Buzzworthiness: Dragonheart

Today, a review of a two-player game:

image by BGG user Surya
image by BGG user Surya

Dragonheart is a game by Rüdiger Dorn that was originally published in 2010 as part of the KOSMOS two-player line.  Fantasy Flight publishes the game in the US.  Players are battling to gain the most points, but at the same time, you’re controlling dragons, hunters, ogres, knights, dwarfs, treasures, and ships.

image by BGG user Toynan
image by BGG user Toynan

The game comes with a board showing several areas for cards.  You also get a plastic dragon and two identical decks of 50 cards.  Each player gets a deck and draws an initial hand of five cards.  On your turn, you play one or more cards into one of the card areas on the board.  Some areas will hold as many cards as you want to put there, while others have limits.

  • Dwarfs (lower right): When four cards have been placed in the dwarf area, the player who has placed the most of them gets all four.
  • Treasure (upper center): You can put as many treasure cards as you want here.  They don’t do anything except give points to the person who gets them.
  • Fire Dragon (upper left): You can put as many fire dragons as you want here.  One fire dragon will take all treasure cards.
  • Huntress (lower left): Three huntresses will allow the player who placed the third card to take all fire dragons.  The three huntresses are collected and placed near the ship.
  • Petrified Dragon (upper right): You can put as many petrified dragons as you want here.  They don’t do anything.
  • Sorceress (left of the Petrified Dragon): You can put as many sorceresses as you want here.  One sorceress will take the Petrified Dragons, and will also get you the plastic dragon.  As long as you have the plastic dragon, you can hold one extra card in your hand.  The player who has it at the end of the game gets three extra points.
  • Troll (left of the Dwarfs): You can put as many trolls as you want here.  One troll will capture all sorceresses.
  • Knight (lower center): Two Knights will either capture all trolls or all sorceresses for the player who placed the second Knight card.  Knights are then collected and placed near the ship.
  • Ship (right of Huntress): The third ship played here will collect all accumulated Knights and Huntresses for the player who played the third card.

The game continues until the ship cards have been taken a third time.  After this, that player’s opponent gets one more turn, and the game ends.  Add up points from all cards you have acquired to find the winner.

COMPONENTS: The board is beautifully illustrated by Michael Menzel, and paints a picture of what is going on.  Each character and object picture is duplicated on the cards so it’s easy to know where to play them.  Places where multiple cards can be played are marked by a single card outline, while places with limits show a cascade that indicates exactly how many cards can go there.  There are arrows between the pictures that affect each other, so that helps create a kind of flow chart for how the game will play out.  The plastic dragon will look very familiar to anyone who has played Blue Moon or Blue Moon City – all three games are KOSMOS/FFG, and I guess they are allowed to use the same models from game to game.

There aren’t a lot of components in the game, but they’re all beautiful to look at and functional at the same time.

THEME: This game has a beautiful board and some great fantasy art.  But the theme is really shaky.  According to the rules, one player is a disciple of the Great Dragon who wants to free him, while the other is a minion of an evil wizard who wants to make the Great Dragon sleep forever.  This implies that players will be trying to accomplish different things, and you’re not.  The two decks are exactly the same, with the exception of the backs.  Both sides play exactly the same way and score exactly the same way.  It would have been better if the theme had just been playing out a story in a fantasy world, maybe as storywriters trying to shape a fantasy world to our own purposes.  So, oddly, despite the evocative art, the theme is probably the weakest part of the game.

MECHANICS: This game is all card play with multiple ways to score points.  Each space has a unique occurrence associated with it, and it is very interesting how they flow into each other.  The dwarfs are not associated with anything, but can provide a lot of points if you get the right cards.  The petrified dragon is also useless by itself, but if you capture it with the sorceress, it gives you more cards and three bonus points.  The sorceress is also useful for capturing treasure, which is only there to get the first person to grab it more points.  The fire dragon is only good for capturing treasure, and the huntress needs three shots to bring it down.  On the other side, the troll and knight can both capture the sorceress, while the knight can also capture the troll.  Ships are good for claiming knights and huntresses after they have served their purpose.  Mechanically, there’s not a whole lot to talk about – it’s mostly strategic choices about how you want to play those cards.

STRATEGY LEVEL: There is definitely luck in the game – you can’t do much without drawing the right cards.  However, you do have choices in how you want to spread out your cards.  Do you want to play some treasure to entice a fire dragon that you can take out with huntresses?  Do you want to place a petrified dragon that you can take next turn with a sorceress?  How many dwarfs do you want to get out of your hand at a time?  There’s lots of decisions to be made, though the game has a definite push-your-luck feel.

ACCESSIBILITY: Dragonheart is a pretty easy game to learn.  The board is laid out clearly enough that you can tell how it all works together.  I’d put this in the gateway category – not too complex, but still with some mechanisms that can lead to other games.

REPLAYABILITY: This game has variability depending on how the cards come out and what your opponent plays.  In that sense, it does have replayability.  However, I think it’s probably finite replayability – games can feel similar after a while.  It probably would benefit from an expansion that adds a new board that interacts with the old board.  I don’t think the replayability is bad, I just don’t think it’s something you’ll be playing over and over again.

SCALABILITY: This is only a two-player game.  There’s no official multiplayer variant, though some fans have come up with them.  I think adding more players would increase the chaos in the game and take away any semblance of strategy.

FOOTPRINT: This is not a huge game.  It comes in the standard KOSMOS two-player box, and the only room you really need is for the board.  There’s a draw deck and what players collect throughout the game, but this is definitely a game that can be played on a small surface.

LEGACY: This game is another great one from the KOSMOS two-player line.  It’s not quite as good as, say, Balloon Cup, but I’d put it on the same level of Tally Ho in terms of being a fun, strategic, lucky game.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? Yes.  I like the game quite a bit.  I wish there was a better attempt at theme, but the gameplay is fun, and I would play this game any time.  I think Fantasy Flight has stopped printing the game, but copies are still out there, and you can play online at Yucata.de and BoardGameArena.  Thanks for reading!

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