My group is currently playing a D&D 4th Edition campaign, and I love having lots of accessories in front of me when I play. I have a couple hundred D&D Miniatures from past sets, and they rock — for the price, they simply can’t be beat. And I’ve been using fan-made power cards, printed out on cardstock, ever since we started our campaign.

As a GM, I like any play aid that makes things easier for me or my players, or that makes the game more fun. Minis, particularly for D&D 4e, fall into both categories; and in my group’s experience, power cards keep the game flowing smoothly.

I’m happy to support non-random minis packaging and official power cards, so I snagged two boxes of Heroes (Martial Heroes 1 and 2) and the Fighter Power Cards. I view them as related products, since — at least for me — the lure of the exclusive power cards in the Heroes sets is part of their appeal.

When I was considering buying these cards and minis, I had questions about them that I couldn’t resolve in the store, so I’ve attempted to cover all of the questions I had about these products in the hopes that answering them here will be useful to you. (Like: “Do they fit in Magic-sized card sleeves?” Answer: Yes.)

And since they’re both visual products, I opted to do a photo review — there are more close-ups of these two products here than you can shake a dead gnome at.

Here’s the quick scoop: the D&D Heroes minis look fantastic, but are a bit too pricey, and the official power cards are good, but flawed.

D&D Heroes Miniatures

I’m playing a fighter, so I picked up the two packs I thought would be most useful to me: Martial Heroes 1 and 2. There are three non-random, fully painted plastic miniatures per pack, grouped by class type; each pack retails for $10.99 (click for larger photo):

Each mini also comes with a power card for its class — a power card exclusive to these packs. That was a draw for me; I like having options. Here’s what you get in Martial Heroes 1 (embiggen this photo):

So how are the new powers? I’m best-equipped to evaluate the fighter powers, since that’s the class I’ve spent the most time with. One is a level 1 at-will that does very little damage but knocks the target prone, and the other is a level 6 utility power gives you temp hit points based on the number of enemies in a burst. They’re both solid but not overpowered, and I’m happy to have them available.

Ditto with the other four powers. I particularly like Hidden Blade, a level 6 rogue utility power that lets you gain combat advantage on your next attack, with some restrictions.

The fact that they’re exclusive to these packs will bug some folks. I’m just enough of a completist that this tactic works on me, and I don’t mind it all that much.

The Miniatures

When I first stopped by to pick up my packs, I wasn’t blown away with the paint jobs on the minis. At the time, I Twittered: “Not impressed with the D&D Heroes paints. On par with the last two sets (quite good), but not better — as promised — and more expensive.”

Here’s where the “as promised” reference comes from: D&D Miniatures Changes Explained. Specifically:

In general, weโ€™re providing nearly a 50% increase in paint steps per figure, which makes even the common and uncommon figures in the set look better, adding more vibrancy and detail.

That quote was in reference to the Monster Manual-themed sets that are out later this year, not the Heroes sets that are out now — but I inferred from that statement that the more expensive Heroes packs were getting the same treatment; I expect many other folks made that same inference.

So let’s get on to some shots of the minis themselves (larger image) — the trio from MH 1:

I looked through my commons, uncommons, and rares from the past three randomized sets — Dungeons of Dread, Against the Giants, and Demonweb — and I have to say that I see what WotC means. My initial in-the-pack impression was incorrect.

The six minis in MH 1 and 2 are on par with the uncommons and rares from those sets, and with the uniformly excellent non-random 4e starter pack; they look significantly better than many of the old commons. (For those not familiar with D&D minis, commons are generally less well-painted than uncommons and rares.)

Here’s a comparison of the new minis (bottom row, all from MH 1) with minis from the past three sets and the 4e starter pack. Top row, left to right: DoD uncommon, AtG rare, DW rare; middle row: DoD common, AtG common, DW common, 4e starter mini (make it bigger):

To my eye, those extra paint steps stand out — these minis look great for the money.

Here are a couple of close-ups — the dragonborn rogue from MH 1 (larger), and the dwarf rogue from MH 2 (larger):

Should You Buy Them?

So: they look good — but are they worth the money? Technically, they’re more expensive than the randomized minis were. A Demonweb booster, for example, contains eight random minis for $14.99; compared to three minis for $10.99, the new packs are a bad deal — $1.87 per mini old-style, $3.66 per mini new-style.

But it’s not quite that simple: The new packs include power cards, which to the average buyer (who wants the minis to use for D&D, not the skirmish game) add value to the pack — and they’re non-randomized. Buying a blind booster, you might not get a PC-suitable mini at all, whereas with these you pay roughly twice as much per mini, but know exactly what you’re getting.

Does that make them worth the extra money? Personally, it makes them worth it for me if I’m interested in the classes they include; that was the case for the martial packs this time around, since I’m playing a fighter. For bulking up my collection of player character miniatures, I’ll stick with buying singles online (see El Cheapo Miniatures for Fantasy PCs for that story).

