You’ve ventured through the deepest dungeons, conquering treacherous traps and fearsome monsters. You’ve slain dragons and recovered lost treasures of unimaginable value. All in a day’s work for a fearless band of adventurers, right? But fighting monsters and looting treasure sure is thirsty work, so after all of your heroic deeds are done, you and your companions head over to The Red Dragon Inn for a pint, or two, or twelve… Just make sure you can maintain at least a modicum of sobriety and at least a coin or two on hand. The inn doesn’t take kindly to deadbeats that can’t pay their tab or heroes passed out all over the bar!
In The Red Dragon Inn, players take on the role of fantasy adventurers such as you might find in any standard tabletop roleplaying game. There’s a fighter, a wizard, a sneak, and a priestess, and many more roles to choose from! On their turn, players can play action cards to affect other players in a variety of ways, such as reducing their fortitude (hitpoints), taking money from them, or even challenging everyone to a round of gambling! Then the player takes a drink, which typically increases their Alcohol level. If a player’s alcohol level exceeds their fortitude, or if they run out of coins, they are ejected from the inn, and the last player standing wins!
To begin The Red Dragon Inn, players must choose a character. All five editions released so far (The Red Dragon Inn-The Red Dragon Inn 5) contain four different characters, and there are several Allies expansions that add one extra character each. The gameplay of the different sets isn’t terribly different aside from the added variety of characters, so they can all be integrated seamlessly. Once everyone has chosen a character, they take that character’s deck, a playmat, 10 coins, and red/clear counters.
The red counter tracks Fortitude and begins on 20, while the clear counter tracks Alcohol (basically drunkenness) and begins on 0. Players shuffle their decks and draw a hand of 7 cards. Finally, the drink deck is shuffled and placed in the center of the play area. All players take one card from the top of the drink deck and place it face down in their “Drink Me” pile. Then, randomly determine a starting player and you’re ready to begin!
On each player’s turn, they carry out a few different actions in sequence. First, they may discard any number of cards from their hand if they wish, and then draw back up from their character deck to a hand of 7 cards. Then, the player may choose to play one Action card from their hand. There are several card types, including Action, Sometimes, and Anytime cards. Action cards can only be played by a player on his or her turn, while Anytime cards can be played at any time (fancy that!), even on other players’ turns. Sometimes cards have specific criteria dictating when they may be played — for instance, “Play this card when another player makes you lose Fortitude” or “Play this card to negate a Sometimes or Anytime card”. You can sometimes play Sometimes cards on your turn, but most often they’ll be played in response to other players’ actions. In any event, on your turn , you may play one Action card if you have one in your hand and choose to do so.
Action cards have varying effects. Often, they’ll let you target another player and make them lose fortitude. Other times they can let you take gold from the other players. They could have special effects that are unique to your character. Or you could play the “Gambling? I’m In!” Action card to start a round of gambling. Gambling is a special game-within-a-game that all players participate in. When a player plays the “Gambling? I’m In!” card as their action, everyone must ante one gold coin, unless they have a card they can play to ignore the round of gambling. The player who initiated the gambling round starts “in control of” the round of gambling (winning), but each player, going clockwise, may choose to play another gambling card from their hand to take control of the round. Other players could play another “Gambling? I’m In!” card to take control of the round, or an “I raise!” card to make everyone ante an additional coin, or the “Winning Hand” card, on which no other gambling cards can be played. There are also Cheating cards, which are the only cards that can beat a Winning Hand, and sometimes have another effect, like forcing another player out of the round of gambling. Play proceeds around the table until everyone in turn chooses to pass and play no more gambling cards. Then, the person currently in control wins and takes all of the coins everyone has anted. Remember that if anyone runs out of coins at any point, they are ejected from the Inn and out of the game!
