#93 – Dragoon

Box.jpg

Base price: $45 for the base version, $55 for the deluxe. There may be some update to this with Gold / not-Gold Edition, stay tuned.
2 – 4 players.
Play time: 40 – 60 minutes.
BGG Link
Check it out on Kickstarter! (Link will be active once the Kickstarter is live again.)

Full disclosure: A review copy of Dragoon was provided by Lay Waste Games.

People generally think dragons are pretty cool. That’s why they did, like, Skyrim, where there were tons of dragons (or, occasionally, one terrifying train). In Dragoon, the recent title from Lay Waste Games, you get to be an actual dragon, and do things like oppress villagers and breathe fire on things and hoard money, as you do. However, your opponents are also dragons, and you can’t just let them get everything — you gotta take it for yourself! Can you emerge victorious as the greediest dragon?

Contents

Setup

Setup is pretty easy. There’s a few mats — one of them is the play area, one is the scoreboard. Set them both out within reach of all players.

You’ll also find some cards:

cards

Shuffle those and deal each player three. Next, let each player choose their color, and give them pieces in that color:

pieces

The pieces are metal, which is super cool. Set all of the skulls (the four dragon skulls and the human skull) on the scoreboard on 0. Set the treasure chest (the Thief’s Treasure) and the dice aside, for now.

Once you’ve done all that, your play area should look like this, at four players:

setup

At two players, you’ll be missing a pair of dragons, but the remaining two should be on opposite sides of the board. Here are all possible setups:

Alternate Setups.jpg

Once you’ve done all that, you’re ready to start!

Gameplay

Gameplay is done in three phases, with players taking turns during the second phase (aptly named “Action”). I’ll outline all three.

Populate

During the Populate Phase, you roll the dice X + 1 times, where X is the number of players. Whatever you roll, you check against the coordinate grid, much like Tsuro of the Seas (but without the 3/4 overlap). If it’s empty, place a black Village Tile, even if there’s already a dragon or the Thief’s Treasure there. If there’s a Village Tile there already, flip it over to become a City Tile. Otherwise, if there is a City Tile or a dragon’s Cave on that location, no tile gets placed. Instead, give the Thief 3 Gold and then, if the Thief’s Treasure hasn’t been placed yet, roll the dice and place it in that location (unless you roll a dragon’s Cave, in which case you roll again). As you accumulate City Tiles, it’s much more likely that you’ll start giving the Thief points instead.

Action

Now that that phase is over, the player with the lowest score chooses a player to go first. In turn order, each player draws a card and then must perform 3 points worth of actions. That said, different actions have different costs:

0 Points

  • Play a card from your hand. Playing a card is a free action, and red cards can be played outside of the Action Phase (or sometimes even outside of your turn!).
  • Combat. If you ever happen to be in the same space as another Dragon (usually by way of another action), you immediately fight them. You each roll one die and the higher score wins (ties favor the player who started the fight). Loser gets sent back to their cave and winner steals 3 Gold from the loser. If the loser has less than 3 Gold, the winner just gets that. So if you have 0 Gold, you can fight whoever you want. No consequences; you’re already broke!

1 Point

  • Move one space up, down, left, or right. You may not move diagonally for one action. You can move up and then right, but that’s two actions worth of movement. You cannot move into a dragon’s cave if that dragon is in it.
  • Claim a Village or City. You place one of your nine castle-looking things (Totems) on it. It might give you money during the Tribute Phase. Each Village or City can only have one totem. So if you claim one, you steal it from another dragon. You cannot use an action to claim a tile you’ve already claimed.
  • Destroy a Village or City. You can destroy one of these if you’re standing on it for instant points. A Village is 2 Gold, a City is 4. You can even destroy Villages and Cities you’ve claimed, you monster.
  • Steal Gold. You can steal Gold from another dragon if you’re in their Cave, or from the Thief’s Treasure if you’re on the same space as it. You roll one die and you steal that many gold from that source. Try not to end your Action Phase in another dragon’s cave.
  • Discard a card from your hand and draw a new one. Just a useful way to cycle the deck.

2 Points

  • Draw a new card. You won’t see this happen much, but it’s there.

If at the end of your Action Phase you are in another dragon’s cave, that dragon immediately returns to their cave and boots you out, stealing 3 Gold from you in the process. If you’re standing on the Thief’s Treasure, it scampers to a new location — roll the dice and place the Thief’s Treasure in that new location. If the new location is the same as the old location or a dragon’s cave, re-roll until you get a new place.

After all players have completed the Action Phase, the Tribute Phase begins.

Tribute

During the Tribute Phase, the Villages and Cities you’ve claimed will usually give you money. Sometimes they get a little rowdy, but that’s nothing a bit of fire can’t fix.

