Tiago Perretto
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Thinking about my next move.
So, if my only options are these, then I shall...

About Dragon's Ransom:

1) What is it?
Dragon's Ransom is, thematically, Dungeon Lords turned into a solitaire (or cooperative) card game, as the player is a dungeon master wanting to kill the adventurers that invaded his lair to loot the treasure. And sure as hell you won't let them get away with this. To prevent the ignominiously theft you will send your minions, in groups (chains) in order to attack the heroes. However, there heroes will defend themselves and attack your minions - and you have only a limited number of minions to send, if you exhaust all of them, the heroes will be free to loot and go home. Otherwise you will add some skeletons to your walls decoration.

Dragon's Ransom is a quick (around 30 minutes) solitaire game, with easy rules and a simplified AI to make the heroes attack. The game comes chock–full of cards (over 150) for a small box game, most of which are minions, with several different effects.

The replay value comes from the sheer number of possible ways the deck can work once shuffled. The Heroes Attack cards are divided between parts of the deck (like putting Infection cards in Pandemic), to prevent for too many of them coming too close of each other, but even still there is a big difference, since the three stacks needed are big on themselves. However, the mission doesn't differ (is always to kill the heroes before the deck runs out) nor the way to do it (chain minions and send them to attack), therefore, the overall feel of the plays aren't all that different, in spite of the play actually being, due to the random order of the cards.

There are a high dose of luck built in the game, as there will be loads of blind draws - there is no way to predict what is coming ahead (one minion, when defeated, allow to look the next three card, but that is it). Therefore, the key decision to be done in the game is decide how many cards to draw (up to the hand size of 7), as they all must be drawn before revealing them.

The theme is very present - the heroes attack like one could expect (the Warrior can stomp the enemies and work as a tank to help the others near him, the Cleric defends the others and can heal, the Rogue can prevent damage and attack near and far, and the Wizard is bastard that one might not give a copper coin and yet she can bring havoc to your plans, wielding enough magic to destroy your most powerful minions) and the minions have nice mechanical flavor (Zombies work better in numbers; the Necromancer can bring back skeletons; and so on).

What Dragon's Ransom isn't is difficult. I won every play so far, in spite of some being close (closest was with 3 cards to end the deck). With some bad drawings, you can have a good challenge, otherwise you will need to seek variants and/or create your own.

Overall, Dragon's Ransom is a surprising solid game, with more to offer than once could expect from the small box.

2) How do you play?
The player draws 7 cards then prepares the draw deck (dividing it in three and then shuffling, in each stack, a number of Heroes Attack cards). During your turn you will be able to play as many cards as you wish. For you to play there will be two types of cards:

- Attack: you send one chain to attack. If you have three or more Attacks in hand, you must play at least one of them;
- Minions: you add them, in the column of a hero. Minions are of three types: openers (open a chain, and several have abilities that influence the whole chain); the middle (usually not as strong as the openers and the finishers, but with some useful abilities); and the finishers (which close a chain, and are pretty strong). In spite of the names I gave them, a chain doesn't need to have a opener or a finisher to count as a full chain, in order to use an Attack card - have either is simply a good thing, due to the power of them. Still, a chain can only have one opener and one finisher - and any number of middle minions.

Once you played all the cards you want, in any order you want, you can discard any number of cards then decide how many cards you want to draw (up to your hand limit of 7). After deciding, you draw all the cards before looking them, and reveals all at the same time. Any attack of the heroes are added to the respective hero, the same for Items and Potions (this is also valid for your starting hand of 7 cards). If you draw a Heroes Attack, after adding any attack by the heroes you also might have drawn, the first attack in the queue of attack of each hero (as each can have more than one attack) is used.

After the Heroes Attack is resolved (if one is drawn) you are able to play cards again, then decide how many more cards to draw, resolve attacks and potion effects, then Heroes Attacks, then play, then... You get the gist of it.

Play proceeds until either all the heroes are defeated (you win!) or the draw deck is depleated (you lose).

3) Which are the decisions made during play?
As I mentioned, the most important will be how many cards to draw each turn. More cards might mean more attacks for the heroes, Potions, Items and even a dreaded Heroes Attack. Sure, they will come anyway, but you might have time to build up and send a powerful chain. But if go for 1 by 1, you might end up with three Attacks in hand and be obliged to send a chain to battle too soon. Yet, 1 by 1 works more than not, and is also a most boring way to play. Therefore, deciding how many to draw is important, but can be "gamed".

Second most relevant decision is which minion to use and against which hero? This must take into consideration the life left in the heroes, the attacks in queue, and, of course, the other minions already there, as only the closest chain to a hero can attack, which means chains behind are more open to attacks, as they will likely spend more time waiting for an opportunity to attack.

The decisions in Dragon's Ransom aren't hard and are made for a light experience, with little stress.

4) What are the good things in the game?
- Nice production with good art in the cards;
- Portable, but the cards don't return to the box if sleeved;
- Fine amount of decisions made durint the play;
- Fast paced;
- Allows for both solitaire and cooperative (up to 4 people) play.

5) Which are the bad news?
- Rulebook doesn't cover some situations of the game (for instance, one dragon does half damage to adjacent heroes when its chain attack, but is it rounded up or down? The timming of attacks in a chain is also fuzzy territory, and there are others);
- Falls on the easy side regarding challenge, which might sit well with some players, but I expect difficulty in solo play, especially in short games.

6) How do you feel while playing?
Learning that, to win in Dungeon Lords, all you truly need is 100+ minions. Don't bother with corridors, rooms, food, gold - these are for the lesser lords, you are a master after all. Just send wave after wave of enemies until there is nothing left of the heroes, except some blood stains on the floor - something a minion should clean up, and fast. Not the hardest of the jobs - just point in the general direction of the heroes and yell: "Kill them, kill them all until they are all killed!" - though this may seem overkill in reinforce the need of killing, some minions are truly dumb, and repetition lowers the noise.

Dragon's Ransom, though it has problems (mostly in the level of difficulty and some issues with how a few cards and situations work), it does its job in the grand scheme: it provides a match between the dungeon master and the heroes, achieved by really simple AI for the heroes.

In the end, I was more pleased then I was expecting with Dragon's Ransom. The game works smoothly enough (there are some points don't answered by the manual that I simply took a decision upon), plays rather fast and presents decisions (most not hard) throughout.


Image credit: Horror Leader

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Fabio Binder
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Re: Dragon's Ramson - What you would get if Dungeon Lords was solitaire a card game - down to the basics review
Nice, another one bites the... wishlist.
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