Dale Yu: First Impression of Dungeons and Dragons: Trials of Tempus

Dungeons and Dragons: Trials of Tempus

  • Designers: Thor Knai, Adam Carasso, Kyle Newman
  • Publisher: Wizkids
  • Players: 2-8
  • Age: 12+
  • Time: 90-150 minutes
  • Played with review copy provided by Wizkids

Says the publisher: “Dungeons and Dragons: Trials of Tempus  is a co-operative, team-based game for 2-8 players in which rival parties of heroic adventurers battle to prove their worth and mettle in the ever-changing Battlerealms of Tempus, God of War! Choose your hero wisely for the skills and allies you need to conquer each trial are never the same, and the guardian that awaits you all at the end will surely test the limits of your bravery…or is it your cunning? The trial will tell. To win, you and your party must work together to earn more points than your rivals by completing quests and gathering loot! Finally, you must defeat the trial guardian. Whichever party has the most points when the trial guardian falls wins the trial!”

To set up, players break into two teams, and each chooses a Hero – taking the appropriate miniature, character card, Class mat and Class card deck.  There is a draft for the sub-class decks which also help make each character play differently – in addition to the unique action on both the character card as well as the class mat..  If there are an un-even number of players, or less than 4 players, it is recommended that some players take on multiple heroes so that each side has the same number (and each side has at least 2 Heroes).  Players have some primary cards which are placed on the table in front of them, and represent permanent abilities – these cards do not count as being in your hand.  The 12 Tier 1 cards are shuffled and form the initial draw deck.  The Tier 2 cards are set aside and will come into play when you cycle your deck (more on this later).

The board is set up, placing the nine Battlerealm tiles to make the 30×30 board.  Three quest cards are drawn for the game – either at random or by following some recommended sets in the rulebook. A trial guardian is also selected – think of this as the Final Boss for the game.  The Loot deck and the Event deck are shuffled and placed near the board, and the other bits are placed in the Battlerealm as indicated by the Quests and setup rules. The two teams place their entry portal in opposite corners of the board, and the game is ready to start.

The game is played in a series of rounds and continues until the Big Boss is defeated. At that time, the team with the most points wins.  In each round – players will draw 2 cards from their deck into their hands, resolve an Event from the Event deck, figure out Initiative, take their actions and then discard down to 5 cards in their hand.  In more detail:

Draw phase – each player draw 2 cards from their deck and adds them to their hand.  If the deck is empty, you must cycle it.  The first time this happens, you take 2 cards from your discard pile and add them to your Tier 2 cards – these 8 cards become your new deck.  Every other time, you choose any 8 cards from your discard pile to become your new deck.  With each cycle, any unchosen cards simply remain in the discard pile.

Event phase – draw the top card of the Event deck and resolve it – it may be a one-time instant, and effect for the entire turn or an ongoing action for the rest of the game.  The event may require Initiative, if so, roll a d20 and mark the event’s initiative on the initiative track.

In general, keep the d20 handy – of course, since this is a D&D game, we’re gonna use a D20 instead of that commonplace d6!  Many of the actions depend on the value of a roll.  If you have an advantage for a particular roll, you get to roll 2d20 and then take the best number; and if you have a disadvantage for a particular challenge, you roll 2d20 and take the lesser roll.  You will also use the dice for things like placing objects/enemies in random locations.  Roll 2d20 and use the red and blue coordinates on the edge of the board to locate a square within the Battlerealm.

Initiative Phase – Each player rolls a d20 and places their marker on the matching spot on the initiative track. Note that events that require Initiative may already be on the track.  Monsters, if active, always activate at Initiative 10 – they activate if they have taken damage, if a hero is nearby or if some other event/effect has activated them.  Highest initiative goes first and so on down the track.

Turn Phase – in Initative order, players take their turn where they get two distinct actions (roughly split up into Move actions, Attack actions, and general actions).  Your teammates can also join in on your turn with their Interactions from their Class mat – this may give them ways to modify their teammate’s actions.  

Combat is surprisingly simple.  You play an Attack action, making sure that a melee target is adjacent or a ranged attack is within range and in full line of sight.  Any effects or interactions are then added to the attack, and then the die/dice are rolled and the results happen per the chart on the card.  The effect of normal damage is reduced by the target’s Damage Reduction value and the remainder, if any, is subtracted from the Hit Points of the target.  If it is piercing damage, it is not reduced and the full amount is taken from the HP.  If the attack also causes an ongoing effect, a marker is placed around the base of the target figurine to remind everyone of that ongoing effect.  If a Monster is brought to 0VP, it is removed from the board, and if it is the last monster from its camp, a Loot token is dropped in that space.  If a Hero drops to 0VP, it is removed from the board, and all of his/her loot cards are dropped in that space.  The Hero will respawn next turn with a small 2 card hand.

