Table of Contents
|Name||Dungeons & Dragons: The Legend of Drizzt Board Game (2011)|
|Review||Meeple Like Us|
|BGG Rank||665 [7.24]|
|Buy it!||Amazon Link|
The Legend of Drizzt is a great example of a game that shows you don’t necessarily need all the complex trappings of a role-playing system to have some good ol’ fashioned hack and slash fun. It’s a profoundly limited game, with some dissonance between its design and its mechanics. Ultimately though it’s good entertainment. We gave it three and a half stars in our review. How does it fare as an accessible game? Time for it to roll its saving throw versus spiteful internet poison, and find out.
Legend of Drizzt does have a colour blindness problem but that’s mitigated by the fact that each model has its own distinct form factor. Certain enemies are colour coded – I’m not sure though what the colours actually mean. The trolls and goblins are green, the drow and dragon are purple, the elementals and undead are a transparent-ish blue, and the heroes are a more opaque blue.
Some sculpts are going to need close examination too, especially the drow versus some of the heroes. You can see the difference easily enough, but that might not be true when they’re at the opposite end of a long table.
Nothing else makes use of colour as its sole channel of information so the game is still very playable. Being a (mostly) co-operative title there’s also no harm in everyone at the table (assuming you’re not playing solo) keeping everyone right as to where all the various players and NPCs are. We’ll recommend it in this category.
The largest issue of visual accessibility that comes rapidly into play is the way that the caverns you construct will expand and sprawl over the game table. You don’t get to limit the direction of the sprawl, but you do at least get to choose in what direction it’s going to go. The key element here is that tiles are placed with the arrow pointing towards the connecting edge – that takes away your ability to ensure it remains constrained. You can house-rule that away but it will have an impact – the distribution of mushroom patches on tiles is important in handling the spawning of enemies, and they’ll be placed oriented in relation to the arrows. Changing that may result in an easier, or harder, game than usual.
This means that game state spreads everywhere over the table, and becomes cluttered very quickly. Tiles except in later scenarios will contain only sculpts for heroes and enemies, but as time goes by there might be traps, chests, collapsed sections of the terrain, and so on. Some scenarios make use of additional tokens, such as crowns, keys, bowls, and a whole pile of other things. spatial geometry too can be changed with the addition of secret passages in response to game events. The map then tends towards the visually inaccessible, but in a collaborative and group scenario there are other people to ensure that it’s not a major issue. Since most movement is tile based for monsters, you can get by with an abstracted frame of reference. ‘There’s a troll two tiles to the east’. Moving players is on a square by square basis, but that too can easily become tile based if it eases the job of manipulating position. As we mentioned in the review, for a grid-based game the specifics of positionality is surprisingly unimportant.
Before too much time has passed, every player in the game is going to be sprinkled with damage tokens, and holding multiple treasure items. Their special abilities will be in varying states of readiness. It helps if you know how everyone is doing, but it’s not something you need to know secretly or at a glance.
As part of drawing a monster, you assume the responsibility for moving it. Each card comes with quite dense and specific information about how the creature is to move, and under what circumstances. Usually this is some variation of ‘If you’re far away move nearer. If you’re close, attack’ but sometimes it’s a little more subtle such as with the hypnotic spirit:
The text is dense but it is clearly structured and makes good use of ornamentation to help differentiate the various sections. For NPC cards, the conditional clause is in bold, allowing a degree of ease in visual parsing. They key information is well contrasted, and is even of a reasonably large font size. Bigger would be better, but I’m reliably told that’s almost always true.
This convention holds true throughout the cards – it seems like a real effort has been made for each to be as readable as is possible. It’s not perfect but it is generally good. It’s a shame then that the sculpts are identified only by the name on the bottom of the base. This is thoroughly difficult to read under anything other than the most direct of light. It’s an embossed chunk of text in the same colour as the mini itself, and while that’s sometimes okay…
It’s more often very difficult to make out.
To be fair, you can probably work out with visual inspection which figure goes with which card, and in reality it doesn’t actually matter if the miniature used is the correct one. It’s just unfortunate – it’s not that the text is badly contrasted, it’s that it isn’t contrasted at all.