Each player with a claimed tile rolls a die, and then applies that result to all of their claimed tiles:

  • 1: Lose a totem from one of your claimed tiles that no other player is standing on. This just sucks.
  • 2: Gain 0 Gold. This also sucks, but not as much as a 1.
  • 3/4/5: Gain 1 Gold from Villages; Gain 3 Gold from Cities.
  • 6: Gain 2 Gold from Villages; Gain 4 Gold from Cities.

This can be influenced by two things:

  • If you’re standing on a claimed tile, then the payout changes. If it’s your tile, you gain rewards from it as if you had rolled a 3/4/5, no matter if you rolled a 1, a 4, or a 6. If it’s another player’s tile, they gain 0. Tough stuff.
  • If you play Intimidate, all of your claimed tiles pay out as if you rolled a 3/4/5, unless an opponent is standing on one, in which case it pays 0.

If a player has hit 50 gold, then the game ends after the Tribute Phase, and whichever player has the most gold wins!

Player Count Differences

I’ve tried it at two, three, and four players. At three, it feels like it falls a bit into the take-that-y hole that a lot of games fall into, in that one player cannot win and can only determine which of the other two players wins (I had this problem with Apotheca, as well; three is just a tough number for a lot of games). At four it’s a bit more crowded, whereas at two you’re kind of balanced against each other. You’ll spend less time stealing from caves in a two-player game than you will at four, so I prefer it at two, but four isn’t bad, either. Three is just a game of careful balancing.

Strategy

There’s a lot of randomness in this game (just given how many times you roll the die / dice), but that allows for some strategy, but a fair bit of tactics as well.

  • Claim Villages and Cities near your cave, especially in the space between your cave and the edge of the board. Generally speaking, opponent dragons are loathe to go there since it’s so far from their cave. That distance usually means that another player will sneak in and help themselves while they’re out, so dragons will usually patrol relatively close to their caves.
  • If you’ve already made more than three gold, you might as well stay in the opponent dragon’s cave and get another roll in. Sure, it only has a like, 2/3 chance of paying off even, but there are also benefits to being in your cave and having the opponent’s dragon in his. For one, it means that if you cross the 50 threshold, nobody can bring you back down, as you’re currently in your cave and cannot be fought or robbed. The only way to bring you back down is the Thief Card, which might be too little, too late.
  • Save up for a big combo. The winning strategy as far as I can tell (since the game is pretty high player-interaction in terms of theft / stealing claims / burning Village + City tiles) is often to hoard a bunch of “good” cards and then chain them all together into a 15+-point turn. By the time other players realize you’ve crossed 50, it’s too late for them to bring you down.
  • Thief can be a useful card. If you see an opponent hoarding cards (or notice that they’re not getting rid of one card), steal it with Thief! If you’re even luckier, you can do what we called a “Panic Chain” in BANG! and steal a Thief from them, which can instantly be played to steal another card! It’s frustrating for them and profitable for you. Win-win, really.
  • Lay Waste is a good card. It allows you to instantly destroy Villages or Cities that you walk through and send opponent dragons back to their caves. It’s been part of a megaturn combo more often than not, in our games.
  • Your cards will be doing a lot of the heavy lifting in this game. There are many good cards (cards that prevent your cave getting robbed, cards that turn Villages into Cities, cards that burn / claim nearby tiles, cards that claim all nearby Villages + Cities, etc.), so it’s often not a bad idea to do the discard-and-draw if you want to stay in one spot for a while and see what the lay of the cards is. You’ll also want to know the breakdown of the cards, which is on the back of the tuckbox for the deck.
  • Try to fly under the radar. As with most games with a strong combat / take-that-y element (Munchkin, especially) it pays to be a bit behind the leader, so that when people gang up on the leader (and then gang up on the subsequent leader), you’re well-positioned to advance when they’re worn out. Similar stuff happens in Dragoon — you don’t want to get an early points lead because people will spend their subsequent turns taking you down. Rather, you want to start building up points gradually and collecting cards, and then assert yourself once it’s too late for them to stop you.
  • Big advantage to going last. Since you’re the last player to take actions before the Tribute Phase, you can steal Cities, burn Villages, whatever, and generally get away with it! It’s a good way to put a pounding on whatever player helped get you stuck in last place. Conversely, it’s very difficult to go first, since you don’t really want to make a lot of enemies in the round, so I often avoid going aggressive if I’m going first. I only pick on people who can’t fight back.
  • Don’t only get in a fight with one other player. I tell people this in Carcassonne as well, but in games like this where multiple people sort of share a space, if you fight too much with another player you’ve only succeeded in guaranteeing that neither of you will win. Try to make sure you’re spreading that hate around to everyone somewhat equally (or you’re just consistently going after the player in the lead, I suppose).

