The base game of DoraSure has been balanced to support multiple characters, whether controlled by a single player or not, so a character with stats and abilities fitted for a solo run seems like a strange choice to focus on for an expansion. Those who have attempted to play solo with other characters will tell you that it’s not impossible – but it feels too much like a sad battle against probability at best, and pulling teeth at worst. But that’s exactly what the Grand Master expansion is: one figurine* who is kitted out to obliterate a dragon with no help from anyone.
My initial impression was that the Grand Master was simply going to be overpowered. He has no truly weak stats, a large life gauge, and a surfeit of very, very nice abilities. Let’s take a look at each of them individually, to get an idea of where the GM stands relative to the other dragon slayers.
For starters, he’s packing the Ninja’s Peak Roll re-roll ability. Unlike the Ninja, the GM can only do this once per game; but it can still obviously come in very handy (or, as is the case with important rolls, dig you further into trouble).
Next, there’s the Caster’s once-per-turn resource regeneration. As a solo character, the GM doesn’t have to wait in line while other party members trigger the dragon into attacking everyone with its most powerful attacks. Without this overhead, his resources essentially give the GM a guaranteed free roll every turn to tackle the dragon hand-to-
The GM's third ability requires him to complete every quest, but grants him a +1 to rolls above four in the Climactic Battle Phase. This, truthfully, feel like his least necessary ability: a fully powered up GM is already strong enough, and lowering the threshold for damage dealing by an entire point feels a little excessive. But even this is nothing compared to the final trick up the GM’s sleeve: his treasure ability.
On the face of it, the GM's treasure is very similar to the Gladiator’s health regeneration. Whereas the Gladiator tops her HP up at the start of the Climactic Battle Phase, however, the GM can choose when to regenerate during this fight. This means you can let yourself drop to two or even one HP and then get back to a full bar instantly. That's virtually a guaranteed second chance and it's exactly as strong as it sounds.
In summary, then, the GM is not just as strong as some of the most powerful characters, he also uses some of the best abilities, often even more efficiently than his dragon-slaying counterparts.
But even with some gratuitous opportunities to deal damage to his opponent and instantly reclaim any lost life points, the GM still isn’t overpowered. Powerful, certainly. But not overpowered. Because he’s still subject to the DoraSure covenant of terrible dice rolls. I mopped the floor with the dragon in my first game and was certain I’d wasted my money with this expansion; but further play revealed what is true for every party: getting enough bad rolls and being sent to the final fight unprepared can be a nightmare – and even being fully prepared will not ensure victory if the dragon is hungry enough. So kudos to KTR for making solo play easier, but not too easy.
However, that doesn’t mean the Grand Master is an essential purchase. In fact, while this solo character still has most of the chances for failure and success of any other party, it lacks a certain something. Something I didn’t even know was missing until I played with this solitary character many, many times. That something is how the joys and frustrations of DoraSure are revealed when combating not just probability, but probability in regards to the advantages and disadvantages of your entire party, whether you’re a band of two or eleven. Reducing that number to one character feels like it’s going against the spirit of co-operation that is the essence of the game itself, and makes the Grand Master expansion something that can really only be recommended to the most devout DS completist**.
*This expansion also includes a single quest tile that requires at least two party members to cooperate in order to fulfill it. It has no actual reward, though, so it can play merry havoc with any party’s preparations for the final battle.
**For those of you that are heading towards completion: Fang’s interference lands and the Gemeos board create a substantial and interesting challenge for the Grand Master. The extra land to traverse and the more frequent board interaction from the dragons make it markedly less likely that you’ll reach the final phase fully equipped. Even then, the twins’ more damaging attacks can make even the GM’s regeneration trickery a moot point.