Legend of Drizzt is a game that can be played well solo, and so it’s good to see that the scenario book also adopts a number of positive conventions for readability. These include effective use of ornamentation, clear separation of sections, and high contrast. The flavour sections (red background) are a little hard to read but they’re not critical to gameplay and it’s helpful they have been separated out from game critical content.
A twenty sided die is needed for play, but only one and it’s completely standard. If you have an accessible die available, it can be used with no modification of the game rules.
We’re going to tentatively recommend Legend of Drizzt in this category – it does sprawl, and there is a lot of text, and a lot of tokens. However, there is very little information that any one player needs to deal with for most scenarios. Management of game state can be a collaborative act of group strategy, and for all its fiddly tokens and expanding layout the game makes every effort to be visually accessible.
All of this said, that’s contingent on there being a sighted player in the group that’s able to offer the necessary support for play. For solo play, or for play within a group where everyone is visually impaired, it’s probably best to search elsewhere for your gaming enjoyment.
At one level, Legend of Drizzt is as simple as ‘move a piece, reveal a tile, draw a card, roll some dice’. However, while that’s true for the simplest phases of play it’s very much not true for most turns.
First of all, there are encounter effects to deal with, and these may be multi-stage or decoupled from their origin. You might accumulate curse cards for example – they have an immediate impact, but trigger again when any player draws another curse. Some mix things up by spawning new enemies, or have positional impact based on player adjacency to tiles and monsters. Some of the advanced encounters too have more complex multi-step payloads such as depositing traps; placing tiles and immobilising heroes; rock slides; or cave-ins. These can be quite involved, especially if they cause cascades or changes in otherwise predictable monster logic.
The monsters themselves have steps they need to go through during a player’s turn, and they are sometimes activated in complex arrangements. For example, if two players each control a goblin archer, both archers are activated on both players turns. The logic associated with the NPC isn’t complicated, but a few monster cards are actually events in and of themselves. You might draw a ‘hunting party’ which spawns two monsters instead of one. One of those might be a feral troll with combat logic and specialist regeneration mechanics.
But let’s say all of this is being handled by another player – even playing your own hero is an act of considerable cognitive sophistication because of the various powers you have available and the accumulating treasures you pick up. Knowing when to use a power is important, because unless it’s an at-will power you’re probably giving it up ahead of the major battle to come. It’s a risk that requires a proper appreciation. You need to weigh the current need against the future eventualities.
Understanding the game state adds a new layer of complexity. Any individual player may be cursed, and immobilised, and poisoned, and peppered with damage, with a communal reserve of experience and healing surges to be taken into account. You might have allies, such as Drizzt’s panther. You might have a stance you need to juggle between multiple cards, or a budget of tokens on a power that get used up. Some treasure effects offer permanent bonuses, others have a situational use that needs to be considered in every engagement. And the same is true for every other player, and some of the NPCs.
Spending experience too is bizarrely specific. You don’t earn experience points as such, you collect up the monster cards of the creatures you slay. To level up, or cancel an encounter, you need to spend five experience points by cashing in cards but you can’t ‘make change’. If you cash in two monsters that were three experience each, you can’t get that one left-over point back. That turns every experience outlay into its own logic puzzle, trying to hit the exact total whilst still leaving enough low cost NPCs in the pile that you won’t overpay in future. For a game that involves so many different tokens it is strange indeed that they didn’t just give you XP markers.
The game flow is reasonably consistent, but it does have minor variations between heroes. Most, within their hero phase, can move twice, or move and attack, or attack and move. Drizzt however gets an extra attack which gives him nine possible combinations of moving and attacking. Bruenor gets a free attack (inflict one damage for one HP), whereas Catti-Brie can move during the exploration phase (something other heroes can’t). Regis can manipulate the draw deck. Even those heroes with effects that don’t manipulate game flow have conditional powers that need to be taken into account – Wulfgar for example is at +1 damage while he has four or fewer HPs.
