(2016 – Stronghold Games)
Since 2011’s release of The Ares Project, the Engelsteins have made board game designing a family affair, involving father Geoff, along with his two children, Brian and Sydney. They’re best known for their Space Cadets franchise (Space Cadets and Space Cadets: Dice Duel), and like many of their designs thus far, there’s a keen focus on balancing strategy in the midst of chaos. Their newest release, The Dragon & Flagon is no exception. Using a condensed version of the programming-type mechanic seen in such games as Robo Rally and Colt Express, mixed with special character abilities and a clever take on turn order, the Dragon & Flagon makes for an interesting entry into the Engelstein line.
Built around the setting of a good ol’ fashioned bar brawl, The Dragon & Flagon pits players against one another in an all-out, fisticuffs, chair throwing, mug-to-the-head bashing melee, where players will seek to earn the reputation of others as the best town brawler of them all. The fight continues from round to round as players will swing across chandeliers, pull rugs out from underneath opponents, and perform unique character-based tricks of their own, until the town guards are summoned to break up the altercation. As players perform these attacks on other players, they’ll steal reputation (victory points) from the impacted opponents, and the player with the highest reputation by the time the guards enter the tavern is declared the winner.
– The Dragon & Flagon game board (expansion Pirate Brawl board on the reverse side)
– Player boards
– Rug tiles
– Character standees
– Character Time tokens
– Character cards (one set for each character)
– Status tokens (one set for each character)
– Dragon Flagon marker
– Plate of Cookies marker (alternate to the Dragon Flagon)
– Barrel, Chair, and Mug components
– End-Game tokens
– Reputation tokens
– Time Marker
– Treasure Chest markers (expansion variant)
During the game, players will either control 1 or 2 characters depending on the total number of players in the game. In a game consisting of 2 – 4 players, each player will control 2 characters. In a game consisting of 5 – 8 players, each player will control 1 character. At the beginning of the game, each player chooses a character (or characters) and receives that character’s Player board, Standee, Time token, Status tokens, the corresponding deck of Character cards, and starts with 20 Reputation tokens. Players will place the character’s Status tokens and Victory Point tokens on the designated spaces of their player board.
Each Character has a unique Character card deck, and each deck contains a Dragon card. At the beginning of the game, this card is removed from the deck and placed near the player board for later use. The remaining cards in the character deck are kept in hand and do not need to be shuffled, as all the cards in the deck are available to the player at any time.
The main game board represents the inner setting of the Dragon & Flagon Tavern. Players will adorn the tavern with the various Rug tiles, Table tiles, Barrels, Chairs, and Mugs as they see fit, with the Dragon Flagon marker set at the center space of the board. The rulebook includes an example for setup of the inner tavern, and I’ll use that layout for the review. There are 8 outer spaces in the tavern, designated by a yellow border. These are the starting spaces for the characters. At the beginning of the game, all Character Time tokens are shuffled face-down and revealed one at a time. When a character is revealed, that player can choose to place it’s Standee on one of the available starting spaces.
After all characters have been placed in the tavern, the Character Time tokens are placed on the 1st space of the Time track that borders the outer area of the game board. The Time Marker is also placed on this space. When a character’s Time token is on the same space as the Time Marker, that character is considered active for the turn and will resolve an action.