On the whole, I’d say they’re a bit more expensive than I’d like, but worthwhile for the excellent paint jobs. I may not buy every set, but I’ll buy some of them.

Official D&D Power Cards

Like many D&D players, I’ve been waiting for official power cards for months. These should have come out at the same time as the Player’s Handbook, not 10 months later. The lag time for the upcoming Martial Power packs is six months, which isn’t much better.

In the meantime, I’ve been using fan-made power cards printed on cardstock. I first used cards from a set that appeared on EN World, and more recently have been loving the cards from 4epowercards.com. That site was a cease and desist letter waiting to happen, and eventually it did — but while it was running, you could print custom sheets of professional-grade cards for free, and they worked great.

Now that the official cards are out, I put my money where my mouth is: I’ve been wanting official cards since 2008, and now they’re available. So what are they like?

For starters, $9.99 buys you all 100 powers for your PHB class, plus a number of blanks (two at-will, four utility, 11 encounter, and six daily; 23 blanks altogether, at least in the fighter pack). Here’s the box (enlarge me):

Inside are two packs of cards (bigger, danke):

The cards themselves are pretty nicely made. I’ve heard others describe them as flimsy, but while they’re not as stiff as the average CCG card, they’re not flimsy. They do look like they’re going to show wear pretty easily on the corners, though — mine already show the telltale signs of this kind of wear.

This is reason number one why you’re probably going to want to put these in sleeves; standard CCG-sized sleeves fit just fine. Reasons two and three are coming up.

Here’s the front and back of a card — the Cleave power (large-ize me):

The stock is slightly glossy on both sides, which is actually a downside: You can’t write on them in pencil. If you don’t write on them at all, you have to calculate your bonuses and so forth every time you use the card — which is reason number two to use card sleeves on these puppies.

(You could slap on a piece of tape and write on them in pencil, a trick I’ve been using for years with character sheets — but if you’re going to do that, you might as well just print your own cards, either fan-made or from D&D Insider.)

For a better look at the anatomy of the cards, here’s a close-up of Exacting Strike (BIG):

I like this layout. It’s clear and concise, and includes absolutely everything I care about. The little grid — which shows the type (melee, burst, etc.) is handy, and there’s plenty of room to write your bonuses on every card.

I would say it has a businesslike feel — there’s not much flavor here, just like the original power entries in the PHB. But if the choice is between flavor and functionality, I’ll take functionality — and these cards have that.

One last close-up, this time the utility power No Surrender (enlaaaaarge):

WotC made an interesting choice with utility powers: they color-coded them blue, with checkboxes on the front to indicate whether a particular power is at-will, encounter, or daily.

I don’t like this decision for two reasons: One, it means I can’t line up my powers in a vertical overlapping row with just the names showing, because I won’t be able to tell at a glance how often I can use my utility powers; and two, when flipped over I won’t know for sure when a utility power gets refreshed (encounter vs. daily, for example).

This is reason number three to use sleeves, but only if you’re willing to go a specific route: colored sleeves. I bought three packs of premium-weight, standard CCG card-sized (i.e, Magic) sleeves for about $2.50 a pack in each of three colors: green, red, and black — to match the color of at-will, encounter, and daily powers.

Here they are in action (el gordo):

Using sleeves solves two problems: wear on your cards, and not being able to write on them. Any sleeve will protect against wear, including the thinner penny sleeves.

Premium sleeves have the added benefit of being sturdy enough to write on with a grease pencil or wet-erase marker. Full disclosure: I don’t own any wet-erase markers, but Google suggests that they work just fine. I do own a grease pencil:

…which works like a charm (big big big):

It took a little water to get the marks completely off afterwards, but only because I’m incredibly anal. And even if “ghosting” occurs over time, you can always just toss the sleeve and pop on a new one.

Update: Oh, irony. In doing some more experimenting with the cards, I’ve found writing more than a couple of numbers on the sleeves in grease pencil to be incredibly annoying.

Maybe it’s just because I have the handwriting of a clumsy toddler, but it just looks sloppy — and it’s hard to squeeze in what I need. So I’ve actually switched to using the tape trick and writing on them in pencil. We’ll see how that goes.

For my money, that’s another potential strike against these cards. What WotC really needed to do was borrow Paizo’s writeable surface concept, which they use on their magic item cards: the majority of the card is glossy, but there’s a square on the back you can write on just fine.

The third (relatively minor) problem I solved by using colored sleeves is the fuzziness of having blue utility powers — I can just sleeve them in green, red, or black, and call it good.

Should You Buy Them?

On balance, the official power cards are a mixed bag. They’re a good price, and I really like the layout — both important factors. But they’re not pencil-friendly, look likely to wear too quickly, and essentially require sleeves — and the lag time between book and power cards is much too long.

For $10, I’m pleased with what I got, and I’ll buy the Martial Power pack for my fighter when those come out. But If I had a D&D Insider account and a willingness to fiddle with the cards the site outputs for you, I’d probably pass on the standalone packs.