Friday, January 24, 2014

Dream a little dream


Wizkids Games pioneered the collectible miniatures game in 2000 with Mage Knight, brilliantly applying the blind booster pack and card rarity concepts from Magic: the Gathering to pre-painted plastic figures and adding the insanely clever clix base, which gave players an easy way to track the figure's game statistics such as strength, defense, remaining health, and so on.

It was only a matter of time before Wizards of the Coast (publishers of Magic) jumped into the collectible miniatures market with Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures in 2003, followed by Star Wars Miniatures in 2004. Both games took advantage of some massive brand recognition, and avoided the problem of coming up with an alternative to Wizkids' patented clix dial by simply printing each figure's game information on accompanying cards. This made it easier for the figures to be used with the D&D and Star Wars role playing games, and also provided Star Wars fans with yet another wave of plastic figurines to collect.

Both games were very successful, and in 2006 Wizards of the Coast added a third game to their lineup: Dreamblade, a much more abstract game with some very unusual characters and concepts.

The battles depicted in Dreamblade take place in "the shared unconsciousness of humanity." Since the game isn't locked into a particular genre or licensed property, there is a distinct sense that anything goes, a sensibility born out by characters such as Slaughter Boots (a giant pair of spiked boots) Decapitrix (a lovely lady with giant lobster claws) and of course, the mighty Octorilla (a giant gorilla with an octopus for a head).

The game's uniqueness doesn't end with the bizarre characters, either. Rather than literal, tactical movement using a grid or a tape measure, the playing surface is simple and abstract: five rows of five squares each. The object of the game is to score points by controlling the squares closest to the center of the board. So even combat between the figures is secondary to placing your figures in the right squares. The player who scores the most points each turn wins that turn, and the first player to win six turns wins the game.

Combat occurs when each player has figures in the same space, and is resolved using proprietary six-sided dice numbered one through three; two of the other three sides of each die are blank, and the final side depicts the Dreamblade of the game's title. When a Dreamblade is rolled, it activates many of the characters' special abilities.

This game reminds me a lot of the holographic chess game that R2-D2 and Chewbacca are seen playing in the original Star Wars, so much so that it surprises me a little that Wizards of the Coast didn't make it an official Star Wars game, since they held a license to produce Star Wars games at the time.


Dreamblade's simple area-based movement system and emphasis on holding ground rather than merely defeating all your opponent's figures is what sets it apart from most other miniatures games, but it also proves to be the game's major limitation. There is little in the way of immersive story or major variations in strategy, the two things that would keep players coming back for more. Even with all the weird, interesting creatures, the game can get a bit repetitive after a while.

A major barrier to getting into this game, and probably one of the reasons for its demise, was that it was phenomenally expensive, with starter sets and booster packs costing half again as much as other collectible miniatures games on the market at the time. It's too bad, because Dreamblade was really something unique.

Rating: 4 (out of 5) With its imaginative characters and unique game design, Dreamblade is fun to get out and play every once in a while, but the lack of strategic depth keeps us from playing it more often.


Date played: January 4, 2014

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