Dungeons & Dragons is a great game, but when it comes to combat (and it almost always does) things get confusing. Who’s got what spells up? Who’s invisible? Who’s wounded? These and a hundred-odd other questions bounce around the table, slowing down combat, and annoying people. The folks at Alea think they’ve got the solution to this problem: small, rainbow-hewed magnetic discs that can be used to represent all sorts of battle field conditions.
The discs are 1-inch in diameter, 3/16-inch high and are made from hard plastic which surrounds a decently strong magnet. The discs come in six colors: colors: red, yellow, orange, white, light gray and dark grey.
The idea behind the discs is simple enough — come up with a home grown system for each color (i.e. “yellow” means lightly wounded, “red” means badly wounded, “white” means invisible, etc.) and then, when the battle condition comes into play, you slip the appropriate disc under the affected miniature. If multiple effects come into play, the discs can be stacked, and because they have magnets inside them, they stay stacked.
An Attractive Idea
Alea’s idea is a simple solution to a complex problem, but I can’t give a good accounting of what positive or negative effects they have on game play because I only had six different colored discs to work with. Swapping out discs from under one or three miniatures is one thing — doing the same for a dozen ore more is something else entirely.
So rather than focus on how the discs affect the flow of the game, I’ll stick to the discs themselves. According to Alea, the discs are designed for use with miniatures that have metal bases (or bases with metal in them) so that the minis stay attached to the magnets. According to the wargamer in my group, such bases are becoming more popular with the Warhammer crowd. Not so with our gaming group though; out of the six players and several dozen minis present, not a one had a metal base. Neither did any of the plastic D&D miniatures that I’d left back at home.
The lack of steel in the base didn’t keep us from using the discs, and I doubt they’d stop anyone else. While you do need to be careful while moving a high-stack of discs beneath a non-steel-based mini, we didn’t find the process particularly difficult. The discs are the same size as most mini bases (they are identical in size to the D&D minis) and are easily visible to everyone at the gaming table, as well as the DM.
While in theory you could create a stack up to six discs high (using each color available) in practice I doubt we’d go any higher than two or three — stacks larger than that start looking awkward. Moreover, painted figs with non-steel basis could easily fall off a high stack, which in turn could lead to a chipped paint job. This was in fact the major complaint of one of my playtesters, who didn’t have the time to re-base his minis (actually, most of us don’t have that kind of time) and was concerned about ruining his paint jobs.
Off the battlemat, the discs are fiendishly addictive to play with. If you thought dice towers were the most annoying thing that players could do while waiting for their turn, just wait until they start having magnetic disc races across the table. Whether or not this is a good thing is something each game master will need to decide (but you could always keep the spares behind your GM screen …if you can resist playing with them yourself).
The big question remains though — what effect will they have on combat? My group debated that question, and the general consensus is … we just don’t know. Using the discs will definitely help with questions about who’s been wounded, hamstringed, or turned to stone, and that should save time. But you’ll also need to spend time putting out and removing the discs, so its hard to say if there’ll be a net-gain in time savings. Not that there would necessarily have to be — if the combat took the same amount of time to play out, but there was less overall confusion (as well as bad feelings after someone accidentally fireballed a party member hovering at Death’s Door) then the discs would be worth it. Without more of them, I just can’t say … but I’m interested in finding out.
My players and I generally liked Alea’s discs, with the biggest concern being non-metal based figs plummeting to untimely ends. They aren’t at the top of my “must buy” gaming list right now — that position’s filled by the Tact-Tile battlemaps — but they are something I might buy more of a few months down the line. That said, if my group was using figs that already had metal bases, we’d undoubtedly be more enthusiastic about them.
- Alea Magnetic Disks
- Alea Tools
- MSRP: 10 of a single color: $7.99, 18 pcs (3 of each 6 colors): $13.99, 30 pcs (5 of each 6 colors): $22.99
- Web: www.aleatools.com
- Rating: 7 out of 10