Wednesday 18 February 2015

Review - Drakon (Third Edition)


Drakon (Third Edition)
Published by Fantasy Flight Games
Designed by Tom Jolly
For 2-6 players, aged 10 to adult

Drakon box

I don't understand part-baked bread. You know, the bread you buy in a sealed bag that you have to sling in the oven to finish off before you can eat it.

It doesn't make any sense.

If you want store-bought bread, why buy stuff that you have to faff about baking?

If you want to bake your own bread, then... you know... bake your own damned bread.

Part-baked bread is this weird sort of halfway house food. Home-baked bread for people who can't be arsed.

It's a shortcut. A bite-sized step into the world of baking for people who aren't really sure if they like bread enough to buy a breadmaker. An easily digestible chunk of urban living.

It's the Tweet of the food industry.

And it's bloody nice.

And that's true for many things that straddle the boundary between two worlds.

Take Drakon (the third edition) for example.

Drakon looks like a dungeon crawler, but it isn't. It looks like the players get to take on the role of might warriors, but they don't. And it looks like it has artwork from the 1980s, but it doesn't.

It's all terribly confusing.

What at first may look like a stereotypical adventure game where you dash into the dungeon, kill the monsters, grab the money, and then head to the tavern, is actually something more streamlined. More refined.

And darker.

Drakon Heroes
The "heroes."

One to six players start the game by selecting a character. These characters look like your stereotypical heroes: Butch barbarians, surly dwarves, mystic wizards, and... er... stabby knights. But these aren't heroes, they're just luckless adventurers who have been caught with their fingers in the cash register.

Unfortunately, that cash register is owned by a dragon: the Drakon of the title.

Drakon, is one of those fun-loving dragons who likes to play with her food, so rather than straight up eating everyone, she has decided to let them scurry like rats through her magical maze. The first character to beg, steal, or borrow, but mainly steal, 10 gold coins gets to go home. Everyone else gets invited to dinner at Drakon's pad.

I'm sure you can figure out what's on the menu.

Clue: it isn't part-baked bread.

Drakon coins
The root of all evil.

So, our "heroes" do not spend their time in the dungeon fighting orcs, rescuing damsels, and looting treasure chests. Instead, they spend the time screwing each other over. And they achieve this through one of the most elegant rule sets I have ever seen for a game.

On a turn, a player can do one of two things: add a tile to the existing maze (following certain limitations based on the direction of the arrows on tiles already in play), or move his or her character onto an adjacent tile (following the direction of the aforementioned arrows).

That's it.

The rules for the game fit on two sides of A5 paper, and you can explain them to anyone in less time than it takes to prepare some part-baked bread.

Of course, what really makes the game a blast is the special rules that work within that simple framework to create hilarious (and frustrating) situations. For a start, most of the rooms in the maze have special symbols. These range from a coin symbol that means a character gets to take a coin from the bank upon entering, to the deeply annoying magic harp, which forces characters in adjacent rooms to move towards it.

There are tiles that allow players to steal coins from other players, tiles that allow players to destroy other rooms, and tiles that allow players to activate the Drakon figure so that it stomps around the dungeon beating up everyone.

Drakon Maze
Characters can only move in directions marked by arrows.

The real joy comes from watching players create dungeons that benefit them while messing up the plans of everyone else at the table.

For example, as characters always have to follow the direction of one of the arrows on each map tile, it is possible for a player to create a closed loop of four or more coin-generating tiles. What follows is every other player at the table rapidly trying to break open that loop by blowing up tiles, sending in the dragon, floating tiles into new locations, or (ingeniously) making their own loops full of coin-stealing tiles.

Through clever positioning of tiles, players can rush around the dungeon, bypassing dangerous tiles to hit the coins they need to win. Nothing is more satisfying than a good shortcut that teleports you past a sequence of magic harps to land in the middle of a coin-rich area of the map. Nothing, except part-baked bread, I mean.

Finally, as an optional rule, it is possible for characters to get a one-shot special power. Each character has a different power, and if employed at exactly the right moment, it can make the difference between success and failure.

Drakon instructions
The rules couldn't be simpler.

It really is an incredibly simple game that offers a wealth of enjoyment from its streamlined rule set. It is hilarious to see players desperately clawing coins from each other, bickering and fighting as they do everything within their power to avoid becoming Drakon's dinner.

For that, I recommend Drakon highly; but there are two important provisos, which are actually the same.

1. This is not a dungeon-crawler.

You will not feel heroic playing it. You will feel like a complete sod. You will screw over your friends, again, and again, and again.

And then you'll do it again, just to make sure.

Every turn, every move, is fifty percent to aid you, and fifty percent to ruin the lives of every other player.

If you don't like that idea, then you won't like this game.

In other words, if you want to save the day, look elsewhere; because this is all about saving your own neck.

2. This is not a dungeon-crawler.

There are no dice, no magical weapons, no chests to loot, no monsters to fight. Nobody dies (until the end). You can't fight the dragon, you can't upgrade your skills, you can't gather experience points.

You can play a tile. Or you can move one space.

This is a tile-laying puzzle game, and it is surprisingly thinky.

But it's not a Euro game either.

There is lots of luck in the tiles you draw, and the coins you pull (which have secret values ranging from one to four). Good play will get you a long way, but it doesn't guarantee a win. There is too much interaction between players to perfectly map out your solution.

It's a little from column A, and a little from column B.

It is the part-baked bread of the gaming world.

And it is delicious.

She looks hungry.

So, what have we learned today?

Mainly, we have learned that I probably shouldn't write reviews when I'm hungry.

Oh yeah, and Fantasy Flight Games have recently announced the fourth edition print of Drakon with new artwork and miniatures. It's well worth checking out.

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