Board Game Review

Power Through Fear! (Dragoon)

This review is also scarily available on Zatu here!

Dragons. They’re pretty damn cool when you think about it; massive stature, near impenetrable hide, they breathe fire and they love nothing better than taking cash! In mythology, they’re noble beasts, revered as things to be in awe of and to be worshiped. Their reputation allows them to reek havoc throughout mystical lands and strike fear into the hearts of men without anyone so much as lifting a finger, knowing that were they to rise up against such a monster they would no doubt meet a crispy demise. Some adventurers make it their life’s work to slay one of these creatures, others live their life in the shadow of one’s lair, worrying about their inevitable death. Dragoon by Lay Waste Games is a game that lets you be that majestic beast. No longer are you on the quest to slay the dragon or defend your homes from it – now you’re the one being seen as noble with the power to ruin everyone’s homes and decimate populations… Although, chances are that there will be very little nobility and a lot of decimation!

Every player plays as a dragon trying to collect as much gold from the people foolish enough to move to their island! The game is played on a 6×6 grid and is populated each round with 5 new cities. In competition with the players is the thief, a human who gains gold under certain circumstances. The first dragon to gain 50 gold (or more) by the end of the round wins, or should the thief do so first, everyone loses.

A round begins with the population of the board. The dice are rolled 5 times to generate coordinates in which to place new human settlements. Should a settlement already exist there, the tile is flipped to a city. Whenever the coordinate generated cannot be placed on due to it being the cave of a dragon or a city, the thief gains 3 gold. Then players begin their turns, starting with the player with the least gold. First, they draw a card to their hand and then begin their actions, their turn must consist of 3 actions (dragons are very particular about how much they do in a day) and these actions can be moving, claiming or destroying settlements, discarding a card to draw a card, or spending 2 actions to draw a card. For reasons unknown, dragons can’t move diagonally (it’s an unwritten rule!) and therefore movement can seem limited, however careful planning will allow you to get the most out of your turn! At the end of a round when all players have taken their turns, all claimed settlements and cities pay tribute to their dragon overlords! But don’t be thinking that the dragon with the most claimed tiles is a guaranteed cash in! People are fickle (as you may well know) and decide how much tribute to pay out based on a dice roll. As you can expect, cities pay out far more than settlements, but a bad roll is still a bad roll and you may get nothing, or worse!

Of course, the thief’s treasure is easy money as he can’t hide it forever; he may be an expert thief but he’s rubbish at hide and seek! Once the thief gains any gold, a coordinate is generated by dice roll and the thief’s treasure is placed on the board. For an action, a dragon can raid the chest for easy gold but should they end their turn there, the thief will move the chest to new coordinates. If the chest is ever emptied it is removed form the board until the thief managed to cash in again.

Dragons are very territorial creatures and don’t like sharing tiles with other dragons. Should two dragons ever share one space, they enter combat and both roll a die; highest roll wins with attack winning a draw. The attacking winner then rolls a die to determine how much lunch money they have taken from their victim! The losing dragon retreats to their cave immediately! Should defence win, no cash is lost but the winner still takes the walk of shame to their dwelling. That’s not the only way to be sent home to lick your wounds; you can enter another dragon’s cave to steal from their treasure trove. However, end your turn their and you’ll be kicked out and have cash taken from you on the way!

The cards in players’ hands are incredibly useful as they don’t count as actions to be placed, nor is there a limit to the number that can be played in a turn. It always feels good to make a big play before you even touch your actions, but having no cards can be a hindrance too! The cards to play to aid oneself are white and the retaliate cards – which can be played during others’ turns – are red. These can allow players to claim large areas surrounding them or guarantee successes when fighting other dragons. Being able to chain effects of cards and couple them with your standard actions will result in fast cash with little risk!

How it Handles

Initially, the game plays slowly with the players lazily making progress towards close settlements to try to claim them, and this reflects in the first few turns’ scores produced. It took us until about turn 3 before there was a lot of action, and it heats up quickly (no pun intended). By this point we had started burning and decimating cities for quick cash over fear that our competitors would claim our devoted worshipers – if we couldn’t have them, no one could!

The interactions between players through combat, taking or obliterating opposing settlements, and fighting are quick to resolve but leave an effect on both players. Play a card and you’re protected, but may be hindered later on. Taking a settlement from a player who has already played guarantees it’s yours during tribute, but blowing it to smithereens means you’ll definitely annoy the owner and get cash. Win, win! Fighting however is less guaranteed to be a boon. Should the attacker win then their plans will work out beautifully and they’ll get some gold their turn, should they lose then they’ll have their tail between their legs on the walk of shame back to their humble abode. No benefit to the defence other than keeping their moneys and having that extra bit of honour behind them!

We found that the thief accumulates a lot, and I mean a lot, of gold over a short period of time as the game goes on. As soon as you’ve got 10 or more settlements on the board, the thief is going to start cashing in, and with three gold a time it can become a race to the treasure chest between dragons to stop the humans from winning (no one wants to lose a a human!). With that in mind, take your eye off the ball with the scores and you’ll miss out on golden opportunities to steal the lead! (Again, no pun.)

The game threw us massively when we cracked it open during our unboxing; a foam insert, a cloth game board and a bag-come-score tracker!? Innovation or insanity? Well, after playing the game and checking out the components utilisation within play it all sort of started to make sense. There was method in the madness. The components are beautifully constructed and solid, there was no mistaking who was who or what was where so confusion at a glance was minimal. On top of that, the game’s mechanics meant that the game ran at a standard pace; adding 5 settlements each turn didn’t drastically speed the game up, but not managing them sped the Thief’s loot gain up! It almost made it so you had to take out others’ settlements to manage this influx of cash (I mean, you could take your own out but what sort of lunatic would do that!?).

Regardless of Dragoon’s quirky insert and unique play mat, it’s a solid game. It plays quite quickly, is made brilliantly and leaves little to be desired in terms of what’s expected in an area control game where you’re also on the board. Your influence can be obliterated in an instant, but you’re never unable to progress. The game favours the weak, allowing them to make the first move and get to the new settlements first and that honestly demonstrates some balance; you’re not out till the game’s done! Players are able to take one another on and the game relies heavily on you messing up someone else’s day, with the consequence being the thief running away with the lead.

If you’re looking for a quirky game where you can upset your friends, Dragoon is the one for you. It’s fun, accessible and doesn’t enable people to dominate without consequence. So take flight, start a fire and take out some of those pesky humans. Nobody likes humans!