Dale Yu: First Impressions of Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage (Deluxe edition boardgame)

Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage

  • Designer: Kevin Wilson
  • Publisher: Wizkids
  • Players: 1-5
  • Age: 14+
  • Time: 60-90 minutes per adventure
  • Times played: 3, with review copy provided by Wizkids

Over the past few years, the Dungeons and Dragons people have been trying to gain a foothold in the more traditional boardgaming scene.  The first game that I can remember is Lords of Waterdeep – a game that we reviewed here in 2012.  Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage (referred to as Mad Mage from here on) is part of the Dungeons and Dragons Adventure system series – bringing elements of the full RPG into a boardgame system.  The different modules in this series can be used to expand and complement one another.  So, games like Castle Ravenloft or Tomb of Annihilation can be combined with this.

Each of the Adventure system games come with a supply of interlocking dungeon tiles, molded figures, cards and tokens for the Heroes, villains and other things that you’ll encounter in the scenarios found in the included adventure book.  I don’t have any of the older games in this system, nor have I played any of them, so this review will come from the standpoint of a player completely naïve to the whole series.  Also, it should be noted that I was given a copy of the deluxe edition which comes with pre-painted minis.  There is a less expensive version of the game which comes with plain green plastic minis, and I’m sure if I had that version, my pieces would remain permanently all green…

So, apparently, you and your group of adventurers is ready to enter the Dungeon of the Mad Mage, found near Mount Waterdeep, through a portal found in the aptly named Yawning Portal Inn.  At the start of the adventure, each player chooses their hero: a human sorcerer, gnome rogue, human paladin, tiefling fighter or half-elf cleric.  The game is meant to be played campaign style, so pick up the adventure book of 13 scenarios where you last left off, and set up the current adventure.  Your group will win if they are able to complete the final objective of this particular adventure, and they will lose if any one of the heroes dies along the way (though there are also other adventure specific ways to lose…)   The game could play differently for your group than others because the deck of adventure cards changes based on the results of your adventures along the way.

While each of the scenarios might have its own specific setup rules, in general, each session will start with each player choosing their hero and then taking the power cards that go with that hero.  Each hero starts with basic stats for Armor, Hit Points, Speed, Surge Value, and a special ability.  This is all found on the Hero card.  The many different decks of cards (Monsters, Encounters, Treasures, Trap, Spell, Elder Runes) are all shuffled separately.  All of the tokens are kept close by. 

The dungeon tile deck will be set up per the directions in the adventure book for the scenario.  Most scenarios start with the Entry Well (a special 2-part tile) on the table.  As you go through the adventure, you will draw Dungeon tiles to create your surroundings – this means that each time you play a specific scenario, you’ll almost certainly have a different layout.  As you place tiles, you always place the side with a triangle on it adjacent to the side you are expanding from.  If that triangle is black, you draw an Encounter card to deal with.

Anyways, once you get the scenario set up, it’s time to start playing.  Players will take turns, each of which has 3 phases: 1) Hero Phase, 2) Exploration Phase, 3) Villain Phase.

In the Hero Phase, you get to do fun stuff with your Hero.  You can choose to Move, Attack, Disable a Trap or use a special action.  If you move, you use your current Speed rating to move into the dungeon (using the grid).  You are able to move diagonally if the path allows.  If you attack, you use your cards (usually power cards, but sometimes treasure cards) as your weapons and attack your enemies – each of which will have their own Armor and HP ratings.  You will roll a die and add this to any attack bonuses that apply.  Determine if you did any damage and if you reduce their HP down to zero, they are defeated.   You will put the monster card into a defeated experience pile.  Additionally, you can draw one treasure card this turn if you defeated at least one enemy/villain this turn.  These Treasure cards may give you a one-time bonus or they may show an Item that you add to your personal inventory.  If they swing back at you in the Villain Phase, you will need to refer to your own Armor and HP values. 

Once you are done with the Hero Phase, you now Explore – but only if you are standing on an unexplored edge of a dungeon tile (that is an edge without an adjacent tile present).  If you are not on an unexplored edge, you do nothing in the Exploration phase.  Otherwise, draw the top tile from the stack and place it so that the triangle on the new tile is pointing towards the edge you are standing on.  Then, place Monsters, Chests and Traps if they are seen on the new tile.  When you place a Monster, place it on the appropriate icon on the tile as you draw a Monster card from the Monster deck and place it face up in front of you – put them in a line as the order that you drew the cards is important.  You now control this type of Monster, and it may be that multiple players in your party control the same type of Monster.

