Verbal communication is difficult enough as it is, but start tossing in restrictions and stipulations into the process for no reason and things get even more challenging. Certain games utelize this, Ticket to Ride for instance has a map where players compete in teams of two, without being able to communicate certain aspects to your teammate. Thus, shared resources are used up, often time in less than optimal moves. Dragon and Rider takes that same aspect of teamwork mixed with restrictive communication to give us a rock-paper-scissor game that’s very unique.
Dragon and Rider pits two teams of two against each other in a battle to the death. The premise is that two warriors, each riding a dragon, attempt to kill each other. Each team of two consists of a rider and a dragon. No verbal communication can be made between the two. Since, dragons rarely speak English and when they do, it’s a pretty heavy Sean Connery accent. Each rider has a set of three attack cards and each Dragon has a matching set of attack cards as well as three “stance” cards that can afford their attacks benefits and potentially convey their intent to their teammate. Teams set their life tracker to 35 and the game begins in a series of rounds. First, the dragons simultaneously reveal their chosen stance to take. Then, the rider will place. Face down, one of their attack cards to use in this round. They then take one of their remaining two attack cards and place it face up for all to see. This face up card is an indicator to their dragon an attack they will not be playing. With that, both dragons then choose an attack card and play it face down next to their riders card. All face down cards are then flipped and damage is dealt accordingly. Attacks are most powerful when the stance matches the main attack, and both the dragon AND rider have chosen the same attack to perform. This is further compounded if the chosen attack happens to counter the opponent's move. Attacks that don’t match the stance, don’t match up with what a teammate chose and doesn’t counter the opponent's move often deal very little damage and will potentially harm your team as well. Should two different attacks be played by the same team, the one with the higher speed value is performed. Play continues until one team is knocked below 0 HP. Should that happen to both teams in the same round, the team who has taken the most negative damage loses.
Dragon and Rider takes Rock-Paper-Scissors and adds a whole lot of variables and makes it a team sport. It’s an interesting concept and certainly makes the game far more competitive and thematic than what could ever be done with two people throwing hand signals at each other.
My big problems with Dragon and Rider is that, though a shorter game, the rules come off as a convoluted garble of those variables I mentioned before. You have to worry about your stance, matching what your team member places and trying to figure out what move your opponents might make to potentially counter. For me, it’s too brain burney for a game that’s essentially a filler with a generous helping of guess work involved in the core mechanic. Players have to juggle a number of possibilities that allow for oversights and mistakes to be made fairly easily. The initial game is going to have players frequently reaching for the rulebook. On a more personal note, I find games with such a specific player count (2-player games excluded) difficult to swallow. 4-player only games are a hard sell for me, but I’m certainly willing to give them a shot.
Once you grok the initial turn or two, however, things may get a little smoother. It’s one of those short games that’s annoying to explain, but once you wrap your head around it things start to come into focus. This doesn’t negate my concerns with Dragon and Rider. When playing with a set of people that all know each other very well, there’s going to be a far more interesting dynamic than a group of four strangers coming together to play. The theme of the game is that of a dragon and a warrior working in harmony against a common foe. If that harmonious connection exists outside the game first it’s going to thrive within it. I only had a chance to look at prototype components, but the artwork was nice and the iconography was functional and clear once you knew what was going on.
For what it’s worth, Dragon and Rider is going to appeal to a specific group of people, and even if you’re not among that group and you find yourself playing, the length is brisk. If you’re in the market for a quick interesting game that will test your nonverbal communication skills, this might be worth checking out.
The four player only player count is difficult and I can’t help but wonder if this is the game I would pick compared to others in my collection.
The rules are clumsy and confusing at first.
It’s unnecessary complicated for a game that will last 10-15 minutes.
The art hits the sweet spot.
Playing with the RIGHT group of four people can be really interesting.
The more you know your opponents and allies the more fun this game ends up being.
Originally posted to www.plumpythimble.wordpress.com