Discovering (and Rediscovering) Dragon Strike

“Feeling brave tonight?” Come with me on a journey of how I stumbled across Dragon Strike, and developed a love for this hobby we’re all passionate about.

The Introduction

Good grief, I was a nerdy kid. All my friends, all the neighbor kids, they were always outside, riding bikes, playing football or basketball, getting dirty or into trouble, wrestling around in the grass, dirt, and sometimes mud, or whatever else they found entertaining. I was inside, building castles and spaceships with my legos, playing video games, setting my G.I. Joes up on their headquarters and shooting them down with their provided spring-loaded missile launchers, or watching any number of sci-fi and/or fantasy movies. When all the other guys in fourth grade were trading baseball, football, and basketball cards, I was bringing my entire collection of Marvel trading cards to school to show them off. I had no one to trade with. Where they had the Beckett price guide, I poured my attention into the only copy of Wizard I would ever have (issue #038, if you’re asking). It would only make sense, then, that for Christmas one year, my parents got me my very first unconventional board game.

Dragon Strike, designed by Bruce Nesmith, published by TSR, Inc., and released in 1993, was meant to be a sort of introductory game in order to bring people into the tabletop RPG hobby. TSR was also the publisher of Dungeons & Dragons, so it seemed fitting they would want to find some way to reel in more players.

Dragon Strike was very similar in form and function to Milton Bradley’s HeroQuest. You had a Dragon Master who read through a scenario book, controlled all the monsters, and did a lot of improvising. You had players who had the option of being a warrior, wizard, elf, dwarf, or thief. There were three dice: a black D12, a white D10, and a blue D8. There were lots of cards for things like magic spells, treasures, traps, and other things. And finally, you had two game boards with different sides on front and back, a scenario book, a folding screen for the DM, a rule book, and lots of minis.

Probably the coolest thing in the box, though, was this half hour long VHS tape which included a short playthrough scenario and some tutorials and tips. The film was made using “hyper reality,” whatever that is, according to the box lid. *Sigh* That video, though. “Feeling brave tonight? How brave? Brave enough to do battle with hideous monsters, hmm?” I can still see the mysterious, floating head, played by John Boyle, on a black background getting ready to lead me on the cheesiest, yet, best thirty minutes of my life. Follow the link to see the film in all its amazing glory.

Dragonstrike Instruction Video (High Definition) (

Anyway, you get the idea. The game was no best seller. I’m not even sure where my parents found it, because, to be honest, hobby gaming had yet to see the light of day in the early nineties. We had no “Friendly Local Game Store.” All our hobby stores were stuffed with plane and car models. There were places that sold comics, sure, but the “and games” tag after that hadn’t been introduced.

If you took a stroll down a Wal-Mart or Target board game aisle, you had the same games to choose from: Sorry, Scrabble, Pictionary, or some form of Trivial Pursuit or Monopoly. Gaming was simply something you did with your dad on a boring Saturday afternoon, or what adults did at New Year’s Eve parties while the kids loaded up on Aunt Barbara’s dip and pretended the sparkling grape juice they were drinking was the same stuff their parents were drinking that they weren’t allowed to touch until they were grown ups.

And this is where Dragon Strike entered my life. What was this? I mean, I wasn’t complaining. I loved the knights and dragons and wizards and stuff right away. But, what was with all these cards? Does a game really need this many little figures running around on it? How do you know which way to go on these boards? Whoever has seen dice shaped like this? How do you win? What’s on this tape?

As soon as I could get away, I went to my parents’ bedroom, where the only VCR in the house was hooked up to a TV that was easily from 1979, and I plugged the movie in. Some blue screen about Macrovision. Meh. The same old FBI warning that I didn’t understand. Come on, just get to the good stuff. “Feeling brave tonight?” My eyes became fixated almost immediately. Monopoly never had a movie. You didn’t need to be brave to play Sorry.

In no time, I was swept away into a whole other realm. There were castles, wizards, magic, kings, undead knights, dungeons, and a dragon. There was just enough narration going on from the DM and the players to know what was going on and how it would play in the game, but the film itself was all done with actors and special effects. I was watching a movie of the game I’d just received. This blew me away. I had to play it.

Diving In

Once again, reading a rulebook was something grown ups did. I watched the video. I didn’t need that stupid rulebook. So I pulled my brother into the room and I set up my own scenario. I didn’t bother with any sort of plot. Just kill the dragon. We went head to head, he as the warrior, and I as the DM. He trotted around the dungeon, sprung traps, unlocked doors, fought monsters, and rules or not, we had an absolute blast. I had to show my friends.

After introducing it to my buddies, and playing several more games with my brother, I finally decided it was time to look at the scenario book and try out some of those. Still paying no mind to the rules, I browsed the scenario book, used the included map to set up the board, and followed the prompts closely to try and aid my brother in his quest. It was even better. Now, it wasn’t just about killing all the monsters. He had goals, NPC’s, story items, and all the other things you’d expect to find in a typical dungeon crawl. For the next several years, Dragon Strike was the only game I needed.

