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Dragon Dice» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Dragon Dice: A good game with a poor rating at first glance rss

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ron van 't veer
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I bought Dragon Dice in the late nineties and I still like both the dice and the game concept. All the dices are lovely in color and most of them have very good artwork. In it's concept it was - and is - a great innovative game to play collectable miniatures with dice.

Starting to play with Dragon Dice
When you are interested in this game, the rating at Boardgame Geek is probably not a good starter. A rather average rating of 5.7 from 932 is at first sight not so good to start a collectable game. The problem with collectable games is, that you know beforehand that you have to invest some money to play the game at is full potential. Luckily the new owner, SFR Games has published some good starter boxes with decent armies. If you want information about this game, just look at SFR Games. They have a bunch of excellent information about this game.

http://www.sfr-inc.com/cart/index.php

Learning the rules
Yeah ... the rules...
Well, these were and still are not intend for players who want to start this game within 30 minutes of rule reading. The are not very difficult, but there are a lot to learn at start and the play-examples are still to few to master the game within 1 hour. If you look at the ratings, and you analyse the comments of the lower ratings, you see that this is the major drawback of Dragon Dice. I have made a graphical figure of all the BGG-ratings, and completed it with a Tukey's box and whiskers plot.
If you look at the ratings graph, you see that the majority of the voters give the game a 6.0 (median rating, 5.7 is the average rating). Most of the ratings are distributed between the 5 and 7. In the box-plot (the red box at the top of the color diagram) it can be seen that the ratings below the majority of 5, 6 and 7 are skewed. There are more bad ratings (2 to 4) than good ratings (7 to 9).



So, if you look to the rating comments of players who rated the game from 2 to 5, you read one main complaint: the rules are difficult to understand. And that was the same in the old TSR edition and is still a bit the same with the new SFR 3rd edition. So, the rules are not bad, but the organisation is difficult to understand for a beginning player. Also, the rules lack rich illustrations of gameplay and tips.

If the rules are better explained and illustrated, like in some complex games - e.g. look in the manuals of the Lord of the Rings/Warhammer 40K miniatures game - there is a chance that this drawback can be overcome.

For some players, the collectable aspect of the game is a drawback. They like fixed sets. But in a way, this should not be a big problem. Many rares and uncommons are for trade on the SFR Forum, or for sale on Chuck Pint's site. Yes, the rarer, bigger and better dice are more expensive. That should ring a familiar bell by the miniatures players of Warhammer and Lord of the Rings.

Another - for me a minor one - problem is the abstraction of the dice. You like them, or you hate them. At least the new SFR rules did a great job to tie all the illustrations of the dice together in one new illustrated ruleset. Which is great! Well, since your miniature is a 4 or 10 sided dice, they will still be abstract things to play with. As I said before: you like them - and will start to collect them - or you loath them... So, if you like dice, the ruleset is a bit of a study, but not very hard to overcome. Go on and give it a try!


Rating Conclusion
Dragon Dice isn't really a mediocre or bad game, it is a good, decent dice game. The only problem is that the rules are a bit hard to grasp in the beginning. Yes, they are a bit technical and not so logically organized to start this great game right away. But that doesn't say the rules are bad. Actually they are rather good and you can have great fun by rolling the dice strategically.

So be a bit patient with the rules. Try them by reading the various examples on the web, the illustrated rules of the starter boxes and finally the main ruleset on the SFR Forum. If you own the old BattleBox, I can advise you to read the first turns example at the end of the rules folder (Letter format). The rules of this old box are a bit outdated, but they give a good idea how the game works in the first turns. (I Intend to rework these examples - some day - and publish them as a file on BGG)

Ruleset
The latest ruleset(s), the 3rd edition, can be downloaded on the SFR site. You can find more information about the rules on the SFR-forum, which is very informational and filled with lots of helpful players.

