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Subject: Gencon Demo rss

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Dan Taylor
United States
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Just Another Washed Up Wargamer
I ran into Mr. Tom Wham at the Gencon auction, and amidst the starry-eyed fan small talk asked him which of his games he had the most fun playing. “The one I’m working on now, Dragon Lairds.” With that observation under my belt, I went to a playtest demo of the game early Saturday morning.

Note: This was a review of a game still in development, so anything mentioned below could change in the final product.

The game is a card game where from 2-5 people attempt to get “royals” (victory points) by the playing of various cards. The game ends when one player gets above 60 royals, at which point everyone tallies up their end points and reveals the final score. Play is in a series of rounds in which everyone performs an action, after which a “scoring round” is performed. The number of rounds varies between the number of players. Players initially start in a random order, but after the first round proceed from last to first in VP score.

The cards more or less provide one of four things – geld (gold) per turn, royals (victory points) per turn, final royals (victory points only given at the end of the game) and a special ability of some sort. Cards cost gold to play, with the cost usually rising as the number of abilities and their power rise. Cards have a color (suit) which matches player colors as well as a type: commoner, laird (lord), resources and havocs. The former helps purchasers (as cards of your color can be purchased for 2 less than everyone else) and the latter is useful for other cards. (For instance, a special ability might be “get all laird cards for 2 less” or “Steal a commoner card from someone else.")

Each player picks a random color and then receives a card. This card has a King side (a special ability of some kind) or a Queen side (more royals than the king side.) A player picks one side and keeps it the entire game.

At the start of each round, cards are dealt into one of four areas. The Laird, resource and havoc cards are dealt into piles with the most recently drawn on top. The commoners are dealt out in a similar manner, except the potential top 4 are dealt out instead of 1. The dealer stops putting out cards after each category (laird, resource, havoc and commoner) has a card in it. At this point, the board has a stacks of cards, some of which are piled atop one another and some which have only a small number.

During their turn, a player may either buy any currently exposed card with money in his hand and place it in front of him, draw an exposed card and place it in his hand (for “free”), play a card from his hand and pay its cost or use a card’s special ability. A player can only have 4 cards in his hand at any time and may not freely discard anything already there, so the decision to draw is not made lightly.

So while play is relatively simple, there are a number of cards with special abilities to liven the game up. The Royal Executioner can threaten laird cards with death unless their owner pays up, special cards can steal cards from a player’s hand or in front of them, and the taxman can make all other players pay you at the end of the turn. Some of these abilities cost gold, but some of the most powerful havoc cards cost royals (victory points) to use, giving the player a delicious choice.

Once the round is over, players count up their royals and add them to their total starting from first place to last. Then, the bottom card from each havoc, resource and laird pile is placed in a region called the “dragon fire sale.” These cards are available the next round at ½ their card price. (Hey, it’s either that or get destroyed.)

Once someone has broken 60 royals, the game ends and players count up their points. Points are given as normal for the most part, though there are cards that only provide points at the end of the game. A player can also score extra points for each color card in a particular category: for instance, a player with 3 different colors of lairds would score 6 points. A player loses points for any cards still in their hand. The one with the most royals wins.

In general, the game was a lot of fun. What could’ve been a dry mathematics exercise was spiced up by the card’s special abilities. Mr. Wham’s art (at least in the playtest) was as whimsical as ever and very enjoyable. The game gave excellent choices – pulling cards into your hand to prevent others getting them versus helping yourself

The only downside I could see was that the game took a bit to get going. Players can usually only afford one card their first turn, and it’s not until the 3-4th turn that you really get enough money to be able to buy cards. Oh well, that’s what the “fire sale” is for.

Apparently the game is slated for "later this year," so it may be in a store near you soon.

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