I am a dragon nerd. If there is something with a dragon on it, I’m definitely interested. If a board game has a dragon on the cover plus dragon meeples inside? It’s a no-brainer purchase. Add to the fact that I found my copy at a local resale shop (all components present and accounted for) and it’s a triple win. But how does the game actually play? Is it fun and not just fun to look at?
In this post I’ll provide my first impressions of Dragon Island based on only one play. I’ll have a more in-depth review coming after I’ve had a chance to play it more.
When I first read the rules, Dragon Island reminded me a lot of Takenoko which is one of my favorite games. In Takenoko you can place tiles to expand a garden, your gardener can grow bamboo, or the panda can eat the bamboo (nom nom nom). At first glance, Dragon Island has some similar mechanics. You place tiles to grow the island and certain patterns of tiles earn you points. Parts of the island spawn (grow) dragons! Dragons can be captured or tamed (like eating the bamboo). All of those feel quite familiar.
Despite the apparent similarities, when we sat down to actually play the game it turned out to be quite different. There are eight actions for your turn, which must follow a specific order. (Not all actions are mandatory.) The first thing you do is place a new terrain tile for the island which generates energy (mana) for later use. That’s a mandatory step. Following that you might place dragons (if there is an empty dragon slot) or pay gold to move a dragon (optional). Then your wizard has to move. If you encounter a dragon, you must deal with it in some fashion. You can take an optional action based on the tile where you ended your move. Finally you draw a tile to replace the one you played to start your turn.
It sounds like a lot of steps! But in reality, even as we were learning the game each turn did not take long. There were a couple of times we did the actions out of order but we figured that out, backed up, and replayed the turn.
The ultimate goal is to get famous! You earn fame by capturing dragons or building structures or finding treasure. (The “find treasure” option is still a little hard for me to explain because it has nothing to do with treasure and everything to do with creating a specific combination of terrain tiles.)
The game components are really good! The tiles are thick and feel substantial in your hand. The energy cubes are translucent plastic cubes. The wizard and dragon meeples look really nice.
As we played, we started to understand the “how” of things…but we struggled with strategy or “why” we would take certain actions. We didn’t get the concept of a dragon pen or lair. There are five lairs (one for each color of dragon) but only four pens (one for each wizard). The distinction wasn’t clear as to why we should build one.
Dragon pens seem to be a difficult concept, as that was easily the most popular topic for a question in the Rules forum at BoardGameGeek.com. I didn’t feel too bad when I realized it wasn’t just me. 🙂
I enjoyed the game. My wife just seemed frustrated, but part of that was probably because I asked her to play with me when she was in the middle of reading a book. I think now that we have been through the game once and I’ve caught up on the rules clarifications I will be able to explain it better, and we’ll have more fun next time!
Because. Dragons. Dragons are cool.