Take a notice that the 3rd Edition rules are rather a bit different from the older TSR-rulesets. They differ in the following ways:
a) There are less spells, there are new spells and the cost and effects of some spells are changed compared to the (older) revised rules. So, some spells are altered, like Cantrip, and some are just deleted. Main advise: don't use the old spells of TSR anymore, but refer to the new SFR lists. They are Tournament legal. The change in spells is OK for me, all the spells are more balanced now. For example, there are fewer spells to keep in mind and each race can regenerate some dead army units with elemental magic.
b) Melee is changed: there are no skirmish and charge rules anymore, since they benefit some races and make them OP. The optional rout rule is deleted (that's a good one!)
c) Rules for major and minor terrains are a bit different, since there are now 2 new major terrains and new special terrains (like grove,vortex, etc.). Since the special terrains are expansion terrains (in the Battlefields expansion), it should be noted that not all players have these dices.
d) There is a new 'race', the Acolytes of Eldarim, with there own ruleset. They are a expansion race, so some players will have them and other not. That will not be a big problem, I think, just another race to play with.
e) There are new drakes and wyrms, called hybrid dragons and ivory dragons. The play a bit differently than the original dragons. These new dragon races can be considered expansion dice to.

There is a new player mat, even 2, which are excellent, and they will greatly enhance your gameplay. And there is a better illustrated rulebook. The lack of illustrated gameplay for the first 3 turns, or special situations and tips, still exist. So, sometimes you need a buddy to explain all the ins and outs of the game.

Unfortunately, most of the video examples of the game on the web are not very inspiring. So, in a way, DragonDice is still a bit hampered by a complex layout of the not so complex rules. Same as in the old days. Just an example: I started the game in the nineties by buying the old TSR computergame of Dragon Dice on a garage sale. It was nearly impossible to understand how this PC-game worked. But the dice intrigued me, and I bought an old TSR-BattleBox (https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgameversion/63628/english-edi...). The rules in this box where richly illustrated, with playing examples too. Finally I got in the game. At last!
However, the old Starter Box contained also a complete ruleset which where different and more advanced than the introductory ruleset. They where provided in the box as revised rules (as a small booklet). The rules in the booklet were OK, but I got finally a grasp of the game by reading the rules, FAQ's and tips in the Dragon Dice Commanders Manual. So in a way, learning to play Dragon Dice felt to me a bit like getting your Driver's License ... Hard work to master a lot of fun.

The Old TSR BattleBox and TSR Commanders Manual are out of print now, and the rules are outdated and superseded with 3rd SFR edition rules. But in a way they are still interesting to learn the game. Together with the illustrated version of the new 3rd Edition SFR rules it will help you to understand the game completely.

Published Starter boxes
There are now 5 titles, with a total of 10 races in the starter boxes. If you want to know what is in the boxes, you can look it up at SFR Games, just try the dice simulator to experience what is in the boxes.

With the following Starter box titles you can make your first start with Dragon Dice:

Undead vs Feral
https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgameversion/273533/english-ed...

Dwarf vs Goblin
https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgameversion/273534/english-ed...

Lava Elf vs Coral Elf
https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgameversion/273535/english-ed...

Amazon vs Swamp Stalker
https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgameversion/273536/english-ed...

Firewalker vs Treefolk
https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgameversion/273537/english-ed...

With these starter boxes you can choose now between 10 races, which are almost all the races which are available in the Dragon Dice Game.

If you are not satisfied with these races, or you want to play with the Frostwing and Scalder race, you can always make a starter box of your own desire. This is very neat indeed! For $45 in a "Make your own 2 Player Starter Box", you will get: 4 dragons (in colors that match your races), 4 terrains (1 random each of Coastland, Flatland, Highland and Swampland) and two different kicker packs of each race.
http://www.sfr-inc.com/cart/product_info.php?products_id=195

So, it is not very difficult to start the Dragon Dice game with a race and an army nowadays. Be aware that you always need dragons and terrains to start the game, so you have to buy a starter pack before you can play the game. To enlarge your army you can buy the various kickerpacks of all the available races.


