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Iron Dragon

From the Database of Home of the Underdogs




Copyright 2000, Eden Studios

Iron Dragon is a superb computer version of Mayfair Games’ classic fantasy railroad boardgame of the same name, which is one of many entries in its Empire Builder series of railroad boardgames. In addition to open terrain and mountains present in Empire Builder, Iron Dragon adds 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, and hire ships to transport your trains across the sea. As in all other games in this series, the game ends when someone has accumulated $250 million and has connected all but one of the eight major cities on the map. Bruce Geryk of Games Domain explains why Iron Dragon is a lot of fun despite some AI flaws:

“The game system on which “crayon games” such as Iron Dragon and Empire Builder are built is the same. Players draw rail lines across a map, connecting cities which produce various goods, such as (in Empire Builder) cars in Detroit, tobacco in Raleigh, and oil in Houston. Demand cards – each containing three “contracts” for delivery of goods – are in a player’s hand at all times. Fulfilling contracts (such as delivering cars to New York) nets money for building track or upgrading your trains. Trains can carry two or three loads and have different movement rates. (More expensive trains are faster.) Each player has one train, and is responsible for building rail lines on which to run this train in order to collect as much money as possible. There are all sorts of twists to strategy: mountainous areas cost more to build track through, smaller cities can only support a certain number of rail lines into them (effectively “locking out” latecomers in a multiplayer game) and random events like floods can wipe out a player’s bridges just at a crucial moment, preventing crossing and delivering victory to a rival breathing down his neck. The first game in this series, Empire Builder was given the computer treatment by the now-defunct MPG-Net pay-to-play service over four years ago. Iron Dragon does everything that game did, and more, and does it as a stand-alone product.

Everything about Iron Dragon suggests an incredible attention to detail and understanding of what makes this type of game appealing. To begin with, there are two completely separate sets of artwork for the game. One is a complete reproduction of the boardgame art. The second, accessible by just hitting the backslash key, is colorful, attractive, and is done in the style of a type of fantasy art that will be recognizable to many players. The game sounds are distinctive and informative: you can be looking at your cards and know just from the sound effects that another player is moving, delivering loads, building track, or that he has changed his mind and erased some track that he has just built. The event sound alerts you to the fact that an event card has been drawn. This isn’t anything revolutionary, but the way it is integrated into the game makes it both helpful and an essential part of the game experience. The AI issues, however, don’t diminish the wonderful job that Eden Studios has done in implementing Iron Dragon for the computer in such a way that the interface never interferes with the game, and the flow of the boardgame is preserved beautifully without making the computer version feel stodgy. The great thing about Iron Dragon is that it’s simply a wonderful game design that is so fundamentally based in strategy that the best player will almost always win, while the direction and pace of the game is determined enough by luck to keep games different and interesting. Some games you’ll build up to the cold north, while other times you’ll see yourself making a fortune plying trade routes to the eastern coastal cities. The cards dictate the flow, but not the identity of the winner. That’s up to careful planning and a bit of speculation. It’s an impressive mix.

Iron Dragon is available as a demo in which you can only play the first fifteen turns of a game. You can play as often as you like, but to get past fifteen turns (and to be able to play online) you’ll have to pay $35 for the registration. Given the unstable status of the Iron Dragon servers and the weakness of the AI, you might think it better to wait until these issues are resolved (if ever). To do so would be to deny yourself the opportunity to become acquainted with a game system that never gets old, and can provide almost unlimited hours of entertainment. How many games can say that?”

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