So I saw this game for the first time at GenCon as i was just walking by.  I couldn’t really get close to the booth. There were a lot of people hanging around and plus I had already blown my budget for games, but I was immediately taken with it.  You see, when you first get a glimpse of Dragoon, you can’t help but notice the production quality of the game.  The game pieces, you see, are all metal.  They are heavy and they are awesome.

The board is a full color cloth roll out mat.

The scoreboard is a cloth bag that you can use to tote the whole game around in if you want.

Did I mention the game looks incredible? Anyway the crowd was huge and I couldn’t get close enough to try it out.  But now I have.

So let’s see what it’s like:

The first thing you do when you’re setting up the game is to roll out the playmat and pass out everyone’s Dragons and claiming tokens.  Once everyone is done oooohing and aaaahing, you shuffle the cards and everyone gets 3 cards.  Place everyone’s caves (with the Dragons on them) on the board – there’s a chart to tell you where.  Everyone’s Dragon Skull Scorekeeper goes on the scoreboard at zero (also place the Human Skull at zero to keep track of the Thief’s gold). Now you’re ready to start Claiming towns, fighting other Dragons and demanding Tribute.

Each round of Dragoon takes place in 3 phases:  Populate, Action and Tribute.

Populate:  During the Populate phase new town or city tiles will appear on the board.

Roll the 2 dice and use the grid on the side and bottom of the board to determine where to place the new town. There is a Red die that corresponds to the red grid coordinate and a Black die that corresponds to the black grid coordinate.  Where they intersect, that’s where the new town goes.  If there is already a town there, you flip it over and it becomes a city.  You roll the dice to populate a number of times that is equal to the number of players plus 1.  So if there are 4 players you populate 5 times.

Action:  This phase has an interesting catchup mechanism built in. At the beginning of the Action Phase the player who is currently in last place gets to determine who goes first this round (then players go in clockwise order).

You start you turn by drawing a card (no maximum hand size).  On your turn you get 3 Actions and your choices sound like a lot, but they are pretty straightforward:

Playing a card is always free (as many as you want).  White cards on your turn. Orange cards when they say you can.

For 1 action you can do any of the following:  Move one space, Claim a population tile your Dragon is currently on, Destroy a population tile you are currently on, try to steal from another Dragon’s cave (by standing on their cave and rolling one die), try to steal the Thief’s treasure (by standing on the same tile as the treasure chest and rolling one die).  The Thief appears periodically – whenever the Thief gains gold. This happens when you run out of tiles or someone plays a Thief card.  When he’s out of gold, he goes away until needed again.

You can also trade in one of your cards (1 action) or draw another  from the deck (2 Actions).

See, sounds like a lot, but after the first or second round, you’re not even looking at the cheat sheet anymore.

You MUST use all 3 actions on your turn.

Combat: If you ever occupy the same tile as another Dragon, you must fight each other.  Roll a die, highest roll wins, ties go to the Attacker.  The winner gets 3 gold from the loser and the loser gets sent back to their cave.

Tribute: Once everyone has finished their actions, you move on to the Tribute phase.  Basically your Dragon is demanding Tribute from the Villages and Cities that you claimed and did not destroy.  “I spared you – so now give me gold!”  Roll one die and then get gold based on the roll.  1’s are bad, 2’s nothing. 3,4 or 5 get some gold. 6 get a lot of gold.  If you are standing on one of the population tiles that you claimed, you automatically get the 3,4,5 gold.

That’s how each round goes. You repeat this until at the end of a round someone has 50 gold.

Simple right?  But there’s so much more…

Strategy and Backstabbing:

See, Dragoon really hits its stride when the backstabbing begins.  At its heart it is a Take That game, or at least that’s how we played it.  Sure, you are trying to collect gold and destroy Villages, but really you are trying to screw your opponents over so that they don’t reach 50 gold before you.  There are numerous ways to do this.  You can fight them.  You can destroy the Village/City they have claimed.  You can immediately claim a Village/City that they just got through claiming.  Or you can use one of your many cards to make their life miserable.

You only get 3 actions per turn so you have to use them wisely. You don’t want to leave yourself wide open to someone completely undoing everything you just worked hard to do. But, truth be told, this will happen a lot.  There were many times that I didn’t pay enough attention and someone stole the tile right out from under me.  Luckily you can play cards for free (even multiple per turn) so you can mitigate your opponents options somewhat.

There is also a fair bit of randomness and luck to the game.  After all, the dice control not only where the next tiles will show up, but also how much gold you will get in the Tribute phase.  Also who wins combats.  Also how much gold from Dragon’s caves and the Thief’s Treasure.  So….a lot of randomness and luck.  But that doesn’t make it less fun.  There is still plenty of room for strategy.  It just won’t be long drawn out plans, more of a reaction to what just happened.

The catchup mechanism is also pretty great because it keeps one player with incredible luck from running away with the game.  In fact it is often a good strategy to make the player in the lead go first so that everyone else can mess up their plans.

So, what do we think?:

When I first saw this game I was intrigued, but now I can say that I love it.  The artwork is retro stylzed wonderfulness and the game pieces are out of this world.

Even the non-metal pieces offered as a cheaper option look great.  It also has the appeal of coming in a very compact box (or you can use the scorebag), which is good for transporting it to all of your friends’ houses, so that you can learn how to hate each other. Apparently Dragons don’t like it when other Dragons try to take their gold.

Dragoon has just the right amount of strategy mixed with plenty of backstabbing Dragon action.  If you are not a fan of Take That type games, then maybe don’t come to my game night, cause we love them, and we are probably going to be playing Dragoon.

Ninja Approved!!

Lay Waste Games sent us a copy of Dragoon in exchange for an honest review, which is exactly what we provided.