$30.00
James Peyster
United States
Dist of Columbia
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As a board gamer parent of a 1st and 2nd grade burgeoning gamers, I, like many other gamers who game with kids, find myself in a continuing Goldilocks dilemma about what depth of games to introduce to my kids, and how far down the luck-strategy continuum I should venture. We’re all searching for “the sweet spot.”

On the luck side of the sweet spot (or, The Mama Bear's Cold Porridge side, if you will) is an array of games that can be fun on occasion, but which are really just so random and/or lacking in interesting decisions that they do not challenge your gaming protégé to grow.

On the overly-strategic (Papa Bear's Hard, Scratchy Bed) side of the sweet spot is the tempting array of genuinely good games that the kid in your life can execute mechanically, but doesn’t fully understand. As we all know, it’s one thing to master the mechanics of a game, but that doesn't mean the child is really playing the game in a meaningful way. Games in the Papa Bear zone will usually lead to one of two bad outcomes: either (1) you purposefully going easy and/or tanking the game, or (2) tears after a fifth consecutive blowout loss.

The Baby Bear sweet spot is the happy medium between these two camps where luck and strategy blend at the upper limit of strategic depth that your child is able to comfortably absorb and master while still having fun. Said another way, it's a game that you as the adult at the table can try your hardest, yet achieve a win-rate that is relatively similar to the kids at the table.

Enter Dragonwood, the PERFECT "sweet spot" game for my kids, and one that I strongly suggest you try out with the kids in your life. Dragonwood employs a fantastic combination of luck and strategy mechanics that gives kids tons of great choices while also randomizing outcomes through dice rolling and card draws in a way which makes it impossible for anyone to assure themselves of victory through clever play. And all of this is wrapped in a fun theme with charming artwork and packaged in $10 small box game that plays in under 30 minutes. In short, Dragonwood checks every box.

Game-Play Overview: Dragonwood implements a bunch of distinct mechanics but somehow manages to make it all fit together in a way that kids will understand. First, there's hand-management and set collecting. Much of the game is drawing cards from the "Adventure Deck," which is really just a colorful, thematically artsy 5-suited deck of cards numbered 1-12. From this deck you're managing a hand limit of 9 while and trying to obtain flushes, straights and 2/3/4/5 of a kind. On your turn, you either draw another card from the deck, or play a combo of cards in order to capture monsters (or, occasionally, enchanted items) from a refilling common pool of five cards drawn from a separate deck. When playing cards, you exchange X Adventure Deck cards of the same color, number, or run of numbers from your hand and receive X dice in return. You then role those dice to try to match or exceed the monster's hit points. If you succeed, you capture the monster and keep the card. Each monster is worth an identified number of victory points with (as you'd expect) higher HP monsters worth more points. The game ends when both of the big, bad dragons in the deck have been captured, or when the players cycle through the numerical card deck two times. Then you just add up the total victory point total of the monster cards (+3 bonus points to whomever captured the most total monsters) and determine your winner.

There a couple of fun wrinkles in this game, including the fact that each monster has three different hit point numbers corresponding to whether you obtain the attack dice by turning in a flush (scream at the monster!), a straight (strike the monster!), or a pair/trio/quad of the same number (stomp the monster!). Thus, the elusive and menacing FIRE ANTS have more HP when trying to strike them than when you try to stomp them, while the big ol' GRUMPY TROLL is nearly un-stompable, but susceptible to an intimidating shout. As you can gather, this is a fairly PG slate adventure.

Tremendous Choices and a Variety of Viable Strategies: This game features lots of great choices. Do I risk trying to strike that WILD BOAR with only 3 dice when 4 dice would be safer? But what if my sister swoops in and captures the WILD BOAR before I get my next turn? Should I bypass monsters all together and try to capture an enchantment which will help me with future capture attempts via dice roll modifiers? Should I focus my attention on a few high-value capture targets or chase the "most monsters" bonus by capturing the lesser beasts of Dragonwood? Etc, etc.

Kid-Friendly Penalty Mechanism: Another nice element to this game is that it has an unusually gentle punishment mechanism for fairly dice rolls. If I play 4 blue cards in an attempt to scream at the GIGANTIC PYTHON but come up short on my dice roll, I don't forfeit those 4 blue cards. Rather, I return them to my hand and merely pay the penalty of having to discard *any* one card from my hand, even if it's not one of those blue cards. So, risk-taking is encouraged, and an unlucky roll will not crush your chances. You can frequently play the same cards on your next turn in another attempt to capture the same monster. I'm not sure if this mechanic was designed with kids in mind, but it certainly helps avoid frustration and keeps everyone fully engaged in the game until the end.

Components: This game is really just two decks of cards and six nice D6. Note that the dice are irregularly numbered, with an extra 2 and 3 replacing 5 and 6 on the traditional D6, in order to reduce variability of the dice rolls. The art work of the monsters and enchantments are really fun in the fantasy theme/genre. The game box is small and light. While there isn't much too this game, the cards and dice both feel good to the hand. Kids will really enjoy the whole package.

Dad's Final Verdict: So you game with elementary school aged kids and don't own Dragonwood? Fix that problem. Now. Do it. It's like $10. Simply put, this is a perfect transitional game as your kid grows out of yellow-box Haba games and into more complex board games. And you might find yourself breaking it out occasionally with your adult gamer friends too, because it's genuinely fun.
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Chris Krumlauf
United States
California
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I couldn't agree more. I picked this up about a year ago and my 7 year old daughter immediately took to it.
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Patrick Moore
United States
Cincinnati
Ohio
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Played this recently with a 10 year old, a 12 year old and a 17 year old.
After the first play through, they all understood it and proceeded to play it by themselves about 4 more times.

It's a great game for kids. Wonderful gateway game.
 
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Darren Kisgen
United States
Massachusetts
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Wow, what a thoughtful review. Thanks!
 
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A K
United States
California
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Thanks for coming up with that sweet spot analogy. It's spot on. My 7 year old son loves board games, math problems etc. He started playing chess at five. Still loves it. Loves uno, qwirkle, many Gamewright games and spent years playing the best Haba and Ravensburger games. I don't want to introduce him to games with war/battles etc. just yet. He's a sweet seven year old…and Dragonwood is the BEST game for this stage. We now give it as our go-to birthday gift for all of his first grade buddies (along with a book of dragon paper airplanes) and it's always a huge hit.

I can't rave about this game more. It's fun, it's interesting, it requires some strategy and thoughtfulness, but isn't too hard. The graphics are gorgeous. The cards sport funny creatures. And I enjoy playing, too!

It's probably my son's favorite game and he wants to play it more than any other game. I'm surprised that this isn't higher up on all of the Top Games for Kids/Family lists. It's that good. Maybe because it's fairly new. Go buy this now!!

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