Score: 8/ 10
Drakon is one of those rare games that has stood the test of time and as such has benefited by multiple tweaks and improvements throughout the years. Fantasy Flight Games is currently up to the third edition of the game, which is notable for its inclusion of larger dungeon tile pieces, improved graphics, and plastic molded figures to represent the heroes and title-villain.
The game play itself though is what has kept Drakon on the best seller’s list year after year and this edition wavers little from the tried and true formula. This is a tile-laying game at its core and as is so often the case with Tom Jolly’s titles, strategy comes in two simultaneous directions: Advancing one’s self while inhibiting everyone else. Contrary to common misconception, the dragon (Drakon) isn’t the prime opponent of the game but rather are the one to five players sharing the table with you. The idea is to be the first to collect 10 coins worth of treasure from Drakon’s hoard ("10 coins worth" because the value of the coins varies from 1 to 3. Since players are instructed to keep their coins face-down at all times, nobody at the table can be sure who’s in the lead at any given moment. This is probably a good thing since a majority of the dungeon tiles are designed to put the screws to your opponents!
The pace of the game is brisk and quite intense at times due to the fact that, as stated above, the titles being laid consist of traps, tricks, and snares designed to separate hero from gold. Fortunately the game comes with a handy reference sheet for each player to keep before him defining each of the tile symbols and their in-play use. Not every piece is a trap either; some allow a player to swap out a tile at their own choosing, others allow them to remove any tile that may be causing them grief, and others still allow for warping directly should a player find themselves in an ugly situation. The beauty of the game is that with 72 tiles and a nearly infinitesimal number of combinations, the game is unique each and every time it’s played.
While I’m usually partial to a well-illustrated permanent board when playing a fantasy-themed game, the truth of the matter is that Drakon benefits immeasurably by the lack of restriction associated with having one. Aside from a start-tile (which itself can be rotated to keep things interesting), it is the players who build the dungeon as they go along. After even a few rounds of play, the styles and unique patterns that will begin surfacing on the table are quite impressive. I, for instance, found myself relying upon tracking down coins early on then shifted my strategy in later games to build long runs of titles that did little more than penalize my opponents as I traversed them. Good fun, all, and a testament to the game’s versatility.
Learning the game is pretty much a non-event even if the rules aren’t quite as concise for a beginner as they could have been. The box’s recommendation of ages 10 & up is pretty accurate. The length of the game is perhaps the most indefinable factor of all for two primary reasons. First, because every single dungeon built is unique, one player’s ability to snag 10 coins worth can be nearly instantaneous or take several hours (depending entirely upon tiles played and resulting circumstances). Secondly, the steepest part of the learning curve is associating each of the tile symbols with their corresponding action. Initially it’s a bit cumbersome, as players should expect to be referring to their "cheat sheets" nearly constantly. The natural flow of the game increases exponentially as players become more familiar with the pieces over time. Within a few evenings of play, my friends and I found the pace to have increased dramatically. I imagine it isn’t preposterous to reach a point where seasoned gamers could toss down tiles as quickly as they’re picking them up (which would bring a whole new strategy-set into play). The box suggests game time will last between 20 and 60 minutes and indeed, that does appear to be the median of the curve.
As an added bonus, and one not even mentioned on the box or in the product description, Drakon technically includes both the pieces and rules to play several variations of the core game. Among these is a "heroes" expansion in which the choice of which hero used in the game has influence over the outcome since each class (knight, thief, wizard and so on) presents a unique ability that can be used once per round. Another variant makes it necessary to not only gather the required gold pieces, but also to reach a certain tile to be considered the winner. Another still is designed strictly for team play which turns gold collecting into common pools to keep the challenge equal despite a player advantage and finally there is a fixed value alternative which, unlike the core game, does not require players to flip their coins over to assess their value. Rather the first to pick up 5 coins simply wins then and there.
In all, it becomes clear very early on as to why Drakon has been so successful throughout the years. Gameplay is intuitive and clever and the strategy required to win is layered with surprising depth (a depth that seems to become even more impressive as gamers become more experienced). Individuals looking for a quick half-hour time killer will find much to enjoy as will those seeking something deeper as it’s nearly impossible to play just one round.