s inability to roll well, they used their Tides of Chaos ability to be able to get an Equipment card that we otherwise had no access to and got Basic Poison that they used to fatal effect. Feeling good about ourselves for the close call, the Druid reviewed the Win conditions: return all three flags (check), defeated all vile champions (check), and a hero with an equipment card is on the Command Tent. This was confusing as it was only by chance we even had an Equipment card. Nothing else in the scenario gives access to these cards. No other class gets access to these. What if we hadn’t brought a Sorcerer? It’s still unclear to us where this came from or what the point of it was. Further scenarios do not include this stipulation either.
After Training Grounds / Scenario 0, there is a campaign of 12 linked Scenarios. Each includes the setup map, what components are involved, which Key Moments will be triggered, and Win / Hold / Loss conditions. Through play you do eventually unlock Veteran and Legend tiers and there are wrapped cards that you’re instructed not to open until reaching that point. This does give a reason to keep playing through and get to these new events to see what else is in store. There is no legacy-style connection between the scenarios, however. It does not appear your success or failure has a direct effect on the campaign. Honor cards are earned which are more unique abilities which can help, but the scenarios do not change to reflect previous results. The back page of the book does have a tracker so you can record your progress though, and after Scenario 12 there are four possible endings based on how many Honor Cards you have.
Shadow of the Dragon Queen
In the 5th Edition Adventure, there are callouts and mentions of Heroes of Krynn in sidebars. The Deluxe edition of the board game even comes with a copy of this supplement. This includes the Kender, a new race familiar to fans of the books, new backgrounds such as being a Knight of Solamnia or Mage of High Sorcery, supporting feats, and the Lunar Sorcery subclass for the Sorcerer. Background information on the gods, both good and evil in nature, and a history of Krynn are also included.
In Chapter 2: Prelude to War, the characters get to know each other and bond before being invited to the Kingfisher Festival. This brings the now level 2 characters to the Solmanic village of Vogler. This is when the Dragon Armies make their presence felt. There is an option to play through the encounter as you have been going, or to switch to Heroes of Krynn: Scenario 1: Battle of Vogler. Remember how the heroes in the board game didn’t have unique abilities? It’s because you can overwrite them with your PCs by using the mini you’ve been using and taking your class card and reporting in with Marshall Vendri. This immediately adds to the immersion and investment. In addition, the sidebar includes a role-playing reward the players earn if the scenario is successful (there is no penalty for loss, other than missing out on the magic item reward). This is the feeling of attachment I wanted to see in the play of the board game. The named heroes from Warriors of Krynn have stats in this book as Sidekicks that can be hired, which I felt was a nice touch that could be used to weave those characters more into the narrative if needed.
It’s stated that all 12 of the scenarios are not included specifically through the published adventure, but the DM knows when the next scheduled scenario is coming up and could include these other scenarios as pacing allows, or skip them since they have minimal lasting effect.
Overall, this is a well polished board game but it’s not a roleplaying game, nor is it a wargame. It’s a traditional board game with the flavor of an RPG and the backdrop of a Warhammer game. While I am inclined to want to play through more of the scenarios to see how they feel different and trigger more Key Moments, I absolutely think the strength of this game is to be the Mass Combat engine of the adventure and to allow for you to feel present in the War for the Lance. If there was no associated story, I fear the board game wouldn’t be interesting enough on its own to drive a table to finish all 12 scenarios in a series. I’m also intrigued to see what fans do with this game as an engine, as the numerous event cards, commanders, and battlemap components beg for additional use and it seems that with a couple of tables a “procedurally generated battle” could easily be arranged.
As a final note, seeing Lord Soth and Takhisis on the game art was a contributing factor in grabbing my attention, but it does need to be said that the other names you may be familiar with from the War of the Lance don’t appear as far as I could find; Paladine’s Companions are absent.
Note from Ginny: While I did play in this game session, overall, I found the board game to be disappointing on my first run-through. There were many rules that could have been clearer and it does not feel like something that I could easily just drop into a D&D game without spending significant time setting up and explaining how to play to my group. For something that is required in order to use Mass Combat, I was hoping for something a bit more streamlined. I’m willing to play a bit more and see if some things make more sense as we work through the other scenarios, but mostly, I feel like this is a game that is only going to appeal to those who want a “complete collection.”
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