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Review – Dragon Delta [thumbsdown thumbsdown thumbsdown thumbsdown]

In Vietnam, a traditional rite of passage has young men crossing the Mekong Delta. This is a race, and the first one to get to the opposite side wins. Unfortunately, something happened on the way from Europe to North America, and the Mekong Delta became the Dragon Delta, and now there’s some sort of dragon living in the water.



Dragon Delta is a game by Roberto Fraga, published by Eurogames. It comes in the standard Eurogames square box. The nice linen box is filled with mostly air, with the usual cardboard insert dominating the middle of the box. The nice, four-fold board is linen-finished with vibrant colors. The player pawns and flat, circular grey ‘stones’ are made of wood. The ‘planks’ are made of thick cardboard. Finally, the game comes with some smallish command cards for the players. On the whole, the package is very nice.

The Game

Dragon Delta is a programmed race game. Players choose five cards each turn, and then execute the commands one at a time in player order. The first player to reach the island opposite his starting position wins.

There are six islands placed around the edges of the game board. Each player starts on his own island, and his target island lies across a body of water that has several little outcroppings of ground scattered around it. The player needs to make his way across.

To do that, he has to place stones on the islands to serve as anchoring points for his planks. Then, he has to lay a plank of sufficient length to get from his starting island to the first stone, and then to the succeeding stones. The other players do the same until there is a veritable web of planks spanning the delta.

All of this work is accomplished by each player choosing commands from a set of personal cards. Players have cards to place stones (2), place planks (2), move their player pawn (3), remove a stone or plank (1), and nullify the actions of other players (5). From this set of 13 cards (assuming a six-player game), each player chooses five cards and lays them face down in front of him, in the order he wants them executed. Thus there are five rounds of actions per turn. Once all players are ready, the starting player flips open his first card and executes that action. Then the second player follows, until all players have executed their first action. The start player then does his second action, and the other players follow. This continues until all the players have executed their five actions. The start player pawn then passes to the next player, and the choosing of five cards is repeated.

Five of each player’s cards are colored dragons, the dragons matching the colors of the other players. If a player plays a dragon, he nullifies the action of the corresponding player for that round. A player can only play one dragon per turn.

When a player places a stone, that stone may no longer be moved unless it is removed by an action card. The stone may not be removed if there is a plank anchored on it. One of the small outcroppings may only support one stone.



Each player has six planks or differing lengths. When playing a plank, he must choose one of the planks in his supply and play it onto the supporting stones without pre-measurement. If it’s not long enough, then the plank may not be played in that spot. The player must find another place to play the plank or lose the plank. One stone can only support up to three planks. When placing a plank, it should be placed flat on the stone “when possible”.

One of the command cards allows a player to take a plank. He may take a plank of any color, as long as he only has one of each length of plank, and he cannot have more than two colors of planks (including his own) in his supply. He also cannot take a plank if there’s a pawn on it.

When moving, a player must fulfill the move indicated by his played card. If his is unable to do so for any reason, he falls into the water and must return to his start island and try again. I don’t know why the dragon, which eats any s that fall into the water, won’t eat the player.

The first player to get to his target island wins the game.

Strategy

Dragon Delta is supposedly a game of bluff and doublethink. With so much chaos, it’s nigh impossible get any kind of results from planning. Strategy? Just getting your first two actions in a turn to work the way you envisioned is a Sisyphian task.

Reviewer’s Tilt

First off, the theme of the game is really strange. You’re young men racing to get across the delta, right? How then are you able to place stones anywhere on the board? How do your guys take a plank from across the board? And how do you happen to be carrying six planks on your back? Finally, there must be some sort of magic involved somewhere, as it is not clear how these young men cancel each others’ actions. Do they chuck pastrami sandwiches at each other, which they can’t avoid eating due to the strain of carrying six planks around?

On to the mechanisms. Dragon Delta has some interesting ideas applied to the “programmed action” mechanism. Unfortunately, some of them just don’t work.



