You might know this game from being the only one on the Dwarfstar webpage that you couldn’t get the rules and maps for. You might have thought, “hey… what’s up with that?! It’s just some old game!” You might have narrowed your eyes and clenched your fist and vowed to find that game somehow/someway. But you still might have smirked: “Yeah, right… like some old small-box game from the early eighties would ever see print again!” Of course, that would have been before the Ogre Kickstarter nearly reached a million dollars… demonstrating once and far all that old school microgaming is not a done deal. That’s not a pig flying; it’s a dragon!
While the game box for the new Dragon Rage is nowhere near as massive as the upcoming Ogre Designer’s Edition, it is completely packed with top notch components and gaming value. This was made in a very small print run, so you pay a premium price… but an entirely new map has been made for the back side of the game board and campaign and tournament rules have been developed for this edition. There’s just something completely delicious about this, though. I mean, after over a decade of “Euro” games dominating the game store scene, a company in Brussels is the one that had to go and get this classic game back on the market. Maybe east and west will never meet, but it sure warms my heart that folks on both sides of the pond can get together on this one.
And it looks fantastic. The counters have color art on one side and the classic style silhouettes on the other– they are of the same high quality as, say, the latest edition of Awful Green Things. Large sized record sheets use Super Mario Brothers style heart counters to track monster status so you don’t have to put tally marks on scratch paper. My only gripe about the components is that the maps look vaguely computer-ish: when I showed the box to someone, their first question was if it was a video game! Other than that, everything appears to be pitch perfect.
I suspect this game gets accused of being derivative of Ogre, but I can’t see that as being fair. Ogre’s original scenario was the classic “kill the command post” game. In Dragon Rage, the entire map is effectively the command post– and instead of any sort of “checkmate” type moment, you have the Dragon leveling the place bit by bit. In Ogre, the defender harnesses his forces with almost chess-like coordination. The Dragon Rage defenders seem behave more like ants when their ant hill’s been stepped on. While there’s some sparring and maneuver on the part of the Ogre in the early stages of that other game, at some point… it usually has to make an all-or-nothing drive towards its objective. The titular dragons of Dr. Pulsipher‘s game have a great deal more mobility and many more options in terms of where, when, and how they will fight.
Just a quick pass through the sequence of play to highlight some other key facets of the game:
- Invader movement: An Ogre without treads is dead in the water, but a dragon with no legs can at least slither! Facing actually matters when a dragon is spending its walking movement points. Bounding can be a quick way to get over a wall, but you can’t land on enemy units except for the hero and/or wizard. Flying seems awesomely fast, but when you get where you want to go, landing takes an entire turn and sacrifices all of your attacks for that round. The defender will effectively get two whole turns to move towards you! Overrun attacks cost one MP extra and don’t cost any tread points here– err, I mean it doesn’t damage a dragon’s legs.
- Dragonfire phase: Ah, the novice Ogre player almost always complains when his Mark III’s main battery gets shot off before he gets a chance to use it! Dragon Rage probably won’t have that sort of problem, but the dragon is limited to just two shots. Given that enemy units get a “saving throw” against this, it’s probably best to use this one for some long range property damage.
- Invading player melee: There are no arcs of fire in Ogre, but in Dragon Rage the various melee attacks of the dragon have very specific hexes they can target, These “arcs” overlap somewhat and the various attack types can be combined for better odds.
- City forces spell-casting phase: The Gandalf type character has four options: a morale-boost spell that gives everyone within a certain range a bonus to-hit, an area-denial fog spell that makes combat in an area impossible, a whirlwind spell that can potentially bring down a flying dragon, and a lightening spell which functions as sort of a low-tech shotgun. Spell points limit the number of spells he can cast each game.
- City reinforcements phase: The dragons need to do lightening raids and carefully target the city’s weak points. If they take too long, though, the city will only get stronger.
- City forces movement phase: The road movement rate is listed on the counter, so you don’t have to look them up. Nothing fancy here otherwise….
- City forces archery phase: Archery doesn’t do a lot of damage, really… but the archers do get to call their shots, which makes a huge difference. From two away, they hit on 6+… and from one hex away they hit on 5+. (Shooting at the belly of a flying dragon from a tower is a little more complex than this, but this is the usual option.)
- City forces melee phase: The direction you attack from limits which parts of the dragon you can hack on. (These sorts of nuances are what make the dragon an entirely different beast when compared with an Ogre.) The hero unit (aka “Bard” at my house) not only gives +1 to the attack rolls of units that are with him or next to him, but if he dies… from then on, the city forces must make a morale check in order to be able to attack the dragon when they want to!
- Advance the turn pointer: This impacts not just the reinforcement schedule, but also helps keep the dragon player on the offensive. If he doesn’t enter the city and destroy a victory point hex for ten turns straight, it’s game over!
So that’s the overall shape of it. There’s more critters and scenarios in the box, of course, but this should give you the idea. My first game was pretty tough to muddle through as I didn’t quite know what I didn’t know yet when I sat down to the game. But a second read-through of the introductory booklet cleared up most of my questions after that. In any case, I’m keen on playing more… and I’m very glad that this classic small-box game is back in print with this kind of treatment.
Check out this Designer Diary for the complete story of this game!
Update: See Dragon Rage: Getting it Played for my first real session report for this game.