(This review originally appeared on iSlaytheDragon.com)
Remember when you were a kid and you dreamed of owning your dream home? You probably imagined all kinds of cool rooms in the house filled with luxurious and awesome decor. Then you grew up and learned all about mortgages, interest rates, property taxes, and insurance. At that point, you realized that some compromise was in order so you settled for a 1970’s era-split level with avocado-colored appliances. It might not be your dream home, but it’s warm and dry. Your dream doesn’t have to die, however. You can play Dream Home, build your perfect house, and temporarily escape the reality of your shag carpeting.
How It Plays
Dream Home is a lightweight set collection and card drafting game that has players striving to create their dream home. “Dream” being defined as the home that scores the most points, not the one that looks the coolest. The basic flow of play is described below.
At the beginning of the game, cards are laid out in two rows on the central board. The top row contains the resource cards (which are helpers, tools, decor, and roofs). The second row contains the room cards. The leftmost space in the top row is left blank. To begin the game, the youngest player is given the first player marker and takes the first turn.
The rows of cards on the board form columns of two cards (or, in the case of the leftmost row, one card and an empty space with a house printed on it). In turn order, players choose one of the columns and take both cards from that column. The chosen cards are then played onto their personal home boards. (As columns are chosen, cards are not replaced. Cards are only replaced at the beginning of a new round.) If a player chooses the leftmost column, he takes the one available card and the first player marker from whomever is holding it. This player will be the first player next round. If no one chooses the leftmost column, the current first player retains the marker and is first player again next round.
The game board set up for play with cards laid out.
After each player has taken a turn, the round ends. Any cards still on the board are discarded and both rows are refilled. Play continues like this for twelve rounds. At the end of the twelfth round, the decks are empty and the game ends. Players tally their points and the player with the most points wins.
That’s the basic flow of play. However, it’s not quite as simple as slapping cards onto your board in any order. There are placement rules for the cards and some of the cards offer bonuses or special abilities. Each card clearly explains its requirements and there is a helpful guide in the rulebook, but here are some examples of how the cards work together and how you score points in Dream Home.
Certain rooms can only be placed on certain floors of your home.
If more than one card of certain room types are placed next to each other, your score bonus points for the larger room. (However, you are not allowed to exceed the maximum room size.) Similarly, certain types of rooms offer bonuses when placed next to other types of rooms.
You can’t place a room if there’s an empty space directly below it.
Roof cards are placed face down in a stack on your board. You may not look at the roof cards after they’ve been placed until the end of the game.
Decor cards give you the matching decor token which is placed on a room matching the type of decor. (So the hot tub decor token must be placed on a bathroom, for example.) This token gives you bonus points at the end of the game, but it also means that the room is “finished” and cannot be expanded by placing another room of that type next to it.
Tool cards provide ways to move cards around on your home board and/or on the main board, but they can only be used once and are then discarded.
Helper cards are used during end game scoring and give you various “last chances” to squeeze out extra points by moving/adding cards, or by receiving extra points for your home’s functionality.
Decor tokens and 1st player marker.
When the game ends, points are tallied (a handy score pad is included to make this easier) with players receiving points for the following accomplishments:
Rooms: Most rooms score based on the number of cards that make up the room. There are also special rooms that score based on their proximity to other room types. Points for the various room sizes/placements are indicated on the cards.
Decor: Decor tokens grant the points indicated on the token. If you have the Interior Designer helper card, you get an extra point for each decor token you have.
Home Functionality: A home with a bathroom on each of the top two floors earns three extra points. Also, a home with a bathroom, kitchen, and bedroom also earns three extra points. If you have the Architect helper card, you earn an extra point for each area of home functionality that you complete.
Roof: A complete roof consists of four cards. Having four roof cards that are all the same color earns eight points. Having four roof cards that are not all the same color earns three points. You don’t earn any extra points for an incomplete roof (fewer than four cards) or for having any extra roof cards (more than four). Additionally, each window in a complete roof earns an extra point.
The player with the most points wins.
