Game System Analysis – Drakborgen

The box of the game, the title translates to "Dragoncastle". The english version is called Dungeonquest.

The box of the game, the title roughly translates to “Dragoncastle”. This is the swedish remastered version and the english version is called Dungeonquest.

Drakborgen is a fantasy themed strategy game where the goal is to gather treasures that has the most worth and then escape the castle alive. Two to four players enter the castle, but between the play sessions that I’ve had, only one or two players made it out alive.

Core Mechanics


Combat

There are multiple smaller systems which make up the game and I’ll describe each systems role in short below.

The sun dial

The sun dial acts as the games’ timer, and when the sun have reached 21 the game ends and everyone still inside the castle is considered dead. This makes players still inside the castle to want to get out before the “timer” runs out or they’ve lost the game. The sun dial progresses every time the sun dice shows something other than a cloud. In every other case the dial increases with the number of suns on the dice.

Board layout

The playing field in Drakborgen is a grid of nine by nine tiles which works as either rooms or corridors. The corners acts as entrances to the castle. One of the nine tiles in the middle of the board is the treasure chamber in which the dragon guarding the treasures sleeps. When a player enters the chamber she takes a treasure card and a dragon card.

Turn order

Drakborgen features two different movement and turn-taking patterns. First there’s the standard one and then there’s an advanced one. I prefer the latter because of the rapid pace in which a game can be played without feeling rushed. The standard way is to take turns moving the character one step in the desired direction, execute the event and let the next player do the same. In the advanced rule-set each player moves during the movement-phase and then only takes turns to execute the existing events. By playing with the advanced rule-set players have a chance of ending up on the same tile and then have to decide whether to engage in combat and who gets the treasure if there are one. As soon as a player loses the game, she will take control of all the enemies and gets the option to move a monster each turn. When a monster encounters a player, a battle gets initiated as usual.

Tile Types

There are a number of different types of tiles. Here are the major ones.

  • Corridor
    When a player encounters a corridor, she proceeds to continue to the following unexplored tile, and this counts as a single movement between multiple corridors.
  • Normal room
    Upon entering a room which have no special properties, an event card is drawn.
  • Room with debris
    There are some rooms which have debris in them. When a player enters a room like this she must perform an agility check by rolling a D12 lower than their agility.
  • Treasure chamber
    There’s only one treasure chamber tile and it’s one of the nine tiles in the middle.

Tile Features

Some of the tiles have special features which affect the flow of the game.

  • Doors
    Tiles with a door can be opened by either; rolling a D12 lower than their agility twice, or rolling a D12 lower than their strength. The latter results in a door which is opened permanently for the rest of the game while the former enables the player to choose whether to leave it open or not.
  • Iron bars
    Iron bars are considered a trap and only come into effect when a player have entered the room. In order to leave the same way the player entered, she need to perform a strength check by rolling a D12 lower than their strength.
  • Dungeon openings
    On some tiles there is an entrance to the underground dungeons and a number which determines what number the player should roll on the D12, in order to enter that tile from the dungeon.

Dungeons

The dungeons are what’s underneath the castle and traversing them can be difficult since when a player have entered a dungeon. The only way to leave on is to roll the D12 with a value which corresponds to one of the room tiles.

Encounters

Encounters can be against both players and enemies. When a player faces an enemy, the first choice she has is to either; flee, attack or wait. The player then draws a card which determine what the outcome is. The enemy can then either; attack, flee or remain neutral. When an enemy is neutral it remains on the current tile and only again become a threat when the next player enters the same tile. Battles between players work in the same way except the whole behavior stage is skipped and instead the players themselves choose what the do.

Combat

When there’s a battle multiple factors play a large role in the outcome. A battle works as follows; each opponent begins with the amount of HP (hitpoints) which the max HP dictates. Each opponent takes their battle-discs and choose one of the stats which corresponds to the stats on their character sheet. The players then reveal the chosen stat and the discs determines whether someone got hit or if there’s a miss. The whole system works like a four part, rock-paper-scissors where; agility beats armor, armor beats strength, strength beats mind, and mind beats agility. If none of these combinations are achieved, then it’s considered a miss. And after three consecutive misses the target automatically flees. When one of the combinations are achieved then the losing opponent lose one HP. When both opponents choose the same stat, then the one with the lesser stat-value loses the difference between the stat-values in HP. The fight ends when someone wither have fled or defeated the other opponent.

