Let me paint you a picture…
You’ve just awoken from a long night of drinking.
The cracks in your blackout curtains have the tiniest sliver of a gap and the sun has found its way straight through that crack directly into your eyes. As conscious thought begins to slowly seep into your addled brain, you begin to take stock of where you are.
You’re still in your clothes from last night, your wallet is missing, there are some mystery fluids in the corner of your bedroom, and everything smells like old cereal.
Congratulations, you just lost The Red Dragon Inn.
A Brief Overview of The Red Dragon Inn
The object of Red Dragon Inn is to be the last player standing with money at the end of a night of drinking, gambling, and celebration at the Inn.
The Red Dragon Inn is a fantasy card game inspired by old-school pen and paper RPGs. Most of those pen and paper games have players begin their adventure in some sort of inn or tavern to get acquainted and plan their next move. In this game, however, everyone is at The Red Dragon Inn and the adventure is already over. The BBEG (Big Bad Evil Guy) has been slain, the citizens saved, and all that’s left is to settle down in the inn and relax with a pint or two.
“I drink to make other people more interesting.” —Ernest Hemingway, American Writer, 20th century
That doesn’t mean that it’s going to be a nice relaxing night for our intrepid adventurers. It’s payday, and everyone is buying rounds of booze and gambling. If you’re not careful, you could lose all your winnings to the house or get robbed by your “friends”.
Versions & Expansions
If you start looking through the cards in the base game you’ll start to see a lot of references to cards that don’t really exist. You may think you’re going crazy, but you’re not. Well, you might, but not because of the game.
The Red Dragon Inn was designed with expansions in mind and they did not disappoint. About every other year Slugfest Games has put out a new expansion.
Each expansion adds more characters to the Inn, complete with their own quirks and psychoses.
More Characters = More Decks = More Silly Roleplay = More Drinking
There’s even a standalone expansion where players get to be the bad guys and hang out at an underground tavern.
Unboxing The Red Dragon Inn
- 4 unique 40 card player decks
- One 30 card Drink deck
- 4 Player Templates
- 4 Fortitude markers
- 4 Alcohol Content markers
- 50 Gold Coin tokens
The Red Dragon Inn is mostly a card game, so the majority of the components are going to be 5 separate decks of cards. The cards are sturdy and made of good quality card stock.
The game also comes with several player boards that actually look really nice and are sturdy enough that I don’t feel as if I’m going to destroy them by accident.
The rest of the game components are cardboard punch-out tokens for gold and a few stat-trackers for the board.
I’m actually rather impressed with the gold coins included with the game. They’re much larger than I thought they would be and are pretty hefty (for cardboard). Sometimes you get a big stack of tiny tokens that are a pain in the butt to sort through and keep track of, but these are some of the nicer ones that I’ve seen.
How to Play The Red Dragon Inn
“There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man, by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern.” —Samuel Johnson, English Author, 18th century
The object of the game is simple, “Keep your gold and stay conscious”.
Each player has their own hero deck full of custom cards that can be used to get a leg-up on the competition.
Each round players will complete 4 phases:
1. Discard and Draw
Discard any number of cards and draw cards until you have 7 cards in your hand. You don’t have to do anything if you like your hand and have 7 cards. If you run out, just take your discard and reshuffle it into the draw pile.
2. Play an Action Card
You get to play 1 action card per turn.
Action cards can do a lot of different things. Each character’s deck has different actions. Effects vary depending on the action but most deal with lowering other players’ fortitude or having them gain more Drink cards.
I really like the humor built into the game. Red Dragon Inn pokes fun at a lot of the tropes and classics from the fantasy genre. You may find yourself in a number of ridiculous situations. You could be under attack from a ravenous (and belligerently drunk rabbit) or you could find yourself in a philosophical discussion on the merits of scalemail bikini armor.
All players get a chance to respond to an action card. Sometimes players will join in on the action or they could play a counter card. For the most part, everything you’ll need to know about the card is written down on it, which includes when it can be played and usually some silly flavor text. Part of the draw of Red Dragon Inn is reading the silly text as you play the cards and, of course, being obnoxious to your friends.
