If you came into my living room with a copy of Flamecraft held aloft and said “Hey Jess, boy howdy do I have a game for you – it’s got adorable dragons who do cozy things like bake delicious pastries, work in pottery shops, and forge armor for adventurers!” My first question would be “Who are you and how did you get into my house?” followed up almost immediately by “And how long will it take you to set up this amazing-sounding game?”
But do adorable dragons in a twee setting actually make for a compelling gameplay experience?
Flamecraft delivers exactly what’s described above. In it, the players take on the roles of Flamekeepers, people with the exceptional ability to communicate with dragons. Your goal is to gain reputation in town by finding shops to employ your indescribable cute dragons and enchanting those shops with magic. The dragons will do small tasks for shopkeepers and help them become more prosperous which will, in turn, boost your reputation (which is to say give you victory points).
You start the game with a small number of dragons and on your turn you must visit one of the shops on the board. While at the shop you will decide if you want to Gather or Enchant.
If you gather, you’ll gain goods, coins, and dragons from the shop and from any dragons and enchantments already at the shop. Afterward, you can decide whether or not you want to place a dragon at the shop you’ve just gathered from (thereby increasing what the shop offers), use a dragon’s special ability, and/or use the shop’s ability. All of these actions allow you to either get you more stuff or take special actions.
If you end up filling a shop with dragons, you will draw a new shop and add it to the board for the rest of the game. The shop names are absolutely puntastic references to pop culture, geek culture, tabletop roleplaying culture, and Home Depot. Each new shop has different opportunities to gather and new actions to take, as well as places for you to employ your cadre of adorable dragons who presumably follow you around town like a pack of impossibly cute scale-covered babies.
To enchant a shop (which is Flamecraft-speak for complete a contract and score some points), you will choose 1 enchantment from the faceup row that matches the icon of the shop you occupy and pay the required goods. Then you will gain the rewards shown on the card for enchanting and tuck the enchantment under the shop to remind players that this shop now produces an additional good. After you enchant a shop, you can fire up all the dragons there and use their special abilities.
Whichever you choose to do, any time you play a card or take an action with a heart symbol, you gain reputation which acts as victory points. At the end of each player’s turn, you’ll flip over newly added shops, discard down to 8 artisan dragons and 7 tokens of each good type, and refresh the dragons and enchantments on offer. You’ll repeat all of that until the last card of the artisan or enchantment decks is drawn and the end of the game is triggered. Everyone gets 1 last turn and then you will score extra reputation based on leftover coins and any fancy dragon goals you’ve met.
And that’s Flamecraft in a nutshell, and it’s got tons of features that make it sound incredibly appealing! The artwork is simply amazing – every card, shop, even the play mat itself will make you ache with delight at the adorableness of it all. The dragons are cuties and it’s really fun to imagine them working in these shops, helping customers and making little dragon pastries!
Some of the best things about Flamecraft are in the interactions between players. Positive player interactions make the game feel more generous – there are lots of opportunities to gift players with resources in order for you to gain reputation, for example.
That feeling is also present in the most interesting part of Flamecraft’s design, which are the shops themselves. As dragons go to work in the shops and new shops come out, the tableau of the town will shift and move as players race to gather resources as effectively as possible so that they can claim points from goal cards and enchanting shops, which in turn will make those shops more valuable. Those elements work really well with the overall theme, since everyone benefits from a shop getting more successful and gives way to bigger and bigger plays as the game progresses.
It’s also worth keeping in mind that while Flamecraft isn’t a heavy game by any stretch, it also isn’t a lightweight game either. There are lots of little procedural rules to follow and until you’ve played it enough to keep them all in mind, you might find yourself frequently having to walk back actions because you couldn’t score that particular fancy dragon during this particular phase of the game, or whatever.
That said, just because Flamecraft wasn’t for us doesn’t mean we don’t see the possible player-base for it. We think that Flamecraft might meet the needs of a medium-weight intro game – more than a filler for sure, but less dense and complex than most every Euro-style game that has similar resource gathering and management features. And you can multiply that appeal by a million for players who will find the gorgeous artwork and adorable characters as appealing as anyone with a soul should. So while Flamecraft (ironically) didn’t have enough bite for us, we definitely understand the love that it’s gotten from many and can easily imagine that it could become a favorite for just the right group of players.