- Gnome Stew - https://gnomestew.com -

Photo Review: D&D Heroes Miniatures and Official D&D Power Cards

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 [1]):

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 [2]):

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 [3]: “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 [4]. Specifically:

In general, we’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 [5]) — 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 [6]):

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 [7]), and the dwarf rogue from MH 2 (larger [8]):

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 [9] 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 [10], and more recently have been loving the cards from 4epowercards.com [11]. 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 [12]):

Inside are two packs of cards (bigger, danke [13]):

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 [14]):

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 [15] — 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 [16]):

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 [17]):

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 [18]):

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 [19]):

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.

24 Comments (Open | Close)

24 Comments To "Photo Review: D&D Heroes Miniatures and Official D&D Power Cards"

#1 Comment By Ameron On April 30, 2009 @ 6:55 am

I like the introduction of power cards to4e. I think this is a great idea. They really help you keep track of your character’s powers and abilities, especially at high levels. But Wizards really missed a great opportunity to make money by not having these out on day one with the PHB. So many people have created their own versions that no one in their right mind would pay $10 per class for these cards. And if you do have a few extra bucks, why not just subscribe to the DDI and download the character generator? At least it does all the math for you. So Wizards: Great idea, terrible execution.

#2 Comment By Nicholas On April 30, 2009 @ 7:07 am

The cards do look nicer than the ones out of the character builder but those are customized to my character and do all the math for me. I can’t really see ever buying the power cards sets. I can just print my character builder cards on card stock.

Also, does anyone know if the powers in the minis sets are going to be included in the character builder? That would be very annoying otherwise, both cost-wise and logistically.

#3 Comment By Balam Shimoda On April 30, 2009 @ 8:08 am

To me the cards look the same as the printouts from the D&DI creator except, again, that the software calculates everything for you.
For those on the cheap, I should mention that you only need an Insider account to download updates to the software. There’s nothing stopping you from dropping $8 for a one-month subscription, downloading the creator software (plus whatever magazine back-issues you want) and then canceling. If you feel the need, you can always re-subscribe for a month to get the updates you missed and then cancel again.

#4 Comment By LesInk On April 30, 2009 @ 8:10 am

On the miniatures — I think there still may be value even at $3.60/figure — why? You can see what you are getting and the number of players I meet that want that one figure for their character, they will buy the pack to get. Granted, I don’t think the volume of sales will be high.

As for the power cards, I have been waffling on them a bit, but generally are negative. Since I get DDI, I can print out the cards on stock, but its a bit of printing, a bit of cutting, and although more accurate information, not as fine feeling as true card deck material (I’m sure someone out there prints theirs on better quality photo paper and even cuts rounded edges). However, as already stated, its nice have the calculations done for you by DDI. Plus, and here is the real kicker, I already have martial powers AND all the expansion material presented in the Dungeon and Dragon magazines. Sure, they give you blanks — but I’d be hard pressed to use them.

Wild gnome thought: What WotC should consider (or a 3rd party) is creating the paper to use with DDI that you print on! Then it would be like printing your own business cards and punching them out. Kind of the equivalent of blank character sheets.

#5 Comment By chabuhi On April 30, 2009 @ 8:51 am

I guess this makes me a snooty bastard, but I cannot STAND plastic miniatures. Obviously that cuts me out of a lot of minis, but for some bizarre reason mine have to be metal.

I need help, I know.

#6 Comment By deadlytoque On April 30, 2009 @ 10:08 am

I fully agree that WotC made a blunder with the release fate of the power cards. When power cards hit the shelves in my FLGS, PHB2 was already available. That caused brand competition -with themselves-. My group was just starting a new long-term game, and we were all torn: “do I buy a set of power cards and play an old class, or do I use a PHB2 class and make my own power cards?” In the end, WotC sold one out of five of us on power cards, and three of us on PHB2, but nobody on both. Oops.