Playing a hero well requires a fair degree of cognitive processing, in other words, and that’s just when it’s a co-operative adventure. A few scenarios are competitive, or team based, or involve the use of ‘villainous heroes’. All of these layer even more cognitive complexity onto play.
In all of this we haven’t even touched on the necessary reading level or required numeracy. Numeracy requirements are considerable, involving the handling of random numbers, addition, comparisons, addition and subtraction with sets, conditional arithmetic, and more. Literacy requirements are even higher, although that’s only a problem on the assumption that a cognitively impaired player will also be responsible for reading cards and carrying out the actions. For most groups, we assume that would be unnecessary – it can be handled by another player at the table with limited game impact.
The cognitive cost here is almost all in terms of fluid intelligence, with only a little additional burden placed on memory. Everything in the game that has changing state has a token to represent it – it’s the counterpoint to the ‘so many tokens’ issue. There is nothing that you need to remember in play that isn’t represented somewhere around the table. Even the final show-down is one that is triggered by finding a particular tile, and that’s threaded into the cavern draw deck at a position that is semi-guaranteed. You don’t need to remember this – you’ll find it when you find it, you don’t have anything you can do to make it happen differently. Nonetheless if you want to know approximately where it is, just consult the scenario.
We like to talk in these sections about cognitively accessible variants, and there probably is one in here. We haven’t tested it, but it’s almost certainly the case that you can focus on the dungeon crawling and thumping enemies for one or more players whilst others focus on the deeper strategy of utilising complex special powers when needed. The game makes use of healing surges as a balancing mechanic, but you can increase or reduce the difficulty by changing the number of these you have available. You can probably sculpt a reasonably satisfying game out of the raw materials here – it’s one of the key benefits of a modular system. However, you’ll need to do an awful lot of house-ruling and experimentation, and there are other games that are more cognitively accessible right out of the box.
We don’t recommend Legend of Drizzt for those where fluid intelligence considerations are important, but those with memory impairments are unlikely to find the game significantly inaccessible.
Legend of Drizzt is an unforgiving game – I’ve read a lot on the Internet about how it’s the easiest of the series, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. It is a game though that permits you to meaningfully scale the difficulty through the provision of extra healing surges, or by focusing on the basic decks rather than the advanced ones. Challenge then is at least in part something you can decide for yourself ahead of play, and correspondingly the despair of an inevitable failure is something into which you can choose to opt in.
There are a few competitive scenarios in the book, but for the most part you’re playing collaboratively against some NPC villain– you all win together, or you all die together. That mitigates a lot of the issues of emotional accessibility at which we tend to look. The competitive elements though are likely to be emotional triggers – they involve racing each other to a goal, or out and out player versus player. Even the softer competitive scenarios, such as the trophy hunt, introduce elements of score disparity. The harder ones also permit, and even encourage, player elimination. The nature of such games is that it is tactically sensible to focus on a single opponent rather than ‘spread the pain’, which creates a natural incentive for ganging up. Again, this is something into which you explicitly opt in – the scenario book details the nature of each adventure, and the parameters for play. Group adventures are fully collaborative, team adventures are ‘ us versus them’ and competitive adventures create a ‘one versus all’ mid-game turn-around. You can avoid the ones you don’t think will work well with the group, although skipping adventures in this way will impact on the game’s longevity.
Legend of Drizzt however gets a recommendation in this category because of how it has explicitly created optionality in each of its emotional trigger areas. That’s a great system.
The Legend of Drizzt has a lot of physical manipulation and it’s across a potentially huge surface area. You need a big table to play the game due to the way the cavern tiles sprawl. It’s not only common for them to sprawl out of easy reach, but to entirely opposite parts of the table. For most games, you’ll only have a cavern of ten or twelve tiles – the setup for the adventure gives a limited sprawl before you find the end tile that triggers the final battle. However…
See, in the encounter deck there’s a viciously cruel card called ‘lost’. When you draw that card, you take the top tile off of the cavern draw pile, and put it on the bottom. That could be your destination tile, turning a ninety minute adventure into an endless grind. In the process, it ensures a much greater sprawl of the map – and even without the lost card it rapidly becomes very physically difficult to manipulate. Tiles are attached jigsaw style, which is mostly okay because the quality is very high, but you’ll often have to stretch. You’re also doing this on a board that can become very busy with minis and status effects. The tiles don’t misalign the way they do in Carcassonne or Isle of Skye, because they’re slotted together. That’s good. The downside is that if you nudge one tile anywhere in the map you’ll likely cause problems everywhere as heroes and enemies are dislodged. That’s bad.