After playing an action (or choosing not to) on their turn, players must buy a drink. This doesn’t actually cost any money, but the player takes the top card of the Drink deck and places it face down on any other player’s Drink Me pile. You never want anyone to be without a drink, because then they’ll start to sober up and friends don’t let friends be sober! Also, if at any point the Drink deck runs out, all players must pay one coin to the inn to buy more drinks and the discard pile is shuffled to refill the deck. To end their turn, a player must reveal the top card of their Drink Me pile and take its effects. Most cards are drinks which will increase your alcohol level, or possibly decrease your fortitude, or a combination of both. Some drinks include chasers, which means that the player reveals another card from their Drink Me pile (if they have one) and add its effects to the first drink. There are also some drink events which can effect all players, such as the Drinking Contest where everyone must take a card from the Drink deck and reveal it, taking its effects, with the player who revealed the card with the highest alcohol content gets a coin from each other player. If at any point a player’s Alcohol level meets or exceeds their Fortitude, they pass out and are eliminated from the game. If this happens, half of that player’s gold goes to the inn, while the other half is evenly divided up among the remaining players.
Play continues clockwise until all players but one are eliminated. That last player is the winner! If a situation ever arises where multiple players are eliminated at the same time and this ends the game, all of the players eliminated in this manner share the victory.
This is a game that’s near and dear to my heart because it’s one we learned a long time ago when we first go into gaming. We started collecting the sets soon after we got into the hobby and have all but three of the characters (excluding the new characters coming out towards the end of this year). One thing I really like about this game is that it can be a bit silly. I in particular like that there are different characters and enjoy acting out the titles on the cards, however, the game can be just as fun without someone being a complete weirdo. A lot of the decks do the same things, however, so I like that there are characters with extra decks and actions, such as Erin the Ever Changing, a druid who has the ability to change into a bear, a raven, and a tree, all which gives her a bit of a different ability. There is also a tinkerer with a tinkering deck, a pixie with a pet deck, a potion master with a potions deck, and more!
The game is fairly easy to learn and the introductions of the new player mats helps show the order of the turns (as well as specific instructions for each character; these new mats are pretty great). While this game can be played with more people the more characters you obtain, I would strongly recommend that you scale back the number of player you have in order to contain the chaos. Or go all out, have a 12 person game and drunkenly fight it out. I can’t tell you how to play your character, I’m not your GM.
- Easy to learn
- Many different characters to choose from (providing you have the expansions)
- A bit of a mature theme (I’d say PG, parent discretion is advised)
- Characters can get mundane, unless you have the expansions
The Red Dragon Inn is certainly a fun little game (well, not so little if you’ve got the full collection like we do). As Amber said, this was one of the first games we played when we first were getting into the hobby, so it’s pretty special to us. Even if it wasn’t, I think we’d still enjoy this as a light, somewhat silly social/screw-your-neighbor game. There is really a colorful and diverse cast of characters — almost everyone should be able to find a character they like. And while the core mechanics of most of the character decks are pretty similar, there are enough differences to be noticeable. For instance, in our most recent game, I played as Sera the Rogue (who is really more like a ninja), and found it interesting that her deck had a lot of cards that let her ignore the effects of drink cards. Similarly, the fighting-type characters have decks more focused on making others lost fortitude, Dierdre the Priestess can heal her own fortitude loss, Gerki the Sneak is better at gambling, and so forth. The card titles, too, can lead to some humorous banter. Again using Sera as an example, she has a card called “Rogues don’t always do it from behind!”, where you can demonstrate your martial prowess to one of your “friend’s” faces. And while this is a goofy and fun game, it isn’t without its drawbacks. First and foremost, there is player elimination. This isn’t necessarily too bad — if you’re playing with a small number of people everyone’s stats should be fairly even throughout the game, and if you’re eliminated you shouldn’t have to wait too long for the game to end. But when playing with a lot of people, it’s easy to get eliminated early and still have the game go on for another 45-60 minutes, or more. For that, and for game length and downtime reasons, I would really not recommend playing this game with more than 8 people maximum, and even that may be pushing it a bit. Altogether, though, Red Dragon Inn is a decent game if you’re in the mood for it, and would be a good next game for players who like games like Munchkin.
- Large and diverse potential cast of characters (in just RDI 1-5, 11 of the 20 characters are female)
- Silly and humorous social card game
- Player elimination
- Does not play well above 6-8 players