There are also 3 expansions and various sets of dice:

1. The Battle Chest/Items expansion enables you to get some decent magical items. It replaces -at least for the the magical items - more or less the old Magestorm! expansion, which is now only available at eBay. Each Battle Chest expansion box contains 6 random magical items (4-siders) of 5 types and 5 colors in 3 different sizes (large, middle, small). It also contains 2 single-colored artifacts (they are 10-siders, there are 5 types of 5 colors each).

2. The Battlefields expansion will get you the new major terrain types Feyland and Wasteland. These are new terrain major types, of blue/red and green/red combinations. In the box are also 2 random new special Frontier terrains for all the 6 major terrain types. These are the Castle, Dragon Lair, Grove and Vortex. Finally, the battlefields box contains also 3 random minor terrains (there are 6 colors and 4 types of each color). In the early days, the minor terrains where part of the Magestorm expansion, which is now out of print.
https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgameversion/218705/english-ed...

3. The Dragonkin Expansion. The Dragonkin race is now affordable separately (without rules) with this expansion. In the old days it was part of the Magestorm expansion, which is discontinued now. In the box there are 12 dice, they can be a huge Dragonmaster or Dragonhunter (1 big 4-sider) and 11 smaller dice (rare, uncommon and common) which belong either to the Dragonkin race and the new Acolytes of the Eldarim. The Acolytes and Dragonkin have 5 colors, blue, black, red, green and gold (yellow) and there are a lot of them ... see Chuck Pint's site for all the various types of Acolytes and Dragonkin (http://www.chuckpint.com/frame.html)

4. The Eldarim Champion Dice-sets. The big 4-siders are called champions and you can buy them now in sets. SFR list them under their expansion sets.

5. Other Sets
It is good to know that almost all of the promo dice, and special dragons can be bought as a set. In a way they can be regarded as expansions.


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fightcitymayor
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Dragon Dice is a victim of its era. It was indeed innovative when it was released, but in the meantime the hobby has exploded with casual gamers. And this doesn't really work well as a casual game. Compare Dragon Dice with a modern casual game like Dice Masters and you can see the difference: The modern dice game is almost always a casual game where the rules can be learned in minutes and games take comparatively little time to complete. Dragon Dice is from an era when the idea of a fully fledged boardgame experience that just happened to use dice was the idea.

I liken Dragon Dice to Wizard Kings, another game from a bygone time that, while certainly having devotees, just doesn't hold up well to the expectations of modern, largely casual, gamers.
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Chris Bailey
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The "Collectable" aspect of this with common, uncommon and rare dice killed this for me. I like the idea though but I stear clear of this model.
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ron van 't veer
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Probably I am an old school boardgamer, one from the high tide of AH, SPI and 2nd Ed AD&D Rules. So, complicate games or rulesets never bothered me. Especially if they have an interesting strategical concept, like Dragon Dice. But, apparently, there is an increasing interest for casual games. Fortunately there is also a revival for the old school games, like the recent reprints of BattleTech, Brittannia, Fury of Dracula, Kremlin, etc.
 
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Mike Wene
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The collectable aspect wouldn't seem like any more of a deterrent in this game than it is in something like Dice Masters. And really the rules aren't drastically different in complexity at this point.

However, games are spoon-fed to consumers more in our world now. A base game or set will come out with a stripped down rule set. Then expansions, and new rules, are trickled out over time. Dragon Dice seems to hit you with a big rule set right away. It has the advantage of not needing to incrementally add more and more rules with each expansion, but that doesn't fit the attention span requirements of today's gamers.

Which is all too bad. Once I took the time to learn the rules and play a few games I was surprised at how good the game really is.
 
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chris thatcher
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Yeah i still like it. Its one of those games that once you play it you realize it is really quite a easy game but the rules are all over the place.
 
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Steven Braun
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The latest release of the 2-Player Starter Set does have a cut-down rulebook, with some helpful graphics included. You can download it for free here:

http://www.sfr-inc.com/tffw-rulebook-web.pdf

The rules are currently undergoing a long review and rewrite. The first phase of the 3.0 rules was released this past summer, and that rulebook is available here:

http://www.sfr-inc.com/Rules-3.0-20160711.pdf

The starter rulebook only covers dice that come in the starter set (Firewalkers/Treefolk/dragons/terrains). The full rulebook covers all the dice available for the game. The goal for SFR is to get the full rulebook completely revised and then formatted like the starter rulebook, so players will have the best of both worlds.

