Scott Sexton
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Elevator Pitch - Princes of the Dragon Throne (PDT) is a lavishly produced area control game that is driven by deck building/action selection mechanisms.

I first heard about PDT a few years back while listening to the Geek Alll-Stars. I am a pretty big fan of deck building games, and Dan praised PDT as one of his favorites. I kept a close eye on the game, but didn't back it on Kickstarter. Game Salute was producing the game, and PDT ended up being one of many Game Salute games beset by production woes. I don't feel like going through that messy bit of history, but knowing that this is a Game Salute game is important when considering my final thoughts about this game.

How does it play? Each turn works much like your standard deck building game. You have a hand of cards and you will use them to gather resources, deploy units to the board, or to purchase new cards. You can also move units on the board, but this doesn't require the use of your cards. Of those actions I've described, you can only perform one such action. You also can take any number of free actions (typically these fall into the various special abilities you'll pick up during the course of the game. Players are ultimately trying to position their units to take over guilds, which in turn allow you to take over countries and dragon clans. The game ends once players have placed 30 dragon lords on the board (which are used to determine who controls any given clan). Players score point for control of the guilds, countries, and dragon clans, PLUS are awarded some extra points based on deck construction. The player with the most VP wins!

What do I like?

1- Solid Production values. Game Salute's games all feel the same to me. The tokens all have a distinct "feel" to them and are generally well punched (but the boxes and cards suck). There are two versions of PDT. A deluxe version and a standard version. The only difference is that in the deluxe version, you get some nifty looking meeples to replace cubes and pillar markers used in the standard version. The deluxe version looks markedly better then the standard version IMHO, and the investment is worth it in my opinion, however, if you just can't find a deluxe copy, feel free to buy a standard copy and upgrade your copy later with bits from Meeplesource.com.

The game board too is quite nice. First of all, it is gigantic (something of a table hog actually). Second, it has a lovely faux leather back that screams quality even if you only see it when putting the game away. Third, the art and graphic design are very nice, although, there is just something about the colors that feel a bit too muted and drab.

One last thing to point out is that the card art is all top notch, although this is a bit of an odd quandary I have in reviewing this game. While the art is all quite well done, it is also quite forgettable. It is competent fantasy art, but again, it suffers from a lack of vibrancy that makes it easy to ignore.

2- Heavy emphasis on the Area Control game elements. One should be very careful when teaching this game. PDT is an area control game first and a deck building game only as a distant second. During the end game scoring, area control accounts for 90 potential points, while the contents of your deck only account for 10 potential points. PLAYERS MUST UNDERSTAND THIS IF THEY WANT TO DO WELL!!! Like many deck builders, making a powerful engine is the key to winning, but to be successful, a player must understand when they need to pivot and focus their efforts away from deck building and on controlling the board. Something players underestimate is just how much the area control elements of the game can drive how their decks operate. When you take over a guild (by having more supporters at the guild then any other player) you also win a one shot power card to be added to your deck. These one shot powers are the most powerful cards in the game (even though they are one shots) and the ONLY way to acquire them is by taking control of guilds on the board. Yes, players can buy cards to add to their decks, but the real deck building comes as an added bonus of controlling the game board. When teaching the game to new players, this should be made clear. During my own games, I found that while I added many of the guild cards to my deck, I only added a hand full of supporter cards (the ones you buy). In fact, I still had several starting cards in my deck at games' end. The key to winning isn't building the perfect deck, it is building an efficient deck that will power your area control engine.

3- Asymmetrical player development. Players start the game in completely symmetrical positions. Same starting decks, same resources, everything is the same except for the cards in your hand. As the game opens up though, and you tweak your deck, you can control the way your deck grows. Your deck's growth acts like variable player powers. Do you want your deck to be heavy on resource generation? Do you want to focus on eliminating your opponents guilds? Do you want to be a jack of all trades? Do you want to seize the old king's guards for your own uses? You have many different strategies (all of which are viable in their own right) and you also have the ability to switch strategies or tactics on the fly.

And then there is the matter of the Parliament Phase. During the game, as players accrue enough points, the game will "pause" and players must draft "special powers" (the player with the lowest score picks first). This acts to balance the game a bit while also forcing player's to change how they play the game as the game unfolds. Oh boy are these special abilities powerful too. Each one, if used carefully can make a huge difference in the game.