The first and most glaring is the dexterity “sub-game” of placing planks on stones. Since no one wants to lose a plank, players tend to choose long planks to anchor on the stones. Three ends of overly-long planks anchored on a stone tend to result in the topmost plank end falling off the stone at the slightest bump, upsetting a section of the board (especially if there was a pawn standing on that plank). Even worse, if someone plays the “remove plank” action and tries to take the bottom-most plank on a stone, there’s no way to do it without wrecking a whole section of the board. Imagine a plank that’s at the bottom of a stack of three plank-ends on both anchoring stones. How the heck are you supposed to take the plank without devastating that section of the board?

The plank idea is interesting, but the execution is a failure.

Then we have the programming. Five actions per turn is too much. Most other programming games stick to three actions. There’s a reason for that. Choosing blind actions takes a bit of guesswork. The first guess has a reasonable chance of being successful. Each succeeding guess built on the first has a lower probability of doing something productive or expected. By the time the third guess comes around, the board will look nothing like anyone planned on unless they were very lucky. The fourth and fifth actions are akin to sewage thrown at a ceiling fan – no one has any idea where it’s going to end up. All you know is that there is a high probability of random stinkage.

There’s also the element of directed “take that”. The null cards are another interesting idea, but in a game that’s already chaotic, they’re an unnecessary injection of direct screwage that makes the entire game a total schmozz. With up to five other players to screw, and five different actions to choose from to screw, and up to five other players who can choose to screw you, there’s just no way to use the null cards productively unless there’s a player that’s one step away from winning. By then, the game’s already in the toilet.

What eventually happens is that players take the first two turns to place stones and planks, and maybe move a space or two. Some players will start using the null cards just because they like the screwage. After two turns, the board is a mess of planks which tend to topple over. Come the third turn, players pour on movement, nulls and plank removal randomly, hoping that when their turn to move comes around they’ll be able to go somewhere in the general direction of their target island. The players have to tolerate repeatedly fixing up the board after some planks are removed. Some players fall into the drink, so move a bit, some move a lot. However, there’s no difference between the results of the guy who takes fifteen minutes to plan his sequence of moves, and the guy who chooses his actions randomly. If that’s the case then what’s the point? Everyone just choose some random non-plank, non-stone actions and let’s see the results. Better yet, let’s just play something else.

In the end, Dragon Delta is a pointless exercise. I don’t mind light games with doses of luck, chaos and screwage, but this game has too much of everything. It’s not even relatively short or light! There’s no satisfaction in winning since you know it isn’t due to anything you did in particular. It just ended up that way. Dragon Delta, sadly, just does not work.



Fawkes (4/3/2005)
 
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Brian Newman
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Re:User Review
Fawkes (#466670),

Interesting review! I would dispute all of the things that you call "broken", though.

- Bluffing and second-guessing does work, or it seems to when I do it and when other players do it to me;
- I've never seen anyone actually lose a plank by not placing their stones well enough (and it's part of the strategy to use your "take planks" card to grab long plans from your opponents);
- The theme, sure, isn't that deep, but I have lots of games in my collection with bigger theme problems (and if there are dragons to eat you, why can't there be plank-laying magic?);
- Three actions would make the "cancel action" dragon cards immensely powerful;
- The "null cards" do work extremely productively, I've found: canceling someone's action at a critical point is part of the strategy, as is trying to plan your action sequence around the fact that someone is likely to cancel your action at a particular critical point;
- Planks randomly toppling over: I've never seen that happen;
- Pointless exercise: most games are pretty pointless. How is Tigris & Euphrates more productive in your daily life than Dragon Delta is?

 
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Brett Myers
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Re:User Review
Interesting review. I like Dragon Delta much more than you did, but I do agree that it's a pretty chaotic game. I like the fiddliness, chaos and screwage. Sometime I don't need to accomplish much to have fun.


A couple of things I'd like to point out:

First to Brian - Fawkes' review doesn't claim that any of those things are broken. They just don't work for him.

