A few weeks ago I wrote about Monster Mansion, the first of a pair of Kickstarter previews I was planning on writing. This week, I’m discussing the other one, DragonFlame, a card game by Matt Loomis that’s now being Kickstarted by Minion Games.
You Cut, I Choose
DragonFlame (2015) is a game that I find hard to classify. Since you’re spending your time playing and collecting cards, it’s most obviously it’s a card management game and a set-collection games. However, those two priorities come together through what’s essentially a you-cut-I-choose mechanic. Each turn each player gets a hand of three treasure cards. Everyone plays those cards into lots that are defined by castles. Then, players pick lots one at a time, in their current order.
So, if you go early in the turn order, you’re trying to make great lots that you can take all by yourself, while if you’re going late in the turn order, you’re trying to poison the good lots, or else you’re trying to make great lots for yourself that simultaneously won’t be attractive to the other players.
This is all made more difficult by the fact that the castles that define the lots are numbered … and the numbers will determine when you go next round.
Setting Lots Up Right
How do you make lots work well? I think that you just have to play to Reiner Knizia’s auction classic Ra (1999) to see the answer to that question. That’s because lot selection basically works the same way that auction creation (and like card drafting, which I’m going to return to): you have to make sure that individual elements that are placed in lots (or auctioned or drafted) have different values to different players.
DragonFlame does this well. The variable valuation occurs most obviously through chests and statues. Chests score geometric points: 1 chest of a specific type is worth 1 point; 2 are worth 2 each; 3 are worth 3 each; etc. Statues show the opposite tactic: they exist in pairs, and if you have one of a pair, you score lots of points, but if you have both in a pair you score nothing. Varying card value by the number of a specific type of card is a nice methodology that reminds me of Fairy Tale (2004) — which is a card drafting game. But you see it in the monuments in Ra too.
However, DragonFlame also includes one other method to vary the value of lots for different players: some cards played by the players are placed face down. Since some cards can be bad, the introduced of face-down cards can make players look at those cards (and their lots) in different ways: if someone has never taken a curse, they might be very adverse to a lot full of hidden cards from other players, while the players who knows what those cards are might feel much better about taking it.
(One of my few complaints about the game had to do with these hidden cards, which vary based on the number of players: my 3-player game had far fewer hidden cards than my 4-player game, and I didn’t like how much the game changed as a result, but that’s a pretty small niggle for what was overall a pretty great game. I’ve also since been told that the number of face-down cards is going to be decreased in the published version, which I suspect will result in an even better game.)
A Bit of Majority Control
However, there’s one big catch in how majority control works in this game, and it’s one that I liked a lot: you only score a village if all the majority-control spaces are filled. Each of my games, about 2 of the 7 villages ended up unfilled, so this is a real threat, and yet another thing that you had to think about when placing your cubes.
Some Final Thoughts
To date I’ve reviewed five games from James Mathe’s Minion Games: Grave Business (2011), Kingdom of Solomon (2012), The Manhattan Project (2012), Tahiti (2012), and Venture Forth (2011). I’ve enjoyed them all, and even found a few to be great, but they almost all felt like they needed a bit more developmental polishing.
DragonFlame is the first Minion Game where I haven’t felt that’s the case. It preserves the great theming possessed by most of the previous Minion Games, but it’s also got some great, well-polished mechanics. And thus I think it’s a game that’s worth playing and worth kickstarting.
If you’re still uncertain, let me list out the people who I think will particularly enjoy DragonFlame.
I think players will enjoy it if they like the two games I’ve already mentioned: Ra (1999) and Fairy Tale (2004). To that list I’d add: Coloretto (2003), because it has a somewhat similar mechanic of creating and taking lots; Dragon’s Gold (2001), because it’s another fantasy-themed game about dividing up treasures; and to a lesser extent Blue Moon City (2006), because it’s one of the few majority-control games I’ve played that only gives points for completed majorities.
More generally, I think that DragonFlame has wonderful fantasy artwork and fun fantasy theming, so I suspect it’ll be enjoyed by folks who enjoy the genre, especially if they’re looking for a shortish, filler game.
However, I’ll sign off with one caveat about DragonFlame: the game contains a tiny bit of take-that play — some special “artifact” cards that can be used for a single powerful attack (like swapping a card or swapping a majority-control token) at the end of the game. It’s not out of line with the relatively light and fast play, but serious strategists might not like it.
If you’d like to Kickstart DragonFlame, here’s that link again.