Dragon Flame is a new card game from Minion Games that Kickstarts in November 2014. I had chance to preview this game where players take on the role of dragons destroying the local village with flames belched forth with extreme prejudice. Overall, it was an enjoyable game, although it took a couple plays to get the rules right.
It’s hard not to think about Homestar Runner‘s “Trogdor” while playing this game. Because your goal as a dragon is to, in essence, burninate the countryside, the villages, and the peasants.
The game itself consists of a deck of treasure cards, three colors of castle/banner cards, and nine village cards. Additionally, in the final game, each player will have 15 dragon flame markers to use to indicate which part of the village they’ve burned.
Setup is pretty straightforward: first, lay out the village cards at random. Then, deal out one color of banner cards, one per player, at random. Third, set out a second set of banner/castle cards, one more than the number of players, castle side up, to put treasures on later. Finally, each player gets three treasure cards. The banner cards are numbered, and they determine the order of play.
Players now take turns playing treasures from their hands on the castle cards. Each banner that indicates turn order also has rules for that player on when they must play a card face up or face down. This creates a certain amount of mystery, and since player one has to play all of their cards face up, while players four (and five, if you’re playing with the maximum number of players) play all of their cards face down. This provides some balance against a player always choosing to go first.
After the players have played the treasure cards on the castles, players act in turn order to select treasures. Some treasures are very powerful, while others give negative points. Has your opponent played a negative card face down? That’s the risk you take as you decide which castle to choose. After you select your castle, you then reveal all of the treasure cards. If any of them have an effect that happens right away, you resolve it. For example, dragon flames.
If you get a dragon flame, you then get to burn the village. The village cards are either green hillsides, which don’t get you any points, or villages, which have different numbers of slots available to burn, and offer points for first, second, and third most destruction at the end of the game. Only completely destroyed villages earn points for any dragons.
Once you’ve resolved your cards, play continues in banner order. When complete, there will be one left over castle. It might have nothing on it, or it might have many treasures that will now be lost to the discard pile. Play continues in this way until all of the treasure deck cards but one have been placed on castles.
Scoring is a straightforward affair, although some combinations of scoring are a little confusing at first, as some cards score in more than one way, with a couple of scoring methods taking a couple tries to get right. But once players understand how scoring works, the victory point process is much the same as many other games.
This was a preview copy, so we had little wooden cubes instead of whatever the final dragon flame tokens will be. The card art is excellent, with clear text and good theming, which is to be expected from a company like Minion. One fiddly bit is the banner/castle cards. Players tended to forget to return their banners when they collected their new castles, and because the numbers are on both the castle and banner sides of the cards, you have to be more careful when doing the initial random distribution.
Minion has worked hard to make the rules as clear as possible, but I suspect players will still have to play through a couple of times before they assimilate them all enough to participate competitively. Like many games, though, once at least one player has a strong handle on the rules, learning the game is quick, and setup is fast, too. Dragon Flame then fits well into the newly popular short length token placement genre.
Those are small quibbles, though. The game feels most similar to 7 Wonders and Guillotine as far as scoring goes. The gameplay itself is unique, I have yet to see a game that uses revealed and hidden cards in this way, and it creates a very satisfying multi-layered strategy opportunity. It’s worth mentioning that some of the treasure cards are special artifacts which effect gameplay either during the game or at the end during scoring. These cards can greatly change the balance of power, and also provide opportunities for obvious expansion points at a later time, should Minion choose to do so.
Feedback from the other players was that they enjoyed it, but would have liked clearer rules. More importantly, they’d have been willing to play again.
Overall, then, this is a fun little game that takes only a few minutes to teach, and about 30-45 minutes to play. It allows from 2-5 players, making it a great game to play before or after a bigger game, or among the growing list of strategy filled short games that are gaining popularity, especially with borderline gamers who are understandably intimidated by the more complex games favored by hardcore tabletop enthusiasts.
Available from Minion Games
Kickstarter in November
9 out of 10 burninations
(for being a little challenging to learn out of the box, but for otherwise excellent game play and replay ability)
Eliot has been orbiting show business for over 20 years as an improv comedian, video director, and general guy you might barely recognize. Currently best known for his work on the comedy podcast Never Not Funny: The Jimmy Pardo Podcast. He wrote previously for MacEdition.com, and is working on a collection of short sci-fi and weird tales that will probably be published someday. He is also one of three principals in Modest Games.