The DRAGON & FLAGON is a Boardgame from Stronghold Games for 2-8 players. It takes between 30-90 minutes to play and is best, in our opinion, with 4-6 players. It is designed by Brian, Sydney and Geoff Engelstein.
The cover art of the game box immediately draws your eyes to the game; it looks both mysterious and amusing and will excite the fantasy role-player element as well as the buccaneering adventurer that can be found in all of us. The artwork throughout is reminiscent of children’s television animations with adult overtones, a little like a grown-up version of Jake & the Neverland Pirates.
All good adventures begin in a tavern with a pint or two of the inn’s best ale. However as we begin this adventure there is trouble at the DRAGON & FLAGON tavern where the infamous magical ale known as the Dragon is about to run out; in fact there is just one Flagon of the Dragon remaining and, of course, everyone in the tavern wants it. This leaves the adventurers with just one thing to do, what they are best at and well known for; they need to fight, brawl and throw things, mainly mugs and chairs, and the occasional tantrum until one adventurer has gained the most kudos (reputation) amongst their fellow inn dwellers.
The game is a rip-roaring return to the days of Errol Flynn and Captain Blood when the slightest incident would turn into a bar-room brawl. Lots of raucous laughter, wild screams and smashing noises would be heard over the almost fairground-style music and is an especially super boardgame to play at games clubs that use a room in a pub because the atmosphere of the real surroundings of the pub are indicative of the atmosphere occurring amongst the characters in the game.
The components are either die-cut card pieces of good quality stock or wood with some of the card pieces fitting together to make long or short tables (once made they fit neatly into the box and do not need to be disassembled after each game). Characters are double sided, showing front and rear views of the adventurers and stand up in plastic pinch-bases. The chairs and barrels are wooden and look really good as well as realistic, only the mugs are a bit of a letdown, being simple hexagonal pieces of silver wood. Amongst the floor decorations there are 2 rectangular pieces of card detailed to look like floor rugs or long mats. The rules book errors here saying there are 4 Rugs but there are only 2 and only 2 are necessary; I only mention this in case players checking their components believe they have pieces missing when they actually don’t.
The board is double-sided with a pair of identical Pirate ships drawn alongside each other on the back of the main Tavern board. This side is used in a variant of the game and you need to visit www.strongholdgames.com/dfpirate.pdf to obtain the variant rules – but please don’t tell anyone as this is a secret found only by solving the clue on page 18 of the rules book (or reading the answer on page 19). For your reference, the review here only concentrates on the main game.
The Tavern board is overlaid with squares for placement of pieces and ease of movement and action. When a character takes any kind of action it uses an amount of time as noted on the card played. The character’s marker is moved around the time track for each action taken and a Time Space Marker is also moved accordingly from Time Space to Time Space. Instead of each player taking alternate turns play is taken randomly dependent on the character’s position to the Time Space Marker. Thus players may have more than one turn after the other and then have to wait whilst the other players catch up. Often Character tokens are on the same space and then they are randomly chosen for the order of activation.
The basic plan of play is for an adventurer to grab and hold the Golden Flagon (the plate of cookies can be used as a substitute for this) and they have to manoeuvre themselves next to it to be able to grab it. Anyone getting close to the Flagon is likely to get bonked on the head with a chair or find a beer mug flying towards them. Characters can pick up mugs and chairs and can push tables and pull rugs sending other characters tipsily traipsing or rolling headlong across the tavern floor. The only problem is that you have to decide what you are doing in advance.
Each player has a character sheet which basically tells you the adventurer’s name, shows their portrait, has space for collected reputation chips, notes the special abilities of the character and has spaces marked I, II and III on the bottom edge of the card where the player has to put three face down cards, selected from their hand; these being the action cards and order in which they will be activated. As actions are taken the other cards slide down towards the “I” and new cards are added at the far end. Therefore you could decide to pull the rug out from under a character only to find they are no longer there when you turn comes. Smart card use and character management can keep you out of harm’s way often, but never always.
Each card chosen by the players has numerous features. Naturally it has a name or header – these being on one of three backgrounds; beige, purple or grey; cards with a purple background cannot be activated if the adventurer is not standing; other cards can only be played if a character is standing on a table – these specifics are noted clearly in the description box when necessary. The cards are expertly designed and well documented with extra detail within the rules booklet; Fight cards for example have a number of small boxes set into the area of effect shape. Cards also often have small specific icons on them different in colour and design, these are often the source of gaining or losing Reputation.
When playing with two players we felt that we were mostly going through the motions. The mechanics worked fine and we discovered no problems but no matter how many times we shouted something encouragingly pirate-like we couldn’t generate any type of atmosphere.
With three players it got more interesting but soon became 2 against one. With four players the real fun begins as you can play 2 versus 2 or 4 for one and none for all. The game is about controlling the chaos as much as you possibly can, causing accident and injury to your opponents, but remember that playing in pairs doesn’t mean you cannot inadvertently affect, injure, daze or knock over your partner.
FLAGON & DRAGON is a fun romp where each game can be set up differently by the layout of the furniture etc but the rules are basically always the same, as is the action. What changing the room around means is that there is no way to establish any kind of routine or easy way to win. The random taking of turns, placing of barrels, mugs and chairs, carpets and tables all mean that nothing can be prepared in advance, like any good brawl you have to take advantage of the situations as they arise. You must perform the actions you have chosen if possible but that doesn’t mean you cannot change target if you have elected to throw the object you are holding for instance.
The average game time from setup to completion is about an hour and from experience I can say it has always been an hour well spent. Although the number of actions available to you are limited, as are the times they can be taken, there are still, even after playing several times, things that other players do that can surprise you, sometimes even surprising themselves. We like to play as if we were really in a brawl and thus if a character is going to throw a mug, for example, and the target has moved before the throw is made and an ally has taken their place in direct line, then that mug will still be thrown, simply because it is in the spirit of the game.
FLAGON & DRAGON isn’t a hard core gamer’s strategy game, it’s an entertainment, an amusement, a journey into the imagination rather like a role-playing game where the players need to mentally expand on the characters they are given. The character sheets are bland and lack feeling, it is up to the players to inject an atmosphere and live it up. If players do not get into the game’s spirit of free-wheeling, crazy, fun then they will not enjoy it as much as they should.