After another exhausting outing of treasure hunting and monster slaying, all you want to do is go home, put your feet up by the fire, and chug a pint or two at your favorite haunt, The Red Dragon Inn. But it’s not to be because while you were out of town, a fleet of monsters invaded your hometown of Greyport. There will be no rest or pints until the pesky monsters are eradicated from your lovely town. Hopefully The Red Dragon Inn will still be standing when the battle’s over and your pints will be waiting.
How It Plays
The Red Dragon Inn: Battle for Greyport is a cooperative deck building game set in the same universe as The Red Dragon Inn. There are a lot of rules and card effects with this game that would take a while to explain, so I’m just going to give you a quick and dirty overview of how the game works.
In each game, you’re trying to beat the chosen scenario. There are seven scenarios in the game of varying difficulty and in order to win you generally must defeat the boss monster for the scenario. (There are occasionally other win conditions and these are spelled out on the scenario card.) Each scenario has its own requirements for which components to use and which monsters will be in play, so game setup varies.
Each scenario consists of two or three encounters. Encounters take place at locations and require players to defeat the monsters in order to progress to the next encounter. In typical RPG fashion, monsters and locations have a certain amount of damage they can take before they are destroyed, as do the heroes.
In an encounter, each player is tasked with defeating their own personal posse of monsters, plus (hopefully) the monsters that are attacking the location. An encounter is won when all monsters are defeated. You also want to try to save the location if you can, as doing so provides a benefit and failing to do so incurs a penalty. However, if you cannot save the location you do not automatically lose the encounter.
Greyport is played in rounds. Each round, the group works to defeat the monster posse in front of the active player (or at the location if the active player’s monster posse is eliminated). Defeating the monsters is accomplished by playing cards and rolling dice to deal damage to the baddies. Deal enough to overcome their hit point strength and they are destroyed.
Monsters have various abilities and attack strengths, so you want to play the best items and heroes to damage them. Players can play cards and attack in any order, so work with other players to come up with the best order in which to deploy your forces. (It’s a cooperative game, after all!)
After a round, any surviving monsters take their turn to attack. Damage and destruction is tabulated and applied accordingly, both to the hero and the location. (If your hero’s hit points fall to zero, you’re dead and the game is over.) Players then discard all cards used during the round.
At the end of the round, the active player gets to purchase/recruit additional items and reinforcements to add to their deck. (Note that other players do not get to refresh their hands between rounds, so this becomes a consideration when deciding which cards to play during a round.) They then discard down to the required hand size, and may discard further if they choose. If they are below the required hand size, they draw cards from their deck to refill their hand, shuffling their discards if necessary to generate a draw pile. Play passes to the next player and play continues with players now attacking the new active player’s monster posse.
If you manage to defeat all of the monsters present in an encounter, you move on to the next encounter in the scenario. Between encounters, all players get to buy more items and reinforcements to add to their decks. Everyone also goes through the discard and refill phase so that all players have a fresh hand of cards with which begin the next encounter.
Set up the next encounter and continue to play until you either achieve the win condition for the scenario, or one player in your group is dealt so much damage that their hit points fall to zero and they die. If even one player dies, the game ends immediately and you’ve lost.
Is Greyport Worth Saving, or Should You Let the Monsters Keep It?
The first thing I want to get out of the way is an issue with the rules/rulebook. Per the rules that come with the game, you do not ever regain any lost hit points during the game. There is no way to rest or heal, so the game is incredibly difficult to win. The rules also aren’t as clear as they could be and the introductory scenario is punishing, discouraging, and far from a friendly introduction to the game. In short, the rules that come with the game are a bit of a mess.
However… There is an official revised rulebook online (you can find it both on BoardgameGeek.com and the publisher’s website) which includes a healing step between encounters. This makes the game a bit more forgiving and winnable as you can get some hit points back to extend your life. The new rules also modify the introductory scenario so that it’s a gentler and less discouraging introduction to the game, and they’re clearer and easier to follow than the ones in the box. These are some great improvements and I highly recommend grabbing those rules.
However, this puts me as a reviewer in a difficult position.
Usually I prefer to review the game I receive, including the rules that are in the box, not updated rules or errata found online. This is because I have to assume that not every buyer is on BoardGameGeek.com and isn’t going to visit the publisher’s website to look for updated rules. While those of us active in the hobby tend to assume that every buyer just “knows” to look on BGG for clarifications, the truth is that many buyers are not on BGG, nor would they think, “Hey, this game is confusing and freaking hard. Let me go to the publisher’s website to see if someone fixed it.” Some will, sure, but most won’t.
I’m not picking on SlugFest games because this happens to a lot of publishers. The game comes out, early adopters offer feedback, and things get changed. That’s great for those in the know and it shows great responsiveness by the publisher. It’s just a shame for your average buyer that these things aren’t caught and fixed during play-testing so that the rules in the box present the best version of the game. That’s why I generally stick with reviewing what the average buyer will receive.
However, in this case the improved rulebook makes a huge difference in my perception of the game. With the rules in the box, I would give this game probably a 6, maybe a 6.5, on the Dragon’s rating scale. Not so great. The new rules, though, fix many problems with the game and push it up to a higher rating. I’ve never had a rulebook revision alter my opinion of a game so much. Plus, since this is an official revision by the publisher and not simply user variants or house rules, I’m going to proceed with this review based on the new rules.
Just bear in mind that if you fail to grab the new rules, you may find the game far less enjoyable.
Whew. Okay. Moving on.
