Arena Review: Dragon’s Hoard

Everyone is always trying to slay the dragon. I don’t really mean that figuratively, though it certainly works. I mean literally. Look through the fantasy genre and see how many characters define their very existence by the struggle to hunt down and kill one (or more) of those winged beasts (of varying colors). Games are no different. So, what if a game turned that idea on its head and let you play as the dragon. Would you be interested? Of course.

Suggested Ages: 8+
Suggested Players: 2 to 4 players
Playing time: 20 to 40 minutes
Contents: 95 playing cards, rulebook, Kickstarter exclusive: Unicorn promo action cards.
Retail price: $20, available on Amazon.

Enter Dragon’s Hoard, the Kickstarter funded card game that places you firmly in the role of a fire breathing, gold hording, winged beast out to claim all the lavish treasures and sheep (dragons gotta eat) in the land.

The game is mostly successful in its delivery. The artwork is uniformly outstanding, and was the primary focus of most of the funding stretch goals. What started as a few well made art pieces has turned into a wealth of commissioned works that gives the deck of cards a pristine quality as well as variety. The dragons themselves are pretty impressive and all uniquely designed. While there isn’t a mechanical difference between any of the colors, players can at least feel like they aren’t playing carbon copies of each other.

Gameplay-wise, Dragon’s Hoard is simple to learn and has enough depth to the strategy not to become tedious. Players draw a few cards each turn, looking to collect enough cards of a certain color (red, yellow, blue, purple, and orange) to be able to pay for treasures. Players then discard the required number of cards (or “sheep” since that’s what adorns the back of each card) in color and quantity to place the treasure in front of them. A player can also find a dragon’s den card that rewards you with bonuses for acquiring multiple treasures of one color. Treasures have different costs and give different point values accordingly, and the game ends when one player has placed their tenth treasure down. Then, points are calculated and  winner is declared.

If you’ve ever played Seven Wonders or Ticket to Ride, the drawing and payment mechanics should be incredibly familiar to you. There are some “action cards” which affect gameplay in small ways like skipping turns, or allowing you to draw additional cards, but none of them are true game changers. Kickstarter backers gained “unicorn” cards as an exclusive, which allow you to protect yourself from attacks briefly. Still, the game settles, rather quickly, into a comforting affair of hoping for certain colors to appear and quickly changing strategies to accommodate your opponent trying to monopolize one color.

All is not perfect, and while the game remains fun and certainly playable, some of the missteps hold it back from being a showstopping starter. First is that games take entirely too long. While the play time is estimated at around 20 minutes, even a three player game definitely takes much longer, primarily since you can only score once per turn. In the early rounds this isn’t an issue, but once you’ve stored up some action cards and figured out your strategy, chances are you’ll be able to drop multiple treasures in a turn, but you can’t.

There are a couple typos in the rule book, and even worse a few instances omissions that makes figuring out the game difficult. For instance, the rule-book references rounds and turns, but never actually explains how/when a round ends, when the player token passes, and what that means when headed toward the end game. That information is presented only on the “first player card”, which is confusing until you finally stumble upon it half-way through your first game. It doesn’t ruin the proceedings, but the omission from the rule book is a tad frustrating.

Finally, there’s the deck itself. While the artwork and design are great, the blue and purple hues are very close to one another. Also, the coloring on each card extends to the edge and bleeds over each card. This means that even in a tight stack, you can pretty much pick out the color of each card based on the bleed along the edge. This ruins a bit of the strategy and mystery, effectively telling everyone when certain colors will enter the field and in what quantity. Again, not a game breaker by any means, but for a game that has a relatively discreet set of strategies, removing even the slightest bit of mystery or randomness cheapens the experience.

When I backed Dragon’s Hoard, I was more or less expecting a small game that might serve as a nice opener to a game night or a palette cleanser during a break between more complex games. The flavor of finally being able to play the dragon rather than simply hunt one was intriguing and the artwork showed promise. On all of those accounts, the game succeeded. While it probably won’t be an instant pull when the question of “what do we play?” comes up, the simple strategy and basic play makes it the type of game that rounds out a collection, even if it never becomes one of the highlights.

Pros

Great artwork and diverse designs.

Pick up and play mechanics.

Who doesn’t love the idea of being a dragon?

Cons

Inconsistencies and minor omissions with the rulebook.

Games seem to run a bit long given the type of game.

Trim on card design reveals what should be hidden information.

Dragon’s Hoard is currently available wherever games are sold, and on Amazon.