As a long time fan of roleplaying games who is also a parent, I’ve tried to share my love of RPGs with my kids. Hasbro recently released a new board game that could be perfect for getting kids into the world of Dungeons & Dragons, the world’s most popular roleplaying game.
In this review, I take a look at the odd duck that is Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Begins, a new board game boxed set that was designed to be “Your fun, fast entry into the world of D&D”.
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What is Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Begins? Is it a board game or an RPG?
Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Begins is a board game with RPG elements that was published by Hasbro Gaming in late 2020. Unfortunately, Hasbro didn’t credit the designer(s) though I do know Allie Jennings worked on it. It features artwork from Henning Ludvigsen and Benjamin Raynal.
It is listed as a two to four-player game with each session taking anywhere from half an hour to an hour depending on how descriptive your group gets and whether or not you take part in any side quest combats. I personally don’t see why you couldn’t play this game solo, though you would miss out on the shared storytelling aspects.
In Adventure Begins, the cooperative Dungeons & Dragons board game, you pick one of four big baddies to fight, all iconic D&D monsters. That monster determines the last map tile you will use and three of the encounters you will face along the way. You then set up the rest of the map and begin your adventure.
Each round you will advance one space on the map and have some kind of encounter. Note these aren’t all combats. The Dungeon Master role swaps each turn and exactly what your group encounters is determined by the draw of a card. After completing each encounter the group will earn gold and/or items. With enough gold, you can purchase more items or level up. At certain points along the path, your group will have options to do a side quest. The end goal is for your group to defeat the big bad at the end of the fourth map.
While playing the game there will be multiple instances where the players are prompted to tell a story. This storytelling is a pure improv experience with no hard fast rules or guidelines. Interestingly while this does add a solid role play element to Adventure Begins, none of this improvising has any actual effect on the mechanics.
Component wise, I was pretty unimpressed by what you get with D&D Adventure Begins (assuming you actually get everything that should be in the box, more about that later). The best way to see what you get in the box for this game is to check out our Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Begins Unboxing Video on YouTube.
The box, comes with a serviceable moulded plastic box insert that contains thick but poorly cut cardboard punch boards containing four single-sided map boards, a bunch of tiles used to create characters and some small round gold tokens. There are a significant number of cards split over multiple decks. There’s one deck for each map board, a set of backpack cards, reference cards, henchmen cards and an item deck.
Along with this are four plastic trays for holding your character tiles, a DM tray, a HP tracking Clip, a black D10, four D20s in the four different player colours and four miniatures. Unfortunately, my copy of the game was missing the Green Elf miniature, which Hasbro was unwilling to replace (more about that later). I was confused by these miniatures, as Wizards of the Coast, the company that publishes Dungeons & Dragons, has a full line of pre-painted miniatures. These miniatures do not come from that line. These are harder plastic, less detailed, and most definitely not pre-painted.
The overall component quality is good, but not great. I especially like the design they used for creating characters where you slide cardboard tiles into a stand and make what’s basically a player screen for each player. This stand also features a slider on it for tracking Hit Points (Health).
A note on pictures below: Due to the fact that I was missing a miniature in my copy of D&D Adventure Begins, after our first game we swapped to using pre-painted Wizkidz miniatures instead of the ones that came with the game. Be aware that for any picture that shows pre-painted miniatures, those did not come with the game.
How do you play Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Begins?
To start a game of Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Begins, you first choose which journey you wish to embark on. This box includes four different story arcs you can play through, each based on a different traditional Dungeons & Dragons threat. These fearsome foes include Felbris the Beholder, Orn the Fire Giant, Deathsleep the Green Dragon and The Kracken.
Each of these monsters is associated with one of the four map boards. You find that board and place it on the table with the standee for your foe placed into the last spot on that board. You then build the rest of the map by randomizing the other boards and connecting them in a row to the first. At the end of each map, you will place the Henchmen cards for the boss monster you chose. These are numbered from one to three. You place the one on the first board, the two on the second, etc.
