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Dungeons And Dragons Meets League Of Legends In WizKids' New Board Game, Dungeons And Dragons: Trials Of Tempus

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The team behind Dungeons & Dragons: Trials of Tempus looked to MOBAs and battle royale games to create the competitive board game.

For decades, tabletop RPGs paved the way for video game RPGs, constructing the systems, mechanics, and concepts that would inform the gaming genre. Nowadays, the relationship between these two types of RPGs is symbiotic--just as the adventures that players go on using pens, papers, dice, and mini figs have influenced game developers, the ideas explored in video games have inspired game makers and game masters alike, ultimately contributing greatly to TTRPGs' growing popularity. In that sense, the idea of another type of tabletop game, like a board game, being heavily influenced by video games isn't particularly novel--several video games have even been adapted into spectacular board games themselves. However, just about everything else in WizKid's upcoming board game, Dungeons & Dragons: Trials of Tempus, is well-worth taking note of.

Set in the battle realm of Tempus, Trials of Tempus sees players compete in a mysterious, mystical, and high-stakes tournament in which there are multiple ways to emerge victorious. The half-cooperative, half-competitive board game divides players into two adventuring parties, each between 2 to 4 players (for games with only two players, the team recommends playing at least two characters each), and throws at them quests, obstacles, massive monsters, and opportunities to attack other players directly as they attempt to take home the gold--literally, in this case. The nature of the board game--which relies on quick-yet-deep character work, deck building, and random quests rather than a book of scenarios--makes for an experience offering hours of play, and its maps and mini figs all display a high level of polish. While unboxing the game with all its various components and figures was impressive enough, playing it was somehow even moreso. The game is incredibly fun and finds the sweet middle ground between a full Dungeons & Dragons campaign and a game of Munchkin. While the copy I received is subject to change, I loved what I got to see.

In addition to playing Trials of Tempus myself, I got the chance to speak with publisher WizKids and the design team behind the game, Heavy Dragon, about the newly revealed board game. The trio of designers were quick to express how their love of games across every medium led to their desire to create Trials of Tempus. MOBAs like League of Legends, battle royale-style games like Apex Legends, and even the dystopian world of The Hunger Games all contributed to Heavy Dragon's vision of a Dungeons & Dragons experience that was not only fast-paced, competitive, immersive, and replayable, but easy to play, easy to customize, and easy to fall in love with as well.

For those curious about how they did it, what to expect from Trials of Tempus, and how the game navigates through some of the most grating parts of playing adventure board games--running out of scenarios, long waits between turns, and friends that like to cancel plans, to name a few--below is my full interview with Heavy Dragon designers Thor Knai, Kyle Newman, and Adam Carasso.

An overview of Dungeons and Dragons: Trials of Tempus
An overview of Dungeons and Dragons: Trials of Tempus

GameSpot: Could you walk me through what creating Trials of Tempus looked like? Who had the idea? How did creation begin? What was the goal in creating this game?

Thor Knai: It was created in our D&D group. For the past seven or eight years, ever since the business sort of started, we've had a Tuesday night group. And we all are gamers in many other contexts as well--other tabletop games, computer games... And there were certain things in D&D that we thought would be interesting to try that we hadn't tried.

We were talking about what would D&D look like if you were fighting other parties? Because in Fifth Edition, for instance, [enemies] don't have player classes like [players] do, so you never really meet rivals inside the D&D Fifth Edition system that are just you but mirrored.

We thought it would be exciting to create or test something where we would have parties fighting against other parties. We imagined streamers, for instance--like famous RPG streamer groups. What happens if Critical Role's characters go up against Secret Dungeon Society? And it evolved from there to an attempt at a board game sort of League of Legends, but D&D. [However] that sort of doesn't function as well in the tabletop format, and it didn't feel D&D anymore. [We were] getting too close to the MOBA thing and getting too far away from D&D.

So, it evolved. We've created the lore around this battle realm of Tempus, where there would be this sort of festival--this sort of gladiatorial games that's going to happen in a way where adventuring parties would come and test their mettle. And it's less about just two parties clashing in full PvP, which some people enjoy but is less appealing to, I think, a lot of D&D players who love the co-op and the things that don't have to do directly with just murdering people, and more of a, "Here's a challenge for a full party of not just combat-oriented characters."

There's all these challenges and events, and the quests you get in this battle realm require other skills and other types of teamwork [rather] than just doing the most damage. It kind of feels a lot like you're an adventuring party. You might be well-balanced, you might not, depending on your strategy, and you're dropped into this battle realm to do these quests that you are getting randomly at the start of the game. And then, the other party's trying to do the same thing, and finally, you have to fight the big boss. It's a chaotic, gorgeous mess, which is lovely to play.

