Sunday 21 July 2013

River Dragons / Dragon Delta

The Game

The gameboard represents a delta, with some big islands along the edges, and many small ones scattered about. Each player starts at a different big island, and the objective of the game is to be first to reach the island on the opposite side of the board from where you are. You do this by placing stones on the those small islands, then placing planks across them to make bridges, and then finally crossing those bridges.

At the start of every round, every player plans five actions he wants to execute that round by picking action cards from his hand and placing them face-down in front of him in the desired order. Once everyone has completed this planning phase, the first cards are turned over, and players take turns to execute their first action, according to the player order of the round. Once everyone's first actions are done, you flip over the second cards, and execute them, and so on. In addition to placing stones and placing planks, actions also include removing planks, moving, and canceling an opponent's action. There are three movement cards - move one step, move two steps, and jump over one pawn. Moving two steps may seem to be automatically always better than moving one step, but the tricky part is if you can't move forward to where you had intended to go, e.g. because another pawn is blocking the way, or another player in an earlier turn order has removed a plank you need, you must move in a different direction. If there is nowhere you can move to legally, you have to go back home, i.e. your start island. This can be particularly painful when you are only two steps away from winning. The jumping over action works the same way. If the pawn which you had planned to jump over has moved away, and there are no pawns which you can jump over, you are forced to go home and start again.

The cancel action can have big repercussions. When you are first in player order in a round, you'd think it would be easier to plan your moves because you will get to execute them before the others and there is less chance of their moves disrupting yours. However if an opponent chooses to cancel your action (at the cost of one action to himself), then you may find your plan for the round completely screwed.

The first player who reaches his destination wins the game.

The Play

Michelle and I played River Dragons with children at Meeples Cafe. The game seems straightforward enough, so I don't think the children (8 and 6) had any problems understanding the rules. My very first action in the very first round was canceled by Michelle. She did out out of curiosity - the let's-press-this-button-and-see-what-it-does kind. That completely messed up my plans for the round. I realised that meticulously planning my round had come to naught, because I had neglected to consider how others' actions could interfere with my plan. I was first to suffer the fate of having to return home. Michelle soon followed suit. The stars aligned for Shee Yun, and by the end of the second round she had crossed the delta to achieve an abrupt surprise win. We were not even warmed up yet!

I was green and Michelle was yellow. While we struggled near our start islands, Shee Yun (pink) and Chen Rui (red) had already built a highway between their homes.

Without even turning back, Shee Yun (pink) reached her destination before the end of Round 2.

The Thoughts

I think a game ending in 2 rounds is not the norm, so this blog post is even more a first impression than how most of my other "reviews" are really first impressions. The premise of the game is simple, so it's suitable as a family game and a party game. I think it will work best with the max number of players (six), because that's when everyone will trip over one another the most, which will be the most funny. However I can imagine this can also be frustrating to some. It can be hard to plan, and there is always the uncertainty of the cancel cards. This is a game with much double-guessing, and with plenty of opportunities to mess with your opponents, e.g. taking out the planks they are planning to use. Even if you don't intend to be evil, you will likely stumble and crash anyway. There is a little Galaxy Trucker in here - you plan as much as you can, and then see if you crash and burn or you actually make some progress through the colourful network of planks.

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