Maybe it’s because I work in early childhood education and care day to day, but I’ve got a soft spot for games that can be enjoyed by younger players as well as cause absolute chaos with players my own age. Baby Dragon Bedtime is, to quote designer Steve Dee, a ‘real time deck building game’. Now you might read that and think that sounds like madness, can such a thing even be possible? Well I’m thankfully here to tell you that yes it most certainly can and boy oh boy can it be a blast.
So like with any deck builder, players are all given identical cards to start the game. You shuffle your cards, set your starting deck down, then construct the play area. In most deck construction games, this involves carefully placing identical cards in piles in rows and columns. If you’ve ever seen Dominion or Tanto Cuore to name a few, you know what a deck building game looks like. Baby Dragon Bedtime doesn’t muck about with any of that nonsense. Here’s what the game looks like at set up.
It’s madness, and to top it off unlike many deck building games it isn’t just about knowing what the best choice is. You might notice that all these cards look kind of alike on the reverse. Cards can get flipped up, flipped down, picked up and put down, meaning it’s a solid mix of luck, skill and memory that guide you to victory here. I’m the kind of person that rejoices when a random table is introduced into my war gaming, so perhaps a small part of my heart rejoiced when this game included the same. Sure it takes table to mean something different than usual but I’ll cop that.
Gameplay is rather simple on the surface. Reveal your top card, decided if you want to resolve it’s effect, do so if you do, discard it either way then move on to your next card. I mentioned before ‘real time’, but I think ‘semi-automatic deck building’ might be more appropriate. Baby Dragon Bedtime moves at the speed of you, the player. Which gets concerning when you’ve got three people sitting at a table who all move at vastly different speeds. But remember memory is part of the game, knowing what is where can be valuable, knowing who has revealed what cards can be game changing. So it’s not the most effective strategy to blitz fast through and focus only on your own cards. You need awareness of everything around you. All the time. For a small box there’s an awful lot going on at the table here.
Cards clearly explain their purpose, making the mechanics of each card nice and simple. Simple cards mean less time spent reading them to know how to use them, which means faster gameplay. Your basic cards give you points, take points away, flip a card over, look at a card or take one. More advanced cards can swap your deck with someone else’s, discard everyone’s cards or even bring an early end to the game. When you’re confident in what you’ve gathered, you can end your game, ‘going to sleep atop your mighty hoard’. People stop being able to mess with your deck, but you lose the chance to earn extra points later on. The game ends if