Game Spotlights

Published: April 15, 2024

Adam Knight

The Best Dragons in Tabletop Gaming

Shimmering scales, fiery breath, and intense fear. Dragons make fantasy worlds, and their presence is no less great on the tabletop stage. As Dungeons and Dragons turns 50, we’re taking a look at some of the best dragons in tabletop gaming, and there’s no better place to start than Wyrmspan and its dragon sanctuary.

The New Dragon on the Block

Wingspan (Elizabeth Hargrave) blew up tabletop gaming a few years back, combining addictive engine building with fantastic ornithological art. Wingspan’s theme combined with accessible rules and those cute little eggs to make the rare gateway game that sclaes with player skill. Now, a few years later, Connie Vogelmann and Stonemaier Games, who published Wingspan, have done the sensible thing and turned those birds into . . . dragons.

In Wyrmspan, you’re managing a dragon sanctuary, helping a whole host of monstrous beasties build their nests, hatch some eggs, and score some crucial victory points. Much like Wingspan, you’ll pick an action on your turn, choosing between playing a dragon, grabbing some yummy dragon food for yourwyrmspangam.jpg (768×915) little winged death critters, drawing more cards, or getting your well-fed dragons to lay some eggs. All those actions get more powerful as you bring more dragons into your sanctuary, scaling up your engine to, well, out-dragon your opponents.

The beautiful player boards and a huge deck stuffed with unique dragon artwork add so much flavor to the smooth gameplay that Wymspan makes an easy choice for game night, particularly with newer folks who want some fantastic table presence to draw them in. Veterans, meanwhile, get to enjoy a great handicap: delving new dragon strategies without just burning newbies to a crisp. This isn’t Chess or Brass, where pure skill is hard to hide.

One thing to note: Wyrmspan doesn’t blend with its birdy brother, owing to some new abilities and tweaks to make the game dragon-friendly. The games play close enough that doubling up might not be worth it, so if Wingspan already has a place in your collection, do what I do and gift Wyrmspan to a close friend so you can delight in the dragons without the duplication.

Dragons, Deck-Style

Go to Gatherer, Wizard’s Magic: The Gathering card database, and type in ‘dragon’. You’ll get something close to 250 different cards over Magic’s decades-long reign, many of them exquisitely-drawn death lizards. All the colors are there, each given plentiful dragons to choose from at mana costs going from first-turn plays to late game flamethrowers. You could easily slam some basic lands with nothing other than these cards and have a viable, smashing game. Or use Magic’s Commander format to create a stack of pure dragon warfare.

These options are why, if you’re all in on dragons, Magic is the only TCG where your lizard lust can find a competitive home. Magic, if you’re unfamiliar, runs its main modes on sixty-card decks, built bit by bit through buying singles, booster packs, or whole boxes. Each deck can have four copies of an individual ImyiSsT0tEZJ.png (223×319)card, which means you could, leaving aside twenty or so slots for mana-generating lands, dump in forty dragons. Would that make for a good deck? Questionable! Would it be fun?

Absolutely.

And that gets to what makes Magic such a compelling offering even after so many years dominating the tabletop card game space. The game is as wide as it’s ever been, especially if you don’t restrict yourself to chasing the absolute top decks. Recent expansions into themed sets like Lord of the Rings (you’d better believe Smaug is out there, ready to throw his treasure around your table) only add to the goofy deck-building delight.

Even if you’re not keen on Magic or the trading card game model, it’s impossible to deny their support for quality dragon play, which, for this article, is more than enough to warrant a shout-out. Just look at some of these amazing dragon names, all belonging to cards you can play with:

Bladewing, Deathless Tyrant

Crosis, The Purger

Drakuseth, Maw of Flames

Ao, The Dawn Sky

Those are some quality monster names. I could see any one of those terrorizing small fantasy towns, couldn’t you?

The Dragon King

And now, a departure into a nightmare horror playground. Kingdom Death: Monster, in many ways a herald for crowd-funding’s enablement of tabletop creativity and excess, has an amazing monster in its Dragon King. This creature isn’t simply a massive model, but a whole campaign framework for the brutal lifestyle game: the Dragon King arrives with a literal bang, crashing into an existing Kingdom Death campaign or dominating the People of the Stars story. Bespoke narrative, gameplay tweaks, and a tough battle come together to make this beast a memorable one.