3. Buy Drinks
Grab a Drink card and put it on someone’s “Drink Me!” pile.
Everyone has a Drink Me! pile on their player board. It’s basically a stack of cards that you’ll draw every time your character needs a drink. If you are forced to take a drink and there are no cards on your Drink Me! pile, then your character will start to sober up and their alcohol content goes down.
Reveal the top card of your Drink Me! pile and resolve the effects. There’s actually quite a lot that goes into drinking. (Believe it or not)
“A tavern is a place where madness is sold by the bottle.” —Jonathan Swift, Irish Writer, 17th century
Like drinking in real life, what you drink will have varying effects on your constitution and BAC (Blood Alcohol Content). At The Red Dragon Inn, there are a lot of different types of drinks, and each one will affect players differently.
Some of the harder drinks will move your alcohol content much higher than others. There are also a few particularly nasty cards mixed in called Chasers. Chasers force you to draw another drink card and add it to your drink round. If you’re particularly unlucky and add another Chaser, then you keep going until it’s resolved. Ouch.
Each drink will affect a player’s Alcohol Content & Fortitude. This is super important because if your Alcohol Content ever becomes higher than your Fortitude, you blackout and you’re out of the game.
Remember the age-old saying, “Beer before liquor, never been sicker. Liquor before beer, you’re in the clear.”
Play Anytime & Play Sometimes
Red Dragon Inn does simplify the rules quite a bit.
Play Anytime cards can be played anytime…
Play Sometimes cards can be played sometimes…
No, I’m not trying to be cheeky, they’re actually called that.
Play Anytime cards are like Instants or Reversals. You can use them to respond to another player’s card on their turn. If someone buys you a drink or attacks, your Play Anytime cards allow you to redirect or cancel the attack on you. Each one does something different, so make sure you read the cards carefully.
Play Sometimes cards will do the same thing but can only be played during certain situations. Each card will only work during specific phases or when someone performs a specific action. They’re especially helpful for getting out of Gambling rounds when you’re low on funds.
Each additional card resolves with the last one played and more than one player can play these cards in a round. It’s pretty satisfying seeing your buddy drop an attack card and watching everyone else redirect it around the board.
We all have that one friend who pulls out a deck of cards and tries to get a game of Texas Hold’em going halfway through the night. The Red Dragon Inn has a special round called a gambling round. It starts when someone plays a gambling card and everybody is forced to put a coin in the pot. Everyone can play more gambling cards (or even CHEAT cards!) or pass. If everyone passes, the last person to play a card gets all the money in the pot.
Do not underestimate gambling at the Red Dragon Inn. Players who look like they’re about to get knocked out can make some incredible comebacks with a few good rounds of gambling.
There are a few ways to get kicked out of the inn (aka lose).
The first is if you ever run out of money, you get kicked out of the inn (Just like in real life!). The bar wench will come by and throw you out when your purse is empty.
If your Alcohol Content is higher than your Fortitude after resolving all of the card effects, you blackout and are kicked out. Not only did you embarrass yourself, but the inn takes half of your gold and everyone else still left in the game get to keep the other half.
Your First Game of The Red Dragon Inn
During your first game, you’ll notice that there are 4 different character decks to choose from:
- Fiona: The Fighter
- Deirdre: The Priestess
- Gerki: The Rogue
- Zot (and Pooky): The Wizard and adorable rabbit familiar that will try to kill you.
Each character has its own custom deck that will be used throughout the game. Each character is better at certain skills, which are reflected in the character’s abilities in the deck. As you can imagine, Gerki the Rogue is much better at gambling and will have more gambling effect cards in his deck.
For your first game, you’ll want to keep a close eye on your Fortitude vs. Drink level. I originally played by substituting Drink cards with actual drinks. That’s not necessary, but it’s a lot of fun.
Don’t pay too much attention to the character abilities when selecting your character. Each one has some serious weaknesses and strengths. Some are subjectively better than others, but it’s your first game so just go with one that looks fun to you.
