BoardGameGeek News

To submit news, a designer diary, outrageous rumors, or other material, contact us at
 Thumb up

Designer Diary: Dragons, or A Game In Which Players Are Dragons

From gallery of faidutti
A first version of this designer diary was originally posted on my websiteon June 16, 2018 with a few more pictures and better formatting — or so I think — but it looks like I get more readers here. [Editor's note: I changed the formatting from how Bruno submitted this post, so perhaps now it passes muster. —WEM]

Players in Dragons are not impersonating common and greedy adventurers, eager for gold and dragons' heads to hang as trophies over the fireplace, but proud, noble, winged and fire-breathing dragons.

In any case, dragons might be fantastically ancient, but this doesn't make them much wiser and virtuous, and their main preoccupations are very similar to the adventurers' ones. They spend the summer flying over the countryside, attacking castles and abbeys for gold, gems and jewels. When winter comes, they fly back to their caves, high in the mountain, where they love to display the weapons and armor of knights they have defeated. They spend their time counting and recounting their treasures, and polishing it so that it shines under their fiery breath. Auri sacra fames — so much for the ancient wisdom of these creatures who like to think they are still kings in the world.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Dragons is a risk-taking card game, double or quits, in which one plays less against luck than against the other players' nerves. Each player on turn either adds one more card to a treasure pile, or yields and take one of the piles, letting other dragons keep on rampaging the kingdom. Adding cards to a pile is tempting, but risky because some other dragon can always steal it just under your big fiery nose. It is also, though to a much lesser extent, a memory game in which one tries to discreetly spot and focus on the most interesting piles. Last but not least, it's a tactical game because there's some subtleties in the scoring. Nothing revolutionary, but an easy, fun, light and tense card game.

From gallery of faidutti
From gallery of faidutti
From gallery of faidutti
From gallery of faidutti
From gallery of faidutti

After three or four summer and winter cycles, which amounts to a few days in dragon time, Glaurung, Fafnir, Rhaegal, Falkor, Melusine and their kind meet to check who has the biggest and shiniest hoard.

Mighty dragons, like us petty humans, are weak creatures. They can get so enthralled by wealth that they forget about the really important things in life, like food. Even dragons must eat, and they even must eat far more than we do. Dragons who didn't stock enough food are out of the game. With five or six players, one must even keep a balanced diet with cows and sheep.

Surviving dragons — that is, those who kept enough smoked meat for the coming winter — then compare their hoards. Though gold coins are the base asset, jewelery is extremely popular with dragons. The saying goes that male dragons collect royal crowns and scepters, while females prefer women pieces such as necklaces, torques and bracelets, but we're actually not even sure there are male and female dragons. No one has ever seen a dragon from near enough to ascertain it and come back to to tell the tale.

Dragons also enjoy bragging that they defeated proud and well-born knights who wanted to kill them and steal their treasure. To support the story and the dragon's reputation, one must show the knight's equipment: helmet, breastplate, shield, and sword.

The legend of the one ring is one of the oldest stories in dragons' tradition, and what is old for dragons is indeed very old. Every dragon fancies having one ring, specifically the one ring, in its treasure. Of course, two same rings cannot be unique, and there are three in the game. Last but not least, owning a treasure is not enough, one must also make it shine under its owner's flames, and that's where polish comes in handy.

From gallery of faidutti
Playtesting Dragons

Designing a game is not always hard work. Some games spend years in development, tests, thoughts and tweakings, sometimes for no avail. Other ones play well at once, and Dragons is one of them. There were only a few days between the idea and the first playtests, a few weeks between the day I showed the game to the Matagot team in a Parisian game café, and a few months more until the game was published. I would like things to always go that smoothly.

From gallery of faidutti
From gallery of faidutti
Two of David's first sketches for Dragons

Things went very fast as well with my friend David Cochard, with whom I'm working a lot in recent times. David already made the graphics for Waka Tanka and for Kamasutra, and now he is working on my "Jugglers and Minstrels" game to be published in 2019.