There are a lot of cards in Legend of Drizzt, and it’s the first time I’ve encountered a deck that is so unpleasant to manipulate. The cards are very thin and extremely frictive, making them difficult to shuffle and deal. There are many times during play when you’ll have to do that – especially during setup when you’re selecting your various powers. It’s not a major issue, but even without physical impairments I find this difficult to do. It’s just strange when you take into account the production values of everything else.
You’re constantly engaging physically with the game – you’re moving your hero around; rolling dice; moving the NPCs you control,;drawing cards; discarding; flipping them over; assigning damage; and removing it. A lot of this is done with tiny tokens that are very difficult to manipulate, especially if you want to use the rounded monster HP tokens that nestle into the base. You’re drawing cavern tiles, snapping them in to the grid, and then placing NPC minis on the appropriate patches. Sometimes you’re doing movement between tiles, sometimes it’s fine grained movement on squares within tiles. And you’re almost always doing this at the extremities of the cavern – that’s where all the action happens.
Our usual response to issues like these is to consider the ease of verbalisation, and that at least is reasonably easy. The individual tiles don’t always have differentiating features, but while the movement for players is on a square by square basis, it’s not hugely important that you go any particular route. Positionality in the game is primarily driven by adjacency, so you don’t need to worry about gaining flanking benefits, coming up from behind, or triggering attacks of opportunity and the like. While Drizzt doesn’t make any effort for movement to be unambiguously communicable it mitigates some of this by its relaxed approach to what movement involves.
For everything else, you can find a clear way to express any action. All your special powers have a specific name, and even the monsters uniquely identify each of their individual attacks and under what circumstances they’ll be used.
As such, we’ll tentatively recommend the Legend of Drizzt in this category. You can play, through verbalisation, in all circumstances. If though you like the tactile thrill of manipulating pieces around a made up landscape you’ll find the sheer degree of game sprawl puts it out of reasonable accessibility. That’s true even if you have a full range of motion in your arms.
The good news is that unlike most D&D games, the artwork isn’t full of sexualised women in impractically skimpy armour! The bad news is that’s because there’s only one woman in the entire game that gets any significant artwork devoted to her. And, you guessed it…
To be fair, it’s only the Underdark – the deadliest maze of twisting caverns in all of the Realms. Why would she need anything more than a sports bra and a bow? It probably does get chilly down there, but never mind that – the exercise will probably keep her warm. The drow handmaiden and matrons are represented only in sculpts and villain cards, but even they have ridiculous boob-plate. The best you can say about this artwork is that there isn’t a lot of it, and that sets the Legend of Drizzt apart from games such as Lords of Waterdeep and the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game. In this case, the game’s skewed gender balance is a boon because it stops it embarrassing itself with juvenile teenage artwork,. That’s though perhaps the least satisfying way to overcome the problem. This is not so much a problem with the Legend of Drizzt but instead with the lazy conventions of fantasy art in general.
We’ve discussed in previous teardowns the problematic representation of dark elves in fantasy settings – suffice to say that having an inherently evil race that just so happens to be entirely dark-skinned is Lovecraftian levels of implicit racism. Drizzt himself is a good guy, but he’s notable precisely because of how he plays against type. It doesn’t make it better really when you say ‘Oh no, he’s a good one’. It’s the same presumptive accommodation behind ‘I don’t mean you when I talk about filthy foreigners stealing our jerbs’. To be fair, many of the Drizzt novels incorporate themes of prejudice and racism and how society is structured in discriminatory ways None of that is reflected in this game. True, the game also doesn’t make a big deal about the inherent evil of the dark elves, but that’s only a Google search away.
