Wednesday, April 23, 2008


Part of the reson for starting this whole exercise of randomly playing all of the games in my collection was to force myself to play some of those games I have purchased over the years, but never actually played for a variety of reasons. The game that immediately popped into my head as fitting this category is Dragonhunt. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, then, when it randomly ends up as one of the first few games I have to play. Needless to say, for an old game like this that most people seem to not like, I ended up playing it solitaire with four different forces (out of a possible six).

The point of Dragonhunt, as you may be able to infer from the title, is to hunt down and slay the dragon, Brimstone. Each player controls a small domain, consisting of one castle, one village, and one cottage (where wounded soldiers convalesce). Each player gets an army consisting of a Hero, a few Knights, a bunch of Men-at-arms, and a couple bowmen, called Snipers. You use your army to attack the dragon and the other players.

Yes, you read that right. You need to kill the dragon to win, but there can be much benefit in attacking other players and taking away their castles and villages. Every few rounds you get back a bunch of the troops you have lost in combat, but you need the right type of structure for them to be able to return: knights to castles, men-at-arms and snipers to villages. So, for example, if I lose my castle then I can't get any of my knights back. This means that taking some key buildings from an opponent can make it much harder for them to muster the forces needed to wound the dragon.

The dragon itself is interesting. It moves in a semi-random fashion around the board, fighting anything in the space it moves to. Each player rolls two dice, and chooses one of them to be the direction the dragon will move on the hex grid that makes up the game board (1 is north, 2 is north east, 3 is south east, 4 is south, etc.). UNLESS the dragon is enraged, at which point is moves randomly and quickly, maybe even attacking and destroying one of your villages or castles. The movement of the dragon adds a real random element to the game, and it can really stink when you want to attack the dragon, so you try to move him closer to you, but he ends up running off in a totally opposite direction, forcing you to fight another player just to get close to the dragon so you can try to kill it. Some people will like this, and some people won't, but I hit a middle ground of realizing how annoying it can be but liking the mechanic, anyway.

To kill the dragon, a player must wound it three times. At this point, your kingdom's "Mage Sword" is released. Your Hero uses the mage sword to actually try to kill the dragon, in a special combat that is a little odd, and I won't go into it here. It has some good tension in it, but the combat mechanic in the final dragon fight is way different from the rest of the game, and I'm not sure why the creator felt a need to do that. I found that part a little odd.

Another knock on the game is the fact that it can go on perpetualy with no end in sight, if the players don't buckle down and really go after the dragon in a serious way. The reason for this is the movement mechanic. Every round the players will choose one of their six movement cards and play it. This determines play order, with the lowest number going first, unless two or more players have that number, in which case the lowest "untied" number goes first. A bit odd, but I like the balance between having more movement points and going last, versus having fewer movement points and going first. Yes, the number you select is the number of movement points you have, for your entire army. So, you might have an army with 20 pieces in it, but you only get 8 or 9 movement points. Each space one piece moves costs at least 1 movement point, so on each round you are not moving many forces. In the game I played, one army was pretty much focused on wiping out another army, but with so few movement points the Blue army could never move enough troops into Orange army territory to be anything other than an annoyance. Thus, it seems like going after another player who is more than 3 spaces away is probably a losing proposition, which is unfortunate, as move player-v-player action would spice up the game.

Still, as is, I found myself being impressed by the overall game design. There is a balance of player choice vs. random action, and I found the concept of trying to hunt down a dangerous dragon to be fun. I'd like to try this game out with some live opponents, but I doubt it will ever happen, since this game is old (published in 1982) and nobody in my game club seems to want to play old games anymore.


Andrew Winkel said...

Thanks for posting this -- even if it was years ago. I've been on the fence about buying this game from eBay. I've recently picked up some of these old Avalon Hill games now that my sons are old enough to start playing them. The one I picked up last was Wizard's Quest, which we played last weekend (it actually took us two different nights). I really enjoyed the random element in that game, especially since my boys' favorite strategy is to team up on me and get me out of whatever game we're playing early. The random orc propagation kept them from being successful, and made it much more interesting. I think Dragonhunt could be another one they would enjoy; I guess it's by the same designer.

Aaron W. Thorne said...

Andrew, thanks for the note. I am not familiar with Wizard's Quest, but if you like randomness in your game design (I have a soft spot for it), then this is probably worth picking up, if you can find it for a reasonable price.