4- Far more depth of play and options then is first apparent. At first glance, there doesn't seem to be much to the game. The cards you can buy don't have special powers (just resources they can gather and areas they can deploy supporters) nothing special. Even the "special powers" you get from the Parliament or Guild Favors don't seem all that special at first. The area control SEEMS pretty strait forward too. Take over guilds so you can take over countries and dragon clans. In practice though, you'll find yourself overwhelmed with all the options you have. The game board itself gives you so much information about the game state that it can be challenging to refine the data you need to make the best decisions. The best moves to take are almost never obvious. Add to that the variety of cards available for purchase, the variety of guilds you may want to target, and the positions of the dragon lords already in play and you have a game with PLENTY of depth.

5- The game is extremely interactive. The most common complaint you see about ANY deck building game is that they almost always play as multi-player solitaire. Occasionally you see them try to counter this criticism by including "attack" cards (see The Witch in Dominion) that attempt to decrease the efficiency of your opponent's deck. The problem with "attack" type cards is that they are either ineffective, inefficient, or just draw the game out needlessly. They are almost NEVER fun to play with for either you or your opponent.

What PDT does an amazing job of is that it gives you the player interaction on the board AND it does so in a way that NEVER harms your deck. The player interaction in PDT is just like what you would expect with ANY area control game. You block opponent's moves. You wrestle control of an area away from an opponent and on rare occasions, you can even remove their pieces from the board. I realize that area control games aren't everyone's cup of tea, so YMMV here, but I find that the marriage of area control with deck building to be quite sweet here. PDT tries very hard not to make the area control aspects of the game to be too mean/bloody (see Risk) by limiting players ability to "kill" opponent's pieces (only 1 guild favor allows it, and it is done on a random roll).

Ultimately the game feels more like a shoving match in the kitchen, then it does a knife fight in a phone booth. Compare all of this to the area control aspects of Trains. I think designer of Trains recognized this same short coming in deck builders, and he tries to give players the interaction missing from Dominion by adding the area control/route building we have in Trains. Trains though, feels prosaic and myopic by comparison to PDT and is a far less exciting experience. The conflict in Trains is on par with Ticket to Ride, while PDT's struggle feels like an epic war game.

What don't I like?

1- The box is too shallow. I'll say it yet again, Game Salute's boxes SUCK, and they should be ashamed of how bad they are. They are too shallow to use deck boxes to hold cards or most Plano boxes to hold bits. You have enough room for the board and not much else. I HATE YOUR BOXES GAME SALUTE!!!

2- The cards are of a lower quality. The black borders chip/scratch easily. Add to this the fact that Game Salute routinely uses the thinnest card stock available. This is a game that requires lots of shuffling, so you are going to have to sleeve these cards.

3- The wooden game bits all have quite drab colors. The color palate would be fine if we were playing a post-apocalyptic game or some World War II war game, but it just looks depressing here. This is a bit of a minor complaint though. The game board is simply GORGEOUS to behold throughout the game and the colors are distinct enough that you can extrapolate all the info you need at a glance.

4- Every game begins the same. The first three rounds or so are all about gathering resources. The game only starts to diversify once you start drawing supporter cards that you've purchased. Not a big deal, but its worth taking note of.

5- The pacing of the game takes a while to ramp up to full speed. This is a similar issue to the previous paragraph. The game doesn't really start to move at full speed until you have purchased maybe 5 or 6 supporter cards (assuming you've been thinning your deck). This isn't that big of a deal for me unless I'm playing with someone prone to AP. Faster players can churn through the earlier "slower" phases of the game pretty quick.

6- This is a 2 hour plus game. The box quotes 2 hours, but that is for more experienced players I think. Add an hour for less experienced players. Add a good bit of time too for set up and tear down. This is a more epic length deck builder, like Core Worlds.

7- Everyone needs to understand that this is foremost an area control game. It is the job of the game's teacher to make sure everybody is clear on this aspect. Players who aren't clear on this will be destroyed by players who do. Nobody likes having their teeth kicked in for 2 hours plus.

8- This is a 3 or 4 player game ONLY. Ignore the BS 2 player rules, this is a 3 or 4 player game only.

Why is this game out of print? Why aren't more people talking about PDT? This is a Game Salute title. That alone I feel has driven some folks away from the game. I'm a bit baffled though why there aren't more "professional" video reviews. The lack of post Kickstarter video reviews hurt the sales of this game, I'm certain. The other problem as I see it, is price/availability. When it was in print, this game was going for roughly $75 on line, and I'd bet very few FLGS carried this title. Heck, its still harder then it should be to find Game Salute games in most FLGS.

My response to the game's criticisms.

