Dragons amaze me because of their power, size, beauty, and scaly deception. Often portrayed as viciously primal or deceptively intelligent beasts, defeating a dragon is the ultimate boss battle in many games. That moment when the dungeon master slyly pulls out a gargantuan dragon figurine that overwhelms the playmat is a moment that causes hearts to pound with excitement. Perhaps it says something about my real life alignment, but I have always wanted to be that source of excitement, power, fear, and wonder. Now, I can finally follow my dreams and embrace my inner dragon in Dragoon, an action strategy game by Lay Waste Games.
What is a dragon to do when its lands are being overrun by human scum? Well, take advantage of the situation and pillage of course! The objective of Dragoon is for players to feed on the dragon’s natural instinct to invade and hoard in order to collect more gold from villages and cities than the other dragons. The first dragon to reach 50 gold wins.
The game takes place in three phases: the population phase, action phase, and the tribute phase. During the population phase, towns and cities are distributed using an xy-coordinate system much like Tsuro of the Seas. These villages and cities are how your dragon will amass most of its treasure. Then, players take actions during the next phase where they can do any combination of playing cards, claiming or destroying a town or city, moving, stealing from another dragon’s pile, etc. Finally, during the tribute phase, players collect gold from the villages and towns they have claimed. This may sound like a simple game, but believe me, it is so much more complex than it sounds.
Overall, Dragoon successfully introduces clever mechanics to enhance strategy building while keeping the overall game very simple. This is impressive considering that few games have accomplished this marriage smoothly. One of these mechanics is beautifully simple, yet is a subtle strategic maneuver when put into play: the player in last place gets to choose who goes first during the action phase. Though this did not make much difference in a two player game, it could drastically affect the game of a larger group of players. I know what you’re thinking:
“But Heidi – you board game genius with the grace of a gazelle and the voice of a Siren – this is but a simple mechanic cleverly utilized by many mechanistically superior games such as Citadels! Though it has proven to be an adorable means to inflict conflict on unsuspecting and innocent gamers, surely you are not suggesting that this simple decision can challenge the balance of board game design?! You speak blasphemy and yet we still love your board game brilliance and your never ending wit!”
Ah, do not fret, dear reader – and thank you for acknowledging my existence – but please grant me an opportunity to explain myself. Backstabbing is a difficult mechanic to execute well in many games. The benefits of a “backstabby” game are the social interactions that it can manifest (and friendships it can ruin). However, oftentimes this leads to a player focusing on their own in-game decisions and not how other players will be interacting with each other (looking at you, Munchkin). More often than not, players become engrossed with their own in game decisions or another player’s interaction with the board. You see, Dragoon forces the player to consider player-player dynamics. This forces the player to not only consider their own tactics, but also how the other players at the table could backstab another dragon for your benefit, unbeknownst to them. So from the start of the round, players are already trying to figure out how everyone at the table will interact with each other. And that is a very good thing.