In terms of the actual developing of the game, we went from having just our own D&D table minis and dice, and using just our own character sheets, to streamlining it more and eventually switching to this deck version we have now where you create characters by picking class decks, subclass decks, and character decks. ... But yeah, eventually, we arrived here, and we think this is a great compromise that still really feels like you're playing a D&D game while having to deal with the presence of the other party that obviously has counter interests to yours.

Kyle Newman: Yeah, we wanted that cooperative mixed with competitive experience. So, you could play the game completely where you never interact and fight with the other team. You could play it where it's all about killing the other team and tapping into what they've collected. So there's an aggressive way to play it, there's a collaborative, skillful way to play it, and you can mix the two. I think that leads to a really dynamic, never-the-same game mechanics, and that's what we wanted. So really, it was our home game, saying, "Wouldn't it be fun if..." and then turning that into D&D.

And something else I think that's fun is that you get locked into a character when you're playing D&D. You're playing maybe a rogue or a ranger, and you're playing that for a year if you're in an ongoing campaign. But there's something fun about just saying, "I'm going to be a barbarian, and I'm going to level up quickly through this, and I'm going to get to experience what the mechanics are of a monk really quickly," to see if you even like it. And you get this sampling of flavor in a very simplified way that I think strips away a lot of the extra so you can get to the essence of what these classes are.

And to Thor's testament, he's driving the playtests and really ratifying it down to, "What are the two key things you're going to offer as a wizard option? What are the most extreme and dynamic options in the barbarian?" And then picking one of those cards and letting that be the direction you go. So there's still that D&D customization, there's still choice presented to you. It's not like you slap it down and you're stuck with this form of fighter. You have options, mechanical options, and then options within the game and the way you play it.

Because one thing that's awesome is whenever you play this game, it is rarely decided before the last round. Some games, you're playing a game like Catan, you're like, "Oh, I know where this is going." This one, there's big swings, and things come out of left field and monster spawns and bosses trigger. That's something else I think is fun, because you're playing a long game. This isn't a 30-minute game. This game requires a little setup, and it requires a little bit of commitment. Obviously, the more you play, the faster it goes, but you want to keep players interested until the last round. I think that's something we're pretty proud of--that it has this dynamic edge to it where things can still unfurl at the last minute and put a wrench in one team's plans.

Adam Carasso: I think one of the actual final things we had for why we needed this game was we play D&D a lot, but we also cancel a lot.

Knai: Classic problem, yeah.

Carasso: We probably cancel two out of three games because somebody can't show up or too many people cancel. Having this was a way that we can also get together, and even without enough people to play our whole session, we can do something.

Knai: Yeah, key point: It doesn't require a DM. A lot of these adventure-style type games--like Descent or whatever--you sort of require a game master. You don't here, so if it's just the players, you can have at it and finally settle those old grudges or whatever it is.

Carasso: Even if only two of us can get together, we can play. It's a fun time. If there were three of us, we could make it work. It really works.

Newman: Also, if you're in the middle of a campaign, it's a way to put your characters into a scenario that you could still almost import your character into, use the scenario and have it have an effect on your actual D&D campaign. ... We started playing another home game with Vince Vaughn, Tom Morello, and a bunch of guys when we were taking a break from our other campaign, and we started by playing this. We were like, "Let's take everybody through the Trials of Tempus," and everybody became addicted and loved the characters. Then it became the characters we played in Icewind Dale. So, we used it as a starting point to get people comfortable with the character and then drop them into a real campaign.

A boss battle in Trials of Tempus.
A boss battle in Trials of Tempus.

Is Trials of Tempus intended to be a gateway into D&D? Because it does have all those simplifications that lend itself to that.

Knai: It certainly can be. If you find this interesting, you're going to find D&D interesting, for sure. Obviously some elements are missing, like you're not going to be interacting with a shopkeeper a lot in Trials of Tempus, but technically it's very similar in terms of combat. And if you love that part of D&D, you're going to love Trials.

Newman: And if people get really comfortable with the game, you can even do stuff in between Trials battles. You could do a little shopkeep, and you could start introducing role play between and have it be extended battles campaign.

