Taking its title from the Latin inscription hic sunt dracones on the 16th Century Hunt-Lenox Globe, Here Be Dragons is a dungeon-crawler style sandbox game where 1-6 players will each be exploring by drawing and laying out hex tiles, collecting resources, developing a settlement and adding to their armour and weapons skills on a tech tree to better equip them to combat the monsters they will encounter in the course of the game.
There's a strong 4X (eXplore, exPand, eXploit & eXterminate) feel to the game but without the heavy rules overhead that often accompanies such games. Movement and actions are straightforward, although it may seem initially counterintuitive that you start each turn by taking an 'end travel' action and you end each turn with a 'start travel' action. These travel actions simply mean that players decide at the very end of their turn if they plan to remain next turn on the hex they are in or if they will move to an adjacent hex (or explore by drawing a new hex from the bag if moving to a currently empty space). They do this by positioning an arrow on the edge of the hex they are in.
You'll be collecting resources to build and develop your settlement, which will give you income each turn and will become a refuge where you can recover hit points. Gold is used to pay for upgrades of armour and weaponry on your individual tech tree. As you progress on the tech tree, it increases the number of dice you roll in combat and may give you some dice modifiers. You collect Influence because this can be exchanged for victory points (10 Influence becomes 1 VP). You're likely also to be fighting monsters, both for the rewards they yield and to satisfy quests picked up as event cards.
For a short game (probably an hour, depending on the number of players), you'll be playing first player to hit 5 victory points (10 VP for a long game). There are different routes to victory but more often than not it'll be all about buffing up your character on the tech tree and making effective use of the event cards you pick up each turn so that you can successfully tackle the most powerful high-reward monsters.
Combat too is simple, and will be familiar to anyone who has ever played Risk (Hasbro). Attacker and defenders roll conventional six-sided dice and compare their best rolls, having applied any modifiers and modifying effects of their event cards or because of a monster's special abilities (which will be printed on its card). If I am just rolling two dice (the base stats for every player) and I roll 5,3 and I'm fighting a 3d6 monster who rolls 4, 4, 2, my 5 will beat one of his 4s but his other 4 will beat my 3, and his 2 won't be used in combat. So in this example, we would each lose one die and combat would continue with me rolling just one die to the monster's two. Players take hits if they lose and they are forced to retreat, and undefeated monsters drop a token seeding a monster on the hex that has to be beaten before the hex can be traveled through.
As you might expect, if your health is reduced to zero you're dead. Death doesn't mean player elimination but it does result in you been downgraded on your tech tree and losing all your event cards, gold and resources. That's quite a setback that can be tough to come back from.
At Board's Eye View we've been playing a preview prototype of Here Be Dragons: Into the Unknown and we were delighted to see that designers Kim Aberg and Kim Jansson have incorporated catch-up mechanisms for keeping trailing players on board. The maximum resources and gold you can hold on your individual tracker board is 10, so if you generate more (quite likely by the midpoint of the game), you're obliged to give any surplus to the player with the fewest victory points. Player versus player combat is also an option for players trailing the leader. You can attack other players but only if they have more victory points than you. This wasn't always so well received by the Board's Eye View team because it can result in wild swings of fortune: beat an opponent in PvP combat and you steal two victory points from them. Given that you may only be playing to 5VP, that seemed like an absolutely massive reversal of fortune.
Aside from upping the number of victory points needed to end the game, Here Be Dragons: Into the Unknown incorporates some options that step up the difficulty level. You can opt to play with eight corruption cards shuffled into the event cards deck. When the third corruption card emerges, a powerful boss (The Devourer) appears on the game's original starting hex. As more turn up, corruption spreads ever wider across surrounding hexes. Corrupted hexes drain hit points, so if you're planning to take on the big boss, you'll want to do so as soon as you can or your health will be depleted before you even begin combat. The Devourer rolls eight dice, gets a bonus die on its next roll for any 6s and ignores the player's highest roll! There are huge rewards for defeating The Devourer (not least, 4 victory points!) but unless you have a lot of powerful event cards to boost your performance, the Devourer is likely to make mincemeat of your adventurer... Except that rather than killing his foes, The Devourer corrupts them, turning them into its agents - with the sole mission of attacking other players. It all makes for a tough but exciting variant, where more often than not it'll be The Devourer who comes out on top, but it shows also the versatility of the Here Be Dragons game system.
Here Be Dragons: Into the Unknown is on Kickstarter right now. The KS version from publishers Todys Design will sport a number of upgrades on the preview prototype shown here on Board's Eye View, including wooden settlement and monster meeples in place of the cardboard tokens, and a semi-cooperative play quest option. The individual tracker boards in the finished game will also be double-layered so that the cubes slot into place: another very welcome improvement. Click here to check the Kickstarter out. This is one you won't want to miss.