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‘Tales From the Red Dragon Inn’ is the Dungeon Crawler I’ve Been Wanting

3 Minute Read
Sep 12 2023

Tales From The Red Dragon Inn is what happens when you cut out all the chaff from Gloomhaven and are left with a fun, streamlined experience.

I love a good dungeon crawl. Games like Dungeon Hack are my comfort food. In fact, one of my first (real) board games was Key to the Kingdom, a simple but not-quite-fully, but thematically similar dungeon crawling game. So when I say Tales From The Red Dragon Inn might be my favorite dungeon crawler board game, I at least can pretend to have some authority on the subject.

Tales From the Red Dragon Inn is Pure Dungeon Crawling

I played a lot of Gloomhaven when it came out and Jaws of the Lion as well. They are both excellently designed, deeply thematic, and incredibly engaging. It might sound wild to say, but I don’t want that anymore. Gloomhaven always wanted to be a full RPG and video game. Thankfully, it’s both now.

The dungeon crawling was only a portion of the full game. There are the event cards, the quest tree, the city map, the market, and the singular character progression. Not to mention the additional combat mechanics, the element tracker, the bless/curse cards, the combat modifier cards, the coin and loot system, and plenty more.

Tales From the Red Dragon Inn completely strips all that out and leaves you with what you came for: dungeon crawling. I appreciate these metagame systems, which can enhance the overall narrative campaign feel. But if I want that, I can just play Dungeons and Dragons. The gameplay of Tales is just the dungeon crawling combat. When you finish one scenario, you can just right into the next within minutes.

Fast, Tactical Combat Without the Fiddliness

I don’t want to keep hating on Gloomhaven, but it’s simply the most apt comparison. Combat in Gloomhaven is slow and methodical. There are multiple steps in determining who gets to go in what order, how much damage they will do, what effects they will trigger, multiple tokens and cards to pull/draw/discard, and whatever else.

A turn of combat in Tales has none of that. When you pull your initiative token from the bag, it’s your turn. You get 2 actions to use, and you have access to all of your items and abilities, but they are limited by their cooldown timers. If you want to do bonus damage, you can choose to roll the Epic Die or spend a power token, but that’s up to the player. Then, your turn is done, and you draw another initiative token. Turns are fast, and there’s way less downtime, keeping the game moving quickly.

Lighter On Campaign, Tighter On Gameplay

If you want that full RPG campaign feel, Tales won’t quite scratch that itch for you. There is a story to follow. But, the additional layers of campaign play, like city building, quest trees, random events, etc., don’t really exist in Tales.

But, if you’ve ever played Gloomhaven and just felt yourself sighing every time you realized you needed to retract your whole turn because you had forgotten to engage with one of the various cards or tokens scattered around the board, you might enjoy Tales From The Red Dragon Inn as much as I do.


Author: Matt Sall
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