As for the D&D minis, I doubt I will ever use a pre-painted mini for a PC. Painting a mini at the quality of the pre-paints takes a decent painter (by which I mean someone with 10 or so previous figs under their belt — some practice, but by no means a pro) maybe an hour. And shopping for a mini means you can pick out something that’s really nice, matches your race and class, and means you only have to buy ONE fig rather than three. For $11 USD you can get yourself 2 or 3 really nice (unpainted) Reaper figs, or if your game suits it, one incredibly detailed Privateer Press fig.

Now, cheapy, plastic, pre-painted monsters, I’m all about that. But Reaper already beat them to it. You can already get their minotaurs, goblins, and skeletons, and their knock-off mind flayers, and possibly others. I guess it will come down to sculpt quality and figure selection.

Buying minis on the GM side of the equation is always tricky, because you want to make sure you’re going to use them over and over. Pre-painted plastic is definitely the way to, to prevent having to spend countless hours in cranking out figures for play (“sorry guys, only half of my goblins are painted”).

For my money, I’m thinking of buying some Wolfen from Rakham’s “Confrontation: Age of Rag’narok” line and adding spots to serve as my favourite D&D monster: the much-maligned gnoll.

#7 Comment By Nojo On April 30, 2009 @ 11:49 am

[20] – I’d love it if the character builder cards had an option for including the flavor text, even if the cards are bigger. I’d like that for the roleplaying, so I can describe my Druid’s spells instead listing damage numbers. Sure, I could open my PHB, but I mostly play off the character builder sheet. I want it all, and I want it now! πŸ™‚

#8 Comment By Sarlax On April 30, 2009 @ 11:50 am

Overall, I like the idea of power cards. I’m using them right now (more on that in a second). WoTC, however, ought not to be producing them.

There are a couple reasons why. First, timing. Wizards doesn’t have its act together when it comes to releasing products in a timely fashion. They don’t have a vaporware problem, but they do miss the ball like deadlytoque said. I’m playing a wizard in 4E and my Arcane Power cards won’t be out for quite a while. By the time they do come out, I’ll have figured something else out. If WoTC can’t make a simultaneous release, they shouldn’t bother.

Second, errata. Wizards has some of the better editing among RPG publishers, but bugs still happen, and there’d be nothing worse than buying a bunch of power cards that need errata. Errata is actually a good reason to not release power cards simultaneously. WoTC is actually working against itself a bit here. A lot of companies in their position, if releasing the same kinds of products, would produced buggy game materials and not deal with the problem, but because Wizards has pretty good customer service and is on top of things with errata and FAQs, D&D players know that what’s written is subject to change.

So what to do about power cards? Exactly what they are doing, except translate the current idea of “Sell cards 6 months after the book” to “Don’t sell power cards,” and rely on what’s currently providing power cards – the community and the Character Builder.

The community cards have been working nicely. There are several high-quality options out there (although Wizards is using cease and desist to end that) as well as blanks, so people can make what they need.

More importantly, the Character Builder does it all. It is updated at least once a month with all powers, feats, and equipment. I was skeptical of it, but it works remarkably well. And it completely obviates the need for the physical power cards.

I’m inclined to stick with the generator, especially as the cards created by the character builder are identical with the cards they sell. Also, if the physical cards need sleeves anyway to last, I might as well just print the few cards I need and put those in sleeves instead.

#9 Comment By Dhelm On April 30, 2009 @ 11:53 am

I think the demand for cheap, plastic minis in the miniature market is going to be slowly overtaken by the *really* cheap paper minis, such as those put out to supplement paizo’s latest AP.

The price point, especially considering that paper minis, (available in PDF form) offer unlimited personal reprints, is unbeatable. I was considering dropping $2-3 US, per single, on Gnoll miniatures, but now can have veritable army of Gnolls at $3.99 + printing costs.

I don’t see this type of product competing against the Reapers or Rackhams of the world, but I do think is a strong competitor to D&D minis offered by WoTC.

#10 Comment By toriel On April 30, 2009 @ 12:36 pm

Since I have a DDI subscription, I will not buy the power cards. The Character Builder makes them pretty useless since it creates them for you with all the calculations already made.

