15 August 2015

Board Game Review: The Red Dragon Inn

I often talk about the heavy, thinky-thinky type games that I really enjoy playing. But, as I hope may be evident from some of the games I review on here, those aren't the ONLY types of games I like to play. Sometimes, it's a lot of fun to play a simple, light, fluffy type of game that's enjoyable because it's silly or funny. The Red Dragon Inn is one such game. Here are the numbers:
Strategy and Randomness are rated from 0 to 6. A 0 means the rated aspect plays no part in determining the game's outcome; and a 6 means that it is the only factor that determines the game's outcome. Complexity is also rated from 0 to 6; a 0 means that it's so simple a six-year-old can play it, a 3 means any adult should have no trouble playing, and a 6 means that you'll need to refer to the rulebook frequently. Humour can be rated as 'None,' meaning the game is not meant to be funny, or it may have one or more of the following: Derivative (meaning the humour is based on an outside source, such as a game based on a comedy film), Implicit (meaning that the game's components are funny, such as humourous card text), or Inherent (meaning that the actions the players take are funny). Attractiveness has nine possible ratings. Ideal: the game is beautiful and makes game play easier. Pretty: The design is beautiful and neither eases nor impedes game play. Nice: The design is beautiful but makes game play harder than necessary. Useful: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, but eases gameplay. Average: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, and neither eases nor impedes gameplay. Useless: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, but makes gameplay harder than it needs to be. Utilitarian: The design is ugly, but eases gameplay. Ugly: The design is ugly, and neither eases nor impedes gameplay. Worthless: The design is ugly, andmakes gameplay harder than it needs to be. Average Length of Game Play describes how long an average game will probably last, give or take.
Strategy: 2
Randomness: 4
Complexity: 2
Humour: Implicit and Inherent
Attractiveness: I'm torn between Average and Pretty...
Expected length of Game Play: Varies with number of players; usually about 15 minutes for two players, and add an extra 7 or 8 minutes for each additional player.

The core game contains the equipment needed for four players. There are four 'sequel' games (Red Dragon Inn 2 through 5), which can be played as standalone games for up to four players, or combined with one another. You can have a number of players equal to the number of base sets times four. You can also buy expansions, which are individual characters allowing you to add one player per expansion.

The premise of the game is this: each player takes on the role of an adventurer from a D&D style adventuring party. The group has just completed its latest dungeon crawl, and has returned to town to celebrate their victory and spend their loot at the Red Dragon Inn.

Each player chooses one of the available characters. The base set(s) plus any expansions you have determine which characters are available. The first base set contains Deirdre the Priestess, Fiona the Warrior, Gerki the Thief, and Zot the Wizard (with his familiar, Pooky the rabbit; who, by the way, can be played as his own character if you buy his Allies expansion). Zot the wizard is so far my favourite character.

Anyway, each character has his or her own unique character deck. This deck provides the actions and reactions that a player can take. About a third of the deck is cards that all characters have in common, but the rest are specific to that character, and represents that character's strengths and weaknesses. Fiona, for example, is good at dealing out damage and intimidating the other characters into not targeting her. Gerki is good at stealing gold from other players and defending his own. And so forth.

In addition to the character decks, there is also a drink deck. Each card in this deck represents a drink purchased from the bar, ranging from the lightweight (such as 'Light Ale,' worth 1 alcohol point) to the intense (like 'Red Dragon Ale,' worth 4 alcohol points) to the dangerous (like 'Orcish Rotgut,' which has no alcohol points, but does 2 damage) to the restorative (like 'Coffee,' which heals 2 drunkenness points, or 'Holy Water,' which heals 2 damage).

In front of each player is a play mat, which has a space for their character deck, a space for their discard pile, a space for their drink cards, and a fortitude/drunkenness track. At the beginning of the game, you place your drunkenness token at 0 and your Fortitude token at 20. Each character has one drink card on their play mat, and a hand of seven cards drawn from their own character deck. Each player also has 10 gold pieces.