As with many of the things raised in this section of the teardowns, this is something that is very easy to roll your eyes at and say ‘Oh come on’. I had an interesting conversation with someone over on Reddit with regards to the King of Tokyo teardown, and how they believed the gendered title was basically something that nobody should get upset about because it is trivial. That was a meaningful conversation and worth reading, but for each of those there is a more aggressive, agitated response from someone more comfortable in the Kotaku in Action subreddit. Since my experience at this point is that if there is discussion around the article it will focus on this section, and will usually be most rabidly attacked by those that haven’t done the courtesy of reading any of the other content on the site, I should probably summarise why I’m bringing this up. It’s not that the Drow in Drizzt are a problem that desperately needs addressed. It’s not that the Drow are a racial stereotype, or that they are a clumsy fictionalisation of any real human culture. They’re neither of those things. The game isn’t bad for making use of them. The people that enjoy the role that the Drow play in D&D are not bad people. However, regardless of how much of a non-issue you consider this to be, it is absolutely a contributory factory to a societal perception that ‘white is good’ and ‘black is evil’. This is demonstrated beautifully in the Malcolm X movie:
Yes, it’s just a movie. It’s fiction. Do you know what isn’t fiction? The Doll Test:
And do you know what impact this kind of thing has, in the aggregate?
This isn’t a problem that will go away if the Drow disappear. However, the Drow are a contributory element to a much wider problem of sociological representation. That’s why it’s brought up here – I didn’t pick out the Legend of Drizzt as a textbook example of the issue. It’s just part of what these teardowns involve. These sections talk about, among other things, issues of representation and of what is often careless reliance on tropes that are not intentionally harmful but carry within them unfortunate implications. That is, usually unintentionally harmful. If you want to peel back a scab, you can check this thread here over on Stormfront to see how easily racists can turn applicability into a weapon. They key word there is applicability. I am not saying the Drow are a racist stereotype. What I am saying is that you cannot reasonably have an entirely black skinned, inherently evil culture in a game and not expect it’s going to have some racial connotation.
With an RRP of £50, the Legend of Drizzt is a pricey game. You do get a lot for your money, and it’s a very scalable experience. However, as we mentioned in the review the game obviously shines when it’s used in conjunction with the other game sets. Each of those is of a comparable price, and each fleshes out the variety of play. You’ll run out of novelty in the Legend of Drizzt before too much time has passed – there aren’t enough monsters, encounters or treasures to sustain interest for long. If you want to keep the thing fresh, you might need to consider buying the other sets. That turns a pricey proposition into something even less affordable. Unusually, this also brings up the topic of storage – each of these is a massive box with a spectacularly poorly designed insert. I got rid of the insert, and now this is the inside of the box:
You could probably fit the contents of all four games into two stuffed boxes, but you’re talking a lot of storage, organisation, logistics, and incidental damage of the more fragile minis.
Given this, the disregard for gender balance (again, an issue with the wider canon) along with the prominence the drow have in this particular game, we can’t recommend the Legend of Drizzt in this category. If the issues of ‘black is evil’ don’t bother you, and I wouldn’t judge you if they didn’t, you can knock this up to a tentative recommendation. My main concern in cases like this is not necessarily that the content offends me. It doesn’t. Contrary to popular assumption, I’m all but impossible to offend. It’s more ‘would I feel comfortable in bringing this game out for all kind of audiences’. The answer for the Legend of Drizzt is ‘maaaaaybe not?’. It’s not that it can’t spawn interesting and important conversations about racism and representation. It’s just – that’s probably not why you got the game out in the first place. If you wanted to have a meaningful discussion about the deeper issues, I’d suggest pulling out a D&D game and saying ‘Check out those evil bastards’ is one of the most frivolous and counter-productive ways to do it.
There is a considerable degree of literacy required for play, and as a co-operative game it involves some negotiation over strategy. There are shared resources – experience and healing surges – and the spending of those is ideally handled via group consent. It doesn’t have to be, but the expectation would be that you’re working together, not simply each pottering around with a vague shared goal.
