When I was first offered the opportunity to review Dream Catchers, I was particularly enthused. A game about protecting a young child from bad dreams by taking on the role of fantastical animals battling nightmares? This is the type of family-friendly theme that I love, and I thought my girlfriend would too. Upon seeing the beautiful art on offer in the game, it had me hook, line and sinker. Just a couple of days later, a package rocked up at my door, and I opened up the “prototype”, only to be greeted with what seemed like a ready for retail game. What did I end up thinking of it, you ask?
Well, for starters, after reading the rules, I was a bit…skeptical. The gameplay of Dream Catchers is simple. Although the game states there are four actions you can do on your turn (as well as your character’s own special power), really there are just two: swap cards between your hand and another player’s, or discard cards to do something (acquire a good dream, defeat a bad dream, or try and defeat a monster). You can take two actions on your turn (as well as use your character ability as much as you wish) after which you must refill the dreamscape, a unique grid of nine cards filled with both good and bad dreams. When refilling, you may reveal new bad dreams, which go on the offensive and try to link up with other, similar nightmares. If they do, the child your protecting starts having a restless sleep, and more cards flood into the dreamscape.
The objective of the game is to give the child all the good dreams you possibly can before either morning comes, three monsters pop up under the bed, or too many nightmares plague their dreams. With just two actions a turn and only 14 turns in the game (for the basic board, at least), it’s not a particularly long game, with our first play-through lasting around thirty minutes. I was very concerned that the game was just not going to last long enough at all, and that there wasn’t going to be much for me to do throughout the game. After all, I’d only be getting 3 or 4 turns consisting of 2 actions. That meant I was going to be doing between 6-8 actions in the game. Was that really going to be enough to keep me interested?
And yet, despite my skepticism and my doubts, I finished my first game of Dream Catchers, and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. For starters, as I’ve mentioned before, the art was absolutely gorgeous. It reminds me substantially of that found in Dixit, where I’m able to get lost in a whimsical world of wonders. Both the dreams and the nightmares are marvellously illustrated, and I had a lot of fun just looking through all the different cards.
In addition to that, despite the minimal number of actions available to you on your turn, there is more than enough to think about. What constituted my favourite part of the game was trading cards with other players. You see, in order to be successful, you not only have to consider what helps you, but also what helps the other player. This is a bit of a twist on trading that I personally haven’t experienced in a game before. Normally, trading is limited to competitive games, where ultimately one player is going to benefit more than the other, and you’re trying to drive the hardest bargain possible. In cooperative games, “trading” is often one-sided, with one player giving the other something to help them. For example, in Pandemic, you’ll often have to hand your cards to other players, but you won’t receive anything in return.
The card swap in Dream Catchers really made me feel like I was a member of a team. I couldn’t just take what I needed and give away trash; I needed to ensure that all players involved in the trade came out with the tools needed to protect the child. Sometimes, all you can do on your turn is help your teammates prepare best for theirs, and it feels good to help each other. This is exactly the feeling cooperative games should give off, and Dream Catchers captured it wonderfully in just a single mechanism.
The player powers are fairly unique and surprisingly useful. In our first game, all three of our powers were crucial in securing the win (we won by the narrowest of margins). Everyone at the table had a chance to feel useful and special, which was wonderful. Our victory definitely felt like the product of good teamwork instead of just one awesome character carrying us.
It’s not all bliss in Dream Catcher land, however. The game makes no effort to solve the quarterback/alpha gamer problem so prevalent in cooperative games. Effectively, a single player could make all the decisions in the game and lead everyone to victory. In addition to this problem, one of the players in our first game had difficulty understanding how the Dreamscape worked. With so many potential cards drawn and links made in a turn, it can be rather chaotic at times, and I can empathise with their confusion.
Overall, I was impressed enough with Dream Catchers that I’ll be happily holding onto my copy of it. There are several different boards to play on that offer unique challenges, and it plays quickly, making it great for younger audiences. Top that off with great art and beautiful custom components (I didn’t mention these earlier but the laser cut custom wood bits are gorgeous) and you have a winner. While Dream Catchers doesn’t break any new ground in the genre, it is a solid addition to the industry and will bring smiles and fun to many family tables.
Dream Catchers will be heading to Kickstarter this month (January 2018), check out the official website here – https://www.dreamcatchersgame.com/
Official Trailer –