Tom had requested this a couple of times before, so right after he asked if we could squeeze in El Grande, Rick brought Aladdin's Dragons instead. A brief refresher on rules (according to my log, we last played it almost exactly 2 years ago!) and we were off. Mike jumped out to the early lead by snagging 2 artifacts first round and continuing to do so with his 1 token, which would be placed in the right place so that no one else played next to it or else was then unable to pay the asking price. Rick had a rather bad time of it, being the leader and most invested when Tom nixed one cave via a spell but also gambling on the Guard which opened up with 9, 8 and then 10. Mike and I had keys so that was no problem for us, but I remained one behind him, with Tom trying to catch up too. Tom messed up a little when he played the spell that reversed the order - it worked nicely for the cave he played it on but rather messed things up for the rest of the turn. Then came the final straw: Tom doubles his bid in the white cave, Rick declines to do so - if he did he would not get in the Palace and his placements there would be wasted. But then he didn't have the gems in hand to pay for them. A moment of frustration. Meanwhile, Mike plays the City Tax, making the rest of us pay for our placements and I counterspell it, figuring I will win in the extra artifact space and so no loss to me. I am right in that and am in position to use my key to get in the Palace. Mike has used his Lamp and can't use his key but figures he can just pay the Guard. But he has no presence there and can't - if he'd known that detail, he may have done things differently. Tom and I pick up artifacts and with time running out in our hour, the game is called with at least two of the participants frustrated.
Tom: 4 artifacts
Mike: 5 artifacts
Rick: 3 artifacts
Me: 6 artifacts
I will admit to a certain amount of trepidation playing Aladdin's Dragons, especially as a lunch time game. I think it is more comfortably played in a little over an hour, though in our game today, we all but finished in the hour, even including some mis-plays which if corrected would have pushed us toward the end of the game (there would have been two more rounds at least to get all the artifacts, but slightly better play would hav ecut that by a round). The other source of trepidation is its combination of blind bidding (not at the top of my list of favorite mechanics) with some card play that can really ruin even the best laid plans. Some small details in the rules can make big changes in how it plays out (as we saw today) and under time pressure as we were there was no way to retrace the turns and undo the mis-play.
That all said, there is still a lot to like about this game. Sure, it is annoying when you bid 8 and 9 to beat out your opponent's 1 and 4, but the range of numbers is not so great that you can't have some idea of how things are playing out. For the most part it rewards careful play and puts up some tricky decisions: do you use your spell now to win or save your play for your key to get in the palace? Do you concentrate on winning gems and neglect the spells or the palace? What is Plan B if you don't win the red gems?
There is certainly a good amount of chaos in the game though and that alone makes it a game that is not for everyone. There are plenty of ways to mess with your opponents. So if you can take the rough with the smooth, it is worth a look.