Here Be Dragons

5 Overall Score

Engaging and appealing art style | Thoughtful combat | Game has plenty of content, you won’t whip through it

No multiplayer | Luck-based dice rolls negate strategic play | Not actually satire despite being called a “satirical” game | Repetitive & often overly difficult

Here Be Dragons is a satirical turn-based strategy game with a “living map”—or at least that’s what the press information said. They were correct on the living map aspect. The art style is unique, interesting, and visually appealing. The sepia-toned coloring, paper-and-ink style figures, and having the animation set against a map background is a massive draw. It’s simple, it’s reminiscent of a strategy board game you’d enjoy with friends. It’s the kind of aesthetic box art you’d see and think “wow, that looks really cool, I want to play this and see more.”

Unfortunately, that’s about where the appeal ends. Well, perhaps we shouldn’t be too harsh. Let’s break this down.

The satirical aspect is another major selling point in the description. You’d expect witty, dry humor, perhaps containing some aspects of socio-political commentary on the time period—oh, did we not mention? The game is supposedly a retelling(ish) of the exploration adventures of Christopher Columbus. There’s plenty in Columbus’s historic exploits that could be mined for poignant satire, however the game just… doesn’t do that. In fact, the writing is so unfunny and relies on so many cheap laughs (and repetitive pop culture references, at that), that it left us scratching our heads and suspecting that that word (“satirical”) does not mean what they think it means.

Christopher Columbus is nothing more than a bumbling idiot, and while it’s a relief that the game doesn’t celebrate his exploits, playing his character for a moron instead doesn’t seem at best to be the right play, and at worst, feels like deliberate avoidance of the fact that Columbus was, frankly, a pretty terrible human even by the standards of his own time.

But humor is also subjective, so we’ll finish our critique of that aspect there, and turn our attention to the turn-based strategy aspect.

If you enjoy turn-based strategy, you might find the gameplay fun and enjoyable—that is, if you also don’t mind an element of luck that turns the whole “strategy” aspect into more of a “puzzle-based strategy” than straight-up strategic play.

The game is set up board game style, in the sense that a set number of dice are rolled at the start of every round. The player and the AI then assign the dice to certain abilities and functions (attack, defense, bonus damage, healing), but there’s a penalty for taking the highest powered dice for yourself through an initiative system. You as the player always begin with initiative, but whoever has the highest dice total in their pool will lose initiative, meaning the enemy AI goes first, leaving you in a defensive position.

Once you’ve decided whether taking the best dice for yourself is worth losing initiative, or if you should take dice and that leave the enemy with only dice they can’t actually use (since certain functions require certain numbers on the dice), or if you want to just take low-powered dice to retain initiative… the attacks (“salvo”) and actions resolve, and the next round begins. If you lose—and you will—there is no long-term consequence. You’ll begin the next battle with a full contingent, as though the destruction never happened. Thanks to the random element of dice rolls, you’ll get destroyed over and over again until you get the roll needed—and are able to use it correctly—to fill out those function slots and make the right plays.

This is where it can feel more like a puzzle game than a strategy game, which may be an upside for some. We (two of our team members played this title) found it frustrating and didn’t particularly enjoy having to replay certain battles over and over and over again until the dice rolled in our favor. Instead of seeing multiple angles to defeat the enemy and win the battle, it felt like we were sometimes waiting for the “correct” dice roll to turn up so we could complete the puzzle. In a turn-based strategy title, you don’t expect there to be only one solution—nor do you want to be relying on luck to obtain that solution. Perhaps our experience in this was isolated, but it certainly didn’t enhance our enjoyment of the game.

The game does try to mitigate the luck factor with a mechanic known as “errata,” through which you’ll receive a resource called ink occasionally throughout a battle. Ink can be spent to heal your ships or adjust the dice values for your benefit. It’s not reliable—it’s yet another layer of luck, if anything—but it does help.

On the upside, the soundtrack is pleasant and relevant—old timey military-style trumpets and choir vocals, bells, and ocean sounds. It’s simple like the art direction, but it fits and isn’t irritating over a long play session (unless you hate the ocean, or trumpets, I guess).

Overall, Here Be Dragons is an okay strategy title for folks who really like strategy titles, and who are willing to invest the time and energy needed to get the hang of combat—and don’t mind replaying combat scenarios over and over until they “get it right.” There’s a good deal of potential gameplay time here, this isn’t going to be a quick jaunt through a brief indie. However, folks who are newer to turn-based games could be easily discouraged by what feels like contrived complexity at the outset, or put off by the lack of clarity in the tutorial section.

And as we mentioned from the outset… the most disappointing element of this title is that it’s just not funny. There’s humor, yes, but when you’re billing a game as satire, you actually need… satire. Nothing here has been satirized. We get some great art and some Monty Python jokes, but it really feels like the developers missed the mark on this one. The intent is clear, but unfortunately the execution leaves more than a few things to be desired.

*Nintendo Fire received a copy of this game in exchange for review.


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Author: Dave View all posts by
Dave will tell you that he likes to play video games, this is in fact a lie. What he really likes to do is buy games, and leaving them sitting unopened on his shelf. He is a monster.

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