Dungeons & Dragons’ beloved Dragonlance setting is back, and kender-loving folk the world over have every reason to be excited. Wizards of the Coast’s latest campaign book, Dragonlance: Shadow of the Dragon Queen, is among the best yet released for the 5th edition of the popular role-playing game. But the companion board game, Dragonlance: Warriors of Krynn, falls well short of its promise. Rather than uplifting the experience, the complex strategy wargame simply slows the action down. It also demonstrates the gulf in quality between some Hasbro-made board games and other premium board games on the market today.
Originally created by Laura and Tracy Hickman in the 1980s, the Dragonlance setting was a key product line for D&D’s original publisher, TSR, which was acquired by Wizards in the 1990s. Most fans know it best from a series of novels, written by Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis — Dragons of Autumn Twilight, Dragons of Winter Night, and Dragons of Spring Dawning. The original creative team is thanked in the credits, but they were not included in the work this time around. But that’s not the only reason why longtime fans of that setting shouldn’t expect to see cameos by old friends like Raistlin, Tasslehoff, or Tanis Half-Elven. Shadow of the Dragon Queen tells the story of an entirely different cast of characters, shifting the focus away from the Heroes of the Lance to the far northern kingdom of Solamnia.
Shadow of the Dragon Queen meets or exceeds the goals set out by its design team — that is, to evoke the same kind of grim, life-or-death struggles depicted in war movies such as Saving Private Ryan and 1917. The campaign takes characters from levels 1-11 along a suitably epic arc, all the while managing to touch upon many of the iconic factions, themes, monsters, and magical items that made Hickman and Weis’ novels so appealing to generations of D&D fans.
Just as in the original source material, the stakes are high in this adventure. The potential for character death should be expected going in. In fact, Dungeon Masters who fail to pull their punches as instructed can easily kill off the entire party in the very first combat encounter. At another point, when a certain magic ritual goes awry, the text gives DMs the option to kill players on the spot. Later encounters — including one against a challenge level 19 legendary villain on his own home turf — seem to be thematically stacked against the players, and will require some very lucky die rolls for everyone to make it out alive. In this way it feels authentic to the perilous adventures first published by TSR in the ’80s and ’90s — and to the original novels, which include at times graphic depictions of mutilation and death.
Also taking inspiration from the original source material, powerful forces are at play in the Dragonlance pantheon. Expect the touch of the divine during Shadow of the Dragon Queen — up to and including player resurrection. So, while the low points are very low indeed, the highs can be pretty profound as well.
Some might deride the campaign as “swingy” because of these factors, but I find that the highly dynamic nature of this book allows for just the sort of drama likely to inspire an avid group of players to mount a homebrew follow-on campaign. Thankfully, the book includes just enough background information about the Dragonlance setting to make that possible — especially for those familiar with the classic novels.
On the other side of the spectrum is Dragonlance: Warriors of Krynn, a companion board game sold separately or in a bundle along with the campaign book. The schtick is that you can play the role-playing game right up to the point where a massive battle takes place. As the armies form ranks, players can transition from the tabletop RPG to the tabletop board game, where they can simulate the large-scale battle, take whatever outcome they can achieve there, and then dive back into the tabletop RPG.
While avid board gamers might get really excited about the concept, in practice I found the process of moving between TTRPG and board game to be extremely cumbersome. That’s because the documentation that comes with Warriors of Krynn is a bit of a mess.
Inside the Warriors of Krynn box are two durable, saddle-stitched booklets — a 25-page rulebook and a 29-page scenario book. The scenario book is concise and functional. It opens up easily, with a handy two-page spread for each of its 13 scenarios. But in my opinion the rulebook needs a complete redesign. While the core rules of the game take up only 12 pages of text, I found myself flipping back and forth constantly trying to make sense of it all. It’s less like a modern board game manual, designed to make onboarding new players as easy as possible, and more like a manual for an old-school wargame, with a maze of clauses, warnings, and obtusely written text meant to solve myriad edge-case scenarios.
It’s missing lots of things, in my opinion. A glossary would have been nice, as would more written examples of play, or highlighted text for consistently used key game terms — all common features in D&D books for years now. Key components were not pictured in the documentation, leading to confusion during set-up. I struggled for literal hours to make sense of it all. If you’re not already an experienced board gamer, I strongly suggest waiting for a good video tutorial before wading in.
But even with a good community-made tutorial, or maybe a hacked-together cheat sheet turned into a printable PDF, learning Warriors of Krynn will still be a daunting task — especially for already harried DMs to undertake in addition to running the TTRPG. Consider having one of your players tackle the rules of the board game, leaving you to focus on the narrative. Of course, you should know that you can’t simply hand over the game box to your players without first sanitizing it for spoilers. There is even a big one right on the top of the stack when you first open the box.
