Frostslaught – A Dungeons & Dragons: Onslaught Review

There’s a lot of noise surrounding Dungeons & Dragons right now. There’s a new film, a new edition of the RPG, and a new controversy. Amid this bedlam, there’s also a new skirmish game. This is a board game with grid movement, dice-based combat, and asymmetrical warbands. It has an attractive surface with pre-painted miniatures and vivid dungeon tiles. You can loot chests and battle neutral monsters like a black dragon or troll. In addition to those foes, two full warbands are included, each comprised of six characters with unique abilities. Yet, none of this saves Onslaught from the bog of mediocrity.

There are just too many elite games in the miniatures skirmish genre. Warhammer: Underworlds, Mythic Battles: Pantheon, Warcry, Godtear, Marvel Crisis: Protocol – I could keep going.

Dungeons & Dragons: Onslaught is close.

The most novel aspects relate to the dungeon environment and how it comes alive. The neutral monsters are controlled by simple AI, but they pack a surprising degree of personality into their abilities. The scenarios highlight interesting objectives and gunning for treasure while evading arrows and fang is always a treat. But with each of these aspects, it pulls back, afraid to take a leap.

There’s a niche here to be filled. Instead of mostly standard one-versus-one warband conflict, it could have leaned heavier into the D&D derivation. It could have focused less on the competitive fighting and more on the semi-cooperative treasure hunting while dealing with the larger threats. It could have been Frostgrave the board game, complete with the coveted Dungeons & Dragons name.

Better yet, it could have been a more concise and lean fantasy Core Space, beating Battle Systems to the punch. It’s nearly there already. But instead of playing in this creative avenue with a more adventure feel of neutral dungeon parties looting their way through a warzone, it’s mostly a standard skirmish design with just a couple of distinct notes swallowed in the din of background music.

The standard skirmish elements are not distinct enough, and the unique aspects are not as prevalent as they should be.

The characters forming each warband are interesting though. They boast unique powers such as the warlock that curses their foes and delivers eldritch blasts, or the ranger – wonderfully named Grabbleshanks – that can fire multiple shots with their bow and mark prey for death. It’s all very D&D in spirit, featuring D20 rolls and cooldown tracking. There is some depth here as well due to the number of abilities you’re juggling and different creative applications. It also ticks the leveling box, allowing you to pursue experience and increase your range of abilities over time. This works well enough, and it manages to weave a defining aspect of the roleplaying game into this design with meaning.

Risk adjudication through timing is paramount. You must utilize your faction’s strengths, striking when your cooldowns coalesce with opportunity to deliver a decisive blow or secure the objective. These timing windows are the defining texture of play and identity of the system. They can provide tense moments and excitement when it all comes together and everything aligns.

And this managing of abilities and tactical positioning is not mindless or even dull. It’s just not remarkable or extraordinary in comparison to its peers.

Mythic Battles provides stronger variety through the drafting of supernatural combatants from an enormous pool, as well as increased drama due to a wider range of special abilities peppering its demigods. It’s bonkers at times. Unmatched is better accomplished as a lighter entry into the genre. In addition to costing considerably less and allowing for a more diverse cast, Unmatched also demands less of the players as most of the complexity is offloaded onto cards. Onslaught doesn’t quite evoke its intellectual property as effectively as Marvel: Crisis Protocol or provide the verticality and excitement of Warcry or Kill Team. It’s not as friendly to casual play as Godtear and doesn’t provide the endless tinkering of Warhammer Underworlds.

Gaslands, Wings of Glory, X-Wing, Necromunda, Frostgrave, and Fallout: Wasteland Warfare – all of these are more distinct and successful.

Again, Onslaught is enjoyable and there are elements which are gripping. But it’s not the type of experience that grabs you by the mullet and forces you to the table with violence and spectacle.

And that’s a problem when the box costs $140.

This is tough because the core set feels both substantial and skimpy, depending on the assumed perspective. It’s a heftier product than Godtear, Marvel: Crisis Protocol, or Sergeants Miniatures Games for instance. You get two full warbands in addition to the handful of wandering monsters. It’s not a taste of what the game can offer, rather, it’s the intended experience. That’s often not guaranteed in the current retail environment.