The game ends when the town guards show up to break up the brawl. The player that’s gained the most reputation by this point is determined the winner of the fight. In order to determined when the town guards show up, there’s a set of four End-Game tokens, with only one of the four picturing the town guards. At the beginning of the game, these tokens are shuffled together and randomly placed face-down on spaces 21, 22, 23, and 24 of the Time track. Once the Time Marker is on one of these spaces (and after characters there have taken their action), the End-Game token there is revealed. If it shows the town guards, the game ends immediately and overall reputation is determined, otherwise the brawl continues. The game board does contain spaces 27-30 if players wish to play an extended variant of the game, in which they’ll place the four End-Game tokens there. After setup is complete, the play area should look something like this:
As mentioned before, a character is considered active only if its Character Time token is on the same space of the track as the Time Marker. When the Time Marker reaches a space, any characters located there are activated. If there are multiple characters on a space, the Character Time tokens are shuffled face down, the 1st one is revealed, and that character will resolve his action. Then the next one is revealed, and so on. When active, the controlling player (or players if there’s more than one character on the same space) will resolve three steps; Plan Actions, Resolve an Action, and Advance the Time Marker. Let’s take a look at how each of these steps work:
I. Planning Actions:
Each character comes with a corresponding deck of cards, which contain various actions. Some of these actions are found in all character decks, while others are unique to the particular character (including the Dragon card). Each player board contains three areas at the bottom of the board which are used to house the upcoming actions the character will perform. When a character is considered active, on his turn he’ll resolve the action card located in space 1 (leftmost). Any cards remaining will then slide left into their new positions, and during the character’s next active turn, he’ll resolve the leftmost action card again.
When characters are active, the first thing players will do is to make sure there are action cards in spaces 1 and 2 of their player board. If there is only an action card in space 1, he’ll need to add another to space 2. If there are no cards in either space, he’ll need to add two action cards to his board. For instance, taking a look at the player board above, you can see that there is an action card missing from space 2, therefore as the first step of this character’s turn, the player will need to choose an action card from his hand and place it here. The 3rd action card space is only used if the player has been “dazed”, a status that forces him to immediately place more action cards than normal, thus making it more difficult for him to plan and adjust his strategy on the fly.
II. Resolving Actions:
After all players with active characters have simultaneously placed their action cards (if needed), actions are resolved. If there is more than one active character, all of the Character Time tokens are shuffled face-down to determine the order in which characters will resolve their actions. When a Character Time token is revealed, that player will resolve his leftmost action card before the next Character Time token is revealed. Each action card will contain various types of information, so to better understand the range of actions that can be performed, let’s take a look at some of the action cards and what they can do. It’s important to note that after a character has resolved the action, the player will be able to face the character standee in any direction before ending his turn.
There are some actions that will allow the character to maneuver around the tavern. One of these is Move. Every action card has a number of time points located in the top-right corner of the card that represents the amount of spaces the player will need to advance this character’s Time token on the time track once the action is resolved. In the case of Move, the Time token would need to be advanced either 1 or 2 spaces. This is because when the player performs this action, he can choose to either stay on his current space (only costing him 1 time point), or can choose to move to a different space (costing him 2 time points). The spaces in which he can move to are listed near the center of the card, and you’ll notice that the player will have to adhere to the character’s current directional facing when moving. Therefore, if the player was foolish enough to leave his character faced directly towards a wall of the tavern, he would not be able to move forward. Even though his action is cancelled, he’d still be able to face his character in a different direction before ending his turn.
When moving, players can not move into a space containing another character, though they can move onto a rug or table, as well as any space containing a barrel, chair, or mug. When a player enters a space with a table, he’ll simply place the character on top of the table. There are some actions which require the character to be on top of a table when resolving.
Pick Up/Drop (All)
Chairs, mugs, and the Dragon Flagon can all be picked up when resolving this action, and cost 1 time point. The only requirement is that the character must be in the same space as the item, or in the adjacent space in which the character is facing in order to pick it up. Barrels and tables can not be picked up, though they can be pushed using the “Push Barrel” or “Push Table” actions. Once an item has been picked up, it is added to the player’s board and will remain with the character unless it is thrown (many actions will allow the player to throw an object) or is dropped. A character may never hold more than one item at a time.
The Dragon Flagon (seen below) is unique in that when it is picked up, the player will add that character’s Dragon to their hand. The Dragon card can then be added to the player board as a planned action in the future. The Dragon Flagon also works as a mug, so any action that requires a mug, the flagon will meet this requirement as well. If the player loses reputation, falls, or is dazed, he loses the Dragon Flagon and it is returned back to it center space on the board.
Also, once the Dragon card is resolved, it is not returned to the players hand, instead being placed beside the player board, as before. Once the character retrieves the Dragon Flagon again, he can add the Dragon card back to his hand. As a side note, according to the rulebook, the designers used a small plate of cookies as the placeholder Dragon Flagon marker when playtesting. They enjoyed it so much that they’ve included a Plate of Cookies marker for anyone wishing to use it instead of the Dragon Flagon. For all intents and purposes, it works exactly the same way.
Battle Frenzy (Thras)
Each character in the game has a unique Dragon card which grants it a special ability when resolved. For instance, Thras’ dragon card gives her the special action “Battle Frenzy”. While Battle Frenzy is active, it gives Thras the ability to receive 2 reputation from all players (referenced by the icon left-center) that are located within the spaces listed on the grid (right-center), in relation to Thras when she ends her turn. Resolving this action only cost her 1 time point. Some actions last for a duration of time, and this number (if any) is listed on the top left corner of the card. In this case, Battle Frenzy will last for 7 time points.
In order to mark this, each character comes with a set of Status tokens that correspond to their actions that have a duration period. When resolving Battle Frenzy, the player controlling Thras will place the corresponding token 7 spaces away on the Time track (seen below). Once the Time Marker reaches this space, the effect will end. Also, if the character were to suffer a fall or be subject to “daze”, the effect would immediately end.
Divine Hurl (Sir Goodheart)
Some action cards have a purple-colored heading. This means that this action can only be performed if the character is standing. Some effects will cause the character to fall. When this happens, the character is placed on its side. On it’s next active turn, the character will stand back up, but if he’s resolving an action with a purple heading, that action is cancelled. Taking a look at Sir Goodheart’s Divine Hurl action, we can see that he can only perform this when standing up. The red text at the bottom of the card also list a number of requirements in order to perform the action. In this case, in order to perform a Divine Hurl, Sir Goodheart must have a chair or mug in hand.
Objects can always be thrown straight ahead or diagonally from the character in a direct line (each throw action card contains a grid as reference for this). A mug can always be thrown any number of spaces (this includes the Dragon Flagon), while a chair can be thrown 1-3 spaces. Each action card describes the effects of being hit by the specific throw attack. In the case of throwing a mug, a character hit with the Divine Hurl of a mug will lose 3 reputation to Sir Goodheart, is dazed for 1 point, and knocked back a space.
When a character is dazed, he’ll immediately add a number of action cards to his player board equal to the daze number listed on the attack. The player board won’t hold more than 3 action cards at a time, so it’s possible the player won’t have to take the full daze amount. This however will keep the player from being able to adjust his strategy when he would normally plan his actions at the beginning of his turn. Also, duration effects will end when that character is dazed. When a player is knocked back, they will move one space away from the direction they were hit. If another character is located at that space, that character is knocked back as well. If a character is knocked into or from a table space, that character will also fall down.
Taking a look back at the Divine Hurl action, you can see that when the player throws a chair, the character hit will lose 4 reputation to Sir Goodheart, is dazed for 1 point, will fall down, and is also knocked back. Once an object has been thrown, whether it hits anyone or not, it is removed from the game. The exception is the Dragon Flagon, which after thrown is returned to the center space of the tavern.
Yank Rug (All)
There are two Rugs in the tavern. A character can resolve the Yank Rug action as long as he is not on the rug itself, but is in an adjacent space facing toward the rug. All characters that are either on the rug, or on a table that’s touching the rug will lose 2 reputation to the active character (for their embarrassment), are dazed for one point, and will fall down. Using the Yank Rug action will cause the character 2 time points. You’ll also notice that since the heading of the action card is not purple, the character can perform this while laying down (as long as he’s still facing the rug).
If you feel things may not be going you way and are making a turn towards ugly, all players have a Riposte action in their deck. Many attacks are considered weapon attacks and will show a sword icon in the grid on that action card to represent such. When a player performs a Riposte on his turn, he’ll choose between 1, 2, or 3 time points to advance his Character Time token forward on the Time track. The chosen number also reflects the Riposte’s duration. Therefore, if a player chose to advance his Time token 2 spaces, the Riposte effect would be active until the Time Marker reached the Character’s Time token again, which would be 2 turns.
During the time that the Riposte effect is active, if a character (within the listed grid spaces) were to resolve a weapon attack that affected him, instead of resolving its effects, he would counterattack the opposing player with this Riposte. The opposing player would lose 7 reputation and would be dazed for 2 points, meaning he’d immediately have to play 2 action cards to his player board and would lose any ongoing effects of his own. Riposte stays active until that character’s next turn.
Some actions can resolve and take effect no matter where the character is located in the tavern in relation to his opponents. Tuuli’s Vision action allows him to immediately replace this action card with any other action card in his hand (very helpful if combined with Tuuli’s Dragon card). He will then resolve the new action, although he’s forced to spend an additional time point than would normally be required. He can instead cancel this action altogether by spending 1 time point.
There are many other types of actions such as swinging across the room (kicking faces as you go), charging, backstabbing, pushing tables/barrels into opponents, etc. There are 9 characters in the game, and each character contains four unique actions and a special Dragon card action. With so many different types of movement, attacks, and utter calamity, the brawl at the Dragon and Flagon can be quite a chaotic one.
III. Advance the Time Marker:
Once all characters have been resolved on the current space of the Time track, and all Character Time tokens have been advanced further along the track, the Time Marker advances one space. If there are any characters present here, a new turn begins with the player (or players) present there, otherwise the Time Marker advances another space. This continues until the Time Marker has reached one of the End-Game tiles. Once all characters have been resolved on this space, the End-Game tile is revealed. If it shows the town guards, the guards storm the tavern and the brawl has been diffused. Otherwise play continues.
At the end of the game, players will total their collected reputation. The player that’s gathered the most reputation amongst the tavern’s occupants is declared the winner. Though let’s be honest, they’re all going to the local town jail.
The main element that earned Colt Express numerous awards, including last year’s ultimate Spiel des Jahres, had nothing to do with any particular mechanic or deep-delving, balanced gameplay. Colt Express was simply fun. I mention this, because its the same way I feel about The Dragon & Flagon. Both games deliver a similar style and feeling, though The Dragon & Flagon’s programming mechanic is much less random. From the 3D components, to the theme, to the humorous card actions, the variation in characters, to how resolving particular actions can directly affect turn order; there’s a lot that can be said about the design elements of The Dragon & Flagon. But ultimately (and most importantly) the game is just fun.
There’s something about timing a swing across the chandelier to kick a few opponents as you go. There’s something about breaking a chair over someone’s head, or pulling a rug out from underneath a group of unaware combatants. Stealing reputation instead of “victory points” is both thematic and rewarding. It makes sense that if I make you weep during a bar fight in front of your significant other that you’ll lose a bit of reputation from your embarrassing display. Setting the Dragon Flagon itself at the center of the tavern (with the awarded dragon card it brings such a huge upside), keeps players engaged and focused on each other. Even if you aren’t necessarily fixated on grabbing the flagon itself, you’re probably concerned about allowing another player to grab it.
Unlike Space Cadets, actions are not timed, which I think helps the game breathe a bit more. Resolving the fight itself is just as chaotic (there’s a lot going on at once, as a tavern brawl should be), but there’s a bit more time to sit back and laugh at the guy who gets knocked off a table, right as he attempts to boast. The Dragon & Flagon is focused more on the lasting experience and these funny moments than it is about any particular aspect of design. It’s these moments that will bring friends and family back to the table. With the right amount of people, the game itself becomes background noise for the slew of quoted movie lines and accented banter. And when it all comes down to it, that’s what game nights are all about. Having fun.