Finally, the turn ends with the Villain Phase.  First, if you placed a dungeon tile with a Black triangle on it OR if you did not place a tile at all, draw an Encounter card and deal with whatever it has on it.  These Encounter cards often describe Events or Attacks.  If desired, you can sometimes cancel the effects of the Encounter card by discarding experience points – Your party’s experience points are found on the defeated Monster cards that you have collected thus far in the game.  Then, if the Villain of the scenario is in play already, activate the Villain and follow its directions.  Finally, look at your Monster cards that you control – in the order that you drew them.  (And yes, this does mean that a Great Gray Ooze can be activated on multiple player’s turns if multiple players have a Great Gray Ooze card in front of them).  All instances of those monsters are activated and follow their instructions as outlined in the Tactics area on their card.  The Tactics are in a set of if/then statements.  Starting at the top Tactic, see if the stated condition exists, and if so, do that first action.  If not, go to the next action and re-assess.  If all the conditions are not met, the bottom most Tactic is the default action for that monster. 

As long as one of the scenario ending conditions hasn’t been met, play moves to the next player around the table and follows the same three phases.  Once you are done with the scenario, you regroup back in town to get ready for your next adventure.   Regardless of the overall success or failure, your heroes keep their gold and collected Treasure cards.  All heroes magically heal during their time in town; however, all collected experience is lost.  Then, while in town, you can decide to swap powers, buy/sell items, possibly level up your character (as far as Level 4), or possibly buy an Advancement token which is a long term improvement to your specific hero.  You can now move onto the next scenario (or repeat the same one if you were unsuccessful!) OR if you want to take a break, simply record what each hero has so that you can restart with the same stats, equipment, etc. whenever your group gets together again.

My thoughts on the game

To start, I should say that I played the “real” Dungeons and Dragons as a teenager, so much of the base rules and concerts came fairly naturally to me.  I was taught the rules to this in a fairly quick and truncated fashion, and I was able to hit the ground running quickly.  Sure, some of that was due to knowing how to play D&D already, but some of that also is evidence of the underlying simplicity of the rules here.  The game is surprisingly easy to navigate, and I know that the relative complexity of D&D was a big barrier to entry.

Here, players can jump into an adventure and get a fairly good story in under two hours.  That is a nice change from the weekend-long sessions that I played in as a kid.  I mean, sure, I’d still love to be able to do that, but that sort of time commitment is impossible at this stage of my life.  Mad Mage gives me a great way to experience a lite-RPG in time chunks that are manageable with my schedule.  Sure, it’s never going to be as rich an experience as a full RPG, but we all have to make choices…

I like the way that even though there are thirteen distinct adventures, each individual one is somewhat replayable because of the unique dungeon layout each time.  You will be choosing tiles from the same overall pool for an adventure, but the order in which they come out will change as will the locations for expansion as this is triggered by the movement of the Heroes.  Sure, you’ll have some advance knowledge of the monsters you’ll encounter as well as the tactics of the monsters and villain(s), but you won’t simply be able to go about things in the same way as previous because the physical layout changes things.  Further, as you keep treasure cards as you collect them, you may have new abilities at your disposal which will change how you might do things.  We played the first adventure twice in a row, as we were somewhat unlucky in our first go-round, and it worked out just fine to replay it immediately.

We’re just getting started with it, but so far, the campaign rules give a good overarching structure to Mad Mage. Our group is being forced to think about our decisions both in terms of the current scenario as well as how it might affect our town actions in between adventures.   This is not the sort of game that I’ll want to play every week, but it is set up nicely to be played in fits and spurts.  If we have a whole day, maybe we’ll try to get through two or three adventures, and then pack it up again to wait for the next opportunity.  And, if the mood suits us, we could probably set up, play, and clean up under 3 hours, so it could still come out for a single adventure on a regular game night…

The components are quite nice, and I must say that the painted minis help set the theme/mood for the whole game.  My own painting skills are non-existent, so I love the fact that it’s possible to get a painted set, though I can definitely see some of my friends only wanting the unpainted set so that they can paint everything on their own.  I however have zero ability in this area, so I would clearly never choose that option. 

Everything fits in the box just fine (there is an extra inch to inch and a half of space given to you once you throw out all the punchboards).  The figures are all labeled on the bottom, so even if you’re not quite sure which figure you’re looking for, it is simple enough to make sure you’ve got the one you need – and this is much easier than trying to squint at an image in the rulebook to make sure!

I’ll admit that this isn’t ever going to be a go-to game for me, as my dungeon crawl days are far behind me, but I did enjoy a chance to tramp down memory dungeon to explore a bit and hack and slash my way around.  For those looking for a nice campaign in a box, this would be a great addition to their game collection.

Until your next appointment

The Gaming Doctor

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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3 Responses to Dale Yu: First Impressions of Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage (Deluxe edition boardgame)

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  2. Matt J Carlson says:

    I have most of the Adventure series (unpainted, though… :) It’s my opinion that the later games start to change up things for the better. The early ones are good, but later ones added just a smidge more complexity which was appreciated.

    What I miss the most from the RPG idea is the lack of character progression. It has been while but I feel like the early games had much fewer options for advancing one’s character. (I seem to recall you could “level up” during a scenario, but don’t remember gaining or changing any powers between scenarios like you mention.)

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