Try these out and let us know what you think.
 
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ron van 't veer
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Hi Steven,

I recently played with my 21y old son Dragon Dice, after a break of some years. So we downloaded the newest rules. These are:

(1) the illustrated starter rules
http://www.sfr-inc.com/tffw-rulebook-web.pdf

(2) the illustrated main rules, and
http://sfr-inc.com/whatisthat/graphicalrulebookdraft.pdf

(3) the v3.0 Rule Bible
http://www.sfr-inc.com/Rules-3.0-20160711.pdf

Even with the very nice illustrated rules (illustrated starter and main), it was a bit difficult to start the game. First we decided - since we have most of the races - to skip the starter rules. They are a bit different than the main rules, and since the main ruleset isn't devided in a starter ruleset and an advanced ruleset, the starter ruleset was even a bit confusing.

We loved the illustrated new graphical rulebook. Way better than the dull text bible. For the description of the races and magic, these rules are perfect now. Just print out 2 pages for the races you play.

The ruleset for the main game, was still a bit difficult. Although the illustrations are good, the text is really very very compact. So, it took us a time to grasp the finesses of the rules again. Mainly we forgot some details, but also, we didn't expect that the v3.0 rules differs from the revised rules. Magic is altered now, so even the files-material of BGG wasn't very helpful (because they are mainly related to the older rules with another magic system).

Introduction
The new graphical rules have a very short introduction, a bit too short to grasp the main theme of Dragon Dice, so essentially: what the heck is going on at your table and why are we battling each other?

For new players who want to dive in the fun of playing Dragon Dice, the dice should be more than nice colored abstract objects. Although they are units, they are far more abstract than the real miniature units (yes we play them too, but we also love dice). So, I think that the step from abstraction to imagination should be more emphasized. What are these dice? What are these races and do they hate or love each other? And, what is the difference between these races. Yes, you can find it on the SFR website, but it would be nice to have some flavor, with illustrations, in the ruleset (in the back, like a lore appendix). I think that the visualization of the dice into soldiers of an army, should not be underestimated in respect to the new players. Dragon Dice is all about contesting armies of different races in the world of Esfah.

So, the dice are not abstract 6- or 10-siders, or 12-siders for dragons and 4-siders for magical objects. In some way, the player has to grab the myth and lore of the world of Esfah, which is perfectly visualized in the Dragon Dice Intro Movie.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZEv14exo2lU

Is this lore and world introductory necessary for learning the rules? No, of course not. But it helps to understand why you are rolling all these beautiful dice, what an army really is and what is going on in the world of Esfa. Like in many fantasy, SF and war-miniature games, it is not only the rules, but also the lore and the layout of the world which attracts players to play the game for a longer time than a few tabletop experiences.

Rules set up
In my opinion, introduction of the races, and which dice are represented by the races is very interesting for building your army. Also the concept of color is an interesting one, since it will effect your magic capabilities.

After an introduction of the races, and color of magic, the different dice of the armies should be introduced: small, medium, large and monster, and of course their health and point value (for army building).
Than Dragons, champions and magic items can be discussed. That's all in the rules now, but very very compact. Should be good to make a separate paragraph on size, health and points for army building. It is is in the rules now, but a bit hidden because of the compact style of the ruleset.

Dragons and magic items are a lot different than the unit types. So they should be discussed in an separate paragraph too. I would love some dragon illustrations, since they already exists (like the Magestorm box illustration). Although dragons are mentioned in the rules introduction, it is rather abstract and it gives no special feeling how big and special these 12-siders are.

Terrains
After army construction, an introduction of the terrains which you are contesting, should come. Which different terrains are there? And what is really the difference between them (magic color, the eight face)? So essentially, has each terrain type an effect on your fighting style and how your army is constructed? Yes they do!

