Popularity of the tabletop role-playing game known as Dungeons & Dragons has exploded in recent years with major celebrities proclaiming their love for the game, references in popular shows like “Stranger Things,” and even a “Dungeons & Dragons” branded movie.
“Oh, 100 percent it’s gotten even more popular that it was,” says Nicholas Yu, a local board game developer and founder of Zucchini People Games. “I think the pop culture aspect, combined with the amount of access there is now, I think it’s easier than ever to get into it.”
Yu and fellow game maker Travis Severance, who is also a co-owner of local game store Millennium Games, grew up playing D&D in their adolescence and both enjoy helping others get started playing it and similar games.
And now, as the game designers behind the officially branded game D&D Onslaught, the pair are an even larger part of making the journey into D&D easier.
“It’s a dream of, I think, virtually every game developer, to work on a Dungeons & Dragons game someday because that’s usually what got us all started down this path. Travis and I have been lifelong fans of that property,” says Yu. “Even after all this time, it’s still a little unreal for me.”
The process began about four years ago with the duo being invited to a closed pitch meeting with D&D publisher Wizards of the Coast and miniature company WizKids.
Coinciding with other releases for the brand, the company wanted to develop a tactical skirmish game for D&D. With the two weeks Wizards of the Coast and WizKids gave them, Yu and Severance created a prototype for their idea, something Yu thinks gave them a leg up in the pitch.
“I was at first like, ‘I’m just honored to be asked. Maybe this is a learning opportunity for me and if that’s all it is, great.’ So then when they actually called us back and told us, ‘Hey we’re going to be using your prototype,’ my mind was blown that I was actually going to be working on a Dungeons & Dragons game,” says Yu.
Like its name suggests, D&D Onslaught is designed to be a fast-paced, action-packed skirmish game where players act as rival adventuring parties. They compete to explore dungeons, gather loot, kill monsters, and level up their characters to win the game.
While certain rules have been modified from the current edition of D&D to keep the action moving, players will recognize classic elements from the lore of the game, including character miniatures, monsters, items, and skills.
Yu describes the creation of the game as a balancing act between keeping iconic imagery while also serving as a ramp for beginners who might be interested in playing D&D but are not used to all of the rules.
“Wizards of the Coast is obviously very protective of the D&D brand, so they had to make sure that this dragonborn or this tiefling has to be lore accurate. We had a tiefling and they were like ‘No, that tail is too big,’” Yu recalls. “But for gameplay, it hits a middle ground where someone who’s a real veteran D&D player can just pick it up easily because it’s a streamlined version.”
Those new to the game can be easily onboarded, he says.
“And maybe after playing (D&D Onslaught), it’ll get them more interested in playing even more. That’s what I’m hoping for at least,” Yu says.
D&D Onslaught was released in December 2022, but tournaments and expansions with more characters, monsters, scenarios are planned. A new faction, the Sellswords, was launched a few months ago.
As part of the rollout for the game, Severance and Yu were able to do demonstrations and attend tournaments at many different board game conventions. For example, one WizKid event, OMG (Onslaught Miniatures Game) Weekend, ran at three conventions all at once.
“It was the first time like 500 people were all playing my game simultaneously, which was insane to be a part of,” Yu says.
The most enjoyable part of the experience for Yu has been the interactions with fans and fellow board game enthusiasts.
“Gaming, specifically tabletop gaming, is a great community hobby, because you’re doing it with other people… I met a lot of my very good friends that way,” he says. “ I’m still playing with the same group of friends in a D&D campaign that we started like 20 years ago. So those are basically friends for life.”
“Whatever kind of gamer you are or way you like to play games, you can always find your people in this community,” he concludes.
Jacob Schermerhorn is a Rochester Beacon contributing writer and data journalist. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected].