Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Dreamblade Seattle Preview Day – 2006 June 22

Posting this here for lack of a better place, so skip reading if you're only here for the old-school D&D content.

This video depicts a preview day for the Dreamblade game, hosted by Wizards of the Coast on June 22 2006, for gaming media and a small group of players from some of WotC's other competitive games. (I was fortunate to be part of that latter group.)

John Siadak (one of the other invited players) wrote a report of the event for the WotC web site, which is still available in the internet archive:

I also posted a report on/around June 24 2006, probably on some forum or other. See further down.

This video was originally posted by (now defunct) on July 2, 2006. (See this internet archive page for post date corroboration.) I am not affiliated with or whoever acquired their IP (maybe Inquest). I found this video on a backup DVD and wanted to make it available again. If you are the copyright holder and want to make this available on your own account, contact me and I will provide the original .mov file.

My report from around June 24 2006, without any contemporary edits:

When the kind folks at WotC invited me to a special Dreamblade event, I couldn't refuse. Well, that's not quite true. I could have turned down the offer, especially since the event took place on my son's first birthday. However, my son's party isn't until this Sunday, and my wife gave me the "okay," so it was off to Washington for me! Woo! :)

First, some background...

I had virtually no exposure to Dreamblade until two days before the event, when I played the online demo, read the online rulebook, and skimmed through some of the other articles. I knew several of the other attendees already had considerable Dreamblade experience, but I assumed WotC wouldn't mind if I went in cold.

To be honest, if I hadn't received the invitation, I probably wouldn't have ever played Dreamblade. Although the game has an impressive list of designers & developers (some of whom I've had the pleasure to interact with as part of my D&D Minis net rep responsibilities), I just don't have enough spare time to pick up another hobby. Between my family, work, ice hockey, and D&D Minis, my free time is very limited. Virtually all of my hobby time is devoted to D&D Minis, and I don't want to cut back on that to make room for another game -- especially since I recently gave up Star Wars Minis just to make room for everything else.

I went to the event thinking that I'd be able to a) try out Dreamblade and give WotC any feedback they needed from me as a test subject, and b) spend some face time with the WotC R&D guys so we could more quickly work through some D&D Minis issues. I had no expectations of continuing to play Dreamblade after the event. If we were allowed to take any minis with us, I expected to give them away to local enthusiasts after the game is released.

Anyway, I returned home from the event last night. I had a great time!

Dreamblade is *very* fun, and pretty darn deep. With only a few matches under my belt, I can't say just how far the depth will go, but I'm eager to dive down to find out! I can't wait for it to get released so I can play some matches with local opponents.

I'm excited enough to spend a small amount of my hobby time on Dreamblade, and I don't plan on cutting back on my other activities. I guess sleep will be sacrified. Appropriate, huh?

Although I can't give you any new spoilers, I can talk about my overall impression, tactics, and so on...

The minis themselves look awesome. The sculpting detail and paint jobs are top-notch. The text is easy to read. The minis even *feel* good. They're solid and stable, and they definitely add to the appeal of the game. In particular, the Locations are very visually striking.

Coming from a D&D Minis background, I really like that you don't have to keep track of a card separately from the miniature. All of the info you need is on the bottom and/or the top of the mini. Occasionally, you might need to look up some ability details in the rulebook, but this happened infrequently in my games.

The map is high quality, but could use some improvements, IMO. I like the fact that each cell fits exactly nine miniatures, since the game allows up to that many minis per cell. I wish the map had dedicated space for your reserves and graveyard (including a special not-yet-redeemed-for-extra-spawn-points area). The scoring track could be removed or shrunk to make space for the other stuff; you can keep track of your score with a d6.

The Dreamblade rules are somewhat complex, but still pretty easy to learn & teach. If I were a game designer, I'd feel compelled to say something about Dreamblade offering a lot of "design space." The options afforded by the general rules are pretty narrow, but there is a lot of depth provided by special abilities that allow you to break the genearl rules or interact with minis in  interesting ways. I'm sure future minis will add even more options and depth of strategy.

It's very satisfying to roll a big handful of dice. :)

Movement abilities are very important. My sealed pull (the selection of creatures in my starter & booster) had just two creatures that allowed me to make various forms of free movement, and both of those creatures were very weak. In contrast, my first opponent had at least 4-5 such minis, and some were physically strong. As a result, she was able to get a superior board position early in the game, which allowed her to capitalize on a dumb mistake I made, and she crushed me pretty hard after that.