If you want to use a lot of magic with your army, you can better use a Highland. Or a Grove if you use the special terrains. Swamplands are a lesser alternative for magic users, if they are backed up by melee units. If you want to use missiles, use a Coastland or - as a lesser alternative - a Flatland. If melee is your army's best characteristic, then Wasteland is a good choice, or Feyland as a lesser alternative. There are now also special terrains, like Dragon's lair and Castle, which give you a great benefit if you construct a melee oriented army.

It is good idea to end the terrains description by mentioning the new terrain types (Wasteland and Flatland), the special terrains (Dragon Lair, Grove, Vortex and Castle) and the Minor terrains. For details you can read the texts later in the rules. Which is now also the case.
For illustration purposes it would be best to use photographs of the real dice on the new playermats. The black and white icons are good also, but for some players too abstract as an example. For reference - if you know the rules - they are OK of course.

How many Terrains to start with?
The rules are not very clear how many major terrains you can bring in at the start of the game. Should be two major terrains. Best to emphasize, that at least one terrain will actually be in play, and that is your home terrain. The other one will be contested by your opponent and - if you win - you can place it in your Frontier Terrain. There are no terrains placed at your Horde Army, but remember that your opponent will place his/her home terrain at your Horde Army location.
So, in conclusion, after Setup and the placement of the Frontier Terrain, there will be finally 3 major Terrains in play.

Best to illustrate this with an example, it would be best to use the terrain dice on the new player mat, in 3 steps, like this:
a) First situation is initial placement of the 2 terrains of both players (so in total, 4 terrains will be placed)
b) Than the maneuver solution on the place of the Frontier Terrain: which player's terrain dice will stay on the frontier? So one player, has to remove his or her terrain dice at the frontier. Discuss also - that should be in a special strategy chapter, further on in the rulebook - why in some cases a player will use the terrain die of the opponent, and prefers to start the first turn.
c) Finally, the end situation of the terrain placement, just before the first turn start: in total, 3 major terrains will be present on the 2 player mats.

At last there should be note on how many minor terrains you can bring with your army, before startup and placement of the frontier terrain is resolved.

New player mats
Wow, the new player mats rocks! They are awesome! These mats give you in a 2-player game really the feeling of battling armies in a grassy or snowy landscape (depending which mat you own).
Best to use them for illustrated play examples of the dice.
It is interesting to use the player mats also to illustrate when an army is contesting a terrain. Since you will use two mats, there will be a small separation between the mats. Use that natural line as the border. Terrains will start at the mat side of the initial controller. As soon as the die will change to 8, the die is placed on the mat of the player with the controlling army.

Examples of play
I think that finally, most of the rules in the new v3.0 text Bible, should be reworked for the graphical ruleset. That's what players want nowadays. It is always good to illustrate most of the regular game situations, when you start playing Dragon Dice. If the new graphical v3.0 rules lacks something, it is definitely the lack of examples. The link to the turn example doesn't work, so it would be good to include examples like the ones they where used in the old TSR BattleBox(Chapter: Examples of play, pag. 14-16).


What is the use all the 4 armies?
Although the experienced Dragon Dice gamer knows the difference between the Horde Army, Home Army, Campaign Army and Reserve Army, these army types are rather confusing for the newby.

The new graphical rules for the Setup states only: divide chosen units into three armies and place them in their areas. Why should I divide them into 3 armies, how are they called, and what is the difference between these 3 armies? This is not addressed at all in the rules. So, best to say that at the start of the game, there should be 3 armies, called Horde, Home and Campaign, and that they should at least consist of 1 unit. The Horde Army will battle for control of the Home Terrain of your opponent. It should be expected therefore, that the opposing army will have units which will use the characteristics of the home terrain of your opponent. On the other hand, your Home Army will be confronted with the Horde Army of your opponent and must defend your own terrain. Finally, the Campaign Army will battle to control the central terrain in the middle of the playmat. Should be a good idea to Illustrate the armies on the playmat, after setup is resolved.

And, what is a reserve army and how can you use that one to your own good? For example, can you withdraw all your armies into the reserve? And then come back as one, massive army to the Frontier Terrain? In that case the reserve army will be a massive Campaign Army! But if you only have one army, is that wise? The last part can be described in a Strategy part of the rules.