There is a tangible in-game benefit to playing Warriors of Krynn, as winning the various scenarios will give players advantages in the RPG that they otherwise would not have access to. But my party — which varies wildly in age and experience level — will likely be sticking to the more abstracted methods for resolving set-piece battles included in the campaign book, if only to move things along more quickly.
I also mentioned presentation issues above, because I couldn’t help but notice that the overall quality of Dragonlance: Warriors of Krynn is not what I was expecting. While the board game itself is not being sold on its own by Wizards directly, I have seen it on sale at other retailers for around $80. That puts this game in the same price range as some of the middle- or higher-end enthusiast board games on the market today. But the bits inside this box are far from luxurious.
Photo: Charlie Hall/Polygon and Photo: Charlie Hall/Polygon
The punchboards are thin, leading to warped tiles sometimes spinning around on the table. The chunky plastic markers used for the armies are nothing to write home about. Meanwhile, the plastic miniatures used for the heroes have this pre-applied wash on them. A wash is meant to run into the creases of a miniature, adding shadow that draws out details like eyes and folds in cloth. But rather than running into the creases, the wash used here sits on the surface in thick, chalky clumps. As a result, these miniatures just look dirty rather than expensive. Even the pack-in is a disappointment, with all the smallest cardboard bits mixed together into one big well and a gap under the lid that lets everything move around during travel. Compared to other similarly priced modern board games, Hasbro’s work here is simply not up to snuff.
It’s a shame, really, since many will find the struggle of playing through Dragonlance: Warriors of Krynn to be worth it. Designers Stephen Baker and Rob Daviau put a lot of care into designing and balancing this experience. The mechanics are consequential and engaging, and the writers do an excellent job weaving in the narrative from the RPG. It’s so robust, in fact, that I am confident ambitious DMs will be able to modify it for their own battle-heavy campaigns. It’s ultimately a disappointment, then, that the creative team’s work was not able to be supported by a better final product.
A final note on quality: Due to a shipping error, Wizards sent me four copies of the campaign book in all — a standard copy, a copy with an alternate cover (available only at local game stores), and two copies of the variant foil cover that comes bundled with the board game. Two of the four copies I received appeared defective to me, to the extent that I would have returned them to the store for a refund or a replacement. So let’s spend just a little time talking about how they were defective.
The standard copy and the alternate-cover copy both had richer colors and better contrast than the two copies with the variant foil covers. Their pages were also more sepia toned — just like many other 5th edition books that had come before — while the pages on the variant foil copies were more white. Looking at the title page, I discovered that the foil copies were printed in China while the other two copies were made in the United States. I feel like the images in the American-made copies look brighter and more lively than the Chinese-made copies. In fact, the images were so dark and the detail so obscured in one of the Chinese-made copies that I would be compelled to call customer service for a replacement.
But even the American-made copies were not without their flaws. While the standard version appeared to be basically perfect, the middle of the variant cover edition was marred with a series of holes that pierced through and bound together a dozen pages. Only by carefully separating them with a pocket knife was I able to keep from ripping them apart.
Regarding these books, Wizards provided the following statement to Polygon: “Printing issues are a frustrating but inevitable part of publishing. Any D&D book that a fan may believe is defective due to printing or manufacturing errors can get their books replaced. Our customer service department is equipped to send out replacements ASAP and we encourage fans to get in contact here to have their issues resolved.”
While I hate to see the relaunch of the Dragonlance setting marred by these kinds of quality and manufacturing issues, there is no denying that the Dragonlance: Shadow of the Dragon Queen campaign that underpins it all is excellent. But with One D&D right around the corner in 2023, a new version of the game meant to cement 5th edition’s preeminent status as the gold standard in the hobby, this does not feel like a company that is putting its best foot forward. Rather than a victory lap, this release — especially the Dragonlance: Warriors of Krynn board game — feels more like it stumbled across the finish line.
My recommendation is to go all-in on the campaign book, picking up a copy online or at your local game store, as soon as you’re ready to play. Meanwhile, I’d also recommend waiting for a discount on the board game. There’s enough material in Dragonlance: Shadow of the Dragon Queen to keep you and your party busy well into the new year, regardless of how your warriors of Krynn choose to fight their battles.
Dragonlance: Shadow of the Dragon Queen and Dragonlance: Warriors of Krynn will be available widely starting Dec. 6. The campaign book and the board game were reviewed using retail copies provided by Wizards of the Coast. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.