Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Quick Review - DragonFlame - a Kickstarter Preview

Designer: Matt Loomis
Publisher: Minion Games
Quick Review - DragonFlame - a Kickstarter Preview

Last weekend I was fortunate enough to receive a preview copy of DragonFlame from the great folks at Minion Games.  The game launches on Kickstarter tomorrow (November 4th), so look for an update with the link tomorrow.  Unfortunately though, the game arrived while I was up at Protospiel in Madison (where I was actually able to meet James from Minion Games).  Then the following week I got sick, and then had my son's birthday party to plan for.  So I've been sitting on this game for a week now just itching to play.  I had watched a few videos about it and it looked like a ton of fun.  So today I finally had a chance to scratch that itch.  I played a game with my sons (ages 5 and 8) and then another game with a group of adults at a local game store.

UPDATE: The Kickstarter for DragonFlame has launched!  Check it out here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/miniongames/dragonflame-card-game  You can get a copy of the game for $25 or a signed copy for $35.  Back this project if you can. (I'm quoted in the reviews section - yeah!)

DragonFlame is a card game for 2-5 players in which each player is a dragon looting castles, collecting treasure, capturing princesses, and burning villages, all while trying to avoid knights and curses.  The components consist of 9 village cards, 14 castle cards, 91 main deck cards, and 75 fire tokens.  Depending on the number of players playing there will be varying amounts of each card used in the game.  The artwork on the cards is excellent, and really adds to the game.  The description says the game plays in 45 minutes or less and that's pretty accurate.  The game I played with my sons lasted about an hour, but there was a lot of dragons flying around special effects that lengthened the game a bit.  I also played with a group at a game store in town and that game lasted about 45 minutes, including teaching the rules.

In the game several village cards are laid out in a grid (6 or 9 depending on the number of players).  These are the villages that the dragons work on burning down.  Then the numbered castle cards are laid out (one more than players playing).  Next, each player receives a banner card that indicates the turn order.  Finally each player is dealt a number of cards from the main deck (the number varies depending on the number of players - 3 in most cases).  And now the fun begins.

The game is played in a series of rounds.  Each round consists of two phases.  First, each player, in turn order, takes turns placing one of their cards into a castle.  Depending on the banner each player has some cards are played face-up and some face-down.  In the end each of the castles will have a different number of cards in it, some known to the players and some unknown.  Once all the cards are placed in the castles it is time for the dragons to attack the castles.  Again, following turn order, each player chooses a castle to attack.  The player takes all the cards from that castle into his hand, including the castle itself.  The castle will have a banner on the opposite side indicating the player's new turn order or the next round and the player then flips his current banner to the castle side and returns it to the playing area.  The cards collected get placed into the dragon's hoard, except for DragonFlame cards.  Any DragonFlame cards picked up let the dragon attack and burn villages immediately.

This is the part of the game that my sons liked the best.  The game was filled with swooping cards, dragon sound effects, and lots of animated shouting as the dragons toasted the villages.  As the dragons strafe the villages fire tokens are added to the villages, until the entire village is burned to a crisp.

The game has a set end, which is nice - it won't just go on and on forever.  When the main deck is depleted (there will be one card remaining, regardless of the number of players, assuming the deck was set up correctly) the game ends.  There is no reshuffling of discards or anything like that.  As soon as the game ends any end-of-game relics collected are resolved (there are also some relic cards that can affect the game during play) and then points are added up.  Depending on the different types of treasures that each dragon collected there are different scoring rules.  You also get bonuses for the villages you helped burn and the final banner you chose.  This part of the game got a bit confusing, especially for first time players.  There are benefits to having certain treasures, but penalties if you have too many, or certain combinations of cards.  After one or two plays this shouldn't be an issue, but it is a bit of a downer at the end of the game for new players to try to figure out what the score is.  It also makes it a little challenging for new players to keep track of their score as the game progresses.  But this is a minor quibble and doesn't really detract from the fun of playing the game.

So, what did I think of the game?  I really liked it.  It's a bit long to be a filler game, but not too long (30-45 minutes), and not quite complex enough to be a stand-alone game for serious gamers, but for a casual game or a family it is a blast.  And even though the mechanics and rules are easy enough to learn there is a depth of strategy, bluffing, and deduction to the game to make it a great casual game for gamers, too.  It's nice that the game doesn't go on and on.  You know that when the cards run out the game is over, so game lengths are going to be fairly consistent (assuming players don't take too much time acting out dragon attacks).  Comments from the people I played with at the game store were generally favorable.  One player wanted a bit more of a surprise element when attacking the castles to get stuff for the hoard, which might be achieved by having each player place one more unknown card into the castles (unknown by anyone, including the player who place the card), and that might work for a 3 player game, but it might throw off the numbers for a 4 player game.  Personally, I didn't feel the need to have any more surprise (especially after I ended up with 3 knights in two turns).  My sons absolutely loved the game though.  When I asked them what they thought and how many stars they'd give it (out of 5) they both answered "5 stars!  Definitely!"  However, a few minutes later they amended that.  "I changed my mind, make that 6 stars!  6 out of 5!  I loved that game!"  Needless to say the game is a hit at our house.

I plan on playing a few more times in the coming week with a few different numbers of players, so I'll update this review with more reactions and any details or quirks with different players.  I'll also update the review periodically with details on how the Kickstarter campaign is going.  Be sure to check it out, and if you can, back the game! I recommend backing DragonFlame if you can since it's a game you can get out with both your family and your gamer friends. It's definitely a worthwhile investment!

Preliminary Rating: 7/10
This review is of a prototype game.  Components and rules are not final and are subject to change.

What's that I see swooping in from the sky?

It's a DragonFlame!

The villages are burning!

Beautiful artwork really adds to the game.

Playing at one of the FLGSs in town.

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GJJG Game Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with my family and friends.  Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some are print and play versions of games.  Where applicable I will indicate if games have been played with kids or adults or a mix (Family Play).  I won't go into extensive detail about how to play the game (there are plenty of other sources for that information and I'll occasionally link to those other sources), but I will give my impressions of the game and how my friends and family reacted to the game.  First Play Impression reviews will only get a single rating of 1-10 (low-high) based on my first impressions of the game during my first time playing.  Hopefully I'll get more chances to play the game and will be able to give it a full review soon.

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