Dragon Castle (Brandon Kempf)
The KneeJerk Review series of reviews is a look at games after only a play or two, with hopes of giving an overview of the game play and then some thoughts. Yes, thoughts, not final verdicts, not definites, just general thoughts about the game while it is fresh in my head. Feel free to yell at me or tell me I am an idiot, but be aware and know that these thoughts are subject to change after more plays and are just initial Knee Jerk thoughts.
Designed by Hjalmar Hach, Luca Ricci, Lorenzo Silva
Art by Cinyee Chiu
Published by Horrible Games
In what was kind of a surprise to me, this ended up being the game that I specifically asked friend Chris Wray to bring back from Essen for me this year. Yes, I know, it's not even on my Essen Spiel 2017 Hype List but the more I read about the game and the more I watched the Spiel 2017 news, I kind of realized, this may be the game that takes the longest to get to the North American market via a North American publisher, this being CMON I believe. So I told Chris to forget Otys, it'll probably be here in a couple weeks, forget Altiplano, it had some production issues I had heard, and go ahead and bring home Dragon Castle.
Dragon Castle clearly takes inspiration from the game Mahjong, but more closely, the Mahjong Solitaire that a lot of us grew up playing on our Windows based computers. Yes, I know, it's not really Mahjong but it is inspired by it. Production wise, this one is fantastic, if only for those nice tiles. They are small but yet they have some heft, I think Chris may have said that this was truly the heaviest game he carried around Essen, and he carried quite a bit. The art is beautiful and while there was some art on the insert in the box, it got tossed pretty quickly as it was really more of just a lightweight cardboard divider than an insert. I think that because this was purchased at Spiel, it came with a nice custom drawstring bag and a rubber playmat for the dragon castle, as those were outside the box, so I assume they were promos for buying directly from Horrible Games at Spiel, so what most people will play with eventually will be some Central boards made of the same material as the player board for the player's castles.
So, in Dragon Castle, the players are trying to build their own castles in their new realms and try to get out of the shadow of the declining Dragon Castle. You do this by taking 1 of 3 actions on your turn. You can take 2 identical tiles from the Dragon Castle, to do this, one of the tiles has to come from the top level of the castle and has to have at least one long edge free, the second tile can come from anywhere else on the castle as long as it also has, one long edge free. Or, you can take on tile from the top level of the Dragon Castle, and take a Shrine from the general supply and add it to your supply. Or lastly, you can simply discard an available tile from the top level of the Dragon Castle and gain 1 victory point.
After taking one of those three actions, the player is then going to place any tiles that he kept, ie did not discard, on their player board to begin building their castle. You can place the tiles anywhere on the board, adjacency is not required, the only rules are, you cannot build on top of a tile in your personal Castle that is face up and you cannot build on top of a tile that already has a Shrine on it. Why are you doing this? Well to gain points of course. You see, when you build tiles of the same matching colors(types) together and you have at least four adjacent to each other, you have to consolidate those tiles. This means you flip them over. You will score points based on how many you flipped and then after that you may also add 1 or 2 Shrines to that Consolidated group, this all depends on the type of tiles flipped. The Faction tiles: Yellow(Merchants), Green(Farmers) & Red(Soldiers) will allow you to build 1 Shrine, while the Special tiles: Green(Seasons), Black(Winds) & Purple(Dragons) allow you to build 2 Shrines, and the Dragons will also give you a one victory point bonus as a well. At the end of the game, these Shrines will score you victory points based on how tall they are, ie if they are one tile high, you get one point, 2 gets you 2 points and 3 gets you 3 points. Anything higher is just 3 points.
In the box, there are also some special cards. The Dragon Cards and the Spirit Cards do a couple different things. At the beginning of the game you will randomly draw one of each, and these will be in affect during the game. The Dragons will score you bonus points at the end of the game based on some kind of building requirement, and the Spirit Cards are kind of rule breakers that you may activate once per turn by discarding a face up tile from your castle, or one Shrine from your personal supply.
Once there are only tiles left on the very bottom level of the Dragon Castle, players then may take a different action instead of the previous three actions, they may Summon the Dragon. You do this by simply taking the right most Dragon Token that is on the Countdown Track, end of the game, these tokens are worth two points. When the Dragon Token is taken and under it is revealed the exclamation mark, the game will end after the player to the right of the start player takes a turn that round. Most points wins the game!
So once again, a reminder that this is a Kneejerk Review, meaning I have played Dragon Castle only a time or two.
This was fun, with just enough thinking involved to make you feel like you are doing a bit of work. There is not any player interaction, much to my chagrin, other than possibly discarding tiles that you know others may need or taking one just to keep someone else from getting it, and I can definitely see that becoming more of a thing to do later in the game when you are on that bottom level of the Dragon Castle and your neighbors are trying to complete that set to put in a couple more Shrines. But other than that, you are playing your own board, and you are playing what is available to you on your turn.
My youngest daughter(7) played with us the first game and while she got it. she didn't want to finish the game when it got down to it, the first game just took a bit too long for her attention span at 7 years old. Now, that isn't saying that this is a long game, it wasn't, if we had sat and played straight through instead of making beverages, popping popcorn or other things, this is probably a 30-45 minute game, just as marked on the box and I think most kids would be able to sit through that and enjoy it.
I would be remiss if I didn't say, that this really is inspired by Mahjong, much in the same way that movies are often inspired by real events, or by the books that preceded them, but I just don't think there is any getting away from that comparison. When someone sees this setup, their immediate response is going to be, is this like Mahjong, and hopefully the fact that it really isn't, doesn't hinder their enjoyment of this fun tile placement game that has hints of set collection in the Consolidation and Castle building.
The theme is ultimately just painted on there to give you a reason to enjoy the art in the game. I can see that you are bringing in the Farmers, or the Soldiers from the Dragon Castle to build your own realm, but really, you are collecting like colored tiles to build with in order to collect points, and that's okay, we like our flavoring of games and this can in theory help teach the game, although it's really simple.
I have zero idea on when or if CMON is really going to bring this to the North American market, but I have to think that they would after the success of Potion Explosion, from the same publishing team and also having name recognition in the designer category as Hach recently brought us the wonderful, similarly abstract, Photosynthesis. So be on the lookout, I think this one has some potential, and I'll try to keep this review up to date or I will write a bit more about Dragon Castle after a few more plays.