End of Round Phase – resolve any end of round effects. Check to see if the Boss comes into play (one team has at least 10VP); and if so, place the Boss in the center of the board.  All players discard down to 5 cards in hand.  Advance the round tracker by 1 on the chart, and if it is a multiple of 5, “refresh” the board by refilling any open chests with Loot as well as respawning monsters in the camps.

Remember that your goal is to have the most points at the end of the game…. But how do you gain those points?  Each of the 3 quests in the game offer three levels of achievement, and your team will mark their progress on the quest cards themselves.  Tier 1 completion = 1VP, Tier 2 completion = 2VP and Tier 3 completion = 3VP.  Note that these are cumulative, so your team scores 1/3/6VP for finishing Tier 1/2/3,   Certain events also reward VP or can add new Quests or Loot to the game.  Speaking of Loot, each Loot card is worth 1VP, and you gain Loot by opening chests on the board, by defeating monsters or picking up Loot from a defeated Hero.  Any time a Hero is defeated, they drop all their loot cards.  These cards can be picked up by anyone who enters that space where they were dropped.

The Trial Guardian (aka Boss) comes into play at the end of any round when at least one team has 10VP.  It comes into play in the center of the board, and then will follow the directions on the script written on its Monster card.  Simply follow the directions to determine how the Boss will act.  The game continues until the Boss is defeated, at which point the team with the most points wins.

My thoughts on the game

In this “cooperative, team-based game”, which I think is a completely misleading description, the game starts off slow with the starting cards in their deck, then ratchets up as the more powerful cards come into play, and then goes out with a relative whimper due to the weird (IMO) end-game conditions.

Though I don’t normally like to start with the things I don’t like – in this game, it’s all I can think about having played it.  The game ends when the Boss is beaten, and the team that has the most points when the Boss is beaten wins the game.  But… there is no reward for defeating it other than causing the game to end.   Therefore, if your team is in the lead, but only by a small amount, you might try to beat the boss – but while you do, the other team is still running around collecting loot cards and increasing their VP total.  In the end, there is almost no incentive to actually attack the boss and end the game.  Once all the players realize this, the game stretches out interminably because there isn’t an incentive to actually end the game unless you are ridiculously ahead in points.  If you’re close enough to attack the Boss, then you’re also likely to be at risk of getting hit, and if you are defeated, you’ll drop all your Loot, and that might cause the other team to take the lead!  So, the endgame has really dragged on in our games because there isn’t enough incentive to actually attack the boss.  In one of my games, we literally just agreed to quit because no one was making a move on the Boss – and well, we didn’t want to play the game forever (it had already outstayed its welcome at 90+ minutes…).   I really don’t like to make house rules when reviewing a game, so we just tried to play it as written in the rules… 

If/When this game hits the table again, there’s probably going to be a house rule (either in number of turns or time on the clock) at which point the game ends automatically.  Or maybe simply make defeating the boss worth some number of VPs – thus incentivizing one or both teams to actually fight it.  Otherwise, the written rules essentially mean that no one ever really pays attention to the Boss, other than not straying near it lest it attacks you… so then why have it included in the first place?  There are so many possible solutions to this dilemma, but you won’t find one in the current ruleset which is a bit of a bummer.

The other thing that I bristle at with the game is the description as a “cooperative, team based game”.  There is no cooperation here except for the usual and standard part that players on the same team are cooperating and working together because, you know, they’re on the same team.  The game is competitive between those two sides, and I think it is a bit misleading to try to call this a cooperative game.  I don’t know if this description was thrown in to try to capitalize on the current positive wave of attention showered on cooperative games…  Sure, you might try to get plans to work together to meet the criteria of a certain quest – but this is part of being a team. I really have a hard time thinking of any sort of team arrangement where the members of said team aren’t trying to cooperate to win.  So calling that part of the game “cooperative” is a totally misleading statement.  I would consider a cooperative game one where ALL players work together for the common goal.  I suppose that the Interaction abilities lend a whiff of a flavor of cooperativity to the game, but this remains firmly a competitive game in my mind and it should be sold as such.  Not quite PvP, but TvT (team versus team)..

OK, now onto the good parts.  The character building is really neat, and I really like the way that you get a different feel and playstyle each game due to the combination of character, class and subclass cards/actions each game.  Additionally, as your teams will likely be made up of different heroes, your team will likely interact differently with its members each time out.  This system is really well done, and saves you the time and effort of rolling for initial stats and then playing through campaign after campaign to build up inventory, skills and other stat buffs.  More importantly (for me) is that you can pick a different class each time out – you’re not stuck with the same character every time as you generally are with a traditional D&D campaign.

