Because nothing ever happens in Innsmouth…
In early 2018, looking around Kickstarter there was a little title that had me clicking on it immediately – Dagon’s Bones.
I could imagine quite a few people skipping looking at the project as ‘Not another Cthulhu game’. In a strange twist of fate, those that looked would have seen exactly that – not another Cthulhu game.
This is one of the few times that the theme of the game made incredible sense to me. According to Lovecraft, Innsmouth was founded in the mid17th century and noted for shipbuilding and sailing. The town fell on hard times, but after beginning to worship the deity Dagon the town began to prosper – in a fashion.
Even not knowing all this, the game quickly sets the scene as taking place in seaside pubs in the town. And what sailor doesn’t like to gamble?
Hence the dice and coins seem completely natural, and while teaching all you need to do is explain the iconography.
Playing Dagon’s Bones
The game itself and its goals is incredibly simple. To begin, deal out all of the coins in equal piles between the players and one pile in the centre for Cthulhu (the Pot).
The goal of the game is to have double your starting coins. If you can do this, you win! If you run out of coins, you lose.
If Cthulu runs out of coins, the player with the most coins wins. However, if Cthulu doubles its starting coins, the Elder God is awakened and destroys Innsmouth. All players lose in this scenario.
Starting with the oldest player, all three dice are collected and rolled. You then do the action each die displays.
Fish bones are dud rolls – luck is not with you. However, if you roll three fish bones, you may pay a coin to Cthulhu to re-roll all three dice once per turn.
The Key, Fishhook and Anchor work similarly – they let you take a coin. The Key lets you take a coin from Cthulhu, the Fishhook choose a player and take one of their coins. The Anchor let’s you decide to take a coin from either a player or Cthulhu – your choice.
The Coin means you must pay one of your coins to Cthulhu. The Bottle of Booze means your turn ends immediately and all other dice are ignored – except for the last symbol, Dagon.
If you summon Dagon, you get to take a coin from each player and the pot. With the goal of the game to double your starting pile of coins, this is a very powerful roll if you can pull it off!
And that is the game. You now know how to play Dagon’s Bones. As you can see, it’s not hard to get people playing straight away.
What I like about Dagon’s Bones
If you are a fan of Lovecraftian horror, the little touches in selecting the theme and setting is amazing – but it’s not required. Even playing with people that roll their eyes at the idea of Cthulhu games, just playing the symbols and changing names of the symbols is enough to get them back on board. Just call Cthulhu the Pot, and Dagon an idol, and everything still works.
While the game is very dependent on luck, it’s such a quick game that losing doesn’t sting. You haven’t spent two hours trying to create a points engine and needing to pull that one card to make it work. No, in Dagon’s Bones you just roll the dice and try to make the best decision on who’s coins to steal.
As a filler game, Dagon’s Bones is one that I will regularly just leave in the side pocket of my games bag for a quick round or two while waiting for others, and it’s perfect for this kind of thing.
And the downsides?
There aren’t too many, to be honest. People that don’t like games based on luck will not like Dagon’s Bones. Same as people that are vocally over Cthulhu games – sometimes a game just isn’t for everyone.
The plastic coins feel a little light, but that helps make the game portable and I am guessing keep costs down. Unless you are playing in very windy conditions, they do the job well, and I am still tempted to paint mine up.
The player count is a little deceptive though, but for games like this, that is a common problem. Playing two players can lead to a few dull rounds of a stalemate until someone gets the right roll. Four players is a quick and tense juggling match of push and pull play.
Five players though I tried once, and it ended in two rolls. Now, this was totally an unlucky situation (or very lucky, depending on how you look at it). I was showing someone at work the basics of the game two-player, when a couple of other people came over to see what was happening.
Talking the new players through my roll and explaining the game, a fifth came over and listened to my explanation. I offered to reset the game and have all of us play, and everyone agreed.
After handing out four coins to everyone including Cthulhu, I went first. I usually do when teaching to talk everyone through that first roll. I took one coin from another player as it was all I could do, and that was that.
The fifth person to come over was the second player, and they rolled three Dagon. Taking a coin from everyone and the pot, they instantly won the game.
This then ended the group rather quickly. The person that won declared the game broken and another player decided that a game that meant they might not have a turn wasn’t worth playing.
Now, this was just a lucky roll, and it can happen in many games. It can also technically happen in four-player games, as you only get 25 coins in the packet. But it’s so rare really to me it’s just a case of sharing the story and highlighting that it can happen. All we lost 2 minutes – a quick reset and letting the third player go first was all that was needed.
There is another catch. Dagon’s Bones is self-published, and I can’t really see where to buy it online. I only saw it because of Kickstarter. This just makes it hard to suggest as an impulse buy or filler gift, which is a pity because it fits perfectly in that category.
If you would like to see a game in action though, below is a video from the creator himself showing a quick three-player game:
Until next time,
Dagon’s Bones is a hard one for me to quantify. It’s a game I would be willing to play most times, scoring it as 7-8 on my scale.
But it’s also a game that I can’t really find an online presence for. Hunting around Utility Games LLCs Facebook page, you can email them to buy a copy but that seems to be the only way to get Dagon’s Bones, unless you happen to go to a con or similar they attend?
Making a fun game and one I would recommend hard to find online
But Dagon’s Bones is fun to play. Pulling this out while in public, it won’t be too long before extra players come and have a look.
If you get the chance, definitely play the game. It won’t be 10 minutes that changes your life, but it will be a bit of fun 🙂
- Easy to teach, quick gameplay
- Very travel friendly
- Allows an ‘Everyone Lose’ ending that doesn’t feel forced
- Not a game you can just pick up at a most stores
- Rules could have been better presented