Second - the name was changed for the American market, if I remember correctly, to prevent any negative associations with the Vietnam War. The Mekong Delta saw some heavy action, didn't it?

The third thing I might mention is that all players reveal their cards simultaneously, but take their actions in turn order. This allows Dragons to cancel people earlier in the turn order (but you probably played it that way, already).

Good review, though.
 
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Marc Kob
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Re:User Review
Fawkes (#466670),

I'm curious as to what number of people were in your playing sessions. 3? 6? I most often play it with 3 and find it rather light and under 45 minutes if not even 30, you seem to think its long.

I also haven't experienced the messing up the entire board when removing a plank problem, and am wondering if your playing with 6, which might explain some of the reasons for your dislike which I have not found in my own play.
 
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Thanks for the comments Brian, Brett and Mark. I'll take them in order.

Note: We played this game with 5/6 players.

Quote:
Blackberry wrote:
- Bluffing and second-guessing does work, or it seems to when I do it and when other players do it to me;


I don't quite know how to respond to this. With 4 or 5 other players, and 5 action card slots, how you do this consistently? Care to elaborate?

Quote:
- I've never seen anyone actually lose a plank by not placing their stones well enough (and it's part of the strategy to use your "take planks" card to grab long plans from your opponents);


We have. More than once.

Quote:
- The theme, sure, isn't that deep, but I have lots of games in my collection with bigger theme problems (and if there are dragons to eat you, why can't there be plank-laying magic?);


It's not the depth. It's the consistency. I like themes to be consistent. And I was under the impression that since the game is based on a real place (the Mekong Delta) the ritual as presented attempts to be realistic.

Quote:
- Three actions would make the "cancel action" dragon cards immensely powerful;


I'm not saying that the game should have only three actions; I'm saying that with five, the last two are crapshoots since 15 to 24 actions have already occurred that turn before those come into play.

Quote:
- The "null cards" do work extremely productively, I've found: canceling someone's action at a critical point is part of the strategy, as is trying to plan your action sequence around the fact that someone is likely to cancel your action at a particular critical point;


Of course you'd need to identify that particular "critical point". And plan for five other people cancelling you at all five points. I think using the word "plan" is a bit of a stretch here.

Quote:
- Planks randomly toppling over: I've never seen that happen;


Not randomly. When placing a plank, and most definitely when removing a plank buried under two other planks at both ends, most especially when the other planks that the target plank is buried under are supporting pawns.

[q]- Pointless exercise: most games are pretty pointless. How is Tigris & Euphrates more productive in your daily life than Dragon Delta is?[/i]

You miss the point completely. It's a pointless exercise because you spend more time fixing up the collapsed plank network, and you have next to no control over what happens in the game. What does this have to do with daily life? We're talking about choosing what game to play here.
 
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Re:User Review
Quote:
disclamer wrote:
First to Brian - Fawkes' review doesn't claim that any of those things are broken. They just don't work for him.


I think Brian is referring to my comment and my rating of 2. he's right. I'm calling Dragon Delta unplayable, at least for 5 and 6 players.

Quote:
Second - the name was changed for the American market, if I remember correctly, to prevent any negative associations with the Vietnam War. The Mekong Delta saw some heavy action, didn't it?


This is what I'm referring to, yes.

Quote:
The third thing I might mention is that all players reveal their cards simultaneously, but take their actions in turn order. This allows Dragons to cancel people earlier in the turn order (but you probably played it that way, already).


The nulls are not taken in turn order. When someone plays a null on you, it kicks in regardless of turn order. Say, the fifth player in turn order plays a null on the first player on a particular action, the null kicks in. I'm sure about this because we had to look it up both times we played the game.
 
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Re:User Review
As stated we played with 5 and 6 players. After the second turn, the whole board was a mess of planks, which made it next to impossible to dig a stolen plank out from under the other planks without wrecking the plank network. We managed it a few times with some reconstruction, but in the end the whole exercise wasn't worth it.