During combat some characters have the ability to use throwing weapons which give them an advantage with some luck with the dice.

Rings

In the beginning of the game each player receives a random ring if their character sheet don’t say otherwise. Rings are hidden to the other players since they grant the player special abilities which can come to use later in the game.

Amulets

The amulet is an item which a player can get from an event card. The interesting characteristic which amulets have is that; the player which found it, don’t know what it does until a criteria is fulfilled. Only one of the other players knows what criteria that is and keeps that in mind during the rest of the game.

The Good


Drakborgen features multiple great aspects and below follows some which I think are the most noteworthy.

Variation

Drakborgen is a game in which each play session differ from the previous one. This is partly because of all the randomized elements within the game but mostly due to the varied play style each character offers.

Character diversity

The first choice the player has is what character she will be playing. Each character have its pros and cons, some are tougher, some have valuable items which will come to good use at one time or multiple times during the game while others are agile and have a easier time avoiding enemies and traps.

Random tiles

Whenever a player enters an unexplored tile during the movement phase there can either be a room tile or a corridor. If there’s a corridor and it leads to another unexplored tile the player move on to that tile. When the tile is a room the player should draw a room card which determines what the next event is.

Risk vs Reward

When exploring the castle players have the choice of at any time leave the castle with the accumulated treasures and be considered out from the game. This leads to none of the players wanting to leave until the last final rounds. Nobody wants to leave early and risk the chance of finding that particular treasure which grants the victory.

This comes into play at two parts of the game. First there is the regular exploration of rooms, where there is a risk of bumping into a, difficult to beat, monster or having the luck of finding a valuable treasure. The second part is whenever a player enters the treasure chamber. First upon entering there’s a risk of waking the dragon. This have a one in twelve chance of happening the first time since there’s twelve dragon cards which each gets discarded upon draw. As such the chance of waking the dragon increases the longer the player stays in the chamber. The pile only gets refilled when no one of the players are inside with the sleeping dragon.

The Bad


Here follows some of the things which I find are the flaws of the game.

Tile placement

According to the rules, all the traversable tiles are meant to be placed foremost with its event tile underneath. This means that you have a grid of stacked tiles which constantly have to be readjusted due to someone accidentally bumping into a tile which cause every other tiles next to it to move.B Because of that we skipped the entire tile placement phase and instead grabbed a tile and its event from a pile when needed. This didn’t disturb any game systems because the randomness of exploring rooms and corridors was still there with a well sorted deck of tiles.

Killing players

As soon as a player ends up the same tile, one of them can choose to engage in combat. If someone does start a fight with the other player, then it’s only to disable the other person from winning the game, since there’s no real reward in killing another player. This I think is a bad incentive to kill other players and there should be some kind of reward in doing so. Perhaps in form of some of the loot which the defeated player carry.

One time events

Whenever someone explores a room, an event can happen. I’d like there to be a way for players to return to a room where an event have occurred and reactivate another event. Instead, when the players choose to leave the castle and there are no enemies left in their way, you can just consider the game ended since there are no more events which can occur.

Random Combat

When playing the combat felt a bit too random in my opinion. And there weren’t too much difference between the enemies in the game. As such, some felt redundant because of how the stats were somewhat similar to other enemies. I would have preferred some kind of system where the enemy was reacting more to each attack through perhaps some kind of graph which would act like an extension of the initial encounter behaviors where a specific approach not yielded the same result every time. That might have the negative effect of making the game a bit more complex though. But I think that’s a fair price to pay in favor of more interesting combat since it’s such a large part of what you do in the game.

Target Audience


The minimum age requirement is advertised as ten years and up on the box, but as previously mentioned I think that is too early for someone to grasp the correlation between all the different systems within the game.
As such the target age should be advertised a few years older and at least thirteen years old in my opinion.

The game is aimed at people who like the fantasy setting and would enjoy a simpler version of a pen and paper role playing game since there’s strict rules of what you can and cannot do.

Summary


Board
In the end, Drakborgen is an enjoyable game and during the play-sessions, there have been great diversity between how each game have played out. The initial character choice have a large inpact on how the game will be played and no game is alike another. Drakborgen have multiple versions and this particular analysis is based on the version called: Drakborgen Legenden which is a remastered version of Drakborgen 1 and Drakborgen 2. This version though isn’t fully fleshed out and I think that maybe there were too few playtests before launch of the revised version.