Which is, of course, the point. The best dragons in literature and games use their might, their personalities, their sheer presence to create memories. The Dragon King looms as an impossible goal from the start of your quest, when your survivors are scrabbling with bits of cloth and broken stone. You’ll stalk smaller fiends in the massive monster’s shadow, slowly developing a society, amassing a stack of swords, spears, and stronger weapons, until, perhaps out ofpic2908998.png (900×468) desperation or vain desire, you’ll set off in pursuit of a legend.

Hunting in Kingdom Death is its own harrowing set of die rolls, decisions, and, well, death. The Dragon King doesn’t make for an easy mark, and while I’ll not spoil its surprises here, the story that unfolds as you track this hulking horror can see you diving into battle battered and beaten, or strong and surging.

From there?

Your survivors must deploy their skills, master tactical positioning, and try to escape the Dragon King’s gnashing jaws, claws, and devastating blasts worthy of its name. Victory, should you achieve it, invites only more challenge, and more reward. But what else would you expect of a dragon?

Kingdom Death: Monster is not an easy game. It demands commitment, an acceptance of adult themes, and going in knowing losing is likely. The adventure, the hideous and astounding creatures, and the highs (and lows) are unlike just about anything else out there. If you’re looking for a tactical boss battler with a spectacular player-driven story, then it might be worth jumping into this terrifying, tantalizing world.

Dungeons and Dragons – 50 Years of Adventure

White, black, green, red, blue, and gold. Not the colors of a particularly garish flag, but the dragons present in the original Dungeons and Dragons, which turns 50 this year. In those early days, dragon breath dealt damage equal to their starting health, more than enough to nuke hapless player characters, though that terrible breath was restricted to a measly three times per day. As Dungeons and Dragons became Advanced D&D and editions scaled onwards and upwards, more dragons appeared, along with numerous categories to scale the wyrm challenge to suit.

Today, whether running an original Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms, or just about any other Dungeons and Dragons campaign, dragons are much more than mindless rage lizards. They can be allies, rule over empires, or play like Smaug and hang out amid their hoards. Players can roleplay as dragonkin too, wrapping up their every move in dragon trappings. Want to be a rogue that doesn’t pick locks, but melts them with a bit of fire breath? Go for it. How about a bard that concludes their lute performances with a crackling lightning show into the air? Taylor Swift’s got nothing on that.

Look, there’s no question that Dungeons and Dragons holds true to its namesake after all this time. The dragons you’ll find here can be anything you want, can be purveyors of horrifying evil or guardians of the greatest good. You can get a group together, grab some dice, and go on a classic dragon-slaying adventure, only for the DM (dungeon master, a kind of player-deity and game runner) to throw a twist in at the end, with a black dragon the only thing holding back a demon onslaught. Or perhaps the dragon itself controls the demons, the whole thing a misdirect leading your party to parry pit fiends while the dragon devours your friends.

A story that’ll last long after game night.

If you’ve wandered into a game store and been scared off by the sheer amount of Dungeons and Dragons stuff on display, from miniatures to a million sourcebooks, with editions and dice to boot, know that it’s an ocean best waded into one step at a time. All you need to give it a spin is a few willing friends and a copy of the 5th edition starter set, which can be had for less than $30. If you’re trying to nudge a pal into being a DM, a core rulebook gift set gives a would-be dungeon crafter everything they need to build a journey from level one to the dragon’s lair. All the other glitz and glamor is optional, waiting to grease your imagination when you’re ready.

Want to try Dungeons and Dragons but lack the group to give it a go? Consider finding a local store that hosts a Dungeons and Dragons: Adventurer’s League night (Noble Knight has one most Monday evenings!). There you’ll find new friends, experienced DMs, and plenty of questing to fill a novel.

And, if you’re lucky, you might even see a dragon or two.

It’s a Good Time for Dragon Games

Dragons have been a staple of fantasy tabletop games for decades, and of stories far longer. Whether you’re cackling in delight as you drop Bladewing on your Magic opponent or cringing as your DM rattles off the dracolich’s undead dragon powers, the mighty wyrms are as awesome today as ever. Or maybe, just maybe, you’d rather collect your reptilian buddies, building a dragon sanctuary to show these creatures are just misunderstood.

The question, then, isn’t whether you’ll find dragons on your gaming table . . . it’s how.