Author: Lutz Stepponat

Publisher: Pegasus 2004

Awards: none



The story of a successful boardgame sometimes can be compared to the story of a blockbuster movie: everybody cries for a sequel because the first part was overwhelmingly good. However, whereas the movie industry is not always successful in creating a sequel which could keep the quality of the first part, the new game Im Schatten des Drachen by Lutz Stepponat by no means has to hide behind its predecessor - Rückkehr der Helden.

In essence, Im Schatten des Drachen is a fantasy adventure boardgame which works on the same playing mechanisms as Rückkehr der Helden. Thus, each of the players has a Hero which he moves on the gameboard, faces monsters and quests, develops his attributes and tries to win the game by overcoming the final enemy. So, if you want to learn more about the basic playing priciples of this game, it would be most advisable for you to refer to my review of "Rückkehr der Helden" and then return here in order to read about the differences and new ides which were introduced in Im Schatten des Drachen.

To start with, Im Schatten des Drachen is a game which was designed to be played by two players only. The size of the gameboard has been reduced to an area of 3*3 landscape tiles, and the players have three different characters which they can chose to play: the Paladin, the Hobbit or the Orc. As know from Rückkehr der Helden, these Heroes are available in both male and female versions, but what is more important is the fact that they are 1-to-1 compatible with the Heroes found in Rückkehr der Helden. Thus, all character cards may be used in both games, and as you will learn later, Rückkehr der Helden even can also be played as an expansion to Rückkehr der Helden.

A major change was introduced to the game by the fact that the personality of the final enemy was changed for the new game. Instead of the Nameless Tyrant, the players now will have to face a Dragon who terrorises the land with its terrible raids. The Dragon's Lair is located on one of the landscape tiles, and there a randomly drawn Dragon-card will be waiting for the first player to arrive and challenge it to battle. However, apart the need to develop his character's skills to stand a chance in the battle against the Dragon, a player also will have to find a magical weapon before he will be allowed to challenge the Dragon, since only one of three different magic weapons actually can hurt the Dragon.

Thus, three of the Adventure Markers on the gameboard show an enemy who - if defeated - will give a scroll to the Hero which outlines the steps he needs to take in order to build a magic weapon. The player now will receive a Major Quest the complexity of which can be compared to the kind of Major Quest known from Rückkehr der Helden, since it will require the player to visit several locations and to find some people or items which are needed to complete the magic weapon. Once the player has completed all the steps necessary to obtain the magic weapon, he may move to the Dragon's Lair and challenge the Dragon to battle. Depending on the type of magic weapon the character has constructed, the battle now will be made either with the character's Magic, Closed Combat or Ranged Combat skill.

The battle against the Dragon will continue until either the character or the Dragon is loses his last Life point. If the character overwhelms the Dragon, the game is over and the player will have scored a major victory. However, if the character should be killed, then the game will continue for another four turns to give the second player a chance to challenge the Dragon for battle. If he should do so and defeat the Dragon, the second player will have scored a major victory, whereas if the second player should not challenge the Dragon, then the game ends with a minor victory for the second player. If the second player should lose the challenge as well, then the game ends in a draw.

However, the new elements in Im Schatten des Drachen also include the Adventure Markers and the landscape tiles, and here several neat twists are definately worth mentioning. So, one the one hand, there now are special "Dragon"-events in the deck of replacement Adventure Markers, and these events will come into the game whenever a player draws such a marker. These Dragon-events represent the fact that the Dragon is hauting the land and its inhabitants, and thus the markers bring with them sudden attacks by the Dragon which may result in the loss of an item or gold or a frightening of open Adventure Markers which may cause them to be removed from the gameboard.

As indicated above, the game may also be used as an expansion to Rückkehr der Helder, and when both games are used together to form one "big" game the full potential of the game becomes much easier to grab. Due to the fact that the expanded game unites two possibilities to win the game by either fighting the Nameless Tyrant or the Dragon, the players now have an even broader choice of which strategy they should pursue. On the one hand a player's fate certainly remains determined by luck since he will have to draw the random Adventure Markers and wait for what fate might offer to him, but on the other hand a player now also can react to the Adventure Markers he might find by properly adjusting his strategy. This gives the players at least a certain degree of control over his character which other fantasy boardgames are missing, and I would say that I find these efforts to get away from the more well-known dice-rolling-games rather attractive.

The only thing I still miss in the game is a slightly higher player interaction, since the other players only interest a player as far as their progress and their discoveries are concerned. There is no possibility to meet or fight other player characters during the course of the game, and it still feels somewhat strange that the characters move through the same land without ever meeting each other. However, this one point of criticism by no means can be seen as a major flaw. Quite the opposite - the game is now well developed and it has grown a solid and enjoyable playing mechanism which will offer fun for many playing hours.

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Copyright © 2004 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Trier, Germany