Hidden Setup
We love hidden setups! And yes, we still use the old Dragon Screen to place our 3 armies behind the two screens. Since the screens are still sold on the SFR site, it would be good to illustrate a hidden setup. Of course, you can always skip a hidden setup. But that will ruin - in my opinion - one of the fun and exiting parts of the game. You know the army of your opponent (e.g. fierce swampstalkers, maniacal scalders, hideous undead or screaming goblins), but you never know what units your opponent will use in his army. I like that part of Dragon Dice, and it will give you a more general idea of playing with racial unites than with plastic colored cubes.

When will your dragon come, and is it of any use?
Dragon Dice came out in the high time of TSR Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D), as a brand new product of TSR. Referring to the dragons of AD&D of course.
As you play your first games, you will see that sometimes it takes a long time before a dragon will come. When is the best time to summon your dragon from the Summoning Pool? And what is going on after the dragon is really coming. To what part of the battlefield it is flying, and how will this dragon effect your units and the units of the opposing player. Would be good to illustrate the dragon and how it functioned. Yes, it can be found in the rules. But it is so abstract... As a name giver to the dice game, these dragons should show up majestically, with an illustration of a battling dragon of course). Please let the players see that the 12-sider icons are actually following the shape of a dragon's body (my son saw it immediately, but I know also players who never saw it!).

With the really awesome new player mat, it should also not so difficult to illustrate examples of play. So when dragons come into your Dragon Dice game, what will happen? I think these steps deserve an example of play:
1) First, give a graphic impression of the dragon in the Summoning Pool on the playmat. He or she is just sitting there, waiting to be summoned.
2) Then, let see how (by rolling enough magic; in various ways, e.g. by using magic icons and ID icons, using double magic) a dragon can be summoned by your units.
3) After summoning, give several graphical examples at the moment the dragon is arriving to the battlefield. So an example with a dragon against just 1 army, and an example of a dragon battling the two opposing armies: your opponents' and your own. Players should understand in that way to which part of the battlefield (e.g. the player mat) the dragon is flying, and what the armies should expect from a dragon. And what to do against the fury too...
4) Lastly, I suggest to give also a graphical example how the dragon can be slain (with and without the 5 automatic saves), and what the dragon will do after (s)he is slain (it goes not to the dead or buried unit area).

I know, it is all in the rules. But new players really need some graphical examples on the new player mats. Let the dragons of Dragon Dice live and soar the graphical rulebook!


Multiplayer Rules
The current graphical rules give you the impression that Dragon Dice is intended for two player games. But some player likes to battle with 3 or even 4 players. But how should the rules be used by using the new player mats? And what are the rules (and restrictions or alterations) and how are the armies battling each other?
I miss graphical examples and a rules description for multiplayer games. Most of the time - like Magic The Gathering - it will be a two player contest. But it is also fun to play Dragon Dice with 3 or 4 players. How are the armies placed? How many armies can be present at the Home and Front locations? How can the Initial Setup be resolved? It was illustrated in the old rules, but the possibility of multiplayer looks abandoned now.








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Steven Braun
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Thanks for your feedback. I'm going to make sure our rules guru sees it so he can factor in some of your observations.

The final rule set will be a cross between the full rules and the graphical rules. The graphical rules are definitely still a draft "work in progress" that will not be fully ready for a while.

Dragon Dice certainly can be played multiplayer. Several tournament events we hold are for multiple players. The main differences between multiplayer and two-player games is the number of terrains (each player has a home, and there is one frontier terrain, chosen as per the two-player rules) and army placement (home army goes home, horde to another player's home, and campaign to any other terrain). The rules reflect an attempt to get everything balanced for two-player games before adding in the multiplayer rules, so those will be added as we continue to progress on the rules.

If you have any other observations or questions, please let us know. You can also check out our "Rules discussion" thread on the SFR forum: http://www.sfr-inc.com/bb/viewforum.php?f=8.
 
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