reviewed by Moritz Eggert
Quest for the Dragonlords has been around for some time now. What has started as a completely independent attempt to produce an "epic" fantasy game has continued to grow and to mature, which is credit to the extreme creativity and devotion to the game shown by its main creator, Robert Johannessen and a growing community of worldwide fans.
If I would describe QFTDL (the common abbreviation of its also epic name) the simplest description I could think of is "it's a cross between Risk and Talisman".
QFTDL tries to give it's players- in a short time as possible and avoiding the deadlocks and pitfalls of the aforementioned classics - a "Dolby surround game" version of a huge fantasy war that pits Orcs, Barbarians, Elves and Dwarves against each other. The main goal of each player is to expand his own kingdom and to overthrow the other player's monarchs. To achieve this one has not only to build armies but also heroes and wizards. The latter help in combat, but they also are the only units able to safely explore the wasteland, which holds untold riches and treasures, but also the key to winning the game: the possibility to acquire Dragonlords.
Dragonlords are incredibly powerful units that turn the endgame into a series of deadly air attacks on the fortresses of your enemies. These either persevere desperately with their armies or hold against you by acquiring their own dragonlords.
In addition there are also spells, artefacts and countless adventures in the ruins of an ancient civilization thrown into the colourful mix.
In short: everything that is needed for a whopping fantasy campaign game is found in the box of this game, so much that it nearly bursts from the inside from all its imagination and colourful detail.
The main fascination that this game has is its elegant combination of two different styles of games: the adventure game and the wargame. In film the analogy would be a double feature for the price of one film.
Both parts of the game have been streamlined that they interlock beautifully, without overdosing the players on rules or chrome. This is even more apparent in the new edition of the game, which introduces some subtle changes to the still sound and quick-to-grasp system.
Basically each player manages his armies and economy by conquering territory, and especially "gold" territory. The mechanics of the wargame will not be foreign to anybody who has ever played "Risk" or "Axis and Allies". Units have a T.A.S. (total attack strength) that they have to roll under to achieve hits. But of course the fantasy theme demands lots of chrome: there are powerful spells and special abilities thrown into the mix, among them for example the deadly sneak attack of the Elves.
The Quest game on the other hand reminds a little of Talisman, albeit much less involved (which would lengthen the game too much). Basically players send little adventuring parties composed of armies and heroes (the armies are mostly cannon fodder here) into the Wasteland. There are certain spaces where these parties can buy resources, and like in any good adventure game there are items that can come in handy in dire straits, like torches or pickaxes. But mostly parties will explore the "Quest Spaces", which are handled by turning over a large card with three possible outcomes and by throwing a fate die that has 3 results: Blessed, ignored, cursed. The flair text that has to be read for these adventures just adds that extra essence of atmosphere without bogging down the game.
In addition prophecy cards and companion cards add more variety to the quest game. One of the main differences from the first edition is that the quest part of the game has been made even more interesting by introducing these new concepts and also by making the wastelands the central area of the gaming board, thereby increasing player interaction and competition (in the original first addition there were two separate wastelands at each rim of the board, which resulted in certain players never meeting each other while questing there).
Another new feature of the new game board is that it folds on itself, which means that there is a connection from the outermost spaces to the spaces on the other side of the board.
The "building an invincible wall" strategy known to every Risk player doesn't work here at all, as once the Dragonlords enter the game practically every space on the board can be reached, and even before that, through the use of teleport spells. But this also means that the game doesn't become an endless slugfest after the balance of power has long been established, a problem that always plagues Risk-like games.
Fitting for a fantasy game the game comes with an illustrated rulebook, many colourful cards and a new revamped gameboard, but also - most importantly - with a horde of miniatures (and finally the Elves are green, not red, something that bothered me in the first edition). The miniatures are great for an independently produced game and certainly do the job of creating a vast landscape of battling armies. In addition great care has been taken to fill the rulebook with extensive examples and also many variants that make the game longer or shorter or more fitting to personal tastes. One can tell that the world of QFTDL has been playtested extensively, and this results in the 2nd edition being even more accessible than the first.
All in all QFTDL can only be recommended heartily to any fantasy or wargame fan. Of course the producers can't compete with the marketing machine of the Hasbro monster, but in sheer creativity and commitment they have certainly surpassed them.
Dice rolls of course play a role, and a crooked strategist will find that his best plans are often foiled by the turn of fate, but then he will also find many unforgettable stories in this game that demands repeated playing.
Until we meet again - in the Wastelands!
©2006, Westpark Gamers