1- Reviewers didn't like that you could cull cards when you bought new ones. The argument here I think is that the reviewer(s) felt like you were getting too much benefit when you buy a card. I think this argument is complete BS. Games like Baseball Highlight: 2045 show why rolling the act of culling into purchasing cards in a deck builder is a great idea. Mike Fitzgerald explains that the reason for doing this is that it streamlines a game by not forcing players to take cards dedicated to the act of culling. Simply put, if PDT didn't have this mechanic, it would have had to add the culling power somewhere else in the game, and it would have ultimately made the game longer and less streamlined if players had to burn precious actions in order to cull. I don't mind "cull cards" in shorter/quicker deck builders like Ascension or Star Realms, but Mr. Fitzgerald is absolutely correct that in games like PDT having a permanent cull ability when buying new cards is preferable to the alternative.

2- Reviewers have complained that the move action doesn't require players to play cards. I roll my eyes a bit at this complaint because it shows that the reviewer doesn't fully understand why this particular design decision was made. There is no automatic discarding of cards at the end of your turn (again, a smart choice IMHO). The movement action is EXTREMELY important and powerful in this game. The trade off for players (as a way of balancing it) is that you aren't spending cards, and therefore aren't cycling your deck to get your really powerful guild cards. Basically, your deck stagnates when you move your supporters around on the board. This also make the King's Guard pawns a VERY important resource because they can be spent to allow you to cycle your deck when you take movement actions (so that you can grab your guild favors more quickly - and guild favors are of course awesome because most act as extra free actions, thus boosting your efficiency).

3- The implied criticism that I see most commonly is that there is some awkward pacing to the game (slow start, long game). I think the pacing point is a bit overstated (and isn't that noticeable in practice). The play time issue is a fair point. This is a 2 hour plus area control game with some pretty in your face game play. If you aren't into that kind of experience, this may not be a game for you.

Final Thoughts.

PDT is an amazing game! I love it. This is an epic area control game for folks who enjoy deck building. There is player interaction galore, without ever being excessively vicious, mean, or bloody. The game was tested and refined for several years before it was published, and this extra polish definitely shows in the final product. It is an absolute work of art, both in the quality of the game's components and in the quality of game play. The design utilizes choices that were ahead of its time and feel fresh and innovative these years now after its publication. This isn't a game for everyone though. Buyer be warned, this is a 2 hours+ game, it is confrontational, and the deck building is secondary to the area control elements. If that doesn't scare you away, I think this is an awesome experience you should check out. This is the epitome of the overlooked gem-of-a-game and worthy of the price of admission. Find it, buy it, love it!
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Kolby Reddish
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Re: Burn Mother*****r, Burn - A review of Princes of the Dragon Throne
Glad to at least see another review of this game (it seems to have completely fallen off the radar.

It didn't work out for me, at all. Felt very formulaic and far too long for the payoff. Ultimately, the deck-building part felt largely unnecessary.

Quote:
Simply put, if PDT didn't have this mechanic, it would have had to add the culling power somewhere else in the game, and it would have ultimately made the game longer and less streamlined if players had to burn precious actions in order to cull. I don't mind "cull cards" in shorter/quicker deck builders like Ascension or Star Realms, but Mr. Fitzgerald is absolutely correct that in games like PDT having a permanent cull ability when buying new cards is preferable to the alternative.

I want to address this quote. This is just a matter of taste. Some people like games where there are system difficulties in doing what you need to do (PDT doesn't have this, at least not in the "culling" aspect; lots of popular games do though, Martin Wallace games are the first that come to mind). Games with this style of overheard (unlike PDT) require people to plan a little bit more. They require players to make a conscious choice of whether they would like to have "culling" be a part of their deck. It introduces the idea of opportunity costs. Having no type of "cull" cards just removes that decision space from the players. Certainly streamlined, but not necessarily better if you're the type of person that likes to dig in and manage a game system with some overhead.

I realize you obviously know this and the point of a review is to share your opinion. Just wanted to chime in with another one for people who read this down the road.
 
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Kevin L. Kitchens
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Re: Burn , Burn - A review of Princes of the Dragon Throne
Wish you'd chosen a better title... **** don't really mask the unnecessary profanity.

For many it will be a turn off to even reading your review and for a 13+ site like BGG, it would be better left with more truly "mature" family friendly language.

You'll disagree I'm sure, but it needed to be said.
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Scott Sexton
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klkitchens wrote:
Wish you'd chosen a better title... **** don't really mask the unnecessary profanity.

For many it will be a turn off to even reading your review and for a 13+ site like BGG, it would be better left with more truly "mature" family friendly language.

You'll disagree I'm sure, but it needed to be said.

A fair enough point. I'm fine updating it. Same song, different lyric.
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Scott Sexton
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reddish22 wrote:
Glad to at least see another review of this game (it seems to have completely fallen off the radar.

