Saturday, 21 April 2012

Review - Dragon Quest

As I recently acquired a copy of Dungeons and Dragons: The Fantasy Adventure Board Game, I thought it was a good opportunity to add some of my other D&D branded products to the vault. First up, we have Dragon Quest. This review first appeared on www.boardgamegeek.com in February 2012.



Dragon Quest
Published by TSR
Designed by William W Connors, Walter E Johnston, David Wise
2-6 players, ages 10 to adult

First things first, Dragon Quest is not Dragon Strike. Both products were released by TSR in the 1990s, but Dragon Strike came with four maps to play on, lots of groovy plastic miniatures, and the infamous VHS video filmed in "HyperReality." Dragon Quest came out a year earlier, and features none of the above. I'm sure a lot of people know that already, but some people do get the two confused, so I thought I would get that out of the way.

The question is, if Dragon Quest isn't Dragon Strike (or even Dungeon Quest), what is it?

Dragon Quest is a product (note, I'm not calling it a game, for reasons I will get into) that was designed very much with the intention of getting people to start playing Dungeons and Dragons roleplaying games (it even said right on the box "The introduction to adventure games," so they weren't even trying to hide it). It is long out of print.

Quick note: I managed to pick up an unpunched, unplayed copy on ebay for £10 and if you are interested in getting a copy yourself you shouldn't have too much trouble. The set I acquired was the "special edition" including six metal Ral Partha figures (still sealed!), but I am not sure if there was any other version, so the "special edition" tag probably isn't something to get excited about.

As my copy is complete and unused, I am able to give a good indication of the quality of the components, so I'll start there.

The first thing of note is the glorious game board. I am not kidding when I say this is a really fantastic thing. It is large (8-fold) and is similar in design to the Heroquest board (which came out earlier). It shows a fortress or castle, divided up into different rooms of varying size. The rooms are slightly different shades, but are otherwise unadorned. Very crisp, very easy to see at a glance. By comparison, the Dragon Strike boards are incredibly busy with lots of little artistic flourishes that get in the way of the game and what the players think they can do and where they can stand. There are no doors printed on the Dragon Quest board, as there are standees for this, so all you get are the walls breaking up the castle into rooms, giving a very versatile and incredibly simple board to use. If you can pick up this game cheap, you may want to consider it just for that board.

Dragon Quest board
The Dragon Quest board - simple, stunning, useful.


The game also ships with six plastic figures. I love these little guys. They are not up to modern standards (the dwarf has no face - just a sort of lump), but I think they have loads of character. There is a rogue (thief), fighter (knight), fighter (two hand weapons), dwarf (they used to be a class, you know), wizard (magic-user), and a cleric (could also be a knight). The cleric is my favourite - he has a huge studded mace that he is leaning on in a kind of "pray before you slay" type pose. Wonderful characters. However, they may look familiar to some people, as I believe they also appeared in some other products (much like that set of blue heroes from Dragon Strike that also turned up in the introduction D&D boxed sets).

As already mentioned, the possibly-not-so-limited edition box also has six metal Ral Partha miniatures. Bizarrely, these are almost identical sculpts to the plastic models. The only one that is really different is the rogue, who is (gasp) holding his knife at a different angle. My miniatures are sealed, and I intend to keep them that way, even though I am tempted to crack the seal and paint them... Worth noting, I don't think these miniatures are particularly valuable or collectable. You can find loads of them about.


Dragon Quest Paladin and other heroes
These guys means business.



The last thing to note about the miniatures is they don't really represent the pre-generated heroes that come with this game. For a start, there are nine pre-generated heroes and only six miniatures. And one of the heroes is a halfling, so there isn't a plastic model that even closely approximates height and build. However each model does look almost like at least one of the pictures of the pre-generated heroes (and pre-generated is all you can get from Dragon Quest, as there are no rules for generating your own), and there are also illustrated cardboard standees for all of the heroes and these standees DO accurately portray the characters and can be used instead of the minis if it worries you that much.

Standees? Oh yes.

Unlike Dragon Strike, Dragon Quest does not have figures for the monsters. Instead, the game includes four sheets of thin cardboard standees that need to be (carefully) punched out and folded to stand up. They are very thin, almost rip when you punch them out, and would crush horribly if you dropped something on them. However, they are nicely illustrated and perfectly functional. Best of all, because standees are cheap, there are loads of different monsters provided (50 types in total, with duplicates of some types) including a range of dragons that wouldn't have been possible with miniatures.

Dragon Quest monsters
Some of the bad guys.


There are also standees for doors, which can be placed anywhere on the map to create a huge variety of different mazes for your heroes to explore.

I actually quite like the standees. There is something quaint and tactile about them that I enjoy. They are also useful for cheap-ass folk who like D&D but don't like the price point for miniatures. And that really sums up this whole "game" - the standees feel like they are there for use in subsequent D&D games you will play, and not really for this game at all.

