The tavern has served as the church of the blue-collar worker, an ignition for relationships, and the starting point of 90% of all D&D campaigns, but this time, it’s the setting of the game itself. The Dragon & Flagon takes a raucous bar and turns it into a battleground of thrown mugs and hurled chairs. Skulls are bashed, bones are broken, and war cries drown out the revelry. There’s a serious game here with some thoughtful mechanisms, yet it’s all dressed down in this whimsical fantasy bash that keeps things light.
First and foremost this is a programming game along the lines of the classic Robo Rally. You’re placing action cards in slots on your player mat that fire off in sequence. You can pick up pieces of furniture, slash with a blade, or swing from a chandelier. The environment is interactive as you can stand upon tables or have a rug pulled out from under you. Beyond the mechanical implications, the experience is tied together visually with wonderful 3D bits that do a great deal to heighten the experience and pull you into the bedlam.
The goal is to amass the most reputation by beating the liquor out of your adversaries. In essence, you’re earning victory points by accomplishing maneuvers you program. What’s really nifty is that you steal the reputation from your target as opposed to the bank. This lays out clear incentives to pile on the leader and beat down those who are performing at their peak.
Each character possesses a handful of common actions–move, slash, throw–along with several unique abilities. The druid can make the wooden tables come alive, the pirate can fire his pistol into your gut, and the mage can cast lightning from a familiar. If you can make it to the center of the room amid the carnage, you can grab the dragon flagon and take a swig, unlocking your special one-use-only ability. These are extremely powerful and game changing. You’ll light up the bar with cannon shots or unlock the ability to play any card from your hand instead of programming actions. It feels ridiculously good to let loose and tear it up.
The true genius behind this core engine is the way actions interact with time. A crucial track wraps around the board, allowing players to accurately note their tethered positions in the narrative of play. Each card you trigger will cost time and move you farther along the track. More powerful actions will use up more of that precious resource while short and snappy maneuvers allow more frequent interaction. This is so magnificent because it produces dramatic play while remaining intuitive and thematic.
The trade-off for managing the time cost of programmed action cards is bookkeeping. While The Dragon & Flagon feels satisfying and wonderful in its most intense moments, the action can feel fitful at times and disjointed. It’s ultimately worth the effort, though, because that balance of control and chaos is right on the money.
That juxtaposition of anarchy with discipline is why we love programming games and why this game delivers. You feel as though you’re in control, but the game likes to unwind and subversively alter your maneuvers so that you end up hitting the wrong target or stumbling into a trap. Those moments of unpredictability are outright hilarious and entertaining.
Because everything can go so wrong, it feels incredibly gratifying when you pull off a huge, planned combo and find the perfect target in your sights. It all comes together beautifully as you boast to raise your power and then launch off a bench to deliver a dropkick to the monk’s skull.
This is the type of game that tells stories; messy, alcohol-fueled bouts of cartoon violence. It continually delivers and the experience will leave you warm and fuzzy like you just downed a shot of whiskey.
Have you played The Dragon & Flagon? Ever started off a D&D campaign with a bar fight? Let us know in the comments!
In addition to Geek & Sundry, Charlie Theel writes for Miniature Market’s The Review Corner and co-hosts the gaming podcast Ding & Dent. You can find him on twitter @CharlieTheel
All images courtesy of Stronghold Games