It didn't work out for me, at all. Felt very formulaic and far too long for the payoff. Ultimately, the deck-building part felt largely unnecessary.

Quote:
Simply put, if PDT didn't have this mechanic, it would have had to add the culling power somewhere else in the game, and it would have ultimately made the game longer and less streamlined if players had to burn precious actions in order to cull. I don't mind "cull cards" in shorter/quicker deck builders like Ascension or Star Realms, but Mr. Fitzgerald is absolutely correct that in games like PDT having a permanent cull ability when buying new cards is preferable to the alternative.

I want to address this quote. This is just a matter of taste. Some people like games where there are system difficulties in doing what you need to do (PDT doesn't have this, at least not in the "culling" aspect; lots of popular games do though, Martin Wallace games are the first that come to mind). Games with this style of overheard (unlike PDT) require people to plan a little bit more. They require players to make a conscious choice of whether they would like to have "culling" be a part of their deck. It introduces the idea of opportunity costs. Having no type of "cull" cards just removes that decision space from the players. Certainly streamlined, but not necessarily better if you're the type of person that likes to dig in and manage a game system with some overhead.

I realize you obviously know this and the point of a review is to share your opinion. Just wanted to chime in with another one for people who read this down the road.

That's just it though. Princes of the Dragon Throne isn't Dominion, or Star Realms, or Ascension, or any number of deck builders that are variants on the core idea. It is its own beast. Its a hybrid style deck builder and I think you will see LOTS of games in the future that take this exact same approach to the culling mechanism. Baseball Highlights being an obvious example. I think that it only makes sense to do it this way when the focus of the game isn't on the deck building itself. By having the culling mechanic attached the the core rules rather than cards it frees up your cards to do other interesting things. Also, because culling is such a vital method of controlling ones deck, it takes some of the randomness out of who is lucky enough to be able to buy the culling cards first. If everyone can cull when purchasing, I think the game tends to favor the more skilled player.

Regarding your point about system difficulties as a barrier to doing whatever you like in games: I'm pretty sure PDT has plenty of that using its discard restrictions. Figuring out how to get around this restriction is part of the fun of PDT. Tactical Culling with a purchase is a great way to be able to draw a card on a turn where you may not normally have the ability to draw a card.
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Dan Patriss
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Scott, well written and some great points both positive and negative. Having played it so much I see a ton of what you had said as negative but I think the overall fun of it (to me) made me able to look past a few things about this game.

I am real glad it sounds like you enjoyed this game and even more so, that you found it b/c of my blatant gushing over it for nearly a year.

Thanks a ton for listening and thanks for mentioning us in your review.

I agree that it's area control upon area control upon even MORE area control. But to me, the way that DB is used in this is just fun. The way that every game feels different b/c of how the cards come out and how the power draft (So to speak) works throughout the game is just great for repeated play and for trying out new things.

I got to talk to Fred (The designer) at this past Origins fairly extensively about this game. He takes much of the criticism onto himself and I think that's not fair to him really. I know what his vision and his dream was for this game and I don't think it was fully realized on the final product. (Again this is my interpretations of a friend and not his words so take it as that).

To me this game shines if it looked more like the way the prototypes looked (which IIRC was how the super advanced dragon meeples look like) and a different, even if more rigid, board layout.
I think if you could produce that game, in that way, for 40-60$ range then this game would sell more. I think it's different fun and unique enough that it would find a good fan base, and his ideas he had for expansions would be clamored for out there.

Again great review and of course thanks for listening!!!

--Dan
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Scott Sexton
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GeekJock wrote:
Scott, well written and some great points both positive and negative. Having played it so much I see a ton of what you had said as negative but I think the overall fun of it (to me) made me able to look past a few things about this game.

I am real glad it sounds like you enjoyed this game and even more so, that you found it b/c of my blatant gushing over it for nearly a year.


--Dan

Thank you Dan for turning me on to PDT. I hope nobody interprets my review as unduly critical because in my mind, my gripes are really superficial with regard to the game's design. I only bring those issues up to give people a wider perspective of the game as I see it. My big beef is with some of Game Salute's decisions and not in the design itself. Honestly I love the game, it's a solid 9 for me and I would like to think I'm pretty picky about handing out 9s and 10s on BGG. I try to steer clear of giving all positive reviews even when I love a game because I can easily see who wouldn't like any given game I adore.

Keep up the great work on the show. I look forward to seeing what games you point me towards next.
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Fred MacKenzie
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Finally, somebody actually gets it!

Thank you for the awesome review, Scott. And thanks to Dan for never shutting up about my little game.
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