Dragon Quest also comes with a lot of card decks. These cover all the basic stuff - monsters, items, treasures, traps. Strangely, they have full illustrations on one side and game text on the reverse. This means that during play, you have to draw from the bottom of the deck, as you can tell what the top thing in any deck is from the picture.

Dragon Quest wizard character card
I think he's a wizard.

The cards are wonderfully illustrated with that good old fashioned D&D art. You know the stuff, where the heroes aren't all wearing shoulder pads that make them look like Space Marines. This artwork (and the artwork which appears in full colour in the adventure and rule book) is all recycled from other sources, but it is still a joy to look through and is another good reason to invest in a copy of this game.

Dragon Quest adventure book
The adventure book, which contains very little adventure.

Dragon Quest rule book
The rule book, which contains very little rules.


I look at the cover of the box and the cover of the adventure book (which doubles, along with the rule book cover, as a dungeon master screen) and I really feel like I want to play this game - I want to go on one of the adventures shown. This isn't a bland, sterile world. This is a world of character and inventiveness. It's just a shame the "game" in the box really doesn't live up to expectations you might have.

Okay, I am spending a lot of time talking about the components, while avoiding talking about the gameplay. Why? Because there isn't really any gameplay to talking about.

Actually, that's not really fair. There is a game here. It's the Dungeons and Dragons roleplaying game, just with a few minor adjustments to streamline the system to fit in a box, and with a few decks of cards thrown in. The adventure book only contains three adventures. They are short, simple, and clearly designed just to give you a taste of what real roleplaying is all about. There is very little game out of the box, and everything is designed to push you towards the "real thing."

I have already said this product is a shameless attempt to get new players for D&D, and as a result this game just encourages you to roleplay everything rather than having the kind of rules a boardgamer would expect. The rules basically fit on six pages, most of which are for combat (roll your fighting number adjusted by your opponent's armour class to hit); the rest of the rules aren't really rules at all.

For example, in the first phase of the game, the Dungeon Master rolls for wandering monsters. According to the rules, "It is not necessary to roll for wandering monsters every turn. If the heroes are getting weak... it is a good idea to skip the wandering monster check." This is the kind of thing a boardgamer will hate - if I can just decide whether or not to check for monsters, why make a roll at all? Why not just decide a monster turns up whenever I feel like it?

Later in the rules, we are advised to ignore dice rolls we don't like and to "pretend that the result that you want has come up." Utter nonsense.

The rules also state, "when there are no monsters to fight, the heroes are free to do whatever they like." The rules don't say how they should do this - the rules don't even explain how you move around the board. They don't tell you if you can move diagonally. They don't explain line of sight. They don't even tell you how to open doors. It is quite telling that over two pages are dedicated to explaining what elves, dwarfs and humans are, but the full instructions for what a hero can do while exploring a room fills just one paragraph.

As you should be able to tell by now, these are not the rules for a board game, they are the rules for a roleplaying game. They could have done away with that glorious board entirely and just asked players to imagine the scenes. The problem is, this makes the product too much of a roleplaying experience for board gamers; but because they have streamlined the rules for mass consumption, I doubt the experience would be strong enough for real roleplayers to enjoy. So yes - this is exactly what it says on the box, a stepping stone to bridge the gap between board game and roleplaying game that doesn't satisfy either way. I should imagine it was not that successful at the time, and years later nothing much has changed. If anything, it is worse now, because D&D has changed, so this game is "introducing" you to something that isn't supported anymore (officially, of course).

So, it's very difficult to rate Dragon Quest, especially so many years after its release. It's a product of its time, designed with a very specific purpose. The best I can do is say why you might want to pick up a copy.

I suppose that people looking for a very light roleplaying experience with familiar trappings (board, cards, etc.) might enjoy this a couple of times. But as there are no real rules for generating your own dungeons (basically, it advises you to buy D&D modules), your experience is going to be very limited. So, no - I can't really even recommend it for that.

If you play Heroquest, you might want a copy of that awesome board so you can create new Heroquest layouts with it. You will also get six (possibly 12) new hero models if you get bored of your trusty barbarian.

If you like attractive artwork, you might want a set for all the pretty pictures on the cards and in the books.

If you collect vintage board games, or iterations of TSR releases, then you will probably want this. It's a piece of nostalgia.

Possibly its greatest asset is its ability to work as a sandbox. As there are no real rules, you get a lot of cool components to do whatever you want with. I intend to use the combat and spell system from Dragon Quest with the rest of the rules to Dragon Strike (which are very much "boardgamey") to create something awesome.

With this box of treats, the only limit is your imagination. And for a roleplaying game, I guess that's the point.

3 comments:

  1. I recognize those minis. They were the same ones in the New Dungeon, only ND had them in purple. I never played Dragon Quest, but I wish I had.

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  2. Thaks for the review man. Just got the rule book for 4 US to discover the game has a bunch of other features, like cards. Thinking if im gonna invest on printing them to play with friends.

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    Replies
    1. You're welcome. Thanks for reading.

      There's a full component list at http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/1543/dragon-quest if it's any help to you.

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