So what did I think of the game? While it won’t go down in history as one of my all time favorites, I can see that there is a good game here for the right audience. The first thing I appreciated about Greyport is that it manages to capture a little bit of the RPG experience in a board game. Many have tried and many have failed at this. It’s difficult to make leveling up and character progression part of a game that only takes an hour or two. The Pathfinder Adventure card games probably get closest, but Greyport puts on a solid effort.
You characters can gain new items and reinforcements between rounds (as long as you were the active player that round) and between encounters. While this isn’t true “leveling up” in RPG terms, it does give you a sense of, “Hey, I did well that round and I got rewarded with better stuff.” Also, the encounters get progressively more difficult as you move through a scenario so there is a feeling of playing a campaign (albeit a small one).
Another thing I found impressive is that this is one of the few games that controls the “alpha gamer syndrome” or “quarterbacking” that’s often found in cooperative games. (This is where one player — usually the most experienced — essentially tells the group what to do.) The way many co-op games are structured, it’s just too easy for someone to drive the game, even when it’s not their turn. Listening to, “Oh, if you go there, then Jane goes there, then I play this card here, we’ll win,” isn’t very fun.
In Greyport, that sort of thing is nearly impossible. Because players can take actions in any order, even when it’s not their turn to be the active player, there must be a lot of discussion among the group as to what to do first and what can wait.
Plus, since only the active player can refresh his hand and recruit new reinforcements after his turn, it matters greatly which cards other players are called upon to play in order to assist the active player. What can you burn out of Fred’s or Julie’s hands, knowing that when their turn comes to be active player, they won’t have much left? If you do burn their cards, will it give you enough breathing room to survive when they are the active players, or do you try to conserve their cards and hope you can stay alive long enough to use them?
There has to be constant discussion and weighing of options if you want to succeed. It’s almost impossible for one person to take charge in an environment like that.
Greyport is challenging. I mentioned above that the original rules made it almost impossible to win. Well, the new rules make it possible, but still not easy. This is one of those co-ops that you’re going to lose. A lot. It reminds me of Robinson Crusoe: Adventure on the Cursed Island in that way. You’re just going to die and die often. However, when you do win it’s incredibly satisfying. It’s just not the sort of game to play with kids or families who like their co-ops on the easier side.
You can scale the difficulty a bit, but most of the variants make it harder, not easier. There’s no real “easy mode” like there is for a game like Forbidden Desert. There is an “easy” scenario, but it’s still not that easy.
And even with the new rules, there’s a learning curve here. It’s not something that casual gamers will find easy to pick up and play. There’s just too much going on with the card effects and nit-picky rules. It comes together after a few plays, but you’ve got to get there and casual gamers aren’t likely to want to invest the time.
The game offers quite a few play variants to boost the replayability. Instead of just being “done” with a scenario if you manage to win it, you can go back and play with fewer hit points, different monsters or locations, a hero who’s injured and begins with fewer hit points, or silent play where players can’t talk to one another or share card information. You can also play with closed hands where other players can’t see each other’s cards. Those are thoughtful additions because too often games like this require expansions to keep things challenging.
In case you’re a big fan of the original Red Dragon Inn and you haven’t figured it out yet, Battle for Greyport is nothing like other entries in the Red Dragon Inn universe. That’s either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your perspective. Earlier Red Dragon Inn games are humorous, light, relatively fast, take-that affairs that are played mostly for the experience and fun rather than strategic considerations. Greyport is none of that. All it shares with its cousins is some artwork and characters. Gameplay is difficult, strategic, crunchy, and requires players to work and think together to win. It’s a longer and more frustrating affair than anything Red Dragon Inn has offered to date.
None of this is bad in and of itself, it’s just that if you’re looking for the next entry in the original Red Dragon Inn line of games, this isn’t it. (Although it’s worth noting that if you’re a big fan of the originals, Greyport tosses in some extra content that you can use in those games, so that may offer some value for you.)
So why, given the positives, isn’t this going to be one of my all-time favorites? First, I’m simply not a big fan of the Red Dragon universe and I’ve already got quite a few co-op, deck building, and RPG-like games in my collection. (Pathfinder, Marvel Legendary, the D&D board games, etc.) I just don’t find that Greyport is personally interesting enough to me to choose it over some of the others. But that shouldn’t necessarily sway you away from this, particularly if you’re a Red Dragon fan, or you’re looking for your first game of this type.
Second, it’s just too long for us. Maybe we play slow or spend too much time analyzing things, but most games are near the two hour mark. And since luck in the die rolls and the lick of the draw/timing of reinforcements appearing is a factor in the game, it feels kind of punishing for a game that long. It stinks to lose the third encounter of a scenario because you rolled poorly or no one could recruit any good reinforcements because the useful ones didn’t appear in the market.
Third, while I like challenging co-ops, I don’t like them this challenging. I got rid of Robinson Crusoe for much the same reason. I don’t want to win all the time, but I like feeling like I’ve got a 50/50 shot. Even with the new rules I feel like Greyport gives me maybe a 70/30 shot, with the 70 going to the loss percentage.
Given all of that, I know this isn’t a game that I’ll get my regular play groups to play. Since shelf space is at a premium these days, Greyport won’t be staying with me. But that doesn’t mean it’s a bad game.
As noted above, I was prepared to write it off after my first games with the original rules. But once I got my hands on the new rules, I could see that there is a pretty decent game in here that does a lot of things right. If you love Red Dragon Inn (or you like the fantasy/monster fighting/RPG genre), are looking for a super-challenging co-op, and have the time to invest in learning and mastering the game, then Battle for Greyport just might be for you.
iSlaytheDragon.com thanks SlugFest games for giving us a copy of Battle for Greyport to review.