Dragonwood


April 21, 2020

Introduction

Dragonwood is a fantasy game, in which you explore the eponymous Dragonwood battling wild creatures and discovering enchantments. To aid you in your quest, you have a hand of adventurer cards. The cards are one of five suits and have a number from 1 - 12. Each turn you can draw a new adventurer card or try to defeat a creature or win an enchantment with one of three actions.

You carry out an action by discarding a set of adventurer cards that form a pattern. The actions and their patterns are:

  • Strike: cards are consecutive numbers (e.g. 7, 8, 9)
  • Stomp: cards are all the same number
  • Scream: cards are all the same colour
Dragonwood box

Each creature and enchantment has a strength against each action. Once you've discarded your cards you roll a number of dice equal to the number of cards in your pattern (which can be one). You then add up the dice, and if you equal or exceed your target's strength you take it. Each creature you defeat gains you points, while enchantments give you bonuses for later battles. The game ends when the game's two dragons are defeated or you go through the adventurer deck twice. The winner is the player with the most points.

I might have made it sound more complicated that it is. Once you start playing, it is very simple. The game has a suggested age range of 8+, but several reviews I saw suggested it was suitable for six year olds. I bought it for my son's sixth birthday and he picked up the rules without a problem, so I agree. Having said that, we have so far with played with our hands showing so we can discuss strategy.

Educational value

Dragonwood is not sold as an educational game, but it is packed full of mathematics. A key part of the game is finding different patterns in your cards. Once you've found the patterns, you want to know which overlap, and which are distinct (so you can use both). It's also useful u to think about how likely is it that a pattern will expand if you draw a card? The question of which action - strike, stomp or scream - is easiest to get is one I'm still thinking about.

A hand of adventurer cards

The game also involves a lot of arithmetic practise. The dice only have numbers 1 - 4, so the numbers are small, but often you have to add three or more of them. In that case, there are strategies to group the dice in different ways to make the sum easier to calculate. Several enchantments add 1 or 2 to the value of your action, so it's useful to subtract this from a creature's strength to see much you need on the dice to defeat it. At the end of the game you have to total up the value of your creatures, which can prove a challenge.

The biggest part of the game is understanding probability. The dice are numbered with 1, 2, 2, 3, 3, and 4, which makes them slightly more predictable than standard dice. Most of the decisions you make in the game are something like, how likely am I to defeat a creature with strength 8 using three dice. You will have to decide whether it's better to use a two-dice stomp attack against a strength 5 creature or a three-dice strike attack against a strength of 7 beast.

Dragonwood dice

The strategy for game comes from weighing up the value of a certain victory against a small creature against a risky attack against a larger creature worth more points. When should you make a risky attack, and when should you wait a few turns to build up a bigger pattern? What the chance your opponent will nab the creature you have your eye on is you wait? And is it worth trying to win an enchantment that doesn't give you any points, but increases your chances of beating creature later on? These are not easy questions but are the core of Dragonwood. I hope that after playing several times, children (and adults) will have a much firmer grasp of what sorts of things are possible, which are risky, and which are likely to pay off.

Review

We have only had the game a few days, but my son and I have really enjoyed playing Dragonwood. The rules are simple, but the game fun, and there are many strategies. The cards and dice create randomness, and a large part of the game is about how to deal with this. This means that having a solid understanding of probability is a big advantage, but gives a weaker player a chance. Our first game felt a bit long, but that's probably because we discussed each turn too much, It's easy to adjust the length of a game by removing cards from the pack (though my son always wants to include all the cards).

In terms of game quality, I love the pictures on the card; they look great and have an element of humour. My son has enjoyed looking through the cards and inventing his own games with them. Even the dice look good, with marbling and a nice fantasy-style font for the numbers.

Example of three Dragonwood cards

The only negative point is that I found the cards to be quite flimsy, so easily scuffed by my three year old. Admittedly she shouldn't have been playing the cards, but I think standard card stock would have faired better. Overall however, we love the game, and it's got us thinking a lot about probabilities.

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