Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Dave Reviews: Scaly Treasure Throwdown

Greedy Dragons

Dragons want treasure! These dragons want each other's treasure. Or can't find more treasure? I thought dragons could smell treasure. Are they trapped in this cave? Isn't there enough to go around? Did I just ask dragons to share?

Greedy Dragons is a new take-that style card game from Evil Hat, and if the phrase 'take-that' made you want to click away from this review and forget the game exists, you may be right to do so. It's built for simplicity above deep strategy, and your only two goals in the game are to build your stash while reducing your opponents'.

Each player starts with five treasure chests and the beginning of a lair, with a supply of extra treasure in the middle of the table. Lair cards have two spaces each, and each lair can consist of four spaces. It's not as simple as having two cards next to each other, though. Lair cards can cover each other up in any way, as long as the lair itself never exceeds four spaces in width.

Spaces in the lair always have an icon consisting of an arrow or arrows, or treasure chests with plus or minus symbols. Every player holds two lair cards at a time and plays one each round. After each round, the directions on each lair are followed to add or subtract loot from each player. Arrows determine who is affected; they can be one or two spaces to the left or right, or a down arrow, which indicates the player who owns the lair. Treasure chest spaces come in plus or minus one or two varieties. If there are multiple players targeted by the arrows on a given lair, all of them are fully affected by the treasure chest symbols (e.g. if arrows indicate both the players seated one and two spots to the left of a lair, along with plus two chests, each player takes two chests from the supply). If there are pluses and minuses in the same lair, the total is calculated before any chests move.

Player order becomes very important later in the game, especially if a lot of plus-chest cards are on the board, because if the supply is empty, you can't take anything, but you can definitely be forced to give some back. One thing about the game that takes the edge off its take-that nature is that there are quite a few plus-chest cards; even with maximum players, not the entire lair deck is used, so it's entirely possible that players will need to work around giving their opponents as few chests as possible rather than try to take them away because the cards that would let them do so aren't coming up.

There's one decision the designers made that I don't want to second-guess too much, since I have no idea what their playtesting was like, but which I question all the same: the rule that you can't look at your treasure chests. If this was some kind of a time-based game, working within the concept that these dragons are rushing to collect as many chests as they can and don't have time to see what's in them, that would make more sense, but it's strategic and slower (though the game doesn't take long to play). More importantly, there's one chest with a magic ring worth ten, and if two people have similar stacks, whoever has the ring is going to win. That's the kind of thing you want to know and plan around. Maybe it would feel weird alongside the rule that you can't re-order your chests—they're last in, first out—but it seems less strange than not knowing at all what you have, and that knowledge could add a bit of a bluffing element to the game as well.

It's... fine. The designers had an idea, they made it function. Some people are going to love this, some are going to think it's trash, most will probably be fine with playing it here and there or using it as somewhat more mindful entertainment than television on a family trip.

Score: Seven dragon hoards out of twelve (I am the best dragon).

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