Billabong Boardgamers

Iron Dragon

Publisher: Mayfair
Players: 2-6
Reviewed by Debbie Pickett
Reproduced here with kind permission from Funagain Games.

Rail building in a fantasy land

Iron Dragon is one of the many games in Mayfair's Empire Builder series of 'crayon' rail games. However, this version contains a number of bells and whistles compared with others in the series.

The game plays in essentially the same way; with your small starting capital, you build rail by drawing on the map (the special crayons rub off easily with a tissue), then you move your train along your railway line picking up and delivering goods to make money. Fans of the other Empire Builder games will be able to jump right in, once they have figured out where all the place names are in the fantasy land the game takes place in.

Iron Dragon embellishes most of the elements from the original game. There is still open terrain and mountains, but new are forest, jungle, desert, alpine and underground terrains, each costing different amounts to build track to. You may also now build over short hops of sea, enabling you to reach islands and cross narrow fjords. The costs of building over these terrains can be modified by use of a foreman - essentially a railway engineer under your employ who has a special power befitting his or her race. For instance, cat-people foremen allow you to build through jungle for $1M per milepost rather than $3M. Each player begins with one foreman and can trade it in during the game for a price. The underground part of the map is shown on an inset, and can be reached through one of four tunnel entrances. Building in the underground empire is troublesome because it costs in bribes to build track and run trains there.

Another embellishment is the trains. In the original Empire Builder, there were four different kinds of trains to be had - slow or fast, small or large capacity. Iron Dragon has no fewer than eight different kinds of trains, with many more gradations of speed. There are only three of most of the trains too, so in a game with many players (up to six can play), your upgrade route might be blocked until someone else upgrades and relinquishes the train that you want.

The major new element in Iron Dragon is ships. There are several ships available, from slow to fast, costing different amounts to hire. These ships can take your train between any two ports on the huge map board, which is a great way of delivering loads towards the beginning of the game when you don't have much track laid down.

As usual, the game ends when someone has accumulated $250M and has connected all but one of the eight major cities on the map (two are already connected at the beginning of the game by a magical portal). This seems to take longer to achieve than in Empire Builder, possibly because the map is 30% larger than most of the other games in the series, possibly because all of the major cities are well-spaced around the board rather than bunched up (as in, say, Eurorails). In any case, Iron Dragon is just as rewarding to play as its simpler progenitors (and the full-colour board is prettier, too). This is probably not the best first choice of a Mayfair crayon game to buy, but it is certainly one of the more novel ones.

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