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QUEST FOR THE DRAGONLORDS

Reviewed by Herb Levy

QUEST FOR THE DRAGONLORDS (Dragonlords, Inc., 2-4 players, ages 10 and up, 3+ hours; $49.99)

 

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, than Parker Brothers’ Risk, must be truly flattered. So many games have been inspired by that world conquest classic that gaming shelves all over must be sagging from the load. However, one of the more interesting entries in this niche comes from a relatively new company, Dragonlords, in a truly spectacular production: Quest for the Dragonlords.

Quest for the Dragonlords, designed by Robert Johannessen with graphic design by Jarmo Kaski and illustrations by Sam Yip and Peter Wolf, comes in a striking package: a deep, square box in black with shining red lettering and design. The game comes with a beautiful mounted mapboard of a fantasy realm of six continents separated by oceans, over 170 beautifully molded plastic figures (for Orcs, Dwarves, Elves, Barbarians, ships and Dragonlords), 4 reference cards, 12 quest cards, 24 scroll cards, chips, “gold” and “silver” counters, a bag of gold nuggets (the currency of the game), other play aids and a 32 page rulebook. Worth noting is that the game comes with a CD-ROM to guide you smoothly through the rules.questdragon

The premise of the game is that you, as one of several Kings, begin a quest for the DragonLords to find treasure and powerful spells and, thus armed, conquer the other Kings to become sole ruler of the realm.

Players represent one of the four different “races”: Barbarian, Dwarf, Elf or Orc. Each race has a special ability. Barbarians are fierce fighters and score a hit on a roll of 4 or less (as opposed to 3) and can move their ships up to 10 sea zones. They are also a little more expensive (costing 4 gold instead of 3). Dwarfs, known for their mining prowess, gain 10 gold if they control the two mining territories on the map. Elfs are stealthy fighters and can launch “sneak attacks” into territories. Orcs can purchase 4 units at the bargain price of only 10 gold. Each player begins with the reference card for their race, a supply of units (30 with 3 or 4 players, 35 with two), 30 gold and a King, Wizard and a blank gold counter, a pickaxe and torch silver counters and a ship. The “crystal” die is rolled and the player rolling yellow goes first.

Beginning with the starting player, units are placed on unoccupied territories. The start player places two units in the kingdom of his choice until all players have claimed a kingdom. Then, the start player places one unit on any unoccupied territory. Placement continues until all territories (except for the Wastelands, sea zones or islands) are claimed. Now, each player places one additional unit in any of his claimed areas. This continues until all units are placed. Finally, your three counters (King, Wizard and the blank) are placed, face down, under three units to make them “spellcasters”. (The unit with the blank counter actually has no power. This is purely for misdirection so your opponents will not be certain who your spellcasters are.)

On a turn, players can buy additional forces. Different units cost different amounts of gold ranging from 10 for a ship down to 3 for Elves, Dwarves and Orcs. Although bought at the top of a turn, purchased forces are placed in the final phase of that turn.

Ships support up to 8 units and can travel up to six sea zones (10 if you are the Barbarian). Spellcasters with a Teleport spell may also move at this time (and transport five units into any territory) as can DragonLords (who can teleport 10 units). A ship with units aboard occupying a sea zone effectively creates a blockade. Blockades may not be passed. Enemy forces must attack and defeat the ship to break the blockade.

What separates the game from Risk is the quest. This is where players can gain spells, scroll cards, treasures, Wizards and DragonLords – all the good stuff! Players go on quests in the Wastelands, located on the northern and southern sections of the map.

To begin a quest, the player states how many units he is committing to the expedition and replaces them with white discs along with the torch and pickaxe silver counters, entering the Wastelands by a territory connected to the area. A six-sided die is rolled and the party moves ahead that number of spaces. As you venture forth, you may encounter five different types of quest areas.

Should you stop at the Village, you may be able to buy supplies to reinforce your party. The Witches Den enables you to purchase spells or magical potions or a Dragon Orb. The Shrine allows the purchase of a scroll. The Dragon Lair allows to adventurers to gain a treasure but at the risk of awaking a powerful Red Dragon which, as might be surmised, attacks the party. There is also a Draw Quest Card space where you draw a Quest Card and, depending on your die roll, a variety of things may happen including gaining or losing powerful items or members of your party! If your party has a DragonOrb, you can try to charm any dragon you meet. Charming requires a die roll. If you roll yellow (signifying “blessed”), a unit and the Orb is removed and you now have a powerful DragonLord in its place on your side.

Units moving into enemy territory trigger an attack. Attacks are resolved by calculating TAS (Total Attack Strength). A group’s TAS is the sum of each unit’s attack number plus any modifiers due to spells or treasures. Minimum TAS is 1; maximum is 6. The attacker rolls the dice, as many dice as there are units in the attacking force. A number equal to or less than the TAS results in a hit on the enemy. Defense is conducted the same way with numbers rolled equal to or less than the defender’s TAS scoring hits on the invader. Each hit removes a unit from play. (As mentioned, Elf units have the special power of “sneak attack”. This means that they may do one round of attack an adjacent territory but the defender may not counter-attack.) If an area is not empty of defenders (and still at least one aggressor surviving), that area has fallen to the attacker. Otherwise, retreat is allowable. Naval combat is the same except for movement as movement is done in the naval movement phase and combat occurs during the combat phase. The powerful DragonLords may destroy a naval blockade (and all units aboard a ship) by using Dragon Fire!

Spellcasters are the key to play. These are the only units that can cast spells or use scrolls. One of the spellcasters is the King. The King has the power to heal units with a Heal Spell and his Hope Spell adds one to a force’s TAS. Guard him well. If the King is killed, you are OUT OF THE GAME! Each player also starts with a Wizard. Each realm can have up to 3 Wizards. Finally, there are the powerful DragonLords. These units have the ability to use Dragon Fire, a Panic Spell and Teleportation (which allows the piece to move up to 10 additional units to any sea zone or territory during the naval movement phase). During combat, a DragonLord can make TWO attacks!

The game continues until either one player occupies all six kingdoms on the board or there is only one surviving king.

Certain aspects of the game are worthy of note. The use of teleportation gives greater flexibility to attacks as units can swoop down, virtually out of the air, to invade enemy holdings. It also invalidates the strategy of guarding the borders, a useless move when your enemy can spring up behind your defense lines. The quest aspect of play adds another consideration to strategy as players must siphon off resources in the hope of acquiring valuable spells, scrolls and the formidable DragonLords to their side. The beautiful presentation of the game, from molded plastic figures to quality artwork to gold pieces, adds to the enjoyment, not to mention that nicely produced CD-Rom that aids players in digesting the rules.

Of course, luck is a considerable factor both in your quests and in combat. Bad rolls can do you in. This is an inevitable result anytime you add dice to a game but not a “game breaker” here. What is potentially more troubling is the “last man standing” syndrome, that is, the elimination of players from the game. No game is much fun if it’s over for you when there’s still lots of time left (the game can run for hours) before resolution. (To eliminate this “Last Man Standing” problem and cut down on the length of the game, we’d suggest ending the game with the first elimination and giving points [to be determined] to surviving players for DragonLords, scrolls, magic objects, wizards, kingdom control and territory. Then, the player with the highest point total would be declared “King of the World” and winner!)

Quest for the DragonLords takes the game of Risk and moves it into a fantasy setting, adding enough different elements to allow it to stand on its own. If games of world conquest are your meat and fantasy venues of wizards and warriors your dessert, then Quest for the DragonLords offers a feast that should be to your liking. – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy


 

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