Interested in a game where instead of battling dragons you get to be the dragon? Look no further than Dragoon. Dragoon is an action strategy game by Lay Waste Games about dragons who have peacefully inhabited an island until they are threatened by human efforts to settle there. The dragons must work to destroy the lowly humans’ villages and cities and loot the gold left behind for themselves. The dragon that reaches 50 gold wins the game. My first experience playing Dragoon was with three other people (the game can accommodate 2-4 players) and ended up being the perfect illustration of its best qualities. At different points in the game, each player had a shot at winning because the game mechanics allowed everyone to easily level the playing field through cards, dice rolls and movement. By the end of the game, three of us were head to head only two spaces away from winning. But I won’t spoil how it ended just yet.
Dragoon is a beautifully designed game with a colorful cloth map. It comes with a travel bag to take the game on the go that doubles as a scorekeeper. The game pieces are made of four different kinds of metal: Gold, copper, silver and black nickel. Each player had fun naming their dragon corresponding to the metal: Goldie Hawn, Coppertone, Silver Fox and Nickelblack. Each dragon gets a cave to serve as their home base on the map (they can go back there for safety from other dragons and on the flip-side leave their empty cave vulnerable for thieves.) They also get 9 claiming totems which they can use to mark what villages and cities they have claimed, and a dragon skull to use on the scorekeeper mat.
The game goes in rounds that have three phases: Populate, Action and Tribute. In the Populate phase, players roll a red and black die for coordinates that correspond to the grid on the map. You place population tiles to indicate the humans’ humble settlements. The dragons’ goal is to destroy these tiles for immediate gold, or claim them to receive gold over several turns. You can also destroy or claim other dragons’ tiles to prevent them from getting more gold than you. In the Action phase, each dragon gets three actions–they must use all three actions. Moving one space costs an action. Claiming or destroying a population costs an action. You can roll to steal gold from a rival dragon’s cave (if you are standing in it.) You can also go into combat with other dragons when you land on the same space as them. The winning roll gets to steal 3 gold from the other and send them packing to their cave. The last phase in each round is the Tribute phase. This is when everyone rolls to see how much gold they get from their claimed villages and cities, sort of like collecting taxes. Beware of rolling poorly because you will get nothing.
Dragoon would be a fairly simple game if it weren’t for the cards that are randomly drawn. Every player starts off with three cards and from then on, draws one each turn. There is no limit to the amount of cards you play and they do not count towards your actions. Cards range from the offensive “Thief” (which steals cards from other players), “Menacing Roar” (which automatically claims every population tile surrounding you) and defensive cards like “Riot” (which prevents dragons from destroying or claiming one of your tiles). The “Lay Waste” card is the most powerful, allowing you to destroy any population tiles in your path. Some of the cards in Dragoon are unfairly powerful in comparison to other cards, so the deck could be a bit more balanced. Players that draw Lay Waste are pretty much guaranteed to stay in the lead, especially in a game with less people to fight back.
A fun mechanic in Dragoon is that the dragon who has the misfortune of being last gets to pick who goes first each round. This gives that player a chance to tip the scales every round. For instance, when Silver Fox was in the lead, he played “Menacing Roar” claiming every population tile surrounding him. Because he went first, Nickelblack was able to play his Lay Waste card and destroy those claimed tiles preventing Fox from getting the gold he could have gotten in the Tribute phase. This turn-picking strategy was used many times by the underdragon, Coppertone, to inch forward round by round.
The last component of this game is the Thief’s Treasure chest. The treasure chest gets filled with gold throughout the game when the Thief’s card is played. A player can steal gold from the Thief’s treasure by landing in the same space as the treasure chest and rolling up to 6. This action ended up being the best strategy for Coppertone who went from last place to winning.
The fun of Dragoon is that you can get hyper competitive and screw each other over one minute then collude against a leader the next minute. In my playthrough, the shifting allegiances combined with the random dice rolls kept the game tense and immersive: a true roller-coaster of emotion with several exciting moments for each player.
I highly recommend this game for teens or new strategy players that want to get into something complex but not too overwhelming. The game design is gorgeous and travel-friendly. While the run time of Dragoon is listed at 30-60 minutes, it ended up being 90 minutes for the four of us while still learning the mechanics. It really depends on how much everyone strategizes and works with each other.
Have you played Dragoon before and what were your experiences? Know any other games where you get to be a dragon? Let us know in the comments below.
Image Credits: Lena Olson