From the Welsh y Ddraig Goch to the Indonesian Lung, by way of the West African Ninki Nanka, Dragons are a universal feature of human cultural imagination. So it’s no surprise that they heavily feature in games, both on the tabletop and screen. As St George’s Day approaches I started thinking about the different ways that Dragons are represented in games, and what they symbolise. I gathered some Zatu bloggers to find examples, so here we go!
Dragons As Greed
Dragons are often depicted sitting upon a pile of treasure. Even when benign, they often still have a weakness for ‘shinies’. The decksmashing card game Smash Up does a great job of capturing this side of the great wyrms.
Dragons in smash up! Arguably with the factions created, Dragons were inevitable at some point in this game.
Dragon’s were introduced to the series via the public in the expansion set “it’s your fault”. The gaming community are to blame for the introduction of Dragons as the creators put a list of factions to public vote and Dragons were one faction that came out on top for this expansion set. I played a part in that vote, sorry. It does highlight how popular these creatures are within our gaming community that they took one of the top spots. Who doesn’t love a dragon? However, if they didn’t get voted in then, my view is they would have come up sooner or later. With original factions like Dinosaurs, Robots, Pirates, Wizards, then it was clearly a goal of the game creators to have Dragons in there at some point. They are a classic gaming creature.
My interpretation of these mythical beasts is that they were introduced to reduce and takeaway from opposing factions. The 20 cards are heavily geared up to reduce opposition power, reduce the break points of bases and, most devastatingly, take away victory points from opponents at the scoring point. That loss of a VP can be especially brutal as the VP’s are oh so critical.
I feel the design team have done a great job in capturing the essence of a Dragon when I compare to popular Dragon characters. I think of Smaug from the Hobbit who hoards all the gold or even Zog from Julia Donaldson’s children’s books who captures princesses. Dragon’s takeaway from others, as well as being a mighty creature. This Dragon faction is a great inclusion to Smash Up.
Dragons As Power
Dragons are pretty much always powerful (unless very young), and this is almost their signature feature, especially in D&D and the (ahem) closely related game Talisman.
Nowhere is the dragon’s power more obvious than in the pages of a Dungeons & Dragons rulebook. They are so far above most other creatures that only the most foolhardy adventurer would approach an adult dragon without spending hours levelling up. When I started in D&D, using the very good value Essentials kit, I enjoyed the fact that the titular Dragon of Icespire Peak starts off as a rumour, a shape in the sky, an awesome foe to be literally climbed towards. And it’s not even a grown-up!
D&D dragons vary in their alignment and personalities, but the one thing they have, exuding from every scale, is strength and power.
One day I’ll fight an ancient one. One day.
“Three Draconic Lords, beings of near infinite power and malevolence, have returned to the firelands. Now the land quakes beneath their oppressive rule, and the quest for the Crown is more terrifying and dangerous than ever before: Can you reach the Crown of Command and vanquish the Dragon King?”.
Ok, I admit it, the lore behind Talisman “The Dragon Expansion” hooked-me up very quickly. Personally, I always imagined Dragons to be the mightiest foe an adventurer can possibly face to prove themself in any fantasy adventure. Talisman is definitely one of this game where the players need to develop their characters through exploration and battle in order to overcome a powerful final boss and gain the Crown of Command: the most powerful of all artefacts.
The great idea behind The Dragon Expansion is that the Crown is also craved by three powerful Dragons. These three Dragon Lords, Varthrax, Grilipus and Cadorus, constantly fight among themselves for supremacy while at the same time working against the players to prevent them to reach their treasure. The new game mechanics are designed to show both the struggle between the dragons and the effect this has on the characters and the land. This way, the expansion does not only add an alternative final boss but it provides a great background and a scope to the Final Boss existence. The Dragons in this game feel then much more like powerful and intelligent creatures that are racing against the players in the same adventure and this adds a lot to the excitement and theme of the game.
Dragons As Glamour
Related to the idea of Dragons as greedy is their undoubted glamour. Even if terrifying, they are often beautiful creatures and in Cover your Kingdom this leads them to be dubbed Bragons- dragons with bling!