Dragoon also incorporates a bit of card drafting to make the game more unpredictable and to allow players another degree of strategy. In any land populated with dragons, there is going to be conflict. How you go about dealing with your feelings for another dragon is up to you. You can be passive aggressive and destroy the other dragons’ villages so they can’t collect their payment. Or you could be proactive and fight your opponent directly. These cards can grant you advantage in the battlefield by providing you a +2 bonus to your combat roll or prevent another dragon from destroying one of your beloved villages. These cards cost nothing to play but can drastically tilt the game toward one dragon’s favor. The deck also contains cards that allow you an additional movement, the ability to claim more villages, or upgrade your villages. Alternatively, if you enjoy destroying your opponents methodically, you can steal another dragon’s gold, skip an interaction with them entirely, or move the Thief’s Treasure around. Speaking of which…
There are multiple ways to collect gold in this game. The easiest ways are to claim or destroy populations. You can also gain gold by fighting your fellow dragon. (AFTER ALL, THAT PLATINUM DRAGON LOOKED AT YOU THE WRONG WAY PROBABLY OUT OF JEALOUSY SO NOW HE MUST DIE). You can also steal from other dragons’ caves or collect from the Thief’s Treasure. Now, here is yet another mechanic that is simplistic at first glance, but complex once put in play. The thief is a clever chap who manages to outsmart the dragons by stealing their gold. Somewhere on the board, the thief stores their treasure and if a dragon happens to come across this chest, many riches are to be had for said dragon. This treasure chest gains gold if a village is rolled during the population phase and lands on a spot that already contains a village. Also, the deck of cards contains Thief cards that can cause a player to lose gold to the thief. The Thief’s pile can accumulate quickly, and any player who claims the chest can make significant progress in the game, potentially even win the game! The chest can also collect gold when no tiles remain in the population phase. This mechanic is a genius tactic for speeding up the gameplay. Okay, I know what you’re thinking again:
“But Heidi! Though we are still amazed by your ever-evolving intellect and your clearly superior opinions, this is yet another questionable statement. Not all players want their games to end prematurely. And doesn’t this take away from the backstabbing mechanic since now all the players will be focused on collecting the Thief’s Treasure? You are clearly contradicting yourself, but we will not question it for we truly fear your power.”
Oh dear reader, I understand your statement but let me elaborate. Without this mechanic, the game can get lost in a rut. For example, there are many ways that I can take gold away from the platinum dragon (GUYS – HE KEEPS LOOKING AT ME WEIRD.). I could enter his cave and steal his gold. I could play a card that forces him to lose treasure. However, he can do those things to me too. It could easily become a never ending game of cat and mouse where the players take turns being the cat or the mouse. The beauty of this game is that there are many ways to catch up when you are behind or you could bring other players back with you, but this could have also been Dragoon’s downfall. By introducing the Thief mechanic, there is an ever looming threat that someone could potentially win if the Thief’s pot is big enough. Put it this way, the Thief’s Treasure is almost like the Golden Snitch in Quidditch. However, unlike the Snitch, the Thief’s Treasure is not game-breaking (that’s right, Dragoon is a much more balanced game than Quidditch). Yes, it can be an overflowing pot of gold, but it can also disappear. One bad move, and the Thief’s Treasure is taken off the board. Speaking of the board…
The artwork in this game can be summarized in one word: incredible. It has a playful style to it that exudes a promise of fun. Not only that, there is a bit of irony in the artwork being exceptionally adorable. In Dragoon, you are a big ol’ meanie. You, the dragon, are pillaging villages and probably killing people. But who cares?! Look at how cute that tree is! I squealed as soon as I laid eyes on that box. When I finally came to and managed to lift the cover, I picked up the bags containing my metal pieces and gasped. This ain’t no weak flimsy pieces. These pieces are honest to goodness heavy, metal player pieces. Holding one is very satisfying.
Next, I opened up the fabric board which, I’ll admit, I was initially very critical of. It can be advantageous in that it is easier to carry around, but I couldn’t imagine a flimsy piece of fabric being able to contain a game with many components. But I was wrong. I love that this board is fabric. Not only does the fabric texturize the artwork printed on this mat, but it also laid out beautifully without affecting the gameplay at all. We could play this game on our uneven dining table -which is covered in who knows what- and not worry about pieces sliding. AND GUYS. THE METAL PIECES HOLD DOWN THE BOARD GAME. Seriously. No joke. All of my concerns went out the window as we played the game.
Now, I do have a criticism on some of the components. Not everything is color blind-friendly, and this is an issue that surprisingly doesn’t receive much attention in the board gaming industry. My husband is colorblind, and he was having issues differentiating the rose gold and granite die. This is a small detail and can be easily fixed by replacing the die provided in the box with regular black and white die.
In summary, Dragoon is a fantastic game that I highly recommend. Though Dragoon is enjoyable as a 2-player game, it is most fun with more players. Please check Lay Waste’s website and follow them on Twitter @playdragoon. Keep an eye out for their next Kickstarter or find them at the next convention.
This game will be available to play at GeeklyCon 2017! Tweet @PandaBumHah if you are interested in playing.