16 July 2019
Looking for a new dungeon-basher? Keep looking
Dragons and dungeons: two things that go together as well as sorcery and swords. Vault of Dragons, a game set in D&D’s Forgotten Realms but produced by Gale Force Nine, has a bloody great gold dragon on the cover, so as you’d expect you’re going to spend the game… running round the city of Waterdeep?
It turns out that in Waterdeep a ‘dragon’ is a gold coin; someone’s stolen a lot of them and hidden them in a dungeon, and four of the city’s less-nice factions want to find them. You play one of those factions, each with a special ability and unique action, plus ten little plastic wizards, rogues and fighters that you use to occupy areas of the city.
Waterdeep itself is built randomly from a dozen tiles. Each location has benefits if you control it, providing money, rumours and quests, letting you buy magic items, and so on. But there’s the City Watch to be avoided, and other players’ agents to be brawled.
Once you’re sufficiently tooled up you can head to the Yawning Portal and start exploring dungeons, three rooms at a time, which yield better rewards – including secrets. Even though you’ve got a party of fighters, wizards and rogues, all you do is make a single roll against a series of three increasing target numbers – and that’s how many rooms you get through. Once you have found three secrets you can reveal the Vault of Dragons, and beat it by rolling 20 or more to win.
If that doesn’t sound terribly D&D-ish to you, you’re right. Vault of Dragons is a retooling of Sons of Anarchy: Men of Mayhem, a Gale Force Nine release from 2014, with a dungeon section bolted onto its rear end. It plays fine but has few surprises. The main body of the game, set in Waterdeep, is solid and fun, but there’s already a game about the lords of Waterdeep wrestling for control of different parts of the city and doing quests – it’s called Lords of Waterdeep. The dungeon stuff feels perfunctory and unsatisfying. The combat system is entertaining, with lots of satisfying dice rolls, but luck plays a bigger part than strategy.
The rulebook is not as bad as you may have read on the internet, but neither it nor the game ever captures the flavour of D&D or Waterdeep, and the game runs too long for what it is. I kept feeling I’d rather be playing Lords of Waterdeep and, since I spend most sessions of Lords of Waterdeep wishing I was playing Agricola, this is not a strong recommendation.
PLAY IT? – MAYBE
It’s fine – there’s nothing actually wrong with Vault of Dragons, except it’s a bit lacking in vaults and dragons.
Designer: Aaron Dill
Artist: Nathan Anderson
Time: 90 minutes
This review originally appeared in the April 2019 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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