Dragons! As a huge Game of Thrones fan, not to mention having a husband obsessed with the scaly, fire-breathing beasts (he named our previous car Draco!), I love games that include dragons! And with St George’s Day coming up, that’s a good excuse as any to make amends for all that slaying and add more dragons into our lives!
But we have found something even better than your common-or-garden dragons; Bragons! That’s right. Dragons got themselves some serious bling in Cover Your Kingdom by Grandpa Beck Games. And ooh they know it!
If you haven’t seen or played Cover Your Kingdom, it’s a spin-off from Cover your Assets. And honestly, it’s a box choc full of some of the best illustrations and puns I have ever seen. Bragons are there because to be absent would be a tabletop tragedy! I won’t go into the Unique-horns or the Pigxies or the Bragons’ other magical mates here, but you get the idea. Apryl Stott is a genius when it comes to creating these creatures, and the game play is fun too! Essentially, it’s card-based set collection and hand management with a super heavy dose of terrific take-that at its fire breathing heart. Vying to attract magical creatures back to your kingdom, you and your opponents will be drafting cards and stealing (sorry, I mean, building!) cards to form Clans and score the most magic by end game. The neat thing is that you can attempt to take your cards back so turns become a series of raise-the-stakes play-offs which is a ruthless, riotous, roller-coaster of a ride!
Of course, every cultural trope is vulnerable to being undermined, and the awe-inspiring, dangerous creatures of D&D have recently been undercut by some decidedly cute dragonic representations. Of course, some dragons have always been small, and charming. But these dragons are super cute.
As a welsh man, dragons have played a huge part in my upbringing. For as long as I can remember I have been drawn to those fire breathing beauties whether in books, on screens or all over my walls through various wallpapers. However I was never as drawn in by the harbingers of death as seen in Game of Thrones but more by the friendly, cute little creatures that I read about in Dick King-Smith’s Dragon Boy. Well welcome to the table Flamecraft. This worker/dragon placement game set Kickstarter on fire when its artwork by Sandara Tang first got released.
The game sees you move around a series of shops as you collect key resources such as meat or toast in order to satisfy spells to help enchant and empower said shops. As you improve the quality of the town you gain reputation points as the other townsfolk show you the love, and the player with the most reputation wins the game. This game more than many I know is filled with so much positive interaction.
You constantly gift resources to other players and help cooperatively make the town a better place. This world of adorable dragons working alongside humans is far from the flame throwing killers of other games. Flamecraft is all about cuteness. And feeding into this are the vast amount of puns scattered through the cards. You might get your baking goods from Critical Rolls or grab something to eat at Draco Bell. This might not appeal to all but, if like me, you like to sit by the campfire with your dragon roasting marshmallows rather than taking over fortified villages then Flamecraft is for you!
Dragonimo is the slightly more kid friendly version of the well-known hit Kingdomino. This is a simple domino laying game where you are trying to connect matching terrain types to earn yourself dragon eggs. Kids like dragons more than crowns, it would appear. But in all seriousness, the fun of this game is the luck of whether you flip over a dragon in your egg or an empty shell.
Setup is simple, you stack up the domino tiles and hand out a starting tile to each player. The game comes with lots of dragon egg tokens, which all need to be shuffled up and placed egg side up in the different colours. These different colours correspond to the different terrain types. Just like in the original games, not all terrain types are created equally, there are more of the light green grass terrains than of the icy mountains. Additionally in some of the terrains the likelihood of you getting a dragon is higher than in others. So some terrains are better than others to make matches.
The main change here to bring the age range down to 5+ is simplification of the scoring. Although there is no need to make a match when you place a domino down, if you do you will be able to flip over one of the egg tokens in the matching colour. On the reverse, these will either show a broken egg shell or a baby dragon. Each baby dragon is worth one victory point, of course
The power, splendor and beauty of dragons are a rich source of inspiration for game designers- they are just so vibrant! But all of these representations come essentially from a European perspective on dragons. I personally can’t wait till some enterprising designer incorporates the Ninki Nanka into a great design.
The future’s bright, the future’s flame-shaped!