DragonFlame Review

Dragon Flame
Set Collection, Area Influence, Card Drafting
Minion Games
Matt Loomis
Clay Gardner, Rob Lundy

Players in DragonFlame are raging dragons, burninating the countryside and snagging all the treasure they can get their claws on.  A little thinkier than it looks (heavier than filler, but not a brain-burner by any stretch), it overcomes some of its finicky nature with a solid core concept...mostly.

Dragons are covetous.  That’s a simple fantasy truth, like gnomes biting ankles or unicorns being pure, unadulterated evil.

Jess:  Um…

Andrew:  Ok, well, maybe not that last bit.

Aaaanyway.  That universal truth about dragons forms the thematic basis for DragonFlame, from Minion Games.  Over the course of the game, players will claim piles of treasure, rain fire down on the villages, and horde as many relics as you can sink your talons into.

All this dragonflame, just waiting to be dispensed…

Jess:  Of course, you’ll do that through the slightly-less-thematic mechanism of forming and then drafting piles of loot.

The flow of the game works like so:  Each round, players will take turns adding cards from their hand to different piles of their choice.  Some of these piles are face-up, and some face-down.  These cards fall into a few categories, all of which score differently at the end of the game.

Andrew:  The tactic here, of course, is that there are some cards you really want to collect, and some you’ll want to strategically avoid.

  • Statues are worth 5 Glory each, but if you have more than one statue of the same type, that type won’t score anything
  • Chests are worth a number of points equal to the number of that type of chest you have.  But you only score one type of chest – the rest are worth -1 Glory.
  • Jewelry are worth their face value
  • Princesses award one Glory for each differently-named treasure you have at the end of the game.  Apparently princesses don’t get along, because you can only ever collect one.
  • Knights are jerks, and subtract 3 Glory at the end of the game.
  • Curse cards are worth -2 Glory for each chest type in your hoard.  Fortunately, you can only ever be affected by a single curse.
  • Relics aren’t worth any Glory at all, but each gives you a special power.  Many of these affect the endgame in some way, though a few are useful in-game as well.
Jewelry is worth its face value, while statues are worth 5, as long as you don’t double up. And knights are just the worst.

This all serves to make it so that each pile of ‘treasure’ is actually sort of a minefield – make a pile too valuable by adding lots of good stuff?  There’s a good chance another player is going to spike it with a bad card – unless, of course, they are going to snag it before you.

And the face-down piles only amplify the danger.  You know what you’ve put in there, but there’s bound to be some bad stuff along with it.  OR IS THERE?  (Yeah, there probably is.)

The more treasure of one type you have, the better.

Jess:  Holy cats, that’s a lot of finicky scoring rules!

Andrew:  Absolutely.  Good iconography helps you keep track (the art is generally really good, actually), but there is a lot to keep in mind for endgame scoring, and you’re basically guarenteed to get dragged down with a pile of negative points to go along with your positive ones.

Jess:  And that’s before you factor in lighting the countryside aflame!

The villages of the countryside. So flammable, so full of points…

In addition to the various treasure cards, another type of card that can be added to the piles are the titular dragonflame cards.  When drafted, these cards don’t go into your hoard.  Rather, when you draw a dragonflame card, you will get the chance to strafe the villages which are arrayed at the beginning of the game.

Andrew:  Finally! Some really dragony stuff!

Each card lets you add 1, 2, or 3 flames to a single row or column of villages.  Each village has a certain number of spaces where flames can be added, and at the end of the game, any village which has been sufficiently burned down (with all spaces filled) will score, giving points to the player who contributed the most and second-most flame.  It’s a neat little scoring mechanism that feels bolted-on to the main gameplay, but then again, DragonFlame’s whole scoring system feels a little cobbled together anyway, so it doesn’t do particular harm.

This 3-flame card let Blue strafe a vertical line, claiming a spot on 3 different villages.

DragonFlame is a game about strategic risk.  During the drafting/pile-building phase, you will have to constantly assess the board, adding cards you want to piles which are unlikely to be snagged by other players and foiling your opponents’ plans by sabotaging piles they are likely to go after.  Of course, they will be doing the same to you, so while there is little direct interaction (at least until the end, when a handful or Relics can seriously muck with the endgame), there is plenty of opportunity for players to drop caltrops in each others’ paths.

Some relics help, some hinder. None are worth points, but can often be used to secure points indirectly.

Andrew:  This one is growing on me, I think.  My first couple of plays, I really didn’t care for the copious amount of negative points each player is bound to get, but I have to say, I really do like the core concept of the game.  Ultimately, the enjoyment hinges on how much you like the ‘I cut, you choose’ nature of the pile-building mechanic.

Jess:  I know what you mean – I don’t love the fact that there are so many little fussy bits about scoring, and it does sorta suck when you are forced to take something which tanks your point structure, like a second of one type of statue or a curse card.  Still, it’s fun and thinky in places and entirely more challenging when you play with devious folks.

Curses are an absolute jerk, and while Princesses can be worth tons of points, they don’t get along together.

Andrew:  I guess my only other gripe is the whole ‘princess’ thing.  I know it’s part of lore, but feels pretty outdated.  Could have made it ‘Royalty’ and mixed up the genders.  It’s a nitpick, I know, but there’s my opinion on it.

Overall, we like DragonFlame, despite a couple of weaknesses.  The art is great, the gameplay is engaging, and it’s got the potential to be a really good time, especially with the right group.

(Gameosity received a review copy of this title. We were not otherwise compensated.)

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