Knai: Absolutely. Something we flirted with a lot was the tournament style of this where, in the lore specifically ... it's a little mysterious. People don't exactly know what's behind it and what's happening, but it keeps happening, and it keeps being more and more popular because it is so much fun for everyone, and so intriguing ... So you can totally write a campaign about that and you can totally play this in that way where you do maybe pick a character and you try that same character over multiple games to see how they deal with various scenarios.

Newman: And to your point of [it being an] entry, I have a lot of people that are interested in D&D. More so than ever, people come up to me and are like, "I know you're really into this. I'd love to try it one day." And then they're like, "What does it take?" And you can do a one-off, but you almost need a session zero to get them ready for the one-off. I've had some people come over, and we sit down, and a DM drops like a 70-page PDF of their homebrew world, and someone's like, "Wait…" Sometimes you lose people before they even get into it or understand it. And I think something like this, it's self-contained. It's all in a box. You can put it on the table and you can experience the essence of D&D--the customizable nature of it, the adventure, the combat--and you can do it all in two hours. And then, you might graduate to a big campaign, but you're going to leave this game understanding the basic mechanics and how just a single [20-sided die] can change your fate

Carasso: It's less to get involved and you can play it faster. And it's a deck-building game to some extent, so you're playing from cards that are in your hands so at all times, you are reminded of what you can do.

What are some of the things that you looked at in games that you were like, "Okay, I want to do that, " or, "I don't want to do that"? What kind of inspired you?

Knai: A problem with any game where there's a rival party and there's a real risk of death that we couldn't have is [players having their character die early on, leaving them to] watch their friends play. So one of the things we did, sort of like in League of Legends, for instance, is once you get killed--and this is why we created a battle realm that has a mystical nature to it--is you can respawn at your team's starting position.

The penalty is you lose what you're carrying in terms of valuable loot and you lose your hand if you were saving powerful cards. You redraw some cards of course, but then you're back in. And you have to obviously move from your corner into where all the action's happening. So, there's a little bit of a penalty, but you're never not part of the game. Dying is not good, but it's not final. Battle royale games were an inspiration for that.

Another thing that we did was the battle realm allows us to have a large event deck. This whole realm is of a magical nature, and you don't know what to expect and what can happen. It's a little bit like the Hunger Games in that way. It has stuff happening and things dropping, and suddenly the viewers are enacting things. That's maybe not exactly how it happens here, but that sort of thing happens here, where every round, everyone has to react to something new happening at random because you drew a card.

And everyone has to deal with that! So maybe you were doing your requests, they were doing their quests, maybe you were in the middle of something... then poof, something else interesting happens and whoever can take advantage of this new reality will benefit. Those were some influences for that kind of stuff, for sure.

Carasso: I think we took some influences from MOBA games, too. One of the problems we encountered is people turtle a lot. We started this game with a lot more people. It was very PvP-centric, and we realized that what ended up happening is people just turtle. They'd go to the side of the map and do nothing. And so, we started putting in a little bit of rails and that the game progresses no matter what happens. And we reduced the penalty of death a little bit so people turtled less. And then, I think the other key thing we did is we took inspiration from D&D, which is you can easily win and often do win without ever touching another person. If you want to focus on getting stuff done, you can get stuff done and avoid people, and that works. That's a viable strategy.

Knai: Another thing we avoided is we don't have a scenario book where when you've played that scenario, you're kind of like, "Okay, we beat it, we got it. Let's do the next scenario." And often, those style games have many scenarios, and I'm sure people don't actually ever really finish the scenario book, but in this case, you don't have any of that stuff. It's always going to be fresh and unique, and no two games are going to be the same. Just to start, you can build over a hundred different hero decks, as we call them, from the get-go in the main box. So you can play this game a hundred times and never play the same hero.

Not to mention, the event deck is shuffled and randomly happens every turn, so that'll never repeat itself. There's a ton of replayability there.

Newman: And we would love to do expansions. One thing we'd like to do is the High Sun Games. I'm going to say this now.

Knai: If you spend some time with the game and you then go see the D&D movie, you'll undoubtedly draw parallels to this concept in the D&D movie. That's sort of a centerpiece of it, or at least part of the main thing, is that they have something called the High Sun Games where parties of adventurers are led out into a sort of an arena. In their case, it's sort of a "get out of there" scenario. But there were definitely some parallels to [Trials of Tempus], which is fun, because we thought of this arena-type thing independently.

And if you like the D&D movie and you thought the High Sun Games were like, "Oh, that sounds great. Parties of adventurers doing these things." That's exactly what Trials of Tempus is. So, we were like, "Oh, that's great. That worked out perfectly with the timing of the movie and our release and our launch to the world announcement."

