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Dungeons & Dragons: Adventure Begins Doesn't Capture the Magic

The box cover art for Dungeons & Dragons: Adventure Begins.
The box cover art for Dungeons & Dragons: Adventure Begins.
Photo: Beth Elderkin for io9

Dungeons & Dragons can be a pretty intimidating game—I didn’t get into it until about a year ago, and I still struggle with all its intricacies. So, I was excited that Hasbro was releasing Dungeons & Dragons: Adventure Begins, a board game designed to help bring new players into the fold. While does succeed in representing the world of Dungeons & Dragons, it fails in capturing the spirit of the game.

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Dungeons & Dragons: Adventure Begins from Hasbro is a 2-4 player cooperative board game where you travel through a series of “dungeon boards” to fight the boss waiting for you at the end. Each of the four bosses come with their own story and mini-bosses that await the players at various spots along the way. Players take on the role of one of four heroes and make their way through the lands of Neverwinter, encountering obstacles, defeating monsters, and picking up items to help in attacks and defense. They also take turns playing the Dungeon Master, which I felt was an excellent way to give everyone a turn behind the wheel.

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The game recreates some of the trappings of Dungeons & Dragons, albeit on a far simpler level. Players choose their weapons and special abilities from a couple of lists and have the chance to level up (once) during the campaign. Each dungeon board has its own deck of cards that feature challenges, which include things like trying to get across a rickety bridge or choose whether to drink from a mysterious chalice. They’re typically solved by rolling a d20 or choosing to respond with A or B. There are also several monsters to battle, all of which have relatively similar attacks (with a few variables). You can defeat them by rolling a d20 and matching or beating the number on their attack card.

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A look at the dungeon boards layout and character creation.
Photo: Beth Elderkin for io9

The whole thing really feels like you’re playing a pared-down version of Dungeons & Dragons, where the rules and gameplay are conveniently laid out in front of you. I’ll admit my husband and I cheered when we defeated a monster, describing our final attacks in great (although unnecessary) detail. The art design is fantastic and features some silly humor that kids will appreciate. It’s great, in theory, for those who are scared at the idea of having to create and control an entire story as a DM and it had the makings of a fantastic game. Unfortunately, Adventure Begins falls short in one key area: everything’s kind of the same.

One of the greatest things about Dungeons & Dragons is not only how creative it is, but how much the game itself rewards creativity. Players have to work together, using unique skillsets and abilities, to overcome obstacles and defeat enemies. Adventure Begins brings none of that. Every character’s attacks and special abilities are identical to everyone else’s. You choose from a few options when creating your character, but every other player chooses from the same ones. That flies in the face of what makes character creation in Dungeons & Dragons so amazing—understanding what strengths and weaknesses you’re going to bring to the table. If every player starts with a single hit that requires a roll of five and a double attack that needs a roll of 12, nothing you do feels special or interesting.

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As you can see in this image, even though these special abilities have different names, they all do the exact same thing.
Photo: Beth Elderkin for io9

All the challenges you face, monsters you fight, or items you collect likewise become repetitive very quickly. Even though there are four different decks (one for each dungeon board) they’re mostly filled with different takes on the same situations. Encounter a creature, choose whether or not to trust it, get one gold. Fight a monster, swap generic attacks, also get one gold. Face a threat, roll a d20, the player with the lowest number loses health. There are no opportunities for players to be rewarded or punished for their responses to a situation, which should’ve been included (as that’s a huge part of training to be a DM). There are some cute creatures and stories you come across in the cards, and it does educate you on some of the monsters and lore within D&D, but if the end results continue to be the same, eventually it feels like there’s little point.

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There’s a card game that handles the D&D newbie transition much better: Dungeon Mayhem. Players face off against each other using a series of attack, spell, and defense cards. Much like Adventure Begins, this is a game where players aren’t required to create characters or even know anything about the rules of Dungeons & Dragons. But it works better than Adventure Begins because each character in Dungeon Mayhem comes with unique cards and abilities, which give them advantages and disadvantages depending on who they’re playing against. That was decidedly missing from this board game. I know it’s supposed to be an easier game, but I’m sorry: There is no reason why Adventure Begins should give a fighter, a rogue, and a sorcerer the exact same special abilities.

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Even though challenges like these require a group strategy, it doesn’t impact the outcome at all.
Photo: Beth Elderkin for io9
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The saddest part about Dungeons & Dragons: Adventure Begins is that it feels lazy, like Hasbro started with the idea of creating something great but ran out of time and just started hitting copy-paste. I don’t know how involved Wizards of the Coast was in this game, but no matter how much (or little), it should’ve been more. There was so much potential to do something creative yet accessible with this one, like what the Choose Your Own Adventure card games have managed to do. It could have given people a chance to test out roleplaying games before fully diving into something like Dungeons & Dragons. It’s unfortunate that Adventure Begins is wasted potential.

Dungeons & Dragons: Adventure Begins is available on Hasbro’s website for $25.

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Video Editor and Staff Writer at io9. My doppelganger is that rebelling greeting card from Futurama.

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DISCUSSION

I think that you can’t really review this correctly if you’ve played D&D because you are not the target audience. People who played D&D can just play more D&D.

This is for tabletop board gamers who have never dipped a toe into RPGs.

Because of COVID-19 our board game group is on indefinite hiatus. For years I’ve wanted to play D&D with them but they just were not interested. Now, because we are remote, they agreed to try out playing with a webcam-at-game-mat game I host and they are enjoying themselves.

I can absolutely say with certainty had we played this game beforehand they would have been much more likely to try the actual game. I also believe it would have eased them into game a bit by making the game mechanics a little familiar.

You can’t be a motorcycle enthusiast and do a review of a kids bicycle with training wheels.  That is what this game is --training wheels to get non-players interested and directed towards the actual game.