An Early Review of D&D Miniatures 2.0

by Mike Shea on 21 January 2008

In mid January 2008 Wizards of the Coast released the Dungeons and Dragons Miniatures 2.0 Rulebook. This retooled table top miniatures game is our first official look at the way Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition released in June 2008.

I really like D&D Miniatures. It lets me play a rules-light D&D game with one other person in the span of an hour. While the miniatures game is clearly built as a competition between two players, more like Magic: The Gathering than D&D, I see it as a simplified RPG. One player can play a group of monsters and another plays a band of heroes. D&D Miniatures 2.0 is a lot closer to D&D than the original miniatures game.

While the rulebook for D&D Miniatures 2.0 is now out, no creature cards are yet available. Some CSI-like forensics, however, led true D&D fans to rebuild creature statistics from various examples, snapshots, and leaked photos. This led to five full creature cards, just enough to build two 100 point warbands. I wrote up a D&D Miniatures 2.0 scenario called A Night in the Sewers that pits a dwarf champion and three human sellswords against a barbed devil and his troll and yuan-ti bodyguards. Using these two warbands I was able to try out D&D Miniatures 2.0 and I loved every miniute.

D&D Miniatures is a lot faster than the old version. Creatures move fast, hit hard, and move on. In the old version, when a creature was "based" or stuck up against another creature, they stuck together like glue. Neither wanted to move away for fear of the dreaded "attack of opportunity" (AoO) and a loss of more than one attack a round. Now the full attack is gone and creatures can "shift" to move one square and avoid the Opportunity Attack. This shift, known as the 5 foot step in D&D, is a great enhancement and has creatures moving a lot more often. Now creatures move all over the map throughout the game instead of sticking into static clumps until people fall over dead.

Multiple attacks have been replaced with concurrent attacks. A troll, for example, can try to rend an opponent by rolling an attack, hitting, and then rolling a second attack if the first succeeds. Each hit requires the previous to succeed. I don't know how this will translate into 4th Edition and it is awkward in Minis until you get the hang of it. A flurry of blades move, for example, has up to four attacks in a row, all requiring that the one before it hit. The wording alone led me to a lot of confusion.

Likewise, a six-page thread on the Troll's Rend ability leads people to wonder how criticals work. If a troll crits on his first hit does the whole thing get doubled? Just the half that critted? So far people have stated that the troll's rend is doubled if one hits and one crits or if both crit. Still, it is a bit more confusing than it was in the original game.

Initiative is also a little strange. Instead of adding a champion rating to an initiative roll, the player with the highest champion rating rolls twice and takes the best roll. That seems against the idea of "roll 1d20, add a modifier", the core rule of D20 and D&D. Also, when one wins initiative, they choose who goes first and that player can only activate one creature instead of two. It is definitely not a clear advantage to win initiative anymore.

Likewise, charging, while now a lot easier to perform, isn't as clear an advantage as it once was. Because charging is now an attack option, a player can move around to line up a charge and then charge all in one round. Charges only add +1 instead of +2 and can only use a basic attack so charging isn't as useful as it was but is more likely to happen without much of a penalty.

Saving throws are gone now, replaced by attacks against "defense", a generic saving throw attribute. The term "defense" is a bit confusing and took a game before realizing it wasn't AC. "Resist" would have been better, but that term is already used for "resist fire" and the like. Using "defense" as a static number rolled against by the attacker is a lot better than making a player roll to resist an effect. I was happily surprised to see this change in D&D Miniatures and in 4th Edition. It's a big change, but a good one. It is still unclear to me if spells can crit in D&D miniatures, however.

Morale has been replaced with "bloodied", the state when a creature's remaining hitpoints are half or less than it's total. Certain creatures have special abilities against bloodied foes and certain bloodied creatures have new effects that trigger when it becomes bloodied. Unlike "morale", bloodied is a lot of fun and a great improvement.

My first D&D Miniature 2.0 game was a blast. Our creatures double moved into a single room where the dwarf champion and a sellsword quickly cut down the Spined Devil. The troll moved into position and charged before beginning to rend the sellswords. The dwarf champion, however, used his "Drive into Peril" to knock the troll into one of the other sellswords giving the sellsword a free attack. The Yuan-Ti began cutting up the sellswords, making good use of the Zehir's Tongue to do more damage against the bloodied sellswords. It ended up with the dwarf champion against one Yuan-Ti, the dwarf finally cutting the serpent-man down with a blow from his mighty dwarven axe. Overall, it was a great battle and a lot of fun.

I would like to see Wizards of the Coast continue to flesh out D&D miniatures with three things: creature progression, items and equipment, and adventure scenarios. I think D&D Miniatures could be a light-rule RPG that plays like a D&D game only faster and with fewer players. I would also like to see initiative return to a 1d20 + champion rating instead of two die rolls. It just doesn't follow the same 1d20+modifier rule everything else does.

Quibbles aside, D&D Miniature 2.0 games are fast, dynamic, strategic, and a lot of fun. It is a lot closer to the actual D&D rules and helps fulfill my appetite for a D&D game in a short period of time with only one other player. I can't wait to play my next game.