A completed home.
Do You Want to Live in This House of Cards?
I’ve mentioned before my obsession with games that let you build things, especially things with rooms and houses. As a kid, I loved dollhouses… Not so much for playing with dolls, but for dumping out all the furniture and rearranging it. Later, I transitioned to The Sims. I never bothered too much with the Sims themselves. I was too busy buying furniture and knocking down/rehabbing their houses. (I learned the cheat code for unlimited money and used that rather than putting the Sims to work. More time for home building.) Anyway, this is why I love games like Best Treehouse Ever, Betrayal at House on the Hill, Castles of Mad King Ludwig, and Alhambra. So when I heard about Dream Home, a game that sounded like how I used to play with my dollhouses and The Sims, I knew I had to try it. So did it scratch that building itch or was it back to The Sims for me?
The main idea of the game is to earn the most points by taking advantage of the ways the cards and rooms work together while also building a house that is functional. The gameplay itself is very simple and easy to learn, making Dream Home an excellent family game. The rulebook is clear and has plenty of pictures and examples. Older kids would have no trouble learning the game without adult intervention. It also plays very quickly and, with limited actions and options, has almost no downtime which keeps those with short attention spans engaged in the game.
You only have one main action on your turn and that is to choose a column of cards from the main board. But choosing cards is only part of the battle. Once you have the cards, you have to decide how/where to place them within your home. The good news is that the game is very forgiving. Very few placements have to be permanent. There are lots of ways to move or replace cards by wisely using the tool and helper cards.
Helper and tool cards with roofs on top. (Where else?)
Of course, it’s not quite that simple. The later in turn order you go, the less you have to choose from since cards are only replaced at the beginning of a round. This means that you won’t always have total control over which rooms and resources you get. Sometimes you’re just going to have to take the leftovers and make do.
The decisions you make in this game are light, as befits a family game, but they are there. Do you take one card less this turn and snatch the first player marker, hopefully giving you better options next turn? Is it to your advantage to use one of your tool cards now, or should you hang onto it for a future turn? Should you hold out and hope you can expand that room, or just go ahead and place something next to it now? How are you doing on collecting roof cards? Are you ready to decorate your room, knowing that once you do you can no longer expand it? Which helper card(s) might help you the most during scoring?
There are many ways to score points in Dream Home, so do you cast your strategy net wide and hope for fewer points in many categories, or try to narrow your focus and maximize points in a couple of categories?
The memory element of the roof cards adds another wrinkle to your strategy. Since you do not see your played roof cards until the end of the game, you have to remember how many you have, what colors they are, and whether or not you have any window cards. Since what you have determines some significant end game points, a good memory is useful. Granted, an adult probably won’t have too much trouble remembering just a few cards, but it presents a solid challenge for the younger players.
Some of the room cards. (Note the game room because we all need one!)
As noted, Dream Home is a family game. It’s easy enough for kids to play, but offers enough strategy that adults won’t be bored out of their minds. For us (two adults), it’s a good weeknight game. It’s pretty to look at, fun and fast to play (we can clock in a game in as little as 15 minutes), and doesn’t take too much mental energy. It also makes a good filler or nightcap for longer game nights. Games go slightly longer with more players and can go up to 30-40 minutes if playing with kids who need a little longer to work through the game’s options.
As far as where it fits on the spectrum of building games, I’d say that its closest competitor/comparison is The Best Treehouse Ever. Both games have you adding rooms to a “house” and trying to wring points from your placements. Dream Home is considerably lighter than Treehouse, however. Treehouse has a true card draft, meaning that players pass cards from player to player so you can only know the cards that have passed through your hand during the round. In Dream Home, available cards are on the board for all to see at the beginning of the round so you can easily track what’s available and what has been taken.