Carasso: Another one of our inspirations in games is that idea that it's good to have a lot of choice. It's nice to have that next level of complexity, when people get competitive, where those choices can make a big difference. So even at the very beginning of the game, you can draft your characters in order, and what one person picks and what quests have shown makes it very important what you pick. There's a lot of depth there that you don't have to see on the first game--and it's fine if you don't see on the first game!--but if you want to get competitive, you can. That depth matters and those choices matter. You can counter-pick people.

Knai: Yeah, there's definitely specialties within the characters that you can build. We haven't balanced every character to be equally effective in all cases. Absolutely not. We've wanted it to not be that way so that the quest you are up against and who you're up against matters more when you're drafting your character, if that's what you're into. Or you can play the pre-mades that come with the box that are classic examples.

Carasso: And part of that inspiration comes from deckbuilders like Dominion, where you're building your deck the whole time, and one strategy is good, but if somebody else goes a different strategy, you have to change, because there's not one overarching, all-powerful strategy. It just really depends on what's happening. We really wanted to get that in this game, too.

A battle in Trials of Tempus.
A battle in Trials of Tempus.

What were some of the challenges designing a game that eight people can play?

Carasso: I think some of the challenges with eight for sure are keeping the game moving. Eight people can slow it down, so we did a lot of work to make sure the game could end in two hours, even with eight people. Another big challenge was keeping it interesting when it wasn't your turn. We had multiple drafts where there was nothing to do when it wasn't your turn at first, and now there is. I think that was really key and a very big change for us.

Knai: Yeah, that's one thing that's different from D&D and one thing that D&D kind of lacks. For those of us who played in these massive groups at Joe's house, with 11 people or whatever, you sit there for a long time waiting for your turn. D&D doesn't really have a way for you to do stuff when it's not your turn. We introduced a mechanic specifically for that that we call interactions, where your character can always help any of your teammates while it's their turn with their special interact ability. It has a cost, so you can't just infinitely do this, but when to employ that depends entirely on what your teammate is doing or trying to accomplish and what character you are to see what kind of interaction thing you could do for them. But that keeps people engaged a little more, and it's important that you do these things at the right time if you want to play optimally. You don't super have to, but it's a fun thing to do, being able to play when it's not your turn.

Carasso: When there are four people, you have to make sure there's enough to do for everybody--that they can all contribute. That's another big challenge. And so we have the three quests. We have the events that come up. We have loot that you can get. The monsters you can kill for victory points. So there is a lot that you can do on different parts of the map so that we can support that. That was a part of having that many people.

Knai: Yeah, and we made sure that these interaction abilities are global, as in you don't have to be right next to your friend to do it.

Carasso: And I think the last thing for me, at least in these multiplayer cooperative games to some extent, is you really want to avoid the scenario where one person in the party is really controlling the entire party. That happens a lot. A lot of games of Pandemic Legacy I've played, one person played the whole game. We address this by giving people different classes so that people really focus on what they can do. And the cards that are in your own hand, they're secret, and they're the ones that tell you what you can do. And the game being competitive means you can't reveal those cards, even to teammates, because then everybody knows what you can do.

Knai: And if you do, then you're either going to have to talk about it, and now the other group knows. It's like, "You're going to have to just trust me that I can take care of this," which I think is a great feature. I love the fact that in this game, you know what a character is capable of, but you never know what they can do right now. You don't know what of their things they have available to them, so there's always that shroud of risk and tension and mystery surrounding, like, "I know the fighter can do some horrible things, or the wizard has a spell that could be really horrible here for me if I do this thing. But I know he can't do that all the time, so maybe he doesn't have it. I have to go for it. Or maybe I won't, because I think he's sitting there holding one fake card out, pretending that's exactly what he has, even though that's not the card." That stuff creates a lot of fun unknowns that are equal for everybody.

Carasso: So, if I say, "I'm going to go take care of this over here, and I've got this," my buddy can trust me or they can not. But if they trust me, then they can go do something else, and there's more victory points for all of us.

Dungeons & Dragons: Trials of Tempus is slated to release this August. The standard edition of the game is listed for $100, while the deluxe edition--which features fully-painted mini figures--retails for $200. Both versions of the game are now available for preorder.

The above interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

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Jessica Cogswell

Jess Cogswell is an editor at GameSpot and an avid fan of coffee, anime, RPGs, and repurchasing games she already owns on Switch. Prior to GameSpot, Jess has worked for Uppercut, UPROXX, and Paste Magazine.

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