The item deck is shuffled and is placed next to the board along with the pile of gold coins. The Dungeon Master (DM) tray is readied by shuffling the cards for the first map board and placing them into the tray along with the HP tracker and D10 die.
Next, all of the players make their characters. This is done by picking a colour, taking all of the cardboard tiles of that colour, and then choosing which ones you want to use in this game.
The first tile you pick represents your character’s name, race and class. There are male and female-presenting options for each character (no specific gender is listed). These include an Elf Bard, a Dwarf Fighter, a Dragonborn Rogue and a Human Sorcerer.
Next up players pick which side of their Personality Tile to use. This tile gives some roleplaying prompts as well as a special ability.
Finally, players select one of two Combat Tiles for their character. This tile determines which attacks you will be able to use during the game. You start with it on the level one side but can flip the tile to the level two side during play.
You then take all three of your selected tiles and slide them into a plastic tray with the appropriate sides facing you. This tray also has a slider for tracking your Hit Points (HP) which you set to 10. Note all characters start at 10 health regardless of which race/class they are.
The last step in character creation is to pick a backpack card. There are a number of these included in the box, each of which has four items listed on it.
Once you’re done creating your character, you place your miniatures on the first spot on the first board (furthest from the big bad boss monster) and begin your first encounter.
Encounters in D&D Adventure Begins are all card-driven. The currently active DM will take the top card from the card tray and place it in the holder on the top of the tray so that all of the other players can see the artwork on the card. They then read off the back of the card and play out the encounter. Each deck features both combat and non-combat encounters.
Non-combat encounters will present the group with some type of situation to react to. This could be an obstacle to overcome, someone they met along the way, an item they have discovered or an opportunity they may be able to take advantage of. The DM will present this by reading the top half of the back of the card. Then all of the players, including the one currently acting as DM, will decide how to respond.
The final type of encounter has every player react to the situation their own way, again through improv storytelling, with each player then rolling a d20 to see what happens to their character. Some encounters will present a number of choices and the group will have to decide on which to take. The game encourages you to roleplay while doing this, though the outcome will be based on which of the options listed on the card are picked. Other encounters will have the group come up with a solution on their own. Again roleplaying is encouraged and the game suggests using the personality traits, your weapons and the stuff in your backpacks, to come up with solutions. The result is then determined by having one player roll a d20 with that result affecting everyone.
In all cases, the results are driven by the dice rolls and by what’s on the card. There are no DM rulings here or interpretations.
Combat encounters are a bit more complicated. When facing a monster the encounter starts off with the DM reading a short monster description then having everyone roll initiative. This is a simple D20 roll where the player that rolls highest will get to act first.
When it’s your turn to act you will pick which of your three attack types to use. Every character has a basic attack that hits easily and does one damage, a more difficult attack that does two damage and a special attack. To use your special attack you are required to describe how you make the attack using your surroundings and the items in your backpack. Special attacks have a sliding scale of results based on how well you roll. All attack rolls are a single D20 roll. Hits cause damage to your foes, which is tracked by the DM, and once a foe hits zero HP it is considered defeated. The player that dealt the final blow must then describe how they defeated the monster.
If a monster isn’t defeated, it counterattacks. The DM rolls a die, looks up the result on the monster card and describes what the monster does. Each monster has its own short table for this including a variety of different attack types, most of which cause damage to your character. If your character is ever reduced to zero hit points you are dead, at least for now. Once combat is done you can spend all of your current gold to resurrect with five hit points. For this reason, it’s always worth keeping at least one gold on you at all times in this game.
Once your group defeats a monster everyone gets a reward. This is usually one or more gold coins each and may also be a random item drawn from the item deck.
After combat players have the option of spending their gold. It costs three gold to go shopping. When you do this you take three cards from the item deck and choose one to keep. Each item gives some form of bonus during combat encounters. These can include doing additional damage, gaining health, and avoiding damage.
