I recently found myself playing Dicemasters again, with the release of the latest Dungeons and Dragons set, Tomb of Annihilation. My interest in Dicemasters has really only been for the D&D sets – I like the distance from the superheroes and the familiar fantasy setting, even if it isn’t the D&D I grew up with. For this entry, I wanted to look at each of the three D&D sets and talk about the various pros and cons – what worked and what didn’t.
Battle for Faerûn
Battle for Faerûn did two critical things for Dicemasters that made it click for me – first, it rebranded its “sidekick dice” to “NPC dice” to bring players into the D&D theme. As someone who got into Dicemasters because it was D&D and not superhero themed, this was a large part of making it work. The second thing it did was stick almost exclusively to generic archetypes rather than named characters. I find it much easier to overlay my imagination on the idea of three elven rangers fighting two red dragons than I do three Drizzt Do’Urdens fighting two Bahamuts.
I think the Dicemasters team did itself another favor by sticking to the more traditional fantasy tropes as well. It may have seemed vanilla to some, but it went a long way to drawing me into the hobby – it gave me something I could latch on to that I enjoyed, without being burdened by a bunch of history (that I may or may not know).
Overall, I think Battle for Faerûn is my favorite of the three D&D sets currently out – it had some of my favorite D&D monsters (Manticore and Blue Dragon), and the whole structure of the set really resonated with me. If I were to list one gripe it would be that it didn’t have a playmat – I had to wait for Faerûn under Siege before that happened.
Faerûn under Siege
I feel like Faerûn under Siege took what Battle for Faerûn started, and extended it to what Wizkids had found with their other sets in the interim. In that sense, as a set, I found I liked it almost as much. I think I was most excited to see some overlap between the two sets – new cards and new ways to think about beholders and gelatinous cubes was actually kind of interesting. Also, from a purely packaging point of view, they stuck with the starter set + gravity pack idea, which really worked for me – I found the starter was a great way to get the set overview, and learn what to expect from the rest.
They did introduce some new stuff though, as is needed in any expansion. There were more named characters in Faerûn Under Siege, but they felt right. There weren’t a lot of them, so they still felt special when they hit the table. They also added new interactions, new levels of rarity (four cards/dice that only existed in super-rare), and some neat new mechanics that fit the fantasy theme well.
I liked Faerûn under Siege pretty well, but I felt that the quality control slipped a bit on this set. More than once I got mis-matched cards and dice in a pack, which was exacerbated by the fact that the only super-rare artifact I opened was one such mismatch (I opened a Deck of Many Things card and a Talisman of Ultimate Evil die that was colored incorrectly). Still, it had dragons, adventurers, and cool equipment which definitely tickled my fancy.
Tomb of Annihilation
So far, Tomb of Annihilation is not working as well for me as I would have hoped (with a new D&D set). Granted, I’ve only done one draft so far, but… …I’ll be less surprised if I don’t play this set as much as the others for a few reasons.
First, while I know it’s a little cliché to complain about a change in packaging, I actually dislike the draft pack compared to the gravity feed. Unfortunately, this point is so longwinded, I’m giving it its own paragraph. In the draft pack, you get 2 starter cards, 12 standard cards, and matching 24 dice with the idea that each person grabs a pack and is ready to draft. In my mind, drafting relies on two things to be exciting that are incompatible with the draft pack concept: (1) You need to pick from a hand of cards that you will see again and (2) you are not sitting “behind” the same person for the entire draft. With the draft pack, you either do a single round draft with all 12 cards (i.e. the person who is passing you cards will always get a better chance of cards you both want) or, you split the pack and do multiple rounds (which, if you do more than two rounds with 4+ players, there’s a good chance you won’t see the same hand twice). The other thing I dislike about the draft pack, is that it puts less value in a pack for the player, while being more expensive. In Dicemasters, the rarity is based on the card, so the value to the player is in getting more cards to have a better chance at the uncommon and rare cards (as well as cards you don’t have). In the gravity feed packs, you could get 20 cards (and 20 dice) for $10 and typically would get a good mix; with the draft pack, you get only 12 cards for $10, so your chances of getting the stuff you want is lower just by virtue of getting fewer cards.
For the set itself, my complaints are actually pretty minor; the biggest of which is the unfamiliarity of many of the cards. I was never really in to book adventures when I played D&D, and I haven’t really jumped in to the new edition, but many of the monsters and all of the characters are unfamiliar to me. Even with those caveats, I memorized all the monsters in the second edition Monstrous Manual and I have two shelves of just Forgotten Realms novels… …and only about a fourth of the cards were actually ones that I recognized. Granted, this set is named after a book adventure, so it’s totally reasonable, but it was still surprising considering the content of the prior sets.
All that said, it still feels like fantasy Dicemasters, so I will likely play it and hope they get around to making another D&D set at some point in the future (but maybe not play it so much that they think to do more like it).