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Subject: A Game that Spans Eras rss

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Dragon Strike sits on the crossroads of two eras of fantasy dungeon crawl games, and this review argues why it is often overlooked and, if possible, should be picked-up if seen at a flea market or thrift store. Prior to Dragon Strike, there was the wildly popular game of HeroQuest (and to some extent DungeonQuest) by Games Workshop and Milton Bradley. It seems as if TSR was determined to capitalize on this success by basically melding elements of Dungeons & Dragons, HeroQuest, and Dungeon.

At first blush, Dragon Strike might seem to be of little interest because of the general perception that it falls short of its predecessors. However, what we see is that it contains many elements that appear in several of today’s popular games (e.g., Descent: Journeys in the Dark, Runebound, and Last Night on Earth, The Zombie Game, to name a few). Well, let’s dive in to the details of Dragon Strike (DS from here on).

Components
Before getting to the components, I would be remiss not to mention the video that comes with the game. The video is supposed to serve as a background setting for the game and a tutorial into game play. The video is narrated by the “Dragon Master”, who is a guy (who looks eerily similar to Prince Humperdink from Princess Bride) that only wears a black turtleneck – to make it better, he is always filmed in a black soundstage, making it look as if he were just a floating head. The video itself is horrendous, but does have a certain campy B-horror movie feel to it. We watched it once when we got the game, the only other time it made its way into the VCR was in college after a long night of drinking. On an upshot, there are some classic “one-liners” that can be found in the dialog, and sometimes (unexplicably to me) the video can be found without the game.



For 1993, the components of DS are top notch. The minis are nice, sculpted pieces – similar to that of HeroQuest and Dark World – contemporary games of the time. On the other hand, by today’s standards, the minis would be something one could expect to find from a reputable game company, but not the quality of the standard minis seen from Fantasy Flight or Days of Wonder.



All together, there are 19 minis, consisting of 4 heroes and 15 monsters. The heroes are the standard fare of warrior, wizard, thief, elf, and dwarf (accommodating up to 5 hero players – as an aside there are male and female thiefs; however, only one can be in the party). Each hero gets a character card – where the artwork can be thought of like a poor man’s version of Flying Frog production values. The pictures on the cards are of the actors from the movie; however, the costumes were so bad it is a blessing that the info is on the back of the cards so you can just play with them facedown.

Like Descent, one player takes on the role of the Dragon Master (i.e., Overlord or Dungeon Master). The Dragon Master is somewhere between the guide the players through role of Dungeon Master and the fiercely competitive Overlord – we always play as the latter.

Monster Specifics

Part of the game that “shines” is the variety of monsters – which were not common at the time. These include: bugbears, orcs, death knights, gargoyle, troll, evil wizard, fire elemental, manscorpion (i.e., manticore), giant,, and dragon. The neat thing about the monsters though, is each received their own unique ability

Bugbear: The work horse of the evil forces – a standard melee attacker.

Orc : Able to make both melee and ranged attack.

Death Knight: A melee attack where a successful attack results in a loss of life and paralysis the next turn.

Gargoyle: Two melee attacks and can fly.

Troll: Standard troll, regenerates one HP a turn.

Evil Wizard: The wizard receives a set of spells that he is able to cast within a quest.

Fire Elemental: Can only be hit with magic or magical weapons and is immune to all flame.

Manscorpion: Gets three attacks (dual weapons and stinger).

Giant: A big baddie that can throw boulders.

Dragon: Flies and has the option of three melee attacks or a breath weapon. The breath weapon is very similar to descent. In this case, it can travel up to three spaces and acts like a blast 1 after it hits.

Boards
While it isn’t a modular board like Descent, DS does come with two front/back boards, representing a valley, castle, city, and dungeon. The quality and the make of boards themselves are very similar to what is found in HeroQuest – the four boards does add a level of replayability that is much appreciated. Additionally, there are various terrains that alter play by slowing movement (water), blocking movement but not line of sight (portcullis), blocking movement and line of sight (boulders), limits line of sight and costs double movement (forest).

Gameplay

To play an adventure, the Dragon Master chooses a quest from a questbook containing sixteen different quests. The quests have four different difficulties -- easy (3), average (6), difficult (4), and very difficult (3) -- with a recommended number of heroes for each quest. The quests can be played with any number of heroes, but work best with the recommended number. The quests range from deliverying packages to stealing dragon eggs.