Each character is better at certain things, but they’ll also be bad at others. Some characters will lose fortitude, get drunk, or lose money faster than others but they’ll make up for it in another aspect. It’s all reasonably balanced, especially because the players always tend to attack the strongest character instead of picking on the weakest ones.
Pros & Cons
- Hilarious theme
- Excellent for drinking
- Great artwork
- Player elimination
- Seems oddly unfinished
- Confusing card text & rules
There’s a lot of mixed feelings about player elimination out there. Some players don’t mind it and for some, it’s a dealbreaker. If you’re playing with a highly-competitive group then after the first player goes out, the game ends rather quickly.
Playing The Red Dragon Inn competitively kinda goes against the feel of the game, though. It’s a super lighthearted, silly game, so playing with a bunch of Alpha Gamers, looking to squash the competition, ruins the theme for me. Most players in my group tend to be diplomatic and attack the strongest player. That’s nice and all but it does stretch out the game for a much longer time and leaves the eliminated player with nothing to do.
Fan-Made Rules and Variants
Luckily, there are a lot (A LOT) of fan-made rules to ease the pain because let’s be honest, chances are you’re drinking while playing. Basically, any college drinking game rules can be implemented to fit your group’s liking.
If you’re not drinking or playing with a younger crowd, I read a rule variant where an eliminated player will be “throwing rocks” into the inn and can randomly do damage to someone or target another player. It’s less thematic, but it’ll help push the game to a conclusion.
It’s an issue that’s going to come up with any game that uses player elimination. Without a built-in timer, there’s always the possibility that someone is going to be left twiddling their thumbs. There are ways to get around it with house rules but I feel like I shouldn’t have to house rule a game to fix the end condition.
You could always just send eliminated players out on a booze run, I suppose.
Confusing Card Text/Rules
When first released, there were a lot of open-ended rules that didn’t make sense. This is because The Red Dragon Inn was designed with expansions in mind. That’s fine, but the base game has some odd cards with rules and statements that don’t match anything in the base game. For example, there’s a card that says if you’re a ______ do this and if not, ignore this card.
It gets frustrating if you don’t know that it’s supposed to be like that for future expansions. It makes the base game seem unfinished. It is 100% complete and finished but the way they handled future expansions is more of an annoyance. Base game cards that reference cards in the expansions makes no sense to me.
The Red Dragon Inn is a drinking game disguised as a really fun board game. You could play it sober, but it’s much more fun as a drinking game.
The game is relatively quick if players are actively trying to knock each other out, but the game does suffer from early player elimination. How long they have to wait before jumping in depends on the group playing. There is a whole slew of fan-made house rules to offset the player elimination.
Even without drinking, The Red Dragon Inn is one of the sillier, more interactive group party games. The Dungeon & Dragons thematic elements allow plenty of opportunities to let players roleplay and get into character.
It’s definitely worth a try, but bring a case of beer.
Most of the lighter games I talk about I preface with saying that they make great openers for a game night. The Red Dragon Inn has the opposite reaction. It makes a great ending to a game night. It’s lightweight, easy to get started, and if you’re doing it right, you should all be a little tipsy and ready for bed afterward.
So despite being a Navy Veteran myself, I am most definitely not an alcoholic. I’ve talked quite a bit about The Red Dragon Inn with a side of booze, but it’s a little hard not to. The theme is set in a Dungeons & Dragons fantasy world in a tavern. It’s a bit unavoidable.
Do you need to be drunk to enjoy the game? Absolutely not.
Have I ever tried it? No… no, I haven’t.
Part of the board gaming experience is social interaction. The Red Dragon Inn offers a hefty amount of social interaction… if you let it. The characters offer a lot of role-playing opportunities for players. How many games offer the opportunity to show up to the table with a stuffed rabbit and shout at your opponents? Not many. It can, however, quickly devolve into a rowdy bunch of players shouting in odd voices at each other, which is a heck of a lot of fun.
Have you tried The Red Dragon Inn or any of its expansions? We’d love to hear your thoughts on the components, theme, or gameplay. Drop a comment below and let us know.