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • The component quality is unreal. It’d be fundamentally disingenuous for me to write up this review without talking about the pieces. The metal has a very satisfying weight to it for every piece, and it’s a very very impressive design. I wish there were an insert or something for keeping them in (also for display purposes), but the pieces are just unbelievable. Usually a game has a metal piece or two (or a coin) for a bit of a reward, but Dragoon really took it to the next level with their pieces. Absolutely incredible.
  • Neat art style. I like the angles on the dragons a lot. Just really neat.
  • Simple to learn, conceptually. I could see this being a solid gateway game to area control with still a bit of the dice-rolling goodness that gets people excited about Catan and other gateway games. It doesn’t take an hour to learn the rules, it’s got some complexity to it, and it’s got a lot of cool to it in terms of art / appeal.
  • Nice amount of variety to the gameplay. You can go after other dragons, fight dragons, or just tend to your villages and still stand a pretty good chance of winning. I would not say this game will appeal to players that don’t like direct player interaction, but there are a fair number of potential winning strategies.

Mehs

  • Text-heavy cards can increase the cognitive load of the game. There’ve been a few instances where the game tends to run long because players are having trouble getting through reading all their cards and understanding the impact of those effects. It’s not always a big deal, but it might be something you notice with your groups.
  • It occasionally feels like there are too many Thief cards. The cards aren’t bad, but 7 / 54 cards is kind of a lot when you’re trying to plan your hand, and being uncertain about how many cards you’ll end up with makes forming a strategy difficult, which can also make the game take a bit longer.
  • I generally flip things horizontally, but the Village / City Tiles are vertically inverted. This frustrates me because I get it wrong every game and I’m fairly particular about these sorts of things. Yes, these are the things I complain about sometimes in a review.
  • This is the kind of game where you can get aggressively ganged up on. I have found in a few games that I’ve lost 10 points in a round before to other players stealing gold / defeating me in combat, to say nothing of them claiming or burning my Population Tiles. This can be very frustrating if this isn’t the kind of game you generally like to play, so if you find this sort of thing off-putting, perhaps look elsewhere.

Cons

  • Very random. I don’t think I agree with some people who feel like the game is overwhelmingly random, but there are definitely a lot of random elements (random card draw, random dice rolling for Population Tile placement, random die roll for the Tribute Phase, random die roll for stealing from the Thief’s Treasure / other players), and all of them combined can be a bit frustrating for players (for instance, in the Tribute Phase, you have a 1/3 chance of getting nothing, or worse). It’s definitely bad if a player is consistently rolling 1s and another is consistently rolling 6s (especially in combat!), as that reminds me of Catan in a bad way. This feeling of randomness is furthered in my mind by the relative difference in strength between certain cards. If you draw Envoy, you get to claim a Population Tile for free, sure, but if you draw Benevolent Master, you get to upgrade a Village you control to a City. That seems … better, in a few ways? I wouldn’t say it’s as random as, say, Betrayal at House on the Hill (or Widow’s Walk), but if you have a low tolerance for random in board games, this might not be the best game for you to play. It’s very possible to go from a clear winner to a loss in one bad turn, if luck swings mostly against you, but if you go in knowing that you’ll probably have a better experience.
  • Hard to catch up if you’re really behind on points. It’s possible that you can swing it by consistently going last in rounds and using that to accelerate yourself during the Tribute Phase, but eventually other people are going to catch on and just start burning their Population Tiles for points or something. It would be interesting if some cards had more potent effects / certain things were harder to take or claim if you were in last place, but that seems very difficult to implement well. I wouldn’t say I experienced this a lot, but it seemed to come up every now and then in the games of Dragoon I played, so it was worth noting. The best you can do is try to team up with another player to take down the person in the lead, but you need an everyone v. the leader to make that work, otherwise you run the risk of someone else using that conflict to get ahead and win.

Overall: 6.25 / 10

in-progress

Overall, I think Dragoon is pretty fun! I’d be lying if I didn’t say that, in my opinion, the major selling point here is the incredible components (I mean, how cool are the pieces???), but I also think there’s a fun game here as well! I enjoy the thematic consistency throughout the game of combative greedy dragons vying to have the greatest stash, and I think it’s well-echoed while you play, even if the game can be unflinchingly random, at times. I’d love to see some of the random elements mitigated in the upcoming expansion (though I’m curious about the expansion either way), but I think regardless Dragoon is a neat concept and execution, especially if you’re looking for a game to get someone as a gift or as an entry point into modern gaming.

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