Players: 2-5 Ages: 13+ Play Time: 15-20 mins per player
The Diary of a Lincoln Geek team met the representatives from Slugfest Games (https://slugfestgames.com) at the 2022 UK Games expo. There Jen Kitzman and her crew introduced us to their range of games and we were thrilled to be asked to review some of the selection they had to offer.
For those who haven't already encountered their Red Dragon Inn game series (like me), don’t panic. Each game in the series works well as a stand-alone (something I was very pleased to find). This means that I, you and this review can pick up any of the numbered sequels/expansions or the original and pretty much jump right ‘inn’.
So first things first what is Red Dragon Inn? This game series is based around a classic trope that pretty much anyone who has ever so much as dabbled in tabletop RPGs will be familiar with. I am of course talking about the fact that so many adventures have either started, ended or both at the X Tavern, Inn, Pub or setting appropriate alternative; because as the saying goes no great story ever started with a glass of milk (well except Luke Skywalker’s). In the Red Dragon Inn games players get to experience many of the various kinds of hijinx, escapades and trouble generally included in fantasy media and RPG tavern scenes. These include gambling, fighting, making/mixing drinks and drinking (obviously). Through all this, the players aim to be the last one standing at the end of the ‘night’.
Yes, it's player elimination time folks...
I find player elimination games to be a bit hit and miss, as these are prone to 'gang up' play style and a player once knocked out is left hanging until the next round/game. However, given the theme and premise I was excited to get down to some heavy drinking and gambling and got stuck in. I unpacked all the components and cracked open the ol’ rulebook. Here I became a little apprehensive as I found that the rulebook was not particularly straightforward. Certainly, a casual gamer could be put off and it took a slow first (dummy run) play through to get reasonably sure of things. After that, however, it all clicked into place and Red Dragon Inn is actually a pretty simple game. So in brief, here’s how it works:
In this game players track their gold, health and the alcohol consumed, because if they succumb to the effects of the drink and pass out or if they can’t buy more drinks then they are done. The core game mechanics haven't changed much (if at all) from the original 2007 Red Dragon Inn (1). The various sequels/expansions and mini expansions mostly add new characters with the occasional new game mode to spice things up – or brew up some more intrigue if you will.
ƒTo start, everyone chooses a character and takes possession of that character's player card, 40 card main deck, any unique mini decks/trackers, ten gold, as well as one red and one white glass bead as tracker tokens. When setting up your character, your health is represented by a red bead and is set at 20 and your alcohol intake at zero. Then shuffle your 40 card main deck and any side decks and place them next to the relevant spaces next to your player card. Each person then draws a stating hand of seven cards and the drink deck cards are shuffled and one dealt face down to each players 'Drink Me area.
Now you are ready to start your pre or post adventure drinking session.
Each turn, a player will first (if they want) discard any cards from their hand and draw back up to full. Then they may play an action card, which can have a variety of effects including starting gambling (which is essentially played as a minigame that interrupts the main turn sequence). Players then end their turn by first ‘buying’ a drink for another person followed by drinking one or more drinks from their drink me pile and resolving the drink effects.
These basics form the foundation of pretty much every aspect of Red Dragon Inn and for the most part card text is all you need to clarify events. However, some things do require a little help to understand and and the rulebook does have most of the guidance you need, once you can navigate it, including a specific card effect section.
Meet The Characters:
Each character in the Red Dragon Inn franchise (certainly in RDI 8: Pub Crawl) plays differently from each other. This means that they have their own strengths, weaknesses and game mechanics/rules. The complete roster of Red Dragon Inn characters currently has over 50 different personalities to choose from. Having not played with any of those included in other sets, I can’t offer much insight on how unique they are.
However, I can inform you that the five characters included in Pub Crawl are each quite different to each other. First you have father Farai, a human holy man who brews and distils his own drinks. His unique ability is to slowly add progress on his booze production whilst playing from his main deck. Once an in progress brew completes, it is resolved as an additional instant effect. Next you have Lucky, a goblin crook who has some slightly more powerful cards in her main deck. But these come at a cost; these cards build up trouble with the guards which must eventually be beaten, bribed or drunk away. This however reduces your health/gold or gets you more drunk, all of which are dangerous.
Possibly the trickiest character to play in this set is Nerodia the gorgon, she has the ability to turn opponents' cards to stone temporally and use them to enhance the effect of her own. Additionally, Nerodia may be used as a villain in the boss battle variant of the game. Moving on, we have Phyll Startusk, an orc barista/mixologist who has the ability to enhance and alter the effects of his opponents drinks. His mix-in cards return to his ingredients shelf rather than discard, which essentially builds up a second hand of cards; Phyll gradually gets stronger the longer the game goes on.
