GTM #205 - Iron Dragon
by Mayfair Games

“It was perhaps naïve of us to believe that our time of peace and calm, which had lasted for decades since the Great Peace was signed, could last forever. You will forgive us that hope. Needless to say, it did not last. In fact, our adversary had been watching us for years, waiting for her time to strike. Of her ultimate goals we can only guess, but her actions were crystal clear: the destruction of our burgeoning railways at any cost.”

Archmage Gaelwyth Grae, lecture to the Wizards College of Wikkedde

The classic Empire Builder series of train games has taken players around the world and beyond — from North America and Australia, Europe and Japan, to India and even the Martian desert. And soon, players will be able to return to a magical land of steampunk, dragons, and trains with Iron Dragon!

After a century of hardship and war, the lands of Darwinina are beginning to recover.  Elves, dwarves, and men are finally beginning to repair their shattered world. To do so, they will need to rebuild what was lost: the great rail networks and the mighty Iron Dragons that ride them. You have been tasked with overseeing one phase of that reconstruction. Will you be able to rise to the top and best your fellow engineers, building the greatest transportation network in all the land?

Iron Dragon is a fan-favorite addition to Mayfair Games’ classic Empire Builder series of crayon rail games. In these games, players use erasable crayons to create trade networks and then draw demand cards, instructing them as to what goods the cities need, making deliveries, and (hopefully) winning the game by being the first player to reach a predetermined amount of money.

While most of the Empire Builder games are set in real world environs, a few are rooted in fantastic locales, like Iron Dragon, which takes place in a steampunk fantasy realm where great trains of dwarven design race across a magical land.

Given its fantasy setting, players trade goods they’re familiar with such as cattle and fruit, but also more exotic goods. For instance, the cities of Darwinina require wands and spells for magical warfare, while animals from mundane sheep to exotic dragons are in high demand across the lands. Luxury goods are also extremely lucrative, whether they are the finest underground ale or a strong Halfling pipeweed.

Players draw demand cards to receive delivery assignments, which detail the goods that are in demand as well as the price a city is willing to pay for said item. Once a player successfully moves a train to the listed location, they receive compensation as shown on the demand card.

Along the way, players will have to contend with random events that add a measure of uncertainty to their carefully constructed logistical plans. For example, the “Elven Antirailroad Activists Attack!” event prohibits trains from moving through forests, as well as prevents any train from leaving the elven kingdoms of Glyth Gamel or Silvarre.

Iron Dragon also introduces the concept of foremen to the Empire Builder series. As a fantasy world, the game features numerous exotic species, including orcs, wee folk, trolls, elves, catmen, and, of course, humans. Each of these species has a preferred terrain and can make building in those regions easier. Dwarves, for example, are adept at building track through mountainous terrain. Throughout the game players can exchange one foreman for another, but there’s a cost attached, so they must balance how much a foreman can save them versus the cost of the new hire, which is 1 gold piece (GP) for the top foreman, drawn from the draw deck or the discard pile, or, alternatively, players can pay 5 GP to search through the deck and retrieve a foreman of their choice. As always, plan carefully!

The main play area of Iron Dragon is a “new world” discovered and settled by a culture on the other side of the ocean. Part of the “old world” appears on the map giving players another avenue for trading their goods, if they’re willing to brave the uncertainties of a sea voyage. However, players don’t buy ships, but book passage on whatever vessel is in port when they arrive. If players aren’t satisfied with the ship available to them, they can wait a turn for another to dock. Once they find a ship they like, players pay the listed cost and load their entire train on board, moving a certain number of spaces over the water terrain each turn, either to the old world or to a port elsewhere in the new world. While this can greatly shorten a voyage, or offer a new avenue for trade, players need to be careful as their main avenue for transporting goods is the building of rail networks, so the use of ships is a tactical decision that must not be overused.

Players can also pass through the ‘Underground’, the dangerous area where denizens such as the dreaded orcs thrive. Each turn a train spends underground they must pay a bribe to an orcish overseer, making this travel particularly expensive, especially for longer journeys. Players who wish to make extensive use of the Underground should consider hiring an orcish foreman, who removes the need to pay these bribes and will even collect bribes from other players!

To win the game, a player must connect seven of the eight major cities to their rail network and possess 250 GP. Once a player gains 250 GP, the current round is completed, GP is tallied, and the player with the most money is declared the winner. Note, for the purpose of winning the game, only cash on hand is counted, not money spent building track or hiring ships.

We hope you enjoyed our preview of Iron Dragon and you will visit the wonderful and fantastic world of Darwinina when the game re-releases in 2017!

About Iron Dragon: Iron Dragon was designed by Darwin Bromley, Tom Wham, and the Empire Builder Design Team for 2-6 players, ages 12 and up. Games take between 2-4 hours to play.