You can also spend five gold to level up your character. When you do this you reset your health to ten and flip over your weapon card to the other side. Now your attacks do more damage for every encounter going forward and your special attack also now has a chance of earning you coins.
After completing an adventure the group then moves on to the next space on their current board. At some points along the path, players are given the option to take part in a side quest. Interestingly you can split the party for these, with only some of the characters taking part. All side quest encounters are combat encounters. If a player chooses not to take part in a side quest they default as the DM for that encounter so as to keep them inovoled. Every map board has four core encounter spots and two potential side quests.
When you reach the last spot on a board instead of drawing a random encounter card you instead face the boss monster’s henchmen. These are set cards that are different for each boss. There are a mix of both combat and non-combat encounters. Once you get past the Henchen encounter your group will move on to the next map.
At this point some character powers and all items re-set. Normally these can only be used once per map board. You also swap up which deck you have in the DM tray based on the new map tile you’ve reached.
The game continues until you reach and defeat the final boss monster or all of the characters die along the way.
While resurrection only requires one gold coin, you have to have that one gold at the time or you are eliminated. The game suggests having the DM roll swap to being only the eliminated players if this happens. That said, we’ve never actually had a character die in any of our games thus far, and I think a TPK (Total Party Kill, a term used by D&D players for when the entire group dies during an adventure) would be very rare in this game.
Once the game is over, you can play the game again, perhaps using a new character or taking on a new big bad, or both. Note that there is no campaign elements or permanence in D&D Adventure Begins. Each game is a stand-alone experience with no impact on future games.
Is Adventure Begins a good gateway to Dungeons & Dragons?
When we bought a copy of Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Begins for our daughter for Christmas I really didn’t know what to expect. In general, I know to expect good things from the Dungeons & Dragons brand and at the time I actually thought this was published by Wizards of the Coast and not Hasbro Gaming. Having now played the game a number of times I’m still not exactly sure what to think of this game, for a number of reasons.
First off, I will say that this is indeed a board game and not a full roleplaying game. It is a board game with role-playing elements, including a quest, a small amount of character progression, the amassing of treasure and loot and even an overall story arc. What you won’t find here though is a cohesive ongoing story or plot. There is no campaign element to D&D Adventure Begins. Each game you pick a baddie to fight, you play through the four boards and eventually defeat that baddie or are defeated yourselves. The next time you play you just pick another baddie, even possibly the same one.
Now that sounds like the game could become repetitive and while that’s somewhat true, the randomness of the encounter cards does make sure that each journey is different. Added to that is the variability in characters you can make. Each character gives you two hero options, two personality type options and two weapon options, which gives you a number of different combinations for each individual character. Then there’s the fact that you are playing with one or more players who each make their own character, leading to a high number of possible combinations of adventuring parties.
While all of this variety sounds amazing, the thing we noticed after a couple of plays is that all of these options don’t really make much of a difference at all, at least on a mechanical level. Picking which weapon to use just changes up the names of your attacks and what you have to describe for a special attack. Your base attack will always hit on 5+ and do one damage, your heavy attack will always hit on 12+ and do two damage, and your special attack will always hit for two on an 11-16 or hit for one and stun the enemy (the monster doesn’t counterattack) on a 17+. These numbers are identical for every weapon for every class in the game. Mechanically it doesn’t matter what you choose.
Personality traits at least do give you different special abilities, but again there is some overlap. Every single class has a special ability that can heal and another that is combat-based. Thankfully the combat-based ones do offer some variety including the ability to re-roll dice or to team up with an ally.
What all of these character choices are really for is to give you roleplaying prompts to use when describing what your character does. As mentioned above, multiple times during the game, both during encounters and when using your special attack in combat, you will be directed to come up with a description of what your character is doing. While this a great way to encourage improv roleplaying, none of it has any actual mechanical impact on the game. It doesn’t matter how well you describe your actions, how brilliant your group’s plan to get past the zombies is, or how clever your trap is, the end result will be based on a single die roll with the results dictated by the encounter card.
