Pros: Versatile tile board; beautiful tiles; interesting concept
Cons: Unbalanced play; too much reliance on luck
Rating: 3 out of 5
First published 8/25/2003
Drakon (Second Edition) is an interesting little tile/”board” game produced by Fantasy Flight Games, from designer Tom Jolly (who also designed “Cave Troll”). The premise is that the dragon Drakon has captured a band of adventurers (you and your fellow players) who tried to steal her gold. She has decided to play a game with all of you. She sends you all off into her twisting chambers, and the first one to collect five gold coins gets to go free. She’ll eat everyone else. (Now that’s motivation for you!)
Instead of a board, the game comes with square cardboard tile “chambers.” The start chamber has a dragon on it, and is where everyone begins play; at first, it’s the only tile on the table. (It helps to play this game on a large, flat surface, preferably one where your cats can’t easily intervene and chew on the pieces!) Each player starts with four tiles in her hand, and on each turn she has the option of either putting down a tile or moving her little character counter; if she puts down a tile, then she draws a new one to add to her hand. Chambers show little bits of hallway and rooms. They have arrows on some of the exits; in order for chamber placement to be legal, two arrows may never face each other (your characters must move in the direction of the arrows). Many chambers have little symbols on them that give them special “actions.” For example:
- The “magical shift” chamber allows you to take one chamber on which no characters are standing, and exchange it with a tile from your hand.
- The “destroy a chamber” action allows you to destroy one chamber in play on which no character is standing.
- “Drakon’s due” causes you to put one of your coins, if you have any, on the starting chamber.
- The “map chamber” allows you to remove a random chamber from an opponent’s hand and place it in your own. (Now you have one additional chamber in your hand for the rest of the game and your opponent has one less.)
There are various other effects as well, such as finding a gold coin, moving several spaces at once (normally you can only move one), moving an opponent one space, rotating a chamber, stealing a coin from another player, moving to any chamber in play, and discarding a coin. You can place a tile anywhere, not just next to your own character, so you can try to mess up your opponent as well as make things easier on yourself.
There is an optional rule that allows each character a “special ability” that you can use once per game. For instance, the wizard can move in a direction in which no arrows are pointing. The thief can steal a coin from a character in the same chamber. And so on. There are little “ability counters” which show the character on one side and a red circle with a line through it on the other side; once you use the ability you turn the character over to the red circle, and you’ll know you’ve used up your ability.
- Character counters, which you press into plastic bases (also included)
- Character ability counters
- Chambers (square tiles)
- Gold coins
Except for the bases, the components are all heavy cardboard with colored, glossy surfaces. I think the chambers are more attractive than the characters, which look a bit cartoonish.
I love the concept of creating the board as you go. It means that every game is a bit different. The tiles are attractive, and things like exits and arrows are very clear. The symbols are easy to read, although you’ll want to keep the page of “chamber explanations” around so you can remember what they all do, at least for the first handful of games. I do like the concept–the whole “escape the dragon” idea, and the fact that you can try to help yourself and screw over your opponents in an abundant number of ways.
I do like the element of luck in a game–it means that even if you aren’t a great strategist, you stand a chance of winning once in a while. However, in my opinion Drakon relies on luck too much. Who wins seems largely decided by the luck of the draw in terms of which tiles you get. Only a few tiles allow you to get coins in one way or another, so if you happen to get several before your opponents, you’re likely to win.
I also think that play tends to be a bit unbalanced. We found that once someone got ahead, they usually kept pulling ahead. There seemed to be very little chance of winning once someone else got ahead. This is particularly the case if someone draws the aforementioned map chamber, which changes the sizes of players’ tile hands. There’s a huge difference between a three-tile hand and a five-tile hand in terms of your likelihood of getting tiles that will help you. And if a player cleverly puts the map chamber in a location such that he can move his character counter back to it, you could end up with one player having a huge hand and everyone else screwed. (We’ve debated changing the map chamber such that it allows the player to draw one extra tile from the draw pile, thus making his hand larger but not making his opponent’s hand smaller. We haven’t gotten around to testing it yet though.)
- Players: 2 to 6
- Age: 10+
- Time to Play: 20-60 minutes
- Small pieces: not for use around children 3 and under
A Few Final Thoughts
I think this game will play best if you have a middling number of players–4, perhaps, rather than the extremes of 2 or 6. You have to understand that game-play is changed significantly based on whether or not the characters are in proximity to each other on the “board” you create. With too few players, the characters tend to (in our games, at least) end up very distant from each other. This allows the players to play their tiles to best advantage near themselves or their opponents, and makes some of the special character abilities rather useless (the ones that require being on the same chamber as an opponent) unless you find the chamber that allows you to move to anywhere. With too many players more of the characters should end up in close proximity to each other, making the effects of tile-laying more chaotic. I think that the middle ground would work best here.
In all, we found this game to be kind of like “Parcheesi” or “Sorry”–which is to say, it’s a fun diversion now and then, but we weren’t tempted to play it over and over again like we do with “Settlers of Catan” or “Carcassonne.” The strong effect that luck has on the game keeps it from being involving, from really pulling you in. On the other hand, that does make it handy for those times when you’re a little too brain-fried to think hard, but you still have enough mental energy to consider the effects of your tile-laying.
Look for this game at Funagain Games.