Last up is my personal favorite and not just because she's also called Sam. Samantha is a human bookie whose additional ability is to set up fights and brawls. Usually these will extract gold from or harm other players, but can also harm her. The effects of each fight are drawn from her separate brawler deck. Samantha also has another trick up her sleeve, the brawl count. The more fights she starts the better, as she gets some bonuses for four, seven and ten plus fights. The last of which is to permanently give out additional drinks.
Red Dragon Inn 8: Pub Crawl contains compatible characters and rules for all the game variants that have been added over the years. It also brings with it the new Pub Crawl Variant. Each of the exciting new characters run their own drinking establishment. Some more reputable and better for your health than others. To set up the pub crawl, each bar has its own location card and drink deck. Simply shuffle the decks, place them next to the correct location and finally place the party maker at the Red Dragon. In Pub Crawl players start (and hopefully finish) the night at the Red Dragon Inn. Each time a drinking phase with a chaser (second drink) is resolved, the current player chooses which pub the party goes to next. Each pub has its own effect on the party when they arrive these can increase or decrease players' resources and may or may not be optional. The goal of Pub Crawl is still to be the last player standing, and if possible (but not necessary), drink all the character owned bars dry and finish the night at the best joint in town – The Red Dragon.
How Good Is Red Dragon Inn 8: Pub Crawl?
I truly enjoyed playing this game. The theme, characters and game play are all great fun. The Red Dragon Inn brings to the table much of the fun of tabletop role play games (albeit not the character creation/development and questing aspect) and condenses it into a 15 – 20 minute per player game. Much simpler than struggling to meet up regularly for a few hours to progress as little as 15 min in setting time – especially if there is combat. The Red Dragon Inn 8: Pub Crawl is of course massively expandable too, with over 50 characters to collect, so I would expect that everyone can find at least one character that speaks to them. Of course the potential downside of this is the “gotta catch ‘em all” syndrome which will end up costing you a fair few pennies and shelf space.
The Pub Crawl variant is a fun new addition to the game's mechanics and does kind of reflect the feel of the real thing. Particularly the sense of “I don’t have to be the last one standing, but please let me make it to the last pub”. The fun new characters and an enjoyable new game mode, while perhaps not being dramatically game changing, are in my opinion enough for an established RDI player to seriously consider expanding their collection. But perhaps more importantly (given its standalone nature), this is a really good game for jumping into the series.
But is this game perfect and how does it score on our D6 rating system?
Is Red Dragon Inn perfect ? No, but it is still very good. The first downside to this game is that the rulebook is not as well written as it could be. For a game that plays quite simply the rulebook is quite daunting. Having researched the manuals for the earlier games it seems that the format hasn’t changed since day one and new information just gets grafted on. While this format will be familiar for returning players the over 15-year-old rules are due for a modern rewrite to be clearer at the start before then introducing the subtleties of rules and the exceptions etc.
Overall, this game, whilst simple at heart, can provide some challenges to younger players or those who find language difficult as some cards have a moderate chunk of fairly small print to describe their effects. But this does vary a little depending on which character is being played.
These two flaws made it very difficult for me to settle on a fair score for the Red Dragon Inn. This is because they can pose a fairly significant obstacle to the game's accessibility and playability. However, as familiarity with the game grew these seemed less and less. If you do struggle with rules/language I do recommend sticking with it and finding a friend or online tutorial to help. In the end I couldn’t deny the fun I had once fully comfortable with the rules and thus Red Dragon Inn 8 just drunkenly crawls across the threshold at a 5/6.
There are two things I would like to see in future Red Dragon Inn games that I think would elevate this already entertaining game. Whilst, I appreciate that this is a player elimination game, I would like to see a variant rule that gives eliminated players the slim chance to rejoin the game for example; roll a die to see if you start to sober up/earn gold. Additionally, this game could I think benefit from some additional trackers for when gambling interrupts standard play to mark current player (for when play resumes), and one to show who is currently winning the bid.
By now I expect you've either got a drink or really want your favourite tipple. So go ahead and get your drink on and do check out Red Dragon Inn if it sounds like your mug of ale. In the meantime Stay safe and keep gaming.
Having played this several times with Mr Samwise, myself and the missus really enjoyed the game! My lovely lady is dyslexic and at times the wording on the cards was challenging, which made it difficult to cope at times, which was frustrating given the difficult-to-understand rulebook that Samwise mentioned. However, after playing several times / re-reading rules and cross referencing, we soon had them figured out and were soon enjoying the game! Like Samwise, it was our first time playing the Red Dragon series and we would certainly check out other titles.. we very much agree with Sam on the score and we too give it 5/6
Mr and Mrs Talent and Founder