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Subject: Mount Drago: A Game of Inches rss

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Nate Meyer
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Seattle
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I like tactical games. While implementing a long-term strategy and watching it slowly build me toward victory can be satisfying, the constant tension that having to react to an ever-changing set of variables is more fun for me. But I know that for a lot of gamers, this can be frustrating. If you are a long-term strategy type of gamer, you will probably find Mount Drago/Draco to be exceedingly frustrating because beyond a turn or two, Draco is tactical, not strategic.

Ostensibly, in Draco, you are a dragon rider/racer riding an ever-changing color of dragon toward the top of Mount Draco. Realistically, this is an abstract wherein you play a card to move a scoring piece (a colored dragon) along a board with different numbers to the goal. Pieces score when one of three things happens: a dragon lands on a blue space, a dragon lands on a yellow space, or a dragon lands on the goal area.

While Draco offers “big” scores (the 8 and 7 spots), overall this is a game of inches not yards. Once you wrap your head around its core idea, that getting just one more point than your opponent more often than they do will grant you victory, you will enjoy this game much more. It is easy to want to set up a situation where you land on the 8 spot while your opponent is on a 1 spot, but because of the way the board is set up and because your opponent can move not only his/her dragon but yours as well, scoring a +7 differential is very rare. More often you will find yourself able to land on a 3 space while your opponent is on a 2. While this is far less satisfying, if score more +1s than your opponent you will win. Furthermore, creating a +7 differential in score is made even harder because your moves are limited to the cards in your hand; many a dragon-rider has cursed his/her luck when they had the perfect moment to land on a big score, but lacked the card to do so. This last aspect of the game can be very frustrating for many gamers.

Because your dragon will score when it lands on a scoring space or when it is on the right (numbers-wise) space when an opponent’s dragon lands on a scoring space, much of doing well in this game relies on guessing where your opponent will land and placing your dragon accordingly so that you can either score or keep him/her from getting a big or any point differential when he/she scores. True, some of this relies on guessing and blind-luck, but by looking at the board and understanding a modicum of probability (which is precisely the amount of probability I understand), you can make some good, educated guesses where an opponent is most likely to land and will be right often enough to feel like you have some control.

To new players, the scoring in this game can seem a bit odd and hard to grok, but after wrapping my head around it, I have come to feel that it is ingenious. I appreciate it even more when the number of players increases because so too do the variables to consider before moving a dragon, and because this introduces the idea of players also playing against the leader and therefore making moves that offer fellow non-leader opponents a lot of points since doing so will reduce the leader’s overall lead.

I admit, the cards in this game can be frustrating. They limit your movement in ways that can often feel beyond your control. To me this is the heart of playing tactically: you have to roll with the punches and make the most of what you have. This “lucky” aspect of the game is also somewhat mitigated by one of the cooler mechanisms of the game: If you land a dragon on a scoring space you don’t draw cards, if you don’t score you draw your hand up to the limit. I like this mechanism for a couple of reasons. First it limits run-away scoring because if a player scores 2 or 3 times in a row, he/she will have fewer and fewer cards and therefore fewer movement options available to him/her, which offers the other players a clever way to “catch-up.” Second, there are times when you may choose not to score in order to draw up and increase your choices in the following turns, but deciding whether or not to forgo a few points to take your chances and draw more cards (cards which may or may not allow you to move the dragon(s) you want to) is tough, and I like tough decisions in games.

Another aspect of the game that I like is that when you move another player’s dragon or move the dragon that is currently in last place, you stay on your dragon. This sets up some chances for clever play because you can move another dragon onto a low scoring place while you stay on a big score and you can get a chance to net nice big scoring differential. Conversely, you can also use this mechanism to move an opponent’s dragon off of a big scoring space so that when you land on a scoring space later, he/she won’t make out in points.

Another cool aspect of this game worth mentioning is the end-game. To end the game, there must be 3 dragons at the top of the mountain, but the top of the mountain has four spaces (4, 2, 0 and -2). Whenever a dragon lands on one of these spaces, all other dragons score. At the end of the game 4 points is pretty good, but since there are bigger spaces nearby (6 and 8) it is likely that moving your own dragon onto the 4 space will net the other players more points (a differential that is even bigger if you land on a 0 or the -2 space). Obviously the best thing is to move another player’s dragon onto these spaces when you are on a higher point space, but the cards you hold may make this harder to do than it sounds. Also, if you land on the biggest scoring space available, the 8 space, (which is also the last space before the end-game spaces start) you put yourself at risk because someone can easily move your dragon (if they have the cards) onto a less favorable space before you can dismount. I really like the end-game in Draco because I love the tension of landing on the 8 and hoping I can get off in time. I also like this mechanism because if I have the card to move the third dragon into the end-game spaces, I better be sure that the resulting point differential won’t cause me to lose the game (there have been many games I’ve played where I’ve had the card to end the game but not the points and had to make some other clever moves elsewhere on the board—to either get more cards or points--to make sure I could survive the point differential that would end the game). Because this is so card/luck-reliant, I get why some gamers hate this part of the game, but as a gamer who appreciates the big twists, turns and reversals that tactical games offer, I enjoy it.

Overall, Draco is a highly tactical abstract game that offers players many tough decisions. It is somewhat card/luck reliant, but like all tactical games that aren’t junk, this can be somewhat mitigated by playing the odds and smart choices. Overall Draco offers some chances at clever play and tricky moves, but not as much as some of Colovini’s other games like Carolus Magnus, still though with creativity (and the right cards) you can pull off some cunning play. I recommend this game for gamers who can roll with the punches of occasional bad card draws and who enjoy a very tense, tactical experience, but gamers who want to implement a long-term strategy and watch it build over time into a victory will likely say that Draco is a completely unsatisfying, luck-driven game.
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Gabriel Kuriata
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Try to build a hand, but don't wait too long, seize those opportunities, take advantage of small/big scorings, deal with randomness and don't try to understand how the theme works. Because it makes no sense. A surprise with my group, experienced in Sylla, Cyclades, God's Playground, Puerto Rico and Caylus. I put it on the table without any hope, only because they asked for it (because of graphics)... and for some reason it clicked. It's a fun no brainer, good for 2-3 people. I have to grasp a 4-5 vaiant, because the board is diffirent. A dragon that triggers a small scoring gets 2 points. Other that can score - get 3...
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