So while D&D Adventure Begins does a great job of encouraging free-form roleplaying and storytelling, there’s no actual mechanical encouragement to do it. This is the biggest flaw with this game. If you remove the improv elements, which you can do without affecting the game at all, you are left with a very dry and boring dice roller. I would go so far as to say, mechanically Adventure Begins is actually a bad game. It does nothing to reward player skill or ingenuity. Almost everything is determined by the roll of the dice. The only things that aren’t are some binary decisions made on some non-combat encounter cards. Even with those, players are limited to two choices which is something you will never find in a full roleplaying game.
What this means is that your enjoyment of Dungeons & Dragons Adventure begins is going to be very strongly based on the group you are playing with. If your group, or even one of the players in the group, isn’t willing to take part in the storytelling and improv aspects of this game, it’s going to fall flat, very flat. While the game can be played as an arbitrary dice chucker, it’s just not any fun at all that way.
Now what’s most interesting about this to me is that in this way Adventure Begins is very much like the game it’s based on, the full role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons. Your experience playing D&D is also going to be very much based upon the group you are playing with and how they choose to engage with the mechanics. D&D the RPG can also be played fully mechanically, though again I think you are missing out on the point and the fun if you do this.
Due to this fact, I actually do think that D&D Adventure Begins is a good introduction to Dungeons & Dragons. It features a bunch of D&D tropes and monsters and actually encourages improv storytelling and roleplaying elements. It is definitely much easier to learn to play than the full game, with the rules being simple enough that you could probably sit down together and learn to play right out of the box. The thing is that you really do need to engage with the improv elements of Adventure Begins or you miss out on the actual fun that’s in this box.
Another aspect of the game that we found after multiple plays is that there just aren’t enough item cards. Between getting items as rewards for completing encounters and going shopping, every single game we’ve played we have bought or acquired every single item card in the deck. I would have preferred this deck to be much bigger. Similarly, after a few games, you will have seen all of the cards in the different encounter decks. The main problem with this being the binary options cards, you will eventually learn which are the most beneficial options.
One of the things I did really like about Adventure Begins is the humour included in the game. Many of the cards take a very tongue-in-cheek look at D&D with encounters like the reverse centaur and the lyre liar pants on fire which is a musical instrument that can light your foes on fire. The game includes a huge number of such puns.
Since Dungeons & Dragons Aventure Begins was released I’ve seen a huge variety of opinions on this game, including many people that would go so far as to say they hate the game and think it’s a bad addition to the hobby. I have to assume that these people were playing the game as a board game, a game they were playing to win and not a game that’s actually more about the stories you end up telling than it is about the mechanics of the game.
I’ve actually had a fantastic time playing this game with my two kids. We’ve told some fantastic stories, like the time we returned home to our village and found that our friends and relatives had all been turned into zombies and we struggled to find non-violent ways to contain them instead of killing our loved ones. All of that was based on one Undead Townspeople card that had this for flavour texts, “Aunt Gertrude? Is that you?”
Similarly, I’ve been extremely impressed by my kids’ use of powers like Slight of Hand which states: “Describe how you use trickery and the items in your backpack to attack the monster then roll!” I expected them to fall into the trap of describing the same thing over and over (which the game doesn’t prevent you from doing in any way), but they haven’t, each time coming up with a different way to use this power.
Overall, my family has had a great time playing Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Begins, but I know that hasn’t been the case for everyone who has tried this game. The main problem with Adventure Begins is that it’s dry and boring mechanically, just being a huge dice chucker, and if players try to play this like a traditional board game, with a focus only on winning, it’s honestly not going to be fun. While the game does present multiple options for storytelling and improv roleplay and can be quite fun when you follow those prompts, the game would have been much better if what you described actually mattered in some way mechanically.
