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Subject: An Absolute Train Wreck of a Board Game rss

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Jason Rider
United States
New York
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Score: 1.5/ 10

Until now I could easily have gone on record as saying that there was a good possibility Rio Grande Games didn’t have a bad title in their entire catalog. The company actually built a reputation for itself not by writing great games on their own but rather by traveling the globe and seeking out only the best board games with which to translate into English (if necessary) to be distributed to a North American audience. On the whole, the formula proved very successful as realized through a catalog consisting of games like Carcassonne, Lost Cities, Power Grid, and Puerto Rico. After having enjoyed an incredible run with the brand, I naturally became laxed on researching their products before purchasing. Now factor into the mix my natural appreciation of fantasy themed games and purchasing Dragonriders was all but a given. I am here to tell you that I should have done more research!

Written by Klaus-Jurgen Wrede & Jean du Poel with artwork by Andreas Adamek, Rio Grande pulled this title from a company called Amigo rather than their usual pool of Kosmos or Winning Moves. I have no prior experience with Amigo’s other games but if Dragonriders represents the epitome of what they’ve produced, I’ve gotten as close as I would ever want to!

I suppose in all fairness I should begin with the positive: The game, as is par for the course with Rio Grande, is both stunning to behold and built of top quality materials. Beginning with the box art itself then getting into the goodies contained within, Dragonriders will fool even the most skeptical gamer into believing he’s discovered fantasy-gold. The bottom doesn’t drop out until you actually begin the first round of play. However, right up until then, prepare to be dazzled with excellently painted wooden dice, cards that hint of powerful magic spells, colorful plastic molds of dragons in flight, and a giant board made up of sturdy interlocking cardboard tiles within a frame. Good stuff, all.

Here’s where the trouble begins. This is a race game and despite pieces and a full-color 16-page rulebook that seem to say otherwise, it is nothing more and sadly, a poorly engineered one at that. The idea, at its core, is that each player picks a measuring stick from the 8 available and sets it on the racecourse. Now, and here’s where it really gets ugly, he then butts the base of his plastic dragon against the cardboard ruler and jumps to the edge of said piece. Fair enough if surgical-level precision wasn’t required to determine the results of that move! If the ruler touches the courses border, turn over, you are docked two energy units and are punished in the following round. If your dragon itself so much as touches the drawn-on border you suffer a similar set of punishments. If your dragon touches someone else’s dragon, you guessed it! So what ends up happening is you have a bunch of pieces on the board at any given moment that nobody so much as dares to breathe-on lest ruin the round for a fellow player. What’s worse is that cardboard and plastic pieces on a laminated cardboard playing surface are naturally quite slippery. It’s nearly impossible to line up the ruler without bumping everything around to some degree and when you’re talking about a game that can end due to a variance in millimeters, you begin to see the natural flaw in the design.

For this concept to even come close to working, it would require pieces that somehow locked onto the playing surface and distance-measurement that was incredibly accurate. Perhaps to the point of electronic sensors on the board that would light up spaces indicating precisely where the piece will land after the player has inputted his variables. And even then one has to wonder how much fun this would be to play. As it stands with a sliding cardboard ruler and a featherweight plastic pawn, making moves is laughably inaccurate in this, a game that depends entirely upon NASA-precision calculation accuracy.

So what about all of those other great looking pieces I mentioned earlier? Yes they do have a purpose but unfortunately since the game’s most fundamental dynamic is so fatally flawed, mean little to nothing once the game gets underway. Spell cards exist to allow lagging players an opportunity to "lasso" the leader’s dragon and protection cards exist to counteract the spell cards but again, it’s all useless when you can’t tell if you actually touched the course borders or if the opponent’s dragon is precisely 600 units ahead of the spell caster to be considered in range. Simply taking these ridiculous measurements is enough to disrupt the pieces and well, I think you understand where I’m going with this.

In all, this is perhaps the worst board game I’ve ever played. The intention shows a bit of promise but the game-play mechanics have somehow gotten so terribly lost in translation that even the nice cards, board, and box art are hardly worth the paper they’re printed on. I’m currently working on the rules for some sort of module to, at the very least; make the game playable in some capacity. After all, interesting fantasy pieces and bits are a terrible thing to waste.
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Aaron
United States
Huntington Beach
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JasonRider wrote:
I have no prior experience with Amigo’s other games but if Dragonriders represents the epitome of what they’ve produced, I’ve gotten as close as I would ever want to!


Hundreds of fantastic games have been published by Amigo. Bohnanza, and The Downfall of Pompei just off the top of my head.
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Jason Rider
United States
New York
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I suspected as much- oh well, I guess they can't all be gems. Perhaps heavier pawns, pewter perhaps, would have remedied some of my complaints.
 
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dl wraith
United Kingdom
Manchester
Cheshire
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I was updating my profile when I came across this review and felt compelled to respond with an alternative view. I have to say, my group's attitude to the game was the opposite of Jason's experience. We were playing this while waiting for players for our regular RPG meet and everyone had a ball with this. I'm glad we didn't see this before we played or we may have been put off!

It's easy to set up, easy to play and good fun when you get into the 'mario kart-esque' spirit of it.

Sadly, the reasons for Jason's complaints are entirely accurate. The measuring stick mechanic is a good idea but can be fiddly when you have clusters of lightweight racing dragons in one another's way. The best thing to do with this game is to all decide up front that you aren't going to be millimetre perfect in placements and get on with the fun of it.

I think it'd be best to avoid this game if your group has serious rules-lawyers or sticklers for absolute accuracy in it (Formula De would fit better for them if you want a risk/reward racer). If you play it with a consensual 'that'll do' attitude this game is a great little change from the norm. 'NASA precision' is not something you're going to get when the pieces are light and the board (as Jason puts it) being so 'slippery'.

And Jason is correct about the contents - they are lovely to work with. Some of the fun is certainly building the track in the first case

So, I agree in principal with Jason's criticisms but strangely not with his conclusions. Just shows it takes different sorts. Thanks for sharing your opinions in a structured way, Jason.

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