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Dragons of Kir» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Strategic Mechanics but Well Short of Classic rss

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Jason Rider
United States
New York
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Score: 4.5/ 10

Perhaps things could have been very different for Dragons of Kir had I not purchased the game based on a whole frenzy of hype, hoopla, and rave reviews. While perhaps more Asian in theme than actual fantasy, the premise and supposed intuitive play mechanics had me interested from the moment I heard about the game.

The first of a series of disappointments came the moment I opened the box and discovered that the critical game components were simple cardboard cutouts, actually even that is giving them too much credit. This is origami in the strictest sense of the word and with no written or illustrated directions to guide you, plan on encountering difficulty in even building the dragons- which in this case are merely cardboard rectangles.

The remainder of the components are deceptively simplistic as well- tiles in this case built of sturdy cardstock that compliment the play field well. Speaking of the playfield, the board is nothing to get too excited about either- an 8 x 8 grid with a dragon depicted in the center.

Truth be told, Dragons of Kir, it turns out, is actually a rehash of an earlier (and entirely mediocre) strategy game called Darter. Whereas Darter was wise enough to realize that simplicity is critical when it comes to a game that demands that players control 4 characters each and every turn, Kir seems to enjoy creating a fairly overwhelming slew of responsibilities to consider nearly constantly.

Before I get ahead of myself, though, let me start at the beginning. Each player (always 2) controls a tent in the opposite corners of the battlefield. Unlike most games, the players’ pawns never move in the game. Rather, the 4 dragons on the board each move 1 space on their respective paths each turn. The goal of the game, through tile placement, is to get any one of the 4 dragons to make contact with your opponent’s tent. Simple enough a goal except that the player has to work with 14 unique tiles, each of which affects a dragon’s path differently. Some turn the beast 180 degrees, others just 90. Some pull a dragon certain directions while others repel them. To further complicate matters, some work only upon impact (meaning the dragon has to touch them) while others function according to proximity. Worse still is that some proximity pieces affect a total of eight spaces, others just one or two, some in one direction, others all around. Knowing each and every tile’s precise effect is absolutely critical in playing the game and quite frankly, after a few rounds, I found it very difficult to keep everything straight. Part of the problem stems from the fact that many of the pieces look incredibly similar and none are labeled so having a strong grasp of what they do is absolutely necessary. There is a reference sheet included (why aren’t there 2, one for each player?) but even it takes up two full sides of the paper so calling it handy during battle is really pushing it.

Finally, and to put the final nail in the game’s proverbial coffin, the board itself is said to have no real borders but rather extends clean on to the opposite side like taking one of those escape tunnels in Pac-Man. What all of this adds up to is sheer confusion for the first few times through and a gradual dislike in subsequent sessions.

Let me describe my own first round: Before long the field was littered with tiles, placed by both players and each time we attempted to move the 4 dragons, as is required for each turn of play, it was several return sessions with the rulebook and reference chart to figure out exactly how each tile affected the paths. The trouble was that it was often quite impossible to figure out which of two opposing pieces got precedent in a given situation or how two dragons converging on the same square would work.

Even after these discrepancies forced us to begin again, new and sometimes daunting situations began to surface that literally halted the game in its tracks. Many of these involved the fact that the board is continuous (borderless) and tile powers should then theoretically extend right on over to the opposite side of the board. It wasn’t long before we were mired in tile conflicts and loops where a dragon would keep circling indefinitely.

Let us for a moment pretend that being forced to abandon half a dozen games due to these complications wasn’t frustrating enough and point the finger of blame at the true culprit here: There is simply too much to consider each and every round of play and it never feels intuitive or natural. Some games (like Drakon) make you keep track of dozens of symbols but they do it in such a way that it feels intuitive after even only a few rounds of play. Perhaps Dragons of Kir could boast the same quality if not for the fact that each player is attempting to keep track not only of the specific powers and range of each tile being placed, but also four dragons and their paths, as well as any tiles that are already scattered about. Maybe some players eventually come to terms with all of these factors as indicated by the fact that the box claims an average game should last merely 15 minutes. I, however, found the sheer volume of material to keep straight too cumbersome and the play dynamics far too cobby (and undefined) to be entertaining.

In all, Dragons of Kir attempts some lofty but admirable goals in attaining the type of status generally reserved for the classics- chess, mahjong, backgammon and so on but fails in the single-most important area of truly achieving classic status: simplicity. When rounds are frequently stopped to debate the movement of each of the four dragons and the reference sheet has to come into play nearly constantly just to complete a game, the goal of timeless intuitive brilliance has become futile.
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Hillsborough
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Wow, I couldn't disagree more! It's possible, of course, that a big problem is components: I've never played with this version (which I've never seen), only the nicer original one (all wood components). With that version, I had absolutely no difficulty distinguishing pieces from one another. As for the rules: to me, the dragon movement seemed very clear, and I thought the player pieces were also very well done -- I enjoyed the style, and thought they conveyed the meaning of the pieces quite well. I own Darter, but would love to trade it for the wooden Dragons of Kir!
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Jason Rider
United States
New York
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I played Darter years ago and don't recall having the difficulties I experienced with Dragons of Kir and I assumed it was because the special power pieces were better marked/ easier to identify. Although it does seem there is mush praise for, as you mentioned, the wooden variation of this game.

I'm far from a DofK expert but really didn't jive with having to review the book often to figure out what powers did what and which range, a problem further compounded by the game board and its endless loop system.

Thanks for the feedback, though, just because the game didn't appeal to my style, doesn't make me foolishly believe there aren't countless fans who will enjoy it. The game has quite a strong reputation, which I'm certain it earned.
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