That being said, there is a lot here that brings back good warm and fuzzy nostalgia of my highschool D&D campaigns.  There is adventure, fighting, and plenty of cheering for fortuitous d20 rolls.  The Event cards have the ability to turn the game on its head in the blink of an eye, and the powers on some of the Loot cards can be game-changing.  Needless to say, you need to be ready for just about anything.  It’s a bit shorter than my usual D&D session, and you don’t need to have 100% attendance to be able to play… 

The components are good to great.  There are two versions available – with painted or unpainted minis – and I was blessed to get the pre-painted set.  I have no patience nor ability to paint minis, and I’m pretty pumped to be able to play a beautiful painted set without having to do all the work for it.  The hero cards lack background art, and frankly, I’m a big proponent of this.  For once, I can actually read all of the text in a reasonable font without any extraneous things to distract me.  Yeah, maybe I’m in the minority here, but man, it’s so nice to have important components where function triumphs form.  This again harkens back to the good old days of D&D when the only art you got was a crummy hand-drawn dungeon map on a wrinkled piece of graph paper, hopefully without too many holes in it from over-vigorous erasing as the walls changed. 

There are also a boatload of counters and rings for the different effects characters/enemies can have in the game.  In regular D+D, you’d easily mark this on a character sheet with a pencil and be done with it.  Here, you need a different counter for each effect.  The bits are nicely done with a side with art and a side which helpfully includes a written caption of the effect.  We have played with the text side up at all times, and this has really helped everyone know what is going on.  Kudos to Wizkids for adding in the captions.

The only component that I am not entirely sure about is the Battlerealm tiles.  Right now, you plop the tiles on the board – and there are only 2 maps.  Though, I don’t understand the costs behind the different options – it seems like it would have been much easier to just print a double sided board and not have these constantly shifting tiles to deal with.  However, maybe the tiles were just cheaper?  Or maybe figuring out the folds for such a large board wasn’t worth it?  (Or… maybe there would have been as many complaints of the board creases/valleys affecting play if it were a board…)  Because of the tracks around the outsides of the board, you really can’t make unique maps by shifting the position or orientation of the tiles.

Until you get to the stalemate in the endgame, the game moves along pretty well.  (Though it’ll take you a bit of time for the setup, hero and deck drafting…)   Individual turns/actions don’t take that long, and you can often do a lot of planning before your turn comes up – as you know where you are each round in turn order based on your initiative roll.  If you want to request teammate Interaction abilities (or offer to give your own help), that can all happen in the background.   My favorite way to play so far was a 4p game with each of us taking 2 Heroes – thus putting the maximum 8 heroes in play.  In this way, there were plenty of things to do/plan/etc, and the action on the crowded board was frenetic.  We all had to be much more aware of opponent Heroes, whether because they were going to attack us or because they were going to beat us to a Loot chest or to attacking an enemy.  

This is the start of a really good boardgame version of a D+D campaign. No one has to be the DM, and you get a lot of fun character construction here without having to commit to the same character for years.  The gameplay is tactical and ever-changing, and it’s honestly lots of fun to explore the area, kick some Goblin butt and maybe even sneak attack your opponents to defeat them and steal their loot.  It would be perfect if the game could actually end in a timely fashion, but the rules really work against you in that regard.  If that bit could be fixed, this one could become a regular to the game table, but for now, it remains fairly flawed in that final act.  I am hopeful for official errata/variants to modify the endgame.

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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1 Response to Dale Yu: First Impression of Dungeons and Dragons: Trials of Tempus

  1. Thor Knai says:

    Hi Dale! Thanks for the review, and I’m sorry it didn’t quite hit the mark for you. I can understand the confusion around coop, team-based. We (the designers) did lobby for a tagline that made the competitiveness more obvious, but ultimately Wizkids makes those calls. At least the rest of the box art does explain the situation more clearly.

    As far as the endgame, you’re not alone. The shift in tactics is dramatic, and apparently sneaks up on players more than it did in testing (with us present for the most part). This is also where the coop becomes mandatory. Coordinating the efforts of your team becomes completely necessary to win. The endgame is meant to be the catch up mechanic, and put the “winning” team in a difficult situation if they don’t have a plan on how to defeat the specific boss they’ll face. We tested multiple versions of this, VP on kill/damage, Boss Quest, etc. But ultimately decided against it. The boss needed to be the end, and it needed to offer enough of a challenge that there was a reasonable expectation for the 2nd team to catch up if they played well enough late-game. The “bigger lead” later in the game is an illusion. VP rewards make catching up impossible and makes the game a drag for the team not currently winning. This way it’s tense until the final blow lands. The reward is you win.

    That said, we’re toying with additional mechanics to make the boss unavoidable for expansions/FAQ/errata.

    The most immediate “official” fix is to scale the boss HP to number of players. 100% being 4v4. This can also make smaller games shorter. Ultimately, it becomes about pressing your advantage when you have it, and plan for the boss fight when building your heroes/saving key abilities against the boss so you can take them down in just a round or two.


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