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Subject: Role-playing in a card game! rss

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David Plank
United Kingdom
West Sussex
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Let’s face it; role-playing is hard work. I mean, who wants to turn up, week after week, get berated by the GM for forgetting your character sheet, be sneered at for not having a huge a pile of dice as the resident brown nose, have to actually ‘immerse’ yourself in a ‘character’, and eventually get that ‘character’ killed for doing something that you thought was entirely reasonable, but the GM thought was a ‘foolish act’? Well fret not, harried RPG-er, help is at hand, in the form of a nifty new card game from that fabulous French game designer Bruno Faidutti.

This game distils the role-playing experience back down to its most basic elements: killing dragons and nicking treasure.

And here’s how it works:

Each player has four adventurers – a wizard, a thief, and two knights (a girl knight and a boy knight) – with 1, 2, 3, and 4 strength respectively (ok, so maybe it’s not entirely ‘PC’ to have the girl knight weaker than the boy knight, but this game is all about stereotypes).

In the centre of the table are dealt four dragons from the dragon deck (there are about twenty dragons in all), each with their own strength (from 5 to 11), and a number of ‘treasures’ on them. Some are visible treasures, which are placed there when the dragon is put on the table, and some are invisible treasures, which are placed only when the dragon has been killed.

The treasures themselves are little wooden counters in various different colours (Gold, Silver, red (magic objects), yellow, blue, green, white, purple and the dreaded Black Diamond). The number of treasures placed on a dragon are roughly in relation to a dragon’s strength, and are taken blindly from a cloth bag (so it is all randomised).

The idea (of course), is to kill these monsters and take their treasure. To do this, on your turn, you place one of your adventurers under on of the dragon cards. This happens in turn, with each player placing one adventurer, until the strengths of the adventurers on a dragon exceed the strength of the dragon. Then it’s dead (simple, eh?).

The hard part (and the heart of the game) is splitting the treasure. If only one player’s adventurers killed a dragon, he gets the whole lot, no arguments. But if more than one player was involved in the death of a wyrm, then the timer is flipped. The players involved then have one minute to negotiate the split of the treasure. They have to split the whole lot (none can be discarded), and cannot use random methods. The kicker is, if they haven’t come to an agreement before the timer runs out (about a minute), nobody gets anything.

After this, the dragon is replaced from the deck, treasures are placed on the dragon, the players get their adventurers back, and the whole thing starts again.

There are a couple of wrinkles to the rules...

If there was one (and only one) wizard involved in a dragon’s demise, before the negotiation takes place, the player who controls that wizard gets all the red tokens (magic items). If more than one wizard is responsible for the draconicide, then the magic objects are included in the negotiation.

Also, if a thief was included in the party, then after the negotiation has taken place, and the treasure has been safely stored behind your little screen (did I mention you get a little screen to hide your acquisitions behind – that way nobody knows exactly what anybody else has managed to pilfer) … anyway, once all of that has finished, then the thief gets to steal one treasure token, at random, from behind another player’s screen (as long as that player was also part of the negotiation).

This keeps happening until all of the treasure has been taken out of the bag, and all dragons with treasure have been killed. Then you score. Scoring has been called complex by some, but is actually fairly simple. The easy points are Gold (worth 3 points), Silver and red (each worth one point). The five other colours (yellow, blue, green, white and purple) you score points for if you manage to get the majority of them (i.e. if you have more green than anybody else, you get points) – the points you get vary depending on how many players there are – it’s all on the little screen. You also get five points if you have managed to collect one of each colour. Finally, the Black Diamond. If you have this in your collection, you get 15 points, but do not score anything for any yellow, blue, green, white and purple gems you might have (you score normally for Gold, Silver and red).

So there are several strategies you can follow in order to try and win – if you get the Black Diamond, it is worth a lot of points, but you also need a lot of Gold, Silver and red to back it up.

The above scoring, by the way, is the advanced scoring method. There are two ways to play this game: Basic or Advanced – or as I like to call them ‘Crap’ and ‘Excellent’. We – and I urge you to do the same – have played only with the advanced rules. The rules themselves aren’t much more complex (that scoring wasn’t difficult, was it?), and include one little feature that makes this game so much fun: Magic Items.

Each player starts with one (drawn randomly from a deck at the start of the game), and gains another one each time that player gets a red token when his wizard is involved in the negotiation. These beauties allow the player to break the rules in interesting bizarre ways, from upping the strength of one of your adventurers, to swapping treasure tokens from one dragon to another. My absolute favourite is the Invisible Hand. This object allows a player to steal tokens from dragons on the table for as long as that player does not get caught. I.e., a license to cheat! Fantastic!

This game is fairly light fare, and would make a very restful alternative to a hard night’s role-playing. It plays in about an hour, and packs in a lot of fun and heated discussion (“But I’m collecting greens, and you’ve only got a wizard there! Tell you what, I’ll have the green, the purple and the gold, and you can have two silvers and a red…”) during that time.

The only problem I have is that the cards (which have nice artwork very evocative of the genre) are quite light cardstock, and my copy of the game (only about a month old) is showing wear and tear already. Mind you, we have played it quite a bit during that time...
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