I’m going to get right to the meat of it: I really enjoy DragonFlame. I enjoy it a lot, and I’m actually a little surprised that I like it so much. The premise of the game sounded fun enough, which is why I agreed to review it, but I didn’t think I would be like “Holy $h!7 that was fun!”. But I was. I really enjoyed my first play through of the game, which was with three players (me, my wife, and my sister-in-law). Each of us enjoyed the game overall and enjoyed it throughout its duration as well, meaning it was fun to play. There is virtually no downtime and on our off turns we were always watching where the other players placed their cards. And it is light enough that there was quite a bit of enjoyable table talk.
That was my experience playing the game with my family, but how would it stand up on regular game night with a more hardcore board gaming audience? The first night it hit the board game meetup table, again with three players, it was a hit. The other two players enjoyed it and one of them positively crushed me in terms of points (which means it was easy enough to learn and I didn’t have an advantage having played it before). They enjoyed the artwork and mechanics and made comments about where/how DragonFlame would fit into their game collection. Their response was overly positive and they inquired about the Kickstarter launch date; they wanted a copy of the game.
A week later at a different board game meetup group I got DragonFlame in front of 4 other players for my first 5 player DragonFlame experience. Another success. Everyone really enjoyed the game. One player made a comment about how the game essentially consists of two mini games. The first being collecting the most treasure, and the second burning the villages. Bingo! Understanding these two parts of the game, and using them to your advantage, is key to winning big.
Out of the 10 people I’ve played the game with so far, all 10 of them have wanted to play again. For me, this is my new go to game when I need a fun but lighter game that plays in about 30 minutes. The hidden information aspect of the game really seals the deal. I wasn’t quite sure if I’d like this part of the game since hidden information games are very hit or miss in my opinion, but DragonFlame does it right. From player order, to the loot piles, to how many cards may be played and if they are face up or face down, it is all driven by the crafty mechanics of the game. There is no surprise when the current first player becomes the third player in the next round. Everyone sees it happen and it only occurred because of the player’s choice. But, that choice is where the excitement and possible anxiety come in. For example, the third castle stack might have two items that are really valuable and two that are unknown, but the first castle stack has one card face up, which isn’t great, and one facedown card. So which stack do you take?
Besides the items themselves, turn order is also important. The first player gets to go first and then pick which castle they will loot at the end of the round. But, all of their cards must be placed face up. Some players actually did not like being the first player. Of course, being last means you aren’t left with as much choice in terms of which castle to loot, but more (or all) of your cards are placed face down. This means you can be crafty and you have a lot of potential to thwart other players.
Player screw and trash talking do not have to be part of the game, but the amount of table talk during our games was welcomed, fun, and added a social element where we were almost bluffing or rather daring each other to pick one castle over another. DragonFlame made our little family get-together and game night really enjoyable.
And then there’s the burning of villages! This part is also great and I can’t believe I’m only getting to this part of the game so late in the review. Burning villages is genius. The mechanics and theme fit together flawlessly. This is so rare and so well done in DragonFlame that I’m actually standing up applauding the designer right now. Okay, maybe not right now as you are reading this, and it might have been more of a golf clap than a standing ovation, but they still get kudos. If you are a fan of screwing over other players, it doesn’t have to stop at the castle piles. Oh no, it can be brought over to the village burning part as well. Screwing over the other players here takes some thought, but it is so nice when they were aiming for a sweet 15 points and then that village didn’t actually burn to the ground. Or when you gain an ability that allows you to swap two flame tokens. That’s pure evil.
All of the game elements work together to create a very positive and enjoyable experience. This is a game that you’ll want to play with your friends, even those that aren’t big time gamers. It is casual enough for them, but has enough strategy to keep serious gamers engaged.
“Hey, you haven’t told us how to play yet!” Argh! Don’t fret. I didn’t forget. The rulebook and Print and Play files can be downloaded from the Minion Games website. Don’t just take my word for it, go check it out. Then, when you are like “Holy $h!7 this game is teh awesome!” go back the Kickstarter campaign. You’ll be glad you did.
((Note: An advanced copy of the game was provided for review purposes. The review copy is pre-production quality and therefore all components and other materials are subject to change before the final release.