EDITOR’S NOTE: This review also appeared in Counter Magazine # 13
This is one of the very latest designs from Bruno Faidutti, creator of last year's popular Ohne Furcht und Adel. It is also the latest in the EuroGames series of 'Blue' games, which are designed to be fairly easy to learn and playable in a relatively short period of time. True to the aim of the 'Blue' games, it plays to completion in about 40 minutes or so. Coincidentally, the first game in the 'Blue' series was Castle, also designed by Monsieur Faidutti.
Each player has four adventurers (two knights, a thief and a wizard), with strengths of 4, 3, 2 and 1 respectively, which they proceed to send on quests to destroy vile dragons and steal the foul beasts' hoards of treasures. Problem is, it always takes more than one adventurer to slay a dragon, so the loot must somehow be divided amongst the brave heroes who contributed to the reptile's demise. How to divide the treasure is decided in a frantic, one-minute negotiation round. If the participants cannot come to an agreement on how best to divide the loot, the treasure is lost to everyone! So, unlike the United States Congress, there is usually ample pressure to compromise and strike a deal. He who deals best during the course of the game will likely emerge the wealthiest adventurer and claim the victory.
The game is, as promised, very easy to learn, with straight-forward rules and mechanics. The only thing which may keep it from becoming popular with families is the constant necessity of negotiation. This is fine for most gamers, but I don't know too many spouses or children who are fond of such deal making. If your better half enjoys this sort of wrangling, however, then Dragon's Gold should prove a winner in your household.
Throughout the game, there are four dragon cards visible to every player. These dragons vary in strength from the mighty (11) to the relatively weak (5). Further, each dragon also has a certain number of 'visible' treasures and hidden treasures. Treasures are gems, represented by small wooden discs, which come in a wide variety of colors. Some are more rare than others and, collected in the right combinations, can yield handsome dividends at the conclusion of the game. A number of these gems equal to the number of 'visible' treasures listed on the dragon card are placed directly upon the card. These gems are kept in a cloth bag (conveniently provided with the game) and drawn at random. Thus, the players at least know a portion of the treasure which will be divided upon slaying the dragon. Hidden treasures are not placed until the dragon is slain.
So how does one slay a dragon? Preferably, with a panzer faust. Short of that, it takes a number of adventurers whose combined strength matches or exceeds that of the dragon. A player's turn is actually quite simple ... place on of his face-up adventurers beside one of the four available dragons. That adventurer is now committed to slaying that dragon and cannot be moved until the beast is destroyed. Once the combined strength of the adventurers allocated to a dragon meets or exceeds the dragon's strength, the beast is destroyed. Before discarding the card, however, a number of gems equal to the 'hidden treasures' number listed on the card are drawn from the bag and placed with the visible treasures. At that point, the haggling over the treasures begins.
As mentioned, players have one minute to reach a deal. The game comes complete with a sand timer just for this purpose. Players will find themselves nervously eyeing the timer as the sand rapidly depletes. The urgency to strike a deal is ever present.
If there is one red gem available and a wizard participated in the slaying, the player owning the wizard receives the red gem. If, however, there is more than one wizard in the conflict, then the red gems become part of the treasure hoard and are part of the negotiations. Players can haggle, deal, threaten, coerce, etc. in order to reach an agreement. However, certain rules must be followed:
1) Players may not rely on any sort of luck-based method in dividing the treasure; i.e., no rolling of dice, flipping of a coin, etc. Nor may they opt to choose a gem at random.
2) Players must divide ALL of the treasure. No gems may be discarded.
3) Players may not make deals regarding future treasures, or surrender previously captured treasures.
Thus, the current hoard is what is at stake ... nothing more, nothing less. As mentioned, if no agreement is made before the timer expires, all the treasure is lost. A very sad occurrence, indeed!
If a successful settlement has been reached, each player takes the gems specified in the agreement. All confiscated gems are kept behind a privacy screen. If a thief was involved in the slaying, however, that player gets to reach behind a player's screen and steal one gem. If that same player also had a wizard involved in the conflict, the player may peek behind the victim's screen and steal the gem of his choice! Beware this dastardly combination!
Once the treasure has been divided or discarded, adventurers involved in that melee return to their respective owners, but are placed face-down in their display. These adventurers cannot be used again until the player has only face-down adventurers before him. At that point, they are all turned face-up and are again available for more dragon hunts.
So just what are players attempting to accomplish when acquiring these gems? Well, it depends upon whether you are playing with the basic or advanced rules. In the basic rules, Silver and Red (ruby) gems are worth 1 point apiece, while Gold gems are worth 3 points apiece. The lone black diamond is worth 7 points. Further, the player who has the most gems in each of blue (sapphire), green (emerald), yellow (amber), purple (amethyst) and white (diamond) receives 10, 12 or 15 points, depending upon the number of players.
If playing with the advanced rules, which is the only way I've played, there are a few differences. Points for silver, gold and red are the same. Points for having the most in blue, green, yellow, purple and white are 8, 10 or 12, again depending upon the number of players. The precious black diamond is worth 15 points, but nullifies any of these colored gems. Thus, pursuing the black diamond is a risky strategy, but can pay off if a player also managed to collect numerous gold, silver and red gems. Finally, having one each of the blue, green, yellow, purple and white gems yields 5 points. Interestingly, the intent of the rules is to award these 5 points to a player only once, no matter how many sets they managed to collect. However, we misplayed this rule in my first few playings, awarding 5 points for EACH set collected by a player. We found we enjoyed this method better, and Bruno is even including this as an option in the second edition.
All of these combinations are conveniently listed on the handily player screen. Sadly, the colors of several of the gems are incredibly similar. For instance, it is practically impossible to differentiate between the silver and white gems on the screen, or the yellow and gold, for that matter. Fortunately, they are separated by category, so you can mentally adjust to their respective values in this manner as opposed to identifying them by color alone. The screen also lists the quantity of each color gem, so you can 'play the odds' when planning your strategy and during the frantic negotiations.
When a dragon is slain and the loot divided or discarded, a new dragon card is drawn to take the departed beast's place. About midway through the game, a market card is revealed which allows all players the opportunity to trade gems freely. Again, this trading round is limited to one minute. It can be vitally important, however, as it gives players the opportunity to acquire desirable gems and part with gems which have little value in your particular strategy.
There is one added level of spice. Each player begins the game with an event card. These cards specify when they may be played and have a wide variety of effects from stealing treasure, moving treasures, increasing or decreasing the value of adventurers or dragons or calling another market. Once a card is used, it is discarded. New cards are acquired IF you had a wizard present in a slaying AND you acquired a red gem during the negotiations.
When the final gem is drawn from the bag, no further dragons are placed to replace slain dragons. The game ends when the remaining four dragons on the table are slain. Players then tally their points according to the gem values and combinations listed on their screen. The player with the greatest wealth is victorious.
Dragon's Gold is quite simple, easy to learn and play ... and is truly fun. I am partial to negotiation games anyway, so this one had a high likelihood of being a success in my book. It is also quick enough that it will likely become a group favorite. However, for folks who aren't fond of negotiation or deal-making elements, the game will likely not be very popular. At a car dealership convention, however, it should prove more popular than a pin-up model.