Quote:
Moon Knight wrote:
I'm curious as to what number of people were in your playing sessions. 3? 6? I most often play it with 3 and find it rather light and under 45 minutes if not even 30, you seem to think its long.

I also haven't experienced the messing up the entire board when removing a plank problem, and am wondering if your playing with 6, which might explain some of the reasons for your dislike which I have not found in my own play.
 
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Re:User Review
disclamer (#467163),

The review seems to say that the game is a pointless exercise that doesn't work. He didn't say that he didn't like it; he said the game didn't work.
 
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Brian Newman
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Re:User Review
Quote:

Blackberry wrote:
- Bluffing and second-guessing does work, or it seems to when I do it and when other players do it to me;


I don't quite know how to respond to this. With 4 or 5 other players, and 5 action card slots, how you do this consistently? Care to elaborate?


Oh, I don't think you can do it consistently. I think you need to pick and choose when you second-guess and third-guess your opponents, and when we play, there's a lot of psychology that you build up in prior rounds in order to do this.

Quote:
- I've never seen anyone actually lose a plank by not placing their stones well enough (and it's part of the strategy to use your "take planks" card to grab long plans from your opponents);

We have. More than once.


Well, I think it's part of the strategy of the game to have the planks in your plank pool that you will need to use to cross the distances that you want to cross, or else plan your stones around the planks that you do have available.

Quote:
- The theme, sure, isn't that deep, but I have lots of games in my collection with bigger theme problems (and if there are dragons to eat you, why can't there be plank-laying magic?);

It's not the depth. It's the consistency. I like themes to be consistent. And I was under the impression that since the game is based on a real place (the Mekong Delta) the ritual as presented attempts to be realistic.


That's fair.

Quote:
- Three actions would make the "cancel action" dragon cards immensely powerful;

I'm not saying that the game should have only three actions; I'm saying that with five, the last two are crapshoots since 15 to 24 actions have already occurred that turn before those come into play.


Ah. I think that's really up to the player. You can place your most important actions first and then tack on two throwaway actions at the end if it helps you plan. I find it necessary to sometimes plan my most important actions in the fourth and fifth slots. A lot of that is dependent upon which actions I'm predicting that the other players are going to do and in what order; if another player must place stones, then must place planks, then I can try to predict whether or not they will place my dragon in the fourth and fifth slots on that round.

Quote:
- The "null cards" do work extremely productively, I've found: canceling someone's action at a critical point is part of the strategy, as is trying to plan your action sequence around the fact that someone is likely to cancel your action at a particular critical point;

Of course you'd need to identify that particular "critical point". And plan for five other people cancelling you at all five points. I think using the word "plan" is a bit of a stretch here.


I suppose it's just my group. When a particular player needs stopping, many of the players play that player's dragon at once. A clever player can sneak an action in on that phase while everyone else is cancelling or cancelled.

Quote:
[/i]- Planks randomly toppling over: I've never seen that happen;[/i]

Not randomly. When placing a plank, and most definitely when removing a plank buried under two other planks at both ends, most especially when the other planks that the target plank is buried under are supporting pawns.


I guess it's not specifically in the rules, but we allow a player to stabilize the planks on top of it. We didn't find anything in the rules that says that planks that fall when you're trying to take a plank out from under them are gone too.

Quote:
- Pointless exercise: most games are pretty pointless. How is Tigris & Euphrates more productive in your daily life than Dragon Delta is?

You miss the point completely. It's a pointless exercise because you spend more time fixing up the collapsed plank network, and you have next to no control over what happens in the game. What does this have to do with daily life? We're talking about choosing what game to play here.


Of course you should choose games that are going to be fun for you. But just because a game isn't fun for you doesn't mean it doesn't work.

 
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Re:User Review
Fawkes (#467441),

Right on Fawkes!

I'm usually a fan of light, stupid games. I even like games that are pointless exercises sometimes. However, I thought this game blew big chunks and should be burned!
 
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