Dungeons & Dragons: Onslaught is two things at once. The first part is a tactical skirmish board game. The other half is about collecting miniatures. Either of those things — a board game or collectible figures — are nonissues on their own and would be easy to write about here. It’s that D&D: Onslaught is both at once that complicates matters, and that may muddy its appeal.
As a board game, Onslaught is a self-contained, two-player, scenario-based skirmish game based on 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons combat rules. It features pre-painted miniatures, a double-sided map, and 20-sided dice. Each player controls a party of adventurers in tactical battles against an opponent’s adventuring team and enemy monsters.
Obviously Onslaught isn’t meant to replace D&D. As Alex Davy, director of miniatures gaming at WizKids, told Polygon, Onslaught was designed as a “fun, fast, and urgent” way to experience a specific part of D&D — specifically, the experience of combat and being big damn heroes.
Onslaught’s rules pare down 5e’s combat into a “balance of crunchy tactics and accessibility,” Davy said, that’s “weighted toward success.” There are no damage rolls (every successful attack deals a set amount of damage) and every attack is made with advantage (rolling two d20s and choosing the higher). The monsters that populate the scenarios automatically hit and deal damage based on rules laid out in the scenario — they don’t roll to attack. There are no skills or abilities to track. Even initiative is streamlined thanks to a deck of numbered cards.
Everything you need to know about your characters fits on an index card-sized character card. The card gives you attack options, reactions, critical hit effects, and all your stats. Each character card has five dials around the outside. Anything that changes over the course of a battle — like hit points, experience points, or ability cooldowns — has a dial. Even your stats — of which there are three: speed, armor class, and hit points — have a dial. Interestingly, this means that, depending on the character, things like armor class and speed might change as that character takes damage (not unlike another WizKids franchise, HeroClix).
The scenarios you’ll be navigating those characters and minis through are laid out in an included scenario guide rulebook. According to WizKids, you should be able to play through a scenario in about 90 minutes. Each scenario details the board and team setups, the locations of loot, starting or spawn points, rules for how the monsters behave, any special items in play, and the objective of the particular fight. The “Greathalls & Goblins” scenario provided in the preview we saw was simple: “Slay your way to safety!” Two teams of two heroes enter a dungeon and battle each other and a stream of goblins while they fight for control of a special weapon. Victory points are assigned based on actions like defeating enemies and monsters or controlling special loot at the end of the fight. And… that’s it. It’s a skirmish, though, so it doesn’t necessarily need more. That said, it’ll be interesting to see how “Greathalls & Goblins” compares to the other scenarios in the full release.
While both the scenario and the character cards are simplified and easy to understand, the gameplay itself isn’t much different than playing D&D with minis on a battlemat. You’ll still be dealing with things like range, line of sight, area-of-effect attacks, and ability cooldowns. Players take turn activating their heroes in an initiative order, and each hero has movement speeds, actions, reactions, and special attacks. And that complexity probably explains the ages 14 and up recommendation.
So Onslaught doesn’t want to replace pen-and-paper D&D, and it’s not baby D&D for babies. WizKids wants Dungeons & Dragons: Onslaught to be a pickup game solution that doesn’t require the same prep work a full, role-play heavy session would take. Beyond home games, WizKids plans extensive tournaments, organized play, and in-store events.
Which brings us to the other half of D&D: Onslaught — collecting.
A big part of Onslaught is the minis. Included in the core set are 21 minis. They’re all-new sculpts — 12 heroes and nine monsters like kobolds, gnolls, and a black dragon — that will be exclusive to Onslaught for the first year. They’re just as high-quality as you’d expect from WizKids, which also produces pre-painted miniatures for traditional D&D under license from Wizards of the Coast.
In a game, each player chooses a faction to play, and each faction has its own miniatures. At launch, you’ll choose between the spy-like Harpers and the mercenary Zhentarim — both are factions found in D&D’s Forgotten Realms. Later in the year, more factions — the Red Wizards and Many Arrows — and faction expansions will be released. As Davy told us, “We want you to get excited about the faction you’re repping.”
For anyone who wants to customize their adventuring party, WizKids will have a curated list of proxy minis that can replace any of the character minis in official play. These will come from sets like Icons of the Realms, Nolzur’s Marvelous Miniatures, and Frameworks.
And that means — or, at least, implies — that you’ll want to keep expanding your Onslaught collection to get the full experience. That brings us to the cost.
The core set will run you $139.99. It comes with 21 miniatures (both characters and monsters), a double-sided map, four 20-sided dice, and 16 character cards. The faction expansion packs set to come out in October 2023 will include six minis and character cards, as well as a pair of themed d20s. Those will cost $59.99 each. If we’re talking about a per-mini basis, that’s between about $7 and $10 each. Keeping up with Onslaught’s releases is going to add up fast.
Onslaught’s gameplay is all very satisfying and provides a solid framework for a wargaming skirmish. The streamlined experience of that particular part of D&D — the wargaming part where you’re moving miniatures around on a map and battling baddies — is exactly what Onslaught delivers. It’s not going to replace long-form (for lack of a better word) D&D, but it’s a good way to get a quick combat fix. That said, how you feel about Dungeons & Dragons: Onslaught is really going to depend on how much of a miniatures collector you are. And how much money you’re willing to spend on them.
Dungeons & Dragons: Onslaught is expected in stores by January 2023. The Red Mages and Many Arrows faction packs are scheduled for October 2023.