Treehouse also offers a more complicated card placement system in that you have to balance your house so that it doesn’t fall out of the tree and you must place cards so that they touch other cards of that color. Additionally, Treehouse does not offer a way to move cards after they’ve been placed, so decisions are much more binding. Dream Home, on the other hand, only has two real placement rules and these are more relaxed than those in Treehouse: You can’t place a card above an empty space, and garage/basement rooms must be placed on the lowest floor with other rooms being placed on the upper two floors. With its helper and tool cards, Dream Home also offers a more forgiving experience because bad placements can often be changed.
Your empty house awaiting the movers.
Both are great family games and they share the same minimum age of eight years old. However, Treehouse is a little more complicated. If you’re looking for the house-building game that might be better in a “gamer” setting, Treehouse is probably the better bet. Dream Home is just a bit lighter, but it’s still an excellent game in its own right. You just have to go into it with the right expectation. This isn’t going to fry your brain, but it will provide a nice diversion.
Are there any negatives to the game? Well, aside from the lightness which either will or won’t be a negative to you based on the experience you’re seeking, my only serious complaint is that the price point of $40 feels a bit steep for what you get. Yes, it’s pretty, but there aren’t that many room cards (especially unique room cards like libraries and game rooms with fantastic furnishings and uses). Since the game is played until the decks are empty, you’ll see all the cards in the first game. The other components are good quality and the player boards are thick and well done, but there just isn’t that much here.
This links rather closely with my other complaint which is I don’t feel like this game offers a ton of replayability. Yes, the cards come out differently every time, but with so few, the joy of “discovery” and seeing new rooms is gone after one game. The decisions you make each game do start to feel samey after a while and once you know the decks and the cards, it becomes easier to know what has yet to come up and make educated guesses/strategy plans based on that knowledge. There are no variants to scale the difficulty or change up the gameplay.
You need to decorate!
This would be different in an environment with children. They may not be able to quickly learn the decks and it may not bother them that they see the same rooms all the time. If you’re playing with only adults, however, I’m not certain that this game would stand the test of time, particularly if you play it often. Fortunately, it’s easy enough to learn that it’s the kind of game you can put away for a while and not have to relearn it, even several months down the road. In an adults-only environment, I wouldn’t recommend playing it back to back over several consecutive nights. Bring it out once in a while and it might preserve its luster longer.
The game does bring out one funny little quirk in people and, while it’s neither a positive or a negative, I feel like it’s worth mentioning. I noticed that in all of our games, people tended to build the same home over and over. They were truly trying to build their dream home, not the one that would score the most points. They held out for the cards they liked the best, not necessarily the ones that were most useful.
It reminded me of how, when I played with my dollhouses as a kid, I tended to place things in similar ways every time I dumped out the furniture and started again. I think there’s some quirk in the human brain that says, “This has to go here, this has to look like this, and it’s impractical to do it any other way.”
Handy score pad and player aids.
This is fine if you just want to build and play and don’t care about the outcome. But if you want to win, you have to push past this comfort zone and build the house that scores the most points, even if it doesn’t look like your ideal house or like anywhere you’d ever want to live. It’s not a flaw in the game, just something I noticed and a little tip if you want to win. Playing to win and building your ideal dream home are not always the same thing, despite the game’s title.
I enjoyed Dream Home. It satisfies my urge to build something and it’s fun to look at the completed house when the game is over. And then tear it apart and start again… Whether it stays in my collection for years remains to be seen. I don’t mind the lightness, but I do wonder whether we’ll tire of it after a while. Regardless, by then I suspect we’ll have played it enough to have made it worth it.
If you’re looking for a good family game that will entertain kids and non-gamers while not numbing the brains of the gamers, Dream Home is a good choice. It’s also a good couples game for those weeknights where anything heavy is out of the question. With the holidays coming, I can recommend it as something you may want to have on hand for your family gatherings or to keep the kids entertained while school is out.
iSlaytheDragon.com thanks Asmodee for giving us a copy of Dream Home to review.
Love to play boardgames with my family and spending time toghter
It's a fun and quick drafting game with an unique theme. I'm glad i picked it up at Essen.
Thanks - especially appreciated the comparisons with Best Treehouse Ever, which we've loved with the kids.