~Per “Gimmic” Johansson

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2 thoughts on “Game System Analysis – Drakborgen

  1. First of I must say that this game does not feel finished. When we played it, it felt like something that was thrown together during a weekend and was not play tested as much as needed, as you mentioned in the end.
    During our first game I played a low strength character (the ninja) and got stuck in a spider web very early. It took about 5-6 turns before I could break free, and I did not even break the web so I had to try to find another way round which meant backtracking and losing a couple more turns. It felt like most of the hazards were avoided by rolling one or two D12s against your strength, so playing a weak character meant I was at a disadvantage compared to the stronger characters. Having high agility, I felt, was not enough.

    Now it could just be that I played the wrong way and/or we did not understand or found all the rules.

    The Good:
    I agree with what you are saying here, mostly. Because the layout of the castle is different each time it is played, you will never know what will await you. Will you pick a route only to discover that it is a dead end? Or does it lead to the treasure vault? Or maybe you end up face to face with a monster that kills you?
    The Risk vs. Reward in this game is somewhat screwed. It is so many random elements that it ruins some parts of the game.
    For example, the magic ring most of the characters start with. I got a ring that made me light as a feather so I did not have to roll when passing a footbridge and could avoid a chasm if I wanted without rolling anything. I never found a chasm or any treasure so my ring was useless.
    Another player got to the treasure vault pretty early and had luck with the dragon cards and could take like six or seven treasures before the dragon woke up. When the dragon woke up, he just used his ring of teleportation and could easy escape the dragon with all the treasures.

    The Bad:
    We never ended up fighting each other, but I understand your reasoning here. The only reason to kill someone is to make sure that he or she is not a threat any more.
    Another bad thing about this game is that you can die really early. Being killed within the first fifteen minutes of a game that can go on for two to three hours means you just sit there, watching your friends playing and all you can do is moving the monsters that have been discovered but not killed.
    That is, according to me, bad games design. Why cannot the dead player pick another character and try to play catch up? That would mean that it is bad to die, but you can still play and have an impact on the remaining game.
    The combat is probably the most boring part of Drakborgen: Legenden. I could not understand why, if both picked the same stance, it would hurt so much more than if one took the stance that was effective against the other. That was so counter intuitive and frustrating for me.
    I do not think that a more complex system is required, but something else, something that could make it fun and interesting. Maybe something with a dice, like roll a D12 and add the stat, the one with the highest score gets the round.
    Another thing that made me confused was that if you turn a tile and it is a corridor, you can move on and turn another tile. This can be repeated until you find a tile that is not a corridor. But, if you want to go back, you have to move much slower and only take one step each turn. So it is slower to backtrack through corridors than it is to explore them. How did the developers think here?
    I agree with your statement on that there can only be one event in each room. I think that, maybe after the treasure vault has been found or something, there is a chance each time you enter an empty room that a monster will have walked into it and ambushes you. This would hinder the players from easily leaving the castle after they have picked all the treasures and wants to get out. Now, I do not know if this would work, some play testing would have to be done, but as it is now, as long as you did not leave any locked doors it is an easy trip out into safety.

    Target Audience
    Like so much else about this game it feels like the developers did not think things through. Firstly, if you want 10 year olds to be able to play and have a great time, you cannot have so many illogical rules. But on the other hand, maybe it would not be as illogical for a kid as it is for me.
    But I think around 13 to 15 can be the lower age recommendation for Drakborgen: Legenden.

    My conclusion about Drakborgen: Legenden
    Probably one of the most boring and confusing board game I have tried. Too many random elements, for example the magic rings. Why make rings that can only be used in very specific situations and then other rings that can be used any time they like? Especially when you have no control over which ring you pick at the start.
    I think the developers saw this as easy cash and just threw something together. They knew that some would buy it just because it is the third installment in a board game series.
    If they would have play tested it with people that had not played any other Drakborgen game I think they would have realized its flawed and changed things around so that it would feel more intuitive and not so confusing as it is now, especially for me that have not played any other board game like this one.

  2. Pingback: Game System Analysis – Portobello Market | Coder Gimmic

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