But it simultaneously doesn’t feel close to justifying the cost in terms of content. All of its competitors are much cheaper, and you can give them a try without committing such a huge amount of money. This issue is obviously due to the nature of prepainted miniatures.

Unfortunately, the pre-painted approach may be untenable. This was evident in the recent struggle with HeroScape attempting to rise from the grave. Potential customers – myself included – lamented the fact that Hasbro ditched the pre-painted model with the new ‘Scape boxed set. They cited rising costs as the main factor, and it’s difficult not to accept that in light of Onslaught.

I’m sure some don’t mind the excessive price in exchange for visually attractive pieces. The paintwork is solid and an improvement on what I’ve seen in HeroClix. The main challenge is that it’s a large hurdle in gaining traction with skeptical newcomers. Competitive lines such as this really need a juiced early acceptance to build a player base and drum up interest for new products. It’s like the first season of a show on Netflix. If there’s even a hint of blood in the water, the whole thing gets axed without thought. We’ve seen this over and over again in the tabletop miniatures industry and I’m concerned this one won’t make the cut.

If it does, it will be because of the Dungeons & Dragons license. That characteristic is doing much of the heavy lifting here and likely drawing the attention.

The other realization I’ve made regarding the painful price is that perhaps these types of games are best served by the Kickstarter model. Yeah, I know. I should be the last one criticizing a game for not going the crowdfunding route.

But look at Mythic Battles. That’s an enormous core box, packed with enough content to last a lifetime. The crowdfunding approach allows the creator to secure up-front funding and build out a line with less financial risk, while securing a higher margin and providing a stronger offering to consumers. Failing that, you either need to come in at a more palatable price with a more conservative amount of content – such as with Unmatched – or rely on a large intellectual property to really carry interest.

Imagine Onslaught went the Kickstarter route and secured a couple thousand backers. Those supporters may have received the core box and a couple of extras such as an expansion warband for a similar price to the retail offering. This would have pre-established a player base and mitigated the risk of future adopters. Perhaps most importantly, it would have created passionate salesmen to organically recruit newcomers.

I don’t love Kickstarter or what it has done to this hobby, but I can recognize that in its current state, it may perfectly provided the necessary benefits for establishing this style of game.

Nevertheless, I am pleased to see Wizkids committing fully to this game. They’ve already teased expansion warbands – coming in at a hefty $60 per – as well as organized play support. This is admittedly a fantastic sign for the line’s health. Onslaught is not a throwaway product from the publisher’s perspective, and it’s doing what it can to get the ball rolling.

Still, I can’t shake a thought I’ve had. Unfortunately, miniatures games have paralleled the film industry in some respects. Large tentpole offerings with huge budgets and high dollar IPs pull in the attention and players. Indie efforts on shoestring budgets are still finding their way with cult followings and miniature-agnostic rulesets. The middle titles, those which were once prevalent and often successful, have now all but vanished. Dungeons & Dragons: Onslaught feels much more like something you’d catch on streaming than something you’d make a special trip to the theater for.


A review copy of the game was provided by the publisher.

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  2 comments for “Frostslaught – A Dungeons & Dragons: Onslaught Review

  1. Marc
    March 21, 2023 at 12:07 am

    If they were going to let WizKids do a game like this, why not just let them make D&D Heroclix? They’re already making D&D blind box pre-paints anyway – just slap them on a Clix base. That’s an already-established 1v1 competitive tactical skirmish game. Trying to re-invent the wheel is likely to lead to another failure to launch like Dungeon Command.

    When I first heard about this game, I was hoping for something like Warhammer Quest: a co-op/solo dungeon-crawler (isn’t that what D&D is about?) with variable dungeon tiles and not-too-complicated rules. Seems like it would have been pretty easy to release a new module every quarter with new tiles, new party members and new boss monsters.

    And instead of that nightmare of a player board (seriously, they’ve got everything but the A Zed 5 button on there!), give the players a character sheet. Again, isn’t this D&D?

    Liked by 1 person

    • March 21, 2023 at 8:57 am

      D&D HeroClix would make a ton more sense, great point.


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