As for being a gateway to D&D, I think this game can work as just that. The thing is you have to actually take advantage of the roleplaying options. Make sure you are all describing your special attacks, and saying what you do to deal with non-combat encounters and not just rolling the dice and reading off what happens.
I think a great sign that this game works as an intro to D&D is that ever since the first time we played this game both of my girls have been trying to convince me to pick up and run Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition for them. At least in the case of my family, this game did exactly what I think it was intended to do and that was to get some new players interested in the world of Dungeons & Dragons.
A note about missing components and Hasbro customer service.
As I noted at the top of the review, my copy of Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Begins was missing the green elf miniature. After discovering this I attempted to get a replacement piece.
Being a Dungeons & Dragons game the first place I went was to Wizards of the Coast. After searching the site for quite some time I found a place to report missing or damaged components and filled out a form. Three days later I got an email back stating that Wizards of the Coat does not handle component replacements for this game and that Hasbro would take care of that. An email address for Hasbro was included.
I emailed this Hasbro address, waited another couple of days and got an email back stating that as this is a Dungeons & Dragons game, issues need to be taken up with Wizards of the Coast.
Now I didn’t give up at that point but rather searched for the game and Hasbro in google and eventually found a Hasbro Games department missing/damaged component form and filled that out. This was actually the final correct answer. Again after a couple of days, I heard back from Hasbro Gaming and they asked me all kinds of details about my copy of the game. This included asking me for a number of numbers, one of which should have been stamped on the box. I looked everywhere for the numbers they wanted and couldn’t find any of them, so I noted every single number anywhere on the box, in the instructions and even one inside the lid, and provided that. They said thanks.
About a week later, a large package shows up at my door. I open it up expecting a review copy of a board game from some publisher and instead find Monopoly Fortnite. I’m very confused as I haven’t agreed to review this game, and wouldn’t, as I have no interest in Monopoly or Fortnite. Packaged with the game I find a note from Hasbro Gaming stating “We are happy to provide you with the enclosed replacement product part.”
I’m sorry but Monopoly Fortnite is not a green elf miniature.
I contacted customer service again. This time they dismissed me, telling me that the case is closed and that I should be happy because they sent me a brand new game of equal or greater value. They have closed my case so I can no longer respond.
I was furious. At this point, I don’t plan on ever purchasing a game from Hasbro Gaming again. Now had they written back and said, “Hey sorry we can’t replace that elf, we don’t have replacement copies of components for that game. Return it to where you bought it.”, that would have been fine. If they had said, “We can’t help you but would you be interested in another of our games?”, that would also have been fine, but to just send me a copy of a game I have zero interest in and claim that’s my replacement product is just not cool.
After this fiasco, I went on Board Game Geek only to discover that I’m not the only one who has found production issues with this game. A number of people have reported broken or missing miniatures as well as missing cards. Every single one of those people has reported that they never got any resolution from Hasbro, with most only getting as far as the run around between WotC and Hasbro. So in these threads, I did try to help by providing a link to the proper product replacement form for Hasbro Gaming.
I mention this here as a Caveat Emptor for anyone considering picking up this game. Realize that you may end up with an incomplete product and there seems to be zero chance that Hasbro Gaming will do anything to fix that problem.
I’ve mentioned before on this blog that I’m a huge fan of role-playing game starter sets. I love checking out beginner boxes for games and how they present those games to new players (for a recent example of one of these check out my ALIEN The Roleplaying Game Starter Set review).
Now I do have to say this particular boxed set is something different. It’s more like a pre-starter set, a board game meant to get you excited about an RPG, which is an interesting choice by Hasbro and WotC.
I would love to hear about your experiences with the Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Begins Cooperative Board Game, if you’ve tried this boxed set-out, or about your favourite RPG Starter Set that you’ve played. Tell me all about it in the comments.
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