The minis I might buy some if I feel the need at some point of getting specific minis but once again the Character Builder will have the powers included so the extra powers are not an extra incentive to get them.

Since I mostly DM, I will certainly get some of the monster packs that are coming up and the fact that I will get to choose one of the minis included is a bonus.

#11 Comment By Matthew J. Neagley On April 30, 2009 @ 2:40 pm

The thing that strikes me about those minis, and it’s especially obvious on that closeup of the dwarven rogue, is that they’ve crammed a LOT of detail into plastic minis, then pretty much pissed all over that effort and cost with crappy painting.

I’m not talking about the fact that it’s a bit messy (which it is, but so is any mini I’ve ever painted) but rather that they’ve ruined a lot of the detail by not using decent shading on their pieces. Look at how much detail is lost on that dwarf because it’s all just a solid black mess, and not a brown or gray with a black wash, or black with a brown or gray drybrushing.

The sad part of that is that if you look at the dwarf’s thighs, the detail there is easily visible precisely because it was picked out with a darker brown wash over the green leggings.

So maybe in a few more sets when they have not only have a handle on the right number of layers, but how to USE those layers correctly I’ll put down the cash. Until then, if I’m going to have to hand touch up the paintjob anyway, why am I paying for one in the first place?

#12 Comment By BryanB On April 30, 2009 @ 3:30 pm

I’d say the new minis are a bit too pricey for what you get per box. But people will buy them anyway. πŸ˜€

#13 Comment By Martin Ralya On April 30, 2009 @ 6:21 pm

I’ve done some more playing around with the power cards this evening, and for anything more than a couple of numbers (for example, writing up a magic item on a blank card), I don’t like the grease pencil.

I’ve switched to sticking a piece of tape on each card to write on in pencil, which I didn’t expect to wind up doing. That may turn out to annoy me down the road, but for now I’m going to see how using them in this weekend’s game goes.

I’ve updated my review accordingly.

[21] – I’m probably an outlier here, but I like the old-school feel of filling in character sheets by hand. I’ve done it both ways in the past, and the characters I’ve felt the most connected to have tended to be the hand-written ones.

So for me, the auto-fill and printing aspect of the DDI cards is inherently less appealing.

[22] – I definitely think there’s value in these figures, even at their slightly-too-high price. No argument there.

[20] – For my part, I can semi-competently paint BattleTech minis, and have painted a few dozen over the years — but nothing else. I hate, and am terrible at, painting anything but sci-fi figures.

I’ve tried several times, and it’s always the same: I buy some cool minis, re-buy all my paints since the old ones dried out, replace some brushes…and produce something a lobotomized monkey could do. It’s not for me — I love prepainted minis. πŸ˜‰

#14 Comment By Noumenon On April 30, 2009 @ 7:30 pm

Dhelm, what do you mean by “paper minis” exactly? The Paizo page and Google don’t show me. Are they just tokens you can print out like Fiery Dragon’s counter collections? If so, hint, the best thing to do is print them back-to-back on a 3×5 card and stand them up in a /\ shape.

#15 Comment By Dhelm On April 30, 2009 @ 7:40 pm

@Noumenon: A bit more refined that the Fiery Dragon offerings.
Check out: [23]

Here’s a larger image:

#16 Comment By ToddBradley On April 30, 2009 @ 8:43 pm

On the topic of “paper minis” one of the best investments I ever made in miniatures was to buy Steve Jackson’s “Cardboard Heroes”. You get a TON of different little figures for a low price.


PCs, NPCs, monsters, treasure, and so on. I bought those a decade ago and still haven’t had a need to use more than about 20% of the whole set.

#17 Comment By ToddBradley On April 30, 2009 @ 8:46 pm

And on the topic of D&D Power Cards, I don’t know what they were thinking with the “blanks”. Sure, it’s a nice idea to give you some blank cards so you can write up things like your halfling racial powers that won’t be found in the rogue class power deck. But the cards are impossible to write on!

You can’t write on them with the pencil, and ink from a ball point just doesn’t stick. I even tried my legendary Space Pen, the kind that writes upside down, underwater, and in the vacuum of space. It wouldn’t even make a legible mark on these cards!

#18 Comment By Dhelm On April 30, 2009 @ 9:32 pm

@ToddBradley, yeah, that’s exactly what I’m talking about. If you are DM, plotting out a campaign, coming up with the funds for all the miniatures you may need can be daunting. IMO, the Paizo offering is kind of the next generation of the SJG Cardboard heroes since it is tied so closely to a parent product.

Imagine if D&D art mainstays like Wayne Reynolds were to put out this kind of product, or even guys like Gabe over at Penny Arcade.

That said, I almost always go for a metal mini when I’m a PC and most of my Players do the same, but for a busy DM on a budget, these are a strong competitor to the WotC offerings.

#19 Comment By Carey On April 30, 2009 @ 9:35 pm

I’ve found fine point overhead projector pens very useful for writing on clear tape, glass tiles, laminated character sheets, etc. I think these might be called dry erase markers in the US.

#20 Comment By ToddBradley On April 30, 2009 @ 10:03 pm

[26] – We have both overhead projector pens and dry erase markers in the US, but they’re different things. I have both kinds, and we use them both for writing on the rollable battle mat, though the overhead projector pens work better. I’ll try those on the blank power cards, but I expect the ink is going to wipe right off.

#21 Comment By Carey On May 1, 2009 @ 1:45 am

[27] – OK, I must have been looking in the wrong place.

I’m thinking of [28], that come off with a little rubbing with a damp cloth, but not easily otherwise.

#22 Comment By Bloodwin On May 1, 2009 @ 7:34 am

Well I just got back from my local comic store where the PH Heroes minis have arrived and I got one of each set. I DM mostly but my players are pretty new and still not fixed on classes and races. I am an old school miniatures having cut my teeth on 20 years of Citadel miniatures. for me part of the value with minis is in being able to paint them which for me is 50% of my hobby. I relly like taking a bad paint job on an excellent model and really turning it around. If I have a few of the same mini I usually change details like hair colour especially if they aren’t minions.

What surprised me with the minis was the choice of races. I would have liked to see more of the newer races and combination rather than classics like human fighters and mages. I am really surprised that there was no male Dragonborn miniature. Dragonborn males are still prohibitively expensive as singles. I’m also surprised at 2 female Eladrin magic users I would have thought an Eladrin/Elf/Half-Elf type figure and a female Tiefling would have been a better choice.

The cost is ok here in the UK at about Β£3 per mini which is a lot better than Β£8 for a single metal Citadel hero. However it seems to me that some of the minis are much more rubbery than plastic. Some of the weapons also feel very weak so I will make them more rigid with a little superglue, especially on axes and hammers where the handles are quite flimsy compared to the business end of the weapon. I should add that there are also a good amount of multi part minis that have given some better poses with the Elf ranger and Goliath barbarian being stand out figures for me and I was nicely surprised by the human barbarian which has a better face than I thought although I will model over the ‘wolf head’ as it is so small it looks silly.

#23 Comment By deadlytoque On May 4, 2009 @ 2:32 pm

[29] – And also to others: Paper minis a definitely an excellent investment, especially for baddies.

For power cards, we found a set of fillable-PDFs with just the basic card layout, and colour-coded, and we just edit them in Acrobat and then fire them off. We often end up with blanks, so we just write on them in pencil until enough people need new power cards to justify printing another page.

Me, I’m thinking of going back to index cards. I like the space, and the fact that I can customize the layout, and draw little pictures of my druid’s kickass spells on the back.

#24 Comment By Matthew J. Neagley On May 5, 2009 @ 12:38 pm

This weekend, I set up a Word template with drawings of paper tri-card minis. Then I found pictures online for all my monsters, and dropped them into the right place and printed. When I filled up a sheet, I just saved it and opened a new one. My daughter helped me cut out and paste together the minis with a penny on the bottom for weight. Mid-game I learned that I ought to put an identifying mark on ones with identicle pictures, but aside from that, they were perfect!