The play mat also lists the steps to be taken on each player's turn.
  1. Discard and Draw: You may discard any cards you do not want. Then draw up to seven cards.
  2. Action: You may play a single action card from your hand. Depending on which character you're playing, these cards may range from attacking other players (doing them fortitude damage), stealing their gold, forcing someone to take an extra drink, skipping your own drink phase (step 4, below), and so forth. Certain actions are available to every character, such as starting a round of gambling or tipping the serving wench.
  3. Buy Drinks: Take the top card from the drink deck and place it on top of the stack of drink cards on any other player's play mat.
  4. Drink: Reveal the top card from your own stack of drink cards and suffer the listed effects.
As you progress, drinks will cause you to gain drunkenness points (you move your drunkenness token up 1 for each alcohol point you consume). Other players' actions (and, occasionally, some drinks) will also cause you to take fortitude damage, moving your fortitude token one space down for each point of damage you take. If ever your fortitude and drunkenness tokens meet, your character passes out, and you're out of the game. If ever you run out of gold, you're out of the game. The last player remaining is the winner.

That's pretty much it. There are a couple of minor complications, though:
  1. Event cards: Some cards in the drink deck don't represent drinks, but are events. One example is the 'Drinking Contest' card, which causes all players to draw a new drink card, suffer its effects, and the player who had the largest alcohol content on his card wins 1 gold from all other players. There are also drink cards that say 'with a chaser' (for example, 'Dark Ale with a Chaser'). This causes you to draw an additional drink card and suffer its effects along with the current card.
  2. 'Sometimes' and 'Anytime' cards: Some of the character cards are listed as 'Sometimes' cards, which can be played under certain circumstances, often on other player's turns, to affect, alter, or negate a game effect. For example, Zot the Wizard has a 'sometimes' card called 'No, Pooky, that's my friend!' It may be played when another character causes you fortitude damage. It causes the player who did you that damage to suffer 2 damage as well (the image on this card is great; it shows Zot trying to restrain Pooky the Rabbit, who has gone rabid with rage at his master being injured). 'Anytime' cards are played at any time, and do not count as an action. One example is Deirdre the Priestess's card 'My Goddess Heals Me,' which heals 2 fortitude damage.
  3. Gambling: Some action cards begin a round of gambling. When this happens, the game is suspended temporarily as a 'mini-game' takes place. Each player antes one gold into the pot, and whoever began the round of gambling is considered to be 'in the lead.' Then you go around the table and each player has an opportunity to play a gambling card to put themselves in the lead. Once you've made a complete circuit of the table with no players playing cards, whoever is in the lead wins the pot. There are 'sometimes' cards that can affect this, such as ones that allow a player to sit out of a round of gambling, or to leave midway through a round, or to end the round with the pot going to the house (these cards are usually called 'I guess the wench thought that was her tip'). But the most enjoyable ones are the 'cheating' cards which put their player in the lead  (my favourite of these is Zot's card 'Pooky, stop looking at other players' cards!' The illustration on this card is adorable). There's even an expansion that allows player to actually gamble instead of the simple 'take the lead' cards that are the total of gambling in the core set.
And that's it.

This game is a lot of fun. It's hysterical, as the wacky hijinks of the characters interact to produce unending hilarity. It's not the sort of game that should be taken seriously; the vast majority of the fun is in being silly as you play D&D characters partying hardy after their last adventure. Far more so than with most games, this one is not about who wins, but the funny things that happen in the course of the game.

The last thing I want to say: the attractiveness level of this game was really hard to determine. The artwork is beautiful, with cute but well-done illustrations on every card. The play mats are lovely, made to look as if they are on wooden tavern tables. Even the gold coins are pretty, with lavish illustrations on cardboard tokens. But that's the problem; it's all on cardboard. As lovely as those cardboard tokens are, I can't help but think that they would have looked better as plastic coins. Now, I understand that The Red Dragon Inn 5: The Character Trove was just a few months ago successfully funded on kickstarter, and one of the add-ons available for that was metal coins. That sounds amazing! But I don't know if those are available elsewhere. So I feel as if the artwork alone should merit the 'Attractiveness' category being rated at 'Pretty,' but the fact that it is just printed on cardboard should limit the game to 'Average.' So I leave that one undecided.

I really want to pick up a copy for myself some day. Until then, I'll have to rely on my local board game cafe to get my fix...

And with that, I bid you farewell for another week. Until next time,

Game on!

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