This article originally appeared in Pyramid #13
Published by Mayfair Games
Designed by Darwin Bromley and Tom Wham
Price: $30.00I've been a big fan of Mayfair's various train games for a long time. I made Australian Rails a "Pyramid Pick" back in Issue #9, and I've written other glowing reviews in other magazines (during my "BP" Before Pyramid period). In one of those other reviews, I remember commenting that Mayfair was close to covering the entire Earth, and then what would they do? Mars Rails? Klingon Rails? Middle-earth Rails?
Little did I know. Iron Dragon takes the railroad empire building system made famous in several other releases and sets it in an entirely fictional fantasy landscape (called, with an only slightly egotistical nod to Mayfair's president and the game's co-designer Darwin Bromley, "Darwinia"). Freed from the constraints of reality, Bromley and Tom Wham have been able to add a number of features that make Iron Dragon their best train game yet.
Let's start with terrain. In the original Empire Builder, there were clear and mountain mileposts, and rivers to cross. That's it. Iron Dragon also makes you contend with alpine mountains, deserts (both seen in other releases), plus forests, jungles, volcanos and the Underground, where rail games go dungeon crawling for the first time!
To help you navigate your way through all this are a variety of foremen elves, dwarves, cat men, even humans each of which give you a specific advantage while they are in your employ (humans let you build bridges over rivers for free, while elves let you build through forest as if it was clear, etc.). But you can only have one foreman at a time, there are only so many of each kind available and it costs money to hire a new one.
Then there's sea travel. In Iron Dragon, you can put your train onto a ship and take to the seas. Sea travel takes about the same time as on land (most ships move a little slower, but sea travel is usually in a straight line). In my experience, the players who spend all their time on boats hardly ever win, but when used judiciously, ships can be part of a winning strategy.
And that's a real strength of Iron Dragon over some of the other games in the line. In several other games, there are only a few optimum strategies, and the experienced players tend to build the same rail lines in the same places over and over again anyone who deviates and tries something new inevitably loses. I haven't played Iron Dragon enough times to know for sure (it just came out give me a break), but it looks like there are a whole lot more good ways to win.
There's more: Eight different kinds of trains, instead of the usual four; fantasy cargos like jewelry, wands, spells and dragons(!); and events like wizard strikes, dragon attacks and magical storms. There's plenty of serious strategic decisions to keep the die-hard train game fans happy, but Iron Dragon also has that air of the fantastic that will appeal to the not-so-die-hard train gamers. If this doesn't become Mayfair's most popular train game, I'll be shocked.
The components are of good quality, especially the laminated eight-piece jigsaw cut game board. I hate having to put the little stickers on all the little poker chips that represent cargo loads, but at least this boxed set includes a tray so that once the chips are sorted, you don't have to do it again (unless you drop the box or something). The rest of it cards and money, mostly is typical quality for the series.
I've got a few quibbles. Several pages of the rulebook are wasted with fictional backgrounds of the various lands in Darwinia the kind of thing you'd see in the introduction of a roleplaying game, perhaps, but a complete waste of time here. (There was an Iron Dragon novel published sometime last year, I think, and I guess more books and maybe even a roleplaying game could be in the offing . . . )
But that's hardly worth mentioning compared to all the good things there are to say about this game. And at $30.00, it's a bargain (when I first picked up the box, I guessed it would cost $40.00). Iron Dragon carries my highest recommendation.
Article publication date: June 1, 1995
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