The strategy discussions involved are unlikely to be complex but they will involve jargon and concepts that are unlikely to be part of regular day to day communication. Physical gestures will carry a lot of semantic meaning from context, considerably lowering the burden of communication.
We tentatively recommend the Legend of Drizzt in this category.
I strongly recommend you play the game without the Lost encounter card. No matter the category of accessibility, it gets worse if that card is in play. Not all the time, mind – but on those rare occasions you draw a lost card and place the end tile on the bottom of the stack you have basically turned a fun dungeon romp into an endless crucible of angst, recrimination and suffering.
The board sprawls hugely in Legend of Drizzt, and what visual accessibility is permitted is reliant on a player’s ability to get up and wander around, making use of assistive aids and close interrogation to see the things that matter. That is not going to be possible if visual impairments are paired with physical impairments, especially given how busy parts of the board can become. Similarly, if fine motor-skills are limited, being unable to clearly visually discriminate the map can make placement very difficult to do without nudging other pieces around.
The game makes no use of hidden hands, which is good – you can play everything open in front of you without any game impact. However, the complexity of the text on the cards is going to exacerbate issues of cognitive and visual intersection – there are a lot of instructions that must be carried out reasonably precisely, and the logical steps must either be easy to pick up visually or straightforward to hold in memory. Impairments in one category will dramatically impact on accessibility for the other.
The Legend of Drizzt can play pretty quickly, relatively speaking. Ninety minutes is a reasonable expectation, depending on how much time you’re going to spend wandering around and what adventures you have. You might well take much longer, depending on the complexity of the scenario and the encounters you’re having. It is long enough though that issues of discomfort must be taken into account. It’s a game that permit solo playing though by having individuals double-up (or more) on characters – as such, it scales easily down to smaller numbers. It also permits players to jump right back in later, alleviating the burden on a player that is doing double duty.
Much of our physical accessibility section focuses on playing through verbalisation – it’s pretty much the only way the game will be playable for many categories of impairment. It’s also a game with a requirement for communication of strategy, and where communication impairments are concerned physical gestures can compensate. Neither of these will be feasible if there is an intersection of these impairment categories, and as such the game will likely be entirely inaccessible.
The Legend of Drizzt is a fun game – not the kind of thing that will draw you as deeply as an actual tabletop campaign, but an effective hack and slash romp through a randomly generated dungeon. We gave it three and a half stars, remarking that it’s a lot more fun than its relatively shallow mechanics would imply.
I was expecting, at the start of this teardown, to be far more critical of the game than I ended up being. I use a heuristic lens for these teardowns, allowing me to look at each salient element in each category. It means that each teardown is the result of a focused examination of individual elements, as well as in their totality. As a result, I am occasionally surprised by the final reckoning. I thought Legend of Drizzt would score far more poorly in both the visual and physical accessibility categories, but while my recommendations are only tentative, they are recommendations nonetheless.
Leaving aside the troublesome elements of theme, which are something it largely inherits from its source material, the only real problem category is in fluid intelligence. There’s so much to do, across so many different game systems, that we couldn’t possibly recommend it there. However, otherwise it makes a good fist of things and even has some exemplary good practise threaded throughout. A decent result, in other words – rolls a twelve, saves for half damage.
A Disclaimer About Teardowns
Meeple Like Us is engaged in mapping out the accessibility landscape of tabletop games. Teardowns like this are data points. Games are not necessarily bad if they are scored poorly in any given section. They are not necessarily good if they score highly. The rating of a game in terms of its accessibility is not an indication as to its quality as a recreational product. These teardowns though however allow those with physical, cognitive and visual accessibility impairments to make an informed decision as to their ability to play.
Not all sections of this document will be relevant to every person. We consider matters of diversity, representation and inclusion to be important accessibility issues. If this offends you, then this will not be the blog for you. We will not debate with anyone whether these issues are worthy of discussion. You can check out our common response to common objections.
Teardowns are provided under a CC-BY 4.0 license. However, recommendation grades in teardowns are usually subjective and based primarily on heuristic analysis rather than embodied experience. No guarantee is made as to their correctness. Bear that in mind if adopting them.