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Subject: Humans Ruin Everything rss

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Raf Cordero
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Bolingbrook
Illinois
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The land of Dragoon was a peaceful one. All the dragons had their own caves and they were all good friends, hanging out and doing whatever friendly dragons do. Campfires maybe. Then the humans showed up. They brought villages, cities, people, and – most importantly – gold. Beautiful gold. That ruined everything.

Calling Dragoon an abstract game may be accurate, but it doesn’t really paint the whole picture. After my first game I sat looking at the gorgeous cloth board and struggled to figure out how to describe it. Abstract was the furthest thing from my mind while I flicked through all the mechanics I could think of. It’s got cards, but it isn’t really a hand management game. There are dice, but it isn’t a roll and move. When I finally realized that the simple movement of pieces really put this game in the abstract category, I was a little disappointed because it doesn’t do it justice. This is the most evocative abstract I’ve ever played.



Dragoon in all its glory


Forget the detached concepts of war or conflict that come with games like Go or Chess; Dragoon is a game about dragons and doing decidedly dragon things. Round by round villages and cities will pop up like weeds as the humans continue moving onto your island and industrializing it. All that gold they mine has drawn your attention and so your turn consists of trying to take as much of it as you can. Being a dragon, you have a few options at your disposal. Investment focused dragons may decide they want to force the humans to bend the knee. There’s a trade off you need to grapple with; cities and villages that send tribute will payout repeatedly though usually at a low rate.

How much gold you get, or even how many villages stay loyal, is determined each round through a simple yet potentially frustrating die roll. The roll of a single d6 does not often mesh well with abstracts though it works well enough for a game about the fickle whims of humans. All of your villages act according to a single die roll. It saves time, though it makes rolling a 6 when you have a large number of cities under your control very swingy. There’s no way to slice it, it doesn’t feel great to roll a 1 right after your opponent rolled a 6 and shot ahead 15 points on the track. To help prevent that, you might decide instead to just destroy everything in your path.



Big chunky metal pieces complete the story


Dragons are (now) mean and vengeful, so don’t be surprised if your opponents don’t take kindly to you leaving a trail of destruction across the board or turning a corner into your personal gold farm. Destroying a village is trivially easy. Spend one of your limited actions and it’s gone. Wiped off the map in an instant without the need for the smoke to clear before depositing the gold in your cave. Aggressive destruction can slow the game down a bit, leading to a repetitive structure of “destroy, spawn cities, destroy again”. Luckily there is a way to break up the routine.

Not only can you attack your opponents, but you can enter their caves and swim Scrooge McDuck style through their hoard before forcing them to fly back to their cave to defend it. This is one of my favorite options, as it opens up the potential for board control. A dragon must return to their cave if an enemy ends their turn in it. It may be worth losing a few gold when they fight you to pull them across the board, away from whatever they were hoping to do.

The cards - and to a lesser extent the dice – are the double edged sword of this game. For a game grounded in simple tactical movements, the cards can be dramatically powerful. You ordinarily can only take 3 actions; each space of movement is an action as is destroying a village or city. There is a card that grants you two free spaces of movement and one that automatically destroys any settlement you step foot on, claiming the gold as normal. There is no limit to the number of cards you can chain together, so you can see how a player could build a combo that not only wipes their opponent’s territory off the map but also earns them a tremendous amount of points.



These can be brutal, if you let them


There will be games, especially early on, where it feels as if the roll of the dice or the cards determined everything. A couple lucky 6s and a strong combo can make the game feel out of reach. It’s a fair criticism, but their impact can be managed to an extent. Lay Waste is less powerful if you’ve been destroying every village rather than leaving them on the board claimed for your opponent to steamroll. Nothing hammers home the feeling of being a dragon like wiping out your own village in a fit of spiteful rage and fire. Dragoon may not have the branching depth of Go or Chess but honestly, it can be more exciting. The game may be shallower than the classics, but I don’t particularly mind it; Being a dragon is a lot of fun.

There’s also a Thief on the board who hordes gold and pushes the tempo faster towards the end of the game if you allow the board to fill up with cities. Defending villages by attacking your opponent’s dragon or cave can help bring about the end of the game before your opponent can build a power combo of cards. The ebb and flow of the tempo gives Dragoon a tension that simmers closer to the surface than in other abstracts I’ve played. Watching your opponent’s score marker march up the track can really light a fire under you.

While this really is a thematic and evocative abstract...it is still an abstract. It’s a short game about taking and retaking territory in the fast pursuit of gold. This isn’t a big sprawling fantasy adventure, but there’s definitely enough game here to build strategy and to adapt to different players and different player counts. Playing with 2 players is very different than playing with 4 as the board size doesn’t change. That island gets mighty cramped with 4 dragons flying around. Dragoon may not be a lifestyle abstract, but it does make for an excellent “themabstract”. I’d rather make roaring noises while having a beer with my friends than furrow my brow over a black and white grid any day.
___

This review was originally posted on Ding & Dent! A list of my reviews that you can subscribe to can be found here.
Additionally, I discussed Dragoon right after my first play from the floor of GenCon, in Ding & Dents GenCon Night 3 live coverage
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Tobias Lunte
Germany
Garrel
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Since you have a problem with calling it an abstract:

I seems to me that you are conflating genres and mechanics (abstract vs hand management). I'd recommend this blog post on constructive game classification, which builds on jazzteks 2007 post on that topic. I haven't played the game yet, but going by everything I've read about it, I can't say that it seems like an abstract, rather more like an American design with a splash of German (not Euro) on the side.
 
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Raf Cordero
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Bolingbrook
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Tobl wrote:
Since you have a problem with calling it an abstract:

I seems to me that you are conflating genres and mechanics (abstract vs hand management). I'd recommend this blog post on constructive game classification, which builds on jazzteks 2007 post on that topic.


I've read that article, it's a really good one! I do disagree with it in places (notably, the design philosophy of a Eurogame) but overall it provides an excellent framework to defining the major genres.

Quote:
I haven't played the game yet, but going by everything I've read about it, I can't say that it seems like an abstract, rather more like an American design with a splash of German (not Euro) on the side.


The reason I go with abstract is because the mechanics of Dragoon are closest to the abstract family of games. There are no action points like Cthulhu Wars, no real hand management, no 4x, no placing workers, etc etc. It's much closer to Chess both in mechanics and - more importantly - in feel than it is to other non-abstract boardgames.

The blog you linked has this in the abstract section:

Quote:
The compatriot of minimalism is the vital impotence abstract games place on simple rules creating emergent depth


This very much describes Dragoon and is part of why I like it. However, Dragoon does not embrace minimalism in theme or setting. That's ultimately why I described it as a "Themabstract". Abstract in mechanics/family but thematic in setting and all that. I don't really think the key tenants of German games (as defined in the blog post) really define Dragoon apart from accessibility.

It doesn't quite fit in any one box though, which is why I had some initial trouble. I think you could say it's American design for sure, though I'd say it has a splash of Abstract and not splash of German.
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