David had enjoyed drawing dragons, years ago, for Vlaada Chvatil's Dungeon Petz and was glad to be back at it. Plastic dragon miniatures like the one in my prototype would have made what is basically a card game far too expensive, so David had to draw six dragon cardboard stand-ups, front and back. He then decided to draw dragons on the jewels, the crowns, the weapons, and the pieces of armor. In a kingdom whose daily life is being disrupted by dragons for centuries, the image of the mighty animal ought indeed to be everywhere.

I wasn't conscious of it while working on Dragons, but the mechanisms of this game were probably inspired by an older card game I designed with Alan R. Moon, a game which hasn't been published in English, even though we had found a name for it; For a Few Orcs More. The two games feel very different, though, since For a Few Orcs More was a real time and rather chaotic game. The core idea of Dragons — cards accumulating in face-up piles placed in a circle, and players trying to remember what is where to determine the best pile and seize it first — was already there.

From gallery of faidutti
From gallery of faidutti
From gallery of faidutti
From gallery of faidutti
A few dragons from older games of mine

I'm the world specialist on unicorns, not on dragons, but while my Ph.D. in history is about unicorns, my games more often involve dragons. Dragon's Gold, first published in 2001, is about adventuring parties attacking dragons to steal their treasures, which is relatively easy, then dividing up the booty, which is much more complex. This game has recently been republished by IDW and White Goblin.

In Fist of Dragonstones, adventurers are back at the local tavern, drinking beer, discussing their adventures and playing some games. A new and updated version of this game was published in 2018 by Stronghold Games. There are few and discreet dragons in Citadels, there's one in Castle, and there's one in King's Life, published in 2017 by Pandasaurus Games. There are a few more in games I'm working on at the moment. I've just checked, since I wasn't certain, but there's no dragon in For a Few Orcs More...

From gallery of faidutti
"There has been lots of controversy between writers about winged dragons. Are there really such animals in nature,
or do they appear only in fables and fairy tales? We have long been undecided on the question of the existence of dragons.
After having not only read many respected authors, but also listened to first hand testimonies by trustful people, we have set aside our doubts.
These monstrous animals indeed make their nests and breed their young in underground caverns, which are the topic of this book."
Athanasius Kircher, Mundus Subterraneus, 1665

My interest in dragons comes from my youth, largely spent reading fantasy novels and playing RPGs, even though I soon moved into LARPS where, for obvious technical reasons, giant flying and fire-breathing reptiles are scarcer. But I also occasionally met dragons while researching unicorns, for example in the books of a very baroque character, Athanasius Kircher. This colorful polymath, if one can say this of a Jesuit priest, has an impressive bibliography.

From gallery of faidutti
Contrary to what this engraving from China Illustrata suggests, Athanasius Kirchner is not certain that there were living dragons in China.
He is far more confident about Switzerland, whose highest mountains are infested with dragons, and where the action of my game probably takes place.

From gallery of faidutti
A Swiss dragon

In his Mundus Subterraneus, published in 1665, the Jesuit father carefully distinguishes the different species of dragons living in the high mountains, as well as in the lava rivers joining all the volcanoes in the world. That's only one side of his works. In Arca Noe, Kircher unveiled the plans of Noah's Ark, with its exact measurements, and of course a room for two unicorns — well, actually four, but that's another story. Similarly, in Turris Babel, he gave the exact measurements of the Babel Tower, as well as the materials used.

One hundred and fifty years before Champollion, Kircher published Oedipus Aegyptiaticus, three heavy tomes of hieroglyph translations. It's all wrong, but he had some clever intuitions. China Illustrata is a vast encyclopaedia of the far east, written by someone who traveled a lot between France, Italy and Germany. Last but not least, in Musurgia Universalis, the SJ father was the first to discuss a revolutionary musical instrument, the cat organ, still very rare because it requires well-tuned cats.

From gallery of faidutti
The Ethopian crookbacked dragon, described in Ulysse Aldrovandi's Draconum et Serpentum Historia, 1588
Twitter Facebook
Subscribe sub options Sun Aug 26, 2018 1:00 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}