I grew up. I got into high school band. I got into girls. I got a job. I started playing guitar and tried to start a punk rock band. I even tried my hand at skateboarding for a time. I just wasn’t as interested in gaming. After graduation, I married my high school sweetheart. We grew into adults together, had kids, bought a house, and life just went on. Dragon Strike faded into memory, and it would take a long time for those memories to resurface.

The Resurrection

I’ll never forget that night. I don’t even remember what it was I was looking for. Must have not been that important. My wife at the time (that same high school sweetheart), and I, along with my brother, his wife, and all our combined kids, had converged on my parents’ house one Saturday evening. Dinner had been eaten, and while the others were downstairs, I was upstairs, in the attic, looking for something. I wish I could remember what it was I was searching for, because it seemed important at the time.

Anyway, I was moving dusty boxes out of the way, digging through some, and that’s when I came across it. Next to my brother’s old McDonald’s kitchen playset, underneath a small stack of boxes, was Dragon Strike. My eyes immediately lit up. Please tell me that VHS is still in there. I quickly looked. No. It must have gotten placed at some point with the rest of the VHS tapes, then lost. Oh well, there’s always YouTube. I got to looking through the box, and it looked like everything else was still there. I shut the box, got up, and began making my way downstairs.

My brother went wide-eyed. “Oh my goodness! Where did you find that?” I explained its predicament in the attic and told him it needed to be rescued. Glee is the best way to describe the look on his face. The wives, on the other hand, were looking at us like we were actively growing feet where our ears should be. All I could think to spit out was one question: “Want to have a game night?” You’d think he’d been waiting his whole life to hear that question. We promptly scheduled a game night for one week later. I’d have it at my house.

Game Night

This time, I wanted to get it right. Time to open the rulebook. I set everything up, the way it was supposed to go, and chose a scenario I thought would be fun for everyone (somehow I managed to convince the wives to play as well). The rules were easy enough, and before long, we were rolling, both figuratively and literally. The three made their way through the dungeon, sprung traps, unlocked doors, met a friendly gargoyle, discovered secret passages, and found treasure.

It was fun, to be sure. But what finally breathed new life into my passion for this sort of thing was the moment my wife came face to face with a rather nasty giant. She was only a thief, so the odds of her besting this menace alone were stacked pretty high against her. She traded blows with it for a couple of rounds, but began quickly deciding she just wasn’t having any fun anymore as the giant took minimal damage while beating her to a pulp. She kept asking me what to do, and I honestly didn’t know what to tell her, because I didn’t see any way out of this for her. She sunk her head down, and clearly began giving up when she saw it.

At the bottom of each character card was a list of items the character had in their inventory. She pushed her card over to me and asked what it was. I explained to her they were her belongings. She pointed to one in particular: the bullwhip. “Can I use that?” Why had I never, in all my years playing this game, noticed the inventory? “Yeah, I don’t see why you couldn’t. What do you want to do with it?” She continues looking at the card. “What about that?” She points to the food. “Uh, I mean, I guess you could. It really depends on what you’re trying to do.” She then says, “I want to first try to distract the giant with food.”

I felt the smile stretch across my face. Here is where this game will come alive. Roll with it. “Okay, umm, give me a dexterity roll to see if your aim is true enough to land it where he sees it.” She rolls. Success. “You toss the food over to the giant, and he stops to look at it. The look of delight fills his face, and he begins scarfing it down.”

On her next turn, she decides to use the bullwhip. Not to attack, mind you, but to Indiana Jones over the giant and down the hallway. “Roll for dexterity again.” She rolls. Success. “You see a solid outcropping above your head, and with one smooth motion, you latch onto it with your whip, then take a running, hard leap, grabbing and pulling yourself up the whip in order to swing over the giant’s head, toward the exit. The giant notices and swipes at you, but you’re too swift for him, and he falls on his stomach. Upon getting up, he thinks to chase you, but turns to look at the half eaten food he’d be leaving behind, and falls on his rear in front of it to continue gobbling it down.”

The players were all so excited. They carried on with the quest, finding the item they were supposed to find, killing the dragon that appeared after so many rounds, and exiting the cavern. We had so much fun, it was all we could talk about for the next couple of days. It was very apparent that we’d found a new hobby.

From that night, I have built my collection to include over one hundred games. I’ve pledged to several Kickstarter projects, sold and traded games on GeekMarket, introduced gaming to numerous people, been to two Gen-Cons, and made lasting friendships. Many games have come into my collection and some have left. But there is one game that will always have a place on my shelf, whether I play it or not. Its box is flattened, torn, dirty, its contents have no organization, and the minis look incredibly outdated. But in a lot of ways, it’s my favorite game. Without it, there would be no Catan, no Twilight Imperium, and no Kingdom Death: Monster. There’d be no Terraforming Mars, no War of the Ring, and no Everdell.

Thank you, Dragon Strike. You’ll always have a home with me.


About the author

Clayton Schoonover

Clayton hails from the ancient and magical village of Kellyville, Oklahoma, where he raises his young ones alongside his fair queen. He spends his days building arcane machines used for moving liquids. When he has time to spare, he enjoys games of cardboard and plastic, as well as stories told through the mystical glass window he keeps in his room of living.

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