Spawning in places other than the portal is very important. It allows you to make the most of your limited movement. In my first match, I had the chance to spawn creatures in the middle column, but I decided to put them all in my portal, and they simply couldn't get to the action in time. (Remember the dumb mistake I referred to above. That was it. :()

Serious players will learn & develop standard opening move strategies that minimize your chances of falling behind in turns 1 and 2. They'll also need to bring several defensively efficient, low cost creatures to make sure they can execute those strategies, even when they have very few spawn points.

What's true in real-estate is also true in Dreamblade: The most important thing is Location, Location, Location. Well, sort of. Locations aren't the most important types of minis, but some of them are *really* strong. Good thing there is some Location counter-tech in the set. Too bad I didn't have any in my first match. :weep:

More to come later...

...continuing where I left off above...

After cracking open my starter & booster, I tried to quickly analyze the various minis. I was having a hard time mentally categorizing everything I was looking at. My brain is trained for D&D Minis, so this made me stretch a bit. Because of the higher number of creatures in Dreamblade, as well as the necessity to bring creatures of a wide range of costs, it's challenging to sort your Dreamblade minis into "playable" and "not playable" buckets. Weak (low-cost) creatures are both playable and important. At that point, Mike Donais made a great suggestion: Group your minis by aspect, shove one aspect aside, and then prune a couple from there until you get down to 16 creatures. This made my warband selection process go much faster. I pruned out Fear right away, since I only had about 4 Fear creatures, then removed others in an attempt to give me a fairly balanced set of costs.

I already mentioned some of the key points of my first match (against Joyce, the editor of Scrye ... I hope I spelled her name right). Although I had some early success picking on her fodder with a beefy, high-cost Passion creature, she eventually disrupted it and avoided my other beefy creature because of its Defender disability. (See the glossary for details.) Once she got her Locations into some strategic places, her superior mobility and board position ended the game quickly.

After seeing the strengths and weaknesses of various pieces, I tweaked my warband for better synergy. I used all four aspects, since I would have more cost-effective creatures that way. I also included more tech creatures that would let me break various rules and perform actions when & where I normally wouldn't be able to.

My second match was against Eric (Balduran I). He's played a number of matches already (using the virtual starter & booster?) and was giving me lots of advice during the match. He showed me the merits of various deployment strategies over the first two turns, and showed me how you can win init on turn 2 and still manage to not lose that turn. (Apparently, it's common for the player who wins init on turn 2 to lose the turn.) Between Eric's advice and a bit more thought on my part, I figured out how to get some mileage out of some of my creatures despite their disabilities. I put my beefy creature with the Defender disability in an important cell that forced Eric to move his creatures in to contest it. I used my Doomball to contest a cell occupied by a low-power, high defense enemy. That enemy couldn't didn't have enough muscle to disrupt the Doomball, so my Doomball never needed to attack back; I had the cell pretty much locked down. We both spawned the same high-cost creature with an ability that costs spawn points. Although I can't go into specifics, I can say that triggering offensive abilities during the spawn phase is *really* cool. IIRC, we had to end the game at a score of 5-5 because our bus was getting ready to leave. (The event was held in downtown Seattle, and the bus was headed back to Wizards HQ.)

The trickiest creature name in the set is "Hawk-Eyed Instigator." Several people (including myself) called it the Hawk-Eyed Investigator. He doesn't investigate, he instigates!

When we got back to Wizards HQ, I played Jeff (klyngster). He's been running & playing demos, studying spoilers, and paying lots of attention to the game, so I knew I was in for a tough battle. On top of that, he had made quite a few trades with some of the other folks that attended, so he was able to build a really tough warband. His superior skill and superior warband combined to crush me utterly, but that's okay. I still had fun, and I still learned several things. Jonathan Tweet helped me with strategy during the match, which was very cool.

After additional swag acquisition, I ended up with 40 minis. Mike Donais went through them and built a respectable two-aspect warband. As it turns out, there are enough playable minis in my collection to field a 2 different two-aspect warbands at the same time. If only I could convince my wife to play :)

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