Car Games: Red Dragon Inn

Magic: the Gathering: the Drinking Game

Red Dragon Inn is a game about fantasy heroes getting drunk and thrown out of bars. In this case it’s one specific bar called the Red Dragon. You already slew the dragon, took its gold, and now you’re in town with a beltpouch full of gold coins. You want some ale, perhaps a game of chance, some quality time with the Wench, and some good times with friends.  That’s the high concept, and what a high concept it is! The game delivers on this great concept with some truly funny humor and adorable artwork (am I allowed to use that word? To hell with it, it really is adorable). You play one of a surprisingly large range of heroes over four main boxes and a lot of little expansion packs. It starts with the usual, a wizard, a warrior, a rogue and healer. By the fourth box, things get pretty weird.


There are a lot of Red Dragon Inn products. I own three; the third boxed set, and the Pooky and Natyli Allies sets. The third box gives you four characters: Wizgille, a gnome tinkerer, Phrenk, a troll brewmaster, Kaylin, a pixie enchantress, and Serena, an orc  paladin. Yeah. They’re recognizable fantasy tropes, but getting at least a little on the odd side.


In the Allied sets, Pooky is the rabbit familiar of Zot, the wizard in the first boxed set who stayed up after his master went on to bed. Natyli is a Troll witchdoctor and Phrenk’s niece. Does it really matter which particular character you play? Yes it definitely does, but not so much that you’re going to feel gimped by a bad choice. Everyone can do the same core moves and actions, but have their own specialties. This is just enough to be more than flavor and actually have some impact on gameplay. As you can see, RDI is also a game with a lot more female characters than ‘the girl’, ‘the princess’ and ‘totally not Xena’. It’s a game where women of all shapes, sizes and characters can murder people, take their cash and spend it getting hammered in a tavern full of weirdos.


Concept is fine, but how’s the gameplay? Let’s get this out of the way. Red Dragon Inn is a fighting game, like Magic: the Gathering, or one of those customizable deck games. It doesn’t even try all that hard to disguise it! Instead of Health you have Fortitude. Instead of Wounds you have Alcohol Level. When the two meet you don’t die, you pass out blind stinking drunk. The other resource is gold. When you run out of money, they kick you out of the bar. You can’t customize your deck, but you do have at least… twenty characters to choose from depending on what sets and decks you buy. There’s a fair amount of variety in how the different characters play and how they perform the various actions. Most have their own special rules, allowing a surprising amount of strategy for such a simple base game.

You start with your own little board which measures how drunk you are, and you start with some gold. You lose if your Alcohol Level and Fortitude levels meet. You also lose if you run out of gold. You start with a hand of seven cards, and each player goes through four phases: Discard and Draw, Action, Buy Drinks, Drink. If you get too plastered to remember this order, don’t worry! Its printed right on your play board! Hurray! First you discard and draw back up to seven cards. Got some deader cards, just discard them when its your turn again and draw up to four. Next, play an action card. These can be quite a few things, from giving you fortitude or gold, hurting other players or even stranger things. Most are relatively straightforward.


Next, you buy drinks, typically just one and put it on the Drink Me! spot on another player’s board. Finally, you draw the top card of YOUR Drink Me! pile, and deal with whatever it is! Most, of course, are going to be drinks, ranging for Light Ales that give only one Alcohol to the dreaded Dragon Breath Ale which gives a whopping 4 Alcohol. Some get weird, some have special rules, and some are drinking contests that drag everyone into your drunken spree.


Now there are other cards that shake all this up. You have Sometimes cards, that generally counteract something or act as a surprise if their condition happens, and then Anytime cards that you can whip out at will. These are pretty standard fare for anyone familiar with Magic or its many clones, but they all capture the spirit of the game well.


Given that the main boxes for RDI are 10.5” square, you might be wondering how this can possibly qualify as a Car Game. These boxes are too big to fit in a glove box, and way too big to fit inconspicuously in your purse. This is where the RDI allies packs come in. They’re about 4” x 5.5” or so and contain one character deck, and a small size board and tokens for play. Just get one of the big sets for the drink deck, a second Allies pack, and you are good to go for playing Red Dragon Inn at the bar of your choice for some truly meta play. See if you or your character gets kicked out of your bar first!

My Recommendation:

I love this game. I wouldn’t have spent so much time writing this up if I hated it now would I? It is what it is, a very very light easy version of magic with lots of booze, gambling and wenches. If you’re a hardcore gamer this is probably not for you, but its just right for a Car Game, something light you can pop out and play in a coffee shop, a bar, a restaurant after dinner. You can share this with your borderline gamer or non gamer friends and trust they’ll pick up the gist by the second time round the table. I actually think RDI is a good stepping stone game for someone you’re trying to get into those customizable games. If you love those games, but the people you play with are too filthy casual for stuff like that, give this a try. Who doesn’t want to play a game with a drunken wizard teleporting his drinks around?