Thursday, March 6, 2008

Card Game Review - The Red Dragon Inn

The final review of Slugfest Week is here, and it's the big one - The Red Dragon Inn. En Garde is an interesting (though shallow) sword fighting game. Kung Fu Fighting is like playing out a scene from Hong Kong Action Theater. But The Red Dragon Inn takes it to the HNL - Hole Nutha Level.

In En Garde you can beat up your friends if you make them lose their poise. In Kung Fu Fighting you have to whack your pals until they lose all their chi. But in The Red Dragon Inn, your goals are not nearly as destructive - you get your friends drunk and steal their money. Now that's good clean fun, and it's far more strategic than either Kung Fu Fighting or En Garde. It's like the final evolution of the ass-kicking mechanic, the culmination of the years of Slugfest research.

At The Red Dragon Inn, violence is really not your goal. You and your fellow players have just returned from a successful dungeon crawl, arms loaded with treasure and ready to celebrate. The Red Dragon Inn is a great place to strap on a drunk and gamble until dawn, and these four adventurers are more than up to the task.

Each player is a different character representing one of the four basic fantasy adventurer types - Fiona, the rather volatile fighter; Dierdre, the tasty elf priestess; Gerki, the halfling sneak; and Zot, the wizard with a cute but terrifying sidekick - Pooky the white rabbit. Each character has different abilities that allow him or her to stay in the game while booting opponents - Gerki can cheat at cards, Zot can send Pooky to attack his friends, Dierdre can get all self-righteous and turn down drinks, and it's really hard to hurt Fiona.

Where En Garde and Kung Fu Fighting had just the one statistic, The Red Dragon Inn give us three. The first and most obvious is fortitude, better known as life, health, hit points, stamina, endurance, or any other word that indicates how long you have until your heart stops beating. Then you've got alcohol content, and as this rises, it gets closer to your fortitude, and when your alcohol content exceeds your fortitude, you pass out and the bar wench gets someone to drag you to your room. The final stat, gold, is indicated with a handful of coins, and when you're broke, the wench kicks you out of the bar and you spend the night in the barn.

For the first time this week, we're looking at a game with a whole lot of strategy and forethought. It's easy to make Fiona drink, but you can beat her at gambling. Dierdre might be tough to damage, what with her goddess looking out for her, but it's not tough to get her drunk. Gerki will pour all his booze on the floor, but it's not too hard to sic Pooky on him. And Zot is quite balanced, which means that while he's not weak anywhere, he's not strong, either, and so he has to maintain defense against drinking, getting hurt and going broke.

The key to winning in The Red Dragon Inn is to exploit weaknesses and protect soft spots. Force Fiona to gamble, and you can steal all her gold, but make sure you keep some kind of defense from Zot's psychotic rabbit. Shore up your fortitude when you get the chance, but don't waste a good defense card to get out of drinking light beer. Timing is crucial - don't try to poison Dierdre when she's got lots of cards, or you could wind up drinking your own medicine. Instead, 'accidentally' stab Zot in the back right after he uses up all his cards gambling. And don't bother to try to get Fiona drunk if she's about out of money - break her bank and send her packing.

But wait! There's more! As if just being a really fun game was not enough, The Red Dragon Inn presents us with absolute hilarity. The card titles should almost always be read aloud, in character, for maximum amusement. A typical exchange might sound like this:

Gerki: Zot, have you seen my poison? I left it in a mug right here. (Except for the name, that's actually what it says on the card, and Zot is about to lose 3 fortitude.)
Zot: I don't think so! (That's also the title of the card, and it lets Zot ignore the damage.)

It gets better. My favorite's are for gambling and drinking, with great cards like 'Five of a kind! Does that mean I win?', 'Not now, I'm meditating,' and 'The wench thinks you should stop playing with your drinks.' The card titles add a whole layer of amusement to the game by really bringing the characters to life and getting everyone laughing and joking around the table as they try to get each other drunk and steal each others' money.

The first time I played The Red Dragon Inn, I kept thinking, 'this needs expansions. This needs more characters.' And lucky for me, there's an expansion coming, a complete second game with four new adventurers. Once that's out, you can play an eight-player free-for-all, or just swap out Gerki the Sneak for Dimli the Dwarf. Hell, you'll be able to play the new one without even owning the old one, but that won't be nearly as much fun as having both.

The Red Dragon Inn is an incredibly clever game. Subtlety abounds and strategy is paramount. Every character plays differently, so your strategy has to depend on the adventurer you're representing. And the best thing is, it uses the same basic idea as En Garde and Kung Fu Fighting, but substitutes drunken debauchery for violence. As a big fan of drunken debauchery, I heartily approve.


Easy game play
Subtlety and strategy
Great art
No killing (but tons of violence)
So damned much fun

Lots of backstabbing might turn off some players
A fair amount of luck (though in this case, that's not much of a con - it makes the game more fun)

If you're a hardcore Euro gamer that hates luck, don't get The Red Dragon Inn. But if you have a sense of humor and like fun games, go here and get a copy:


Hendal said...

Now that sounds like a great game, I am all about the drinking and gambling, sounds just to cool.

Great review, and this is going on my wish list for sure.

I am probably lucky I live in Costa Rica where it is so hard to get games or I would be buying a couple a week I am sure.

Are the cards good quality for lots of gaming?

Matt Drake said...

Yeah, the cards are good. They're just normal cards, as far as quality, but they'll stand up just fine.

Eric said...

The cards ARE good quality.

I've played this game 7 or 8 times and have had fun each time. I'm really looking forward to the second set. I understand the characterization in those decks is even more pronounced, in other words, even more fun.

Rychean said...

Great review, Matt. I like the theme for this week. I hope I get a chance to play this sometime.

bunjee said...

I also really want the expansion for this game, largely because my gaming group is usually 5 or more people so we can't really play with just the base game.

This could be a lot of fun to play at Gencon this August, I'll try and track you down earlier than 2am this time!

krullovax said...

This sounds like a game that would provide lots of fun...I like the fact that there is humor involved plus hanging in a place with drinking and gambling makes it a good party choice. Krullovax

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