Tears of The Dragon – Boardgame Review
Once upon a time, there was a dragon named Erynmil who desired a suitor. She searched the world far and wide, but could not find anyone wise and wonderful enough to match her love of life. Her father, enraged by her stubbornness, turned her into a human and cast her into a tower. He put a spell upon the tower which denied access to all but the one man who could meet her expectations. Many warlords and wizards have vied for the chance to free her, but none have succeeded… until now. Two men have stepped upon the stage. Lord Gorganum and Lord Forseti have gathered great armies and powerful wizards, and are searching the far corners of the realm for the arcane lore that will release Erynmil from her confinement.
Such is the back story for Tears of the Dragon (website), a light fantasy wargame published a few years ago by Avalanche Press. Even though there is no explanation as to why a dragon would desire a "human" mate, and how this would have worked out on the honeymoon, there’s enough to this simple combat game to keep one’s interest.
The system itself is based upon AP’s Grenada. A simple point-to-point system, the leaders, wizards, and armies move and fight from city, town, castle, and port trying to crush their opponent. The basic objective in the game is to search the old ruins spread throughout the kingdom, wherein lies great knowledge that the battling lords must acquire to win Erynmil’s freedom (and her heart). As soon as eight pieces of lore are found, the player may attempt to sail across the sea to the tower where his beautiful dragon/human bride awaits.
The mechanics themselves are simple. Each player rolls a ten-sided die to determine who gets initiative each round; high die wins. That winner becomes the active player and decides whether to activate one leader (and all the units under his command), or whether to tempt fate and roll on an activation table which can yield up to four activations. The downside to rolling on the chart is that you could give your opponent activations, and then you must roll again. So if you’re rolling really badly, you could literally give the enemy a win. It rarely happens, however, that rolling on the chart meets with devastation, so I almost exclusively forego the sure thing for a chance roll. It can be painful, but rarely game ending.
Combat is relatively simple as well. When an army and/or single unit is activated and moved into an enemy-occupied location, each player rolls a die for each unit and compares that roll to the unit’s strength value. If the number rolled is equal to or less than the strength value, that unit has successfully hit the enemy. Hits are taken as "step" damage until a unit is destroyed and removed from the board (although they may return later as reinforcements). In addition, leaders with their armies can add their attack and/or defense values to units, thereby bolstering their strength. Combat continues until either side retreats or one side is eliminated.
Where the fantasy comes into play is through wizards. Each side has a set of wizards with their own spells, and these spells can be cast as indicated by the spell’s description. Some of them aide in movement, others in combat. There are more than enough spells to use, and they can be rather important in your success or failure. In addition to these, the Gorganum player has access to a fairyland where little winged creatures called Cadmin can be recruited. They aren’t the strongest combat units in play, but their numbers more than make up for their lack of muscle. And finally, there is an ancient dragon named Terromax who can be recruited and is the strongest unit in play. But keeping him under control is dangerous: He may wind up eating his handler and going berserk.
Each side’s armies are slightly different, in that Lord Forseti’s army is more of your traditional medieval force of highly experienced footmen and knights, while Lord Gorganum’s forces are "fantasy" oriented, with more wizards but light barbarian-style troops. These differences do allow for variable styles of play, especially if the Gorganum player can bring Terromax to bear.
Like most Avalanche Press games, the components are of decent quality, although I take little umbrage with the counters. Though made of very sturdy and slick cardboard, the only real difference between opposing forces is red text for Gorganum units, green text for Forseti. And, until you’ve played a few times, you may find it difficult to distinguish between cities and towns. But these production weaknesses aren’t enough to keep one aggravated for long.
Despite some of its production short-comings, I recommend Tears of the Dragon for those who like fantasy-themed combat games. It’s a light-hearted, easily learned game with enough play variety to keep you entertained. And at its list price (twenty dollars US on AP’s website), it’s a bargain.
Robert has been in the gaming business for over 12 years, serving as the editor for Avalon Hill’s THE GENERAL magazine, and as a writer, designer, and producer for Stanley Associates, Interactive Magic, and Talonsoft. He currently works for BreakAway Games, and is also an assistant editor for the horror and fantasy magazine Weird Tales.