The official launch of Dungeons & Dragons: Onslaught, the new competitive miniatures game slated to hit the organized play space in Friendly Local Game Stores (FLGS) near you, is just around the corner. As we lead up to this exciting new adventure, we’re rewinding the clock to take a look at the inception of this project and its unique origin story. Join Alex Davy, Director of Miniatures Gaming at WizKids, as he interviews D&D: Onslaught co-designer Nicholas Yu about his experience pitching the game and covering some of its distinct elements that make it shine.

WizKids: D&D: Onslaught is a big product with a substantial launch. How did you get involved with something on this scale?

Nicholas Yu: My co-designer Travis Severance and I were invited to pitch our concept for a Dungeons & Dragons themed miniatures game. It was a closed-door affair, all very hush-hush, because this is D&D, after all, one of tabletop gaming’s best known intellectual properties! Going into the first call, I’m pretty sure they’re just taking our pitch out of courtesy, and I’m sure other better-known veteran designers are also going to pitch their vision for a D&D miniatures game. But heck, if we were going in, we were going to go in prepared.

The first call was just supposed to be an informal 10-15 minute “getting to know you” call, but Travis and I had a five-page slide deck ready to go and a rough prototype on hand that we’d assembled over the course of the week leading up to the call, in case things got that far.

WizKids: What was that meeting like?

Nicholas Yu: After introductions are made, we were told that WizKids was looking for a tactical miniatures game with its own set of rules and play style, but still captures an essence of Dungeons & Dragons that fans will recognize and enjoy. It needed to employ twenty-sided dice but should also appeal to miniatures gamers who might resent how “swingy” a D20 is. At that point, I piped up to talk about using D&D’s Advantage system by default and how we can assign target Armor Class numbers that fit comfortably within the general probability curve of using 2D20 and taking the best result. Of course, we’d also feature critical hits and misses on natural 20s and 1s. It’s D&D after all, right? Total silence. But I could “hear” them thinking. I also casually mentioned that we had a presentation prepared and forward them the file.

A couple of weeks later, we were informed that our pitch was selected. Dungeons & Dragons Unnamed Miniatures Skirmish Game is a go!

WizKids: There have been a number of Dungeons & Dragons miniatures skirmish games over the years. How is Onslaught different?

Nicholas Yu: Travis realized right away that Dungeons & Dragons: Onslaught should be a Player vs. Player vs. Environment game. D&D has too many iconic monsters not to use, and that extra monstrous element helps set the game apart from some of the other games that occupy a similar space. We decided pretty early on that the other player should move and roll for monster attacks against you, too, so there’s a strategic element and the thrill of rolling dice for the monsters, too.

Again, one of the key missives was to make a game that felt true to D&D, but also had its own unique game play. We kept the grids that section out the game board so players can calculate the distance between character pieces and plan out how to navigate the various terrain types across the map, but balanced movement out by keeping character movement to orthogonal directions only. Attack range could still be counted diagonally, so you don’t end up with weird cross shapes or misshapen Area of Effect blasts. This is a system I’d used previously that was chiefly inspired by tactical video games like Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre.

WizKids: Onslaught includes some unusual componentry. What was the impetus behind the dial cards for the characters?

Nicholas Yu: Originally, there was going to be just one dial that tracked Hit Points, Armor Class, and Speed—pretty similar to what you’d see in HeroClix, for example. But then they told us we could have more dials. Maybe as many as 3 or 4 more of them in addition to the main dial. Sounds like a pretty cool way to track ability cooldowns to me!

If you’re not familiar with it, Fourth Edition introduced the concept of ability cooldowns, something that seems clearly influenced by video games. Maybe that wasn’t the ideal decision for D&D, but that kind of approach made a whole lot of sense for a tactical skirmish game.

WizKids: We’ve talked about what makes the role playing game different from Onslaught, but what sets it apart from other skirmish games? There’s the PvPvE element, of course, but are there other distinctions?

Nicholas Yu: An early design tentpole that Travis set up was that it should be exceedingly easy to set up your team in Onslaught. There are many awesome points-based army systems out there, and we didn’t want to be in that space. “No points!” was something Travis always highlighted while we were discussing party creation. The roleplaying game offered some insight into that, too, with the concept of party roles, as did a number of PvP video games like Overwatch and League of Legends. Again, for a proper roleplaying game, you don’t necessarily want to pigeonhole your players into a specific role, but it sounds pretty good for a tactical skirmish game, right?

In Onslaught, characters are divided into six distinct Roles: Vanguard, Melee Damage, Ranged Damage, Healer, Tactician, and Hybrid (which are all different combinations of two or more other roles). After seeing what mission they’ll be playing, players simply choose five characters from their faction, each with a different role. With this one clean rule, party creation is simple: just “grab and go.” This system also makes army building and game balancing easier even as more characters and factions are released. There will be, of course, a few interesting twists to the roles and factions as Onslaught continues to mature, but we can save those for a future Designer Diary!

WizKids: Thanks Nick! I’m sure we’ll have much more to talk about soon.

Find out more about D&D: Onslaught at or ask about it at your FLGS.

Contact a FLGS in your area to participate in a pre-release demo and take home a limited D&D: Onslaught Mimic miniature promo!

See what Game Informer’s Matt Miller has to say about D&D: Onslaught here!