True Story: A geek clan, a GM, and a guest of honor walk into an inn…Well, actually we walked into Gamer Nation Con IV. Our son gets Red Dragon Inn off the shelf and exclaims, “This is the game I keep telling you about–you gotta play!” So we sit down at the table and Guest of Honor Katrina Ostrander walks by. “I love this game!” So we passed the time until Ms. Ostrander’s panel trying to avoid losing gold or drinking too much in this hilarious game. Slugfest Games’ Red Dragon Inn is where all the cool adventurers go after they’re done killing monsters, looting, and gaining levels. AND all 4 of us got a special GNC IV button (and Gamer cred!) Because this was Ms. Ostrander’s secret game she’d picked out for the con. This is how I met my New Favorite Board Game.
Red Dragon Inn, as of today, has 6 full standalone game boxes (sets of 4 characters, rules, tokens, and player mats), as well as individual new character decks sold separately. Two of the standalone game sets have unique themes–Villains, with their own underground drinking venue, and Pirates. Set 5 comes with storage enough for many character decks and game components. Speaking of components, these are very good quality. The decks use the same cardstock as traditional standard playing cards, as far as I can tell. Markers are the round glass red and clear Go style pieces, 1 of each per player. Both Gold tokens and play mats are made of heavy, glossy cardstock. Finally, each box has a good plastic tray with 6 sections for the 5 decks and the Gold Tokens. There’s plenty of room left for the markers and the mats, and all components should hold up for many, many games as long as they aren’t abused.
Gameplay is easy and hilarious. Each player selects a character who is a spoof of some fantasy RPG type, old and new. From dainty cleric to half-ogre barbarian; from gadgeteering gnome to witch doctor. There’s even a wizard’s familiar, Pooky the rabbit, in one expansion. Pooky makes Monty Python’s Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog look like a stuffed Easter toy. (Yikes!) Each character has an individualized set of cards and a play mat and markers to track their Fortitude and Alcohol Content. The boxes also include Gold tokens and a Drink Deck. The object of the game is to avoid losing all your gold or falling unconscious. Each character has a short description with The Good and The Bad called out. They don’t affect play but are funny. (Any characters can be played in the same game session.)
Example (using my favorite character, from Red Dragon Inn 2): “Eve the Illusionist. Eve defies description, mostly because no one knows exactly what she really looks like without her illusions. Her powers have saved her fellow adventurers countless times from extremely gullible monsters. The Good: Eve is a very skilled illusionist. The Bad: She’s been known to use her skills on her fellow party members when she gets bored.”
So how do you play? All you have to do is don’t drink to excess (fall unconscious) or lose all your gold. Players choose their Character Deck (plus tracking mat, markers, and 10 Gold tokens) and the Drink Deck is shuffled. Play mats have 4 sections, spots for your deck, discard pile, and Drink Me! cards. The fourth is the track for both your Fortitude, which starts at 20 and goes down, and your Alcohol Content, which starts at zero and goes up. As the mat warns, “If your Fortitude and Alcohol Content meet, you’re out!”
Shuffle your Character Deck and take the first 7 cards for your opening hand. A turn has four parts–Discard and Draw, Action (optional), Order a Drink, and Drink. Discard and Draw is self-explanatory. If you want to play an Action card, read it aloud, let other players respond (with laughter, and possibly cards of their own), then follow the card’s instructions before putting it in your discard pile on the mat. When you Order a Drink, it’s for another player–draw 1 card from the Drink pile, and place it on someone else’s Drink Me! pile, without anyone, including you, looking at it. Now you get to Drink, by taking the top card from your own Drink Me! pile and following the instructions.
Available Drinks range from the Truly Horrible (Dirty Dishwater) to the Truly-horrible-to-anyone-but-some-Humanoids (Orcish Rotgut) to the Classics (Dark Ale) to Truly Heavenly (Fine Ambrosia, Nectar of the Gods) to the Extremely fiery and potent (Dragon Breath Ale, “brewed under supervision of Real Fire-Breathing Dragons™”). There’s also some non-alcoholic beverages–other than the Dishwater–in the deck, including Coffee. Mechanically, many of these up your Alcohol Content and/or lower your Fortitude. Other cards are Drink Events, which have various effects. Also, beware of Drink cards that state “Chaser.” You will take multiple drinks this turn–if you don’t have an effective Ignore/Negate card in your hand.
Many Character Deck cards are unique to that character. This Deck includes your Action cards, as well as Sometimes (under certain conditions) and Anytime (yes, even during others’ turns) cards. These usually help you in some way–allow you to Ignore or Negate cards, including Drink cards, gain Gold, and so on. Others may affect other players. Here’s some of my favorite cards from the deck of my BFF, Eve the Illusionist:
Action: “Whoa! Careful! That’s real fire! Pick another player. They lose 3 Fortitude.”
Sometimes: “Drink What? This is Empty. Ignore a Drink. (Reveal the Drink first!)”
Anytime: “It’s the disappearing coin trick, not the reappearing coin trick. Pick a player. They pay you 1 Gold.”
And I haven’t forgotten about the gold–the Purpose of adventuring–and the gambling. Some of the Action cards are “Gambling? I’m in!” cards. When one of these is played during someone’s Action phase, their turn and the whole turn sequence, are interrupted while the Gambling is resolved. This is done by players putting 1 Gold apiece into the pot, after which players may pass or play Gambling (Action) or Cheating cards for the remainder of the Gambling Round. This is the major way to lose Gold, although there are others: Another character’s Action card (remember Eve’s coin trick?), some Drink cards, when all the cards from the central Drink deck have been taken (everyone has to pay before the Wench brings more Drinks, aka the discarded Drink cards are reshuffled and reused.)
Each standalone set says it’s for 2-4 players, but my son says this is a “More, the merrier” game. So for the most fun, he strongly recommends grabbing multiple boxes (US$25-50 on Amazon). Or at least some extra character decks ($13 each on Amazon). I get the impression he considers four the absolute minimum to play with. I think he has a point.
Parental Guidance: Red Dragon Inn is intended for ages 13+, but considering the theme, if you’re a parent, you should think about whether this is appropriate for your teenagers. Personally, I can see playing together as a way to start a conversation about alcohol–or finances.
So this holiday season, bring your friends and (grown) family to the Red Dragon Inn, where they can party hearty with their fellow brave adventurers, and raise a mug (or 6) to another year of “Peace, Love and Good Gaming!” which is my holiday wish for you and yours.
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