Somewhat unique is that a solo adventure is included with rules for controlling monsters and their responses. This adventure is okay and let's a player have a go at the game when they can't find any gaming partners.

Movement: Movement is identical to Descent. Each hero gets a certain amount of “speed” and that is how many spaces they can move each turn. However, heroes can either move and then perform an action or vice versa. Movement allows moving to any adjacent space and flying creatures have the option of hovering at the end of their turn.
The actions available to the heroes are (1) attack, (2) cast a spell, (3) search for treasure, (4) find and disarm traps, (5) search for secret passages, (6) question a monster, and (7) perform a feat of strength or dexterity. Clearly, from this list of actions, the influences of classic Dungeons & Dragons can be seen.

Attacking: The attack action is very straightforward. Heroes start with a base weapon that is associated with a dice (d8, d10, or d12). Melee attacks must be made to adjacent characters and a “hit” is scored when the roll of the attack die exceeds the armor class of the enemy. A successful hit inflicts one damage – weapons can be upgraded to higher dice or more than one damage by finding specific treasures. Ranged attacks are governed by standard line of sight rules, where the target only has to be more than one space away (usually the ranged attacks are associated with less powerful attack dice).

Spells: The elf, wizard, and evil wizard can all cast spells. The spells themselves have different levels and an appropriate number of spells of the correct levels are chosen by these three characters during set-up. Some spells are helpful (like healing) and some spells are attack oriented (like lightning bolt). Additionally, some of the spells of area of effect conditions and will affect figures in adjacent squares to the target. Each spell can only be cast once an adventure and both heroes and monsters have a chance to “save vs. magic” (where a 6 or better indicates a success).

Searching: Heroes can search chests and dead monsters for treasure. Success is guaranteed and the trade-off is using an action to do a search. Treasure consists of different items that can be used by the heroes. Quest specific treasures are indicated in the quest book used by the Dragon Master.

Disarming Traps and Searching for Secret Passages: Success on these actions requires a successful role of the die associated with these skills for whichever hero is doing the searching. Upon triggering a trap, a card is drawn from the trap deck (e.g.,DungeonQuest).

Questioning Monsters: Monsters can be questioned. Some will have useful information, while others are itching for a fight. The onus is on the Dragon Master to truthfully play the role of the monster and answer questions appropriately. Heroes are allowed to ask four questions for each action spent on monster questioning.

Extraordinary Feats: Like D & D, the heroes can propose feats of strength or dexterity to alter the general rules of the game. Common feats are things like jumping, kicking down a door, throwing a lightweight object, etc. Each hero has a strength and dexterity ability, which requires a successful die roll for the feat to be successful. Like a standard Dungeon Master, the Dragon Master makes all decisions about the feasibility of the proposed feat.

Game Timer
The one aspect of DS like Runebound is the fact that there is a game timer (aka, a type of Doom track). Each quest starts the doom track at a different number of turns between 10 and 20. After the heroes have had the prespecified number of turns, the dragon, Darkfyre, appears on the map and a sort of reckoning begins. If the heroes haven't found treasure yet, defeating Darkfyre will be a tall order. Additionally, this makes most games last less than an hour. Personally, I think that this is a great addition.

Conclusion

By today's standards, I wouldn't say that this is a great game. I think it is the closest that TSR got to successfully implementing some D&D ideas for a younger generation. At the very least it is purchaseable for just the extra minis, game board tiles, and game boards. However, I would say that is a very good game under the right conditions.

If your group is already into Descent, then there is not much reason to go back and play Dragon Strike. On the other hand, the game itself is perfect for players too young for Descent -- I would say 7-10 years old, depending on the player. A lot of the mechanics are the same or very similar, so the transition can be easier made for a younger player if they have Dragon Strike under their belt. This is like training wheels for more advanced dungeon crawls.

Edit 1: For video.
Edit 2: For typos.
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Tom Grant
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Since you mentioned the video...

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Tom,

Ha -- I was re-reading the review after it was posted and it dawned on me to see if YouTube had the video. I edited, found it, and posted. Lo and Behold, you put it in your response at the same time. Cool -- two links to the Dragon Strike video might cause the all of BGG to implode.

Doug
 
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Simon Lundström
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Now who are these five?
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Thanks for a great review – I see immediately that I'll absolutely love this game, it just might be the ultimate dungeon crawler for me personally. I'm glad I picked up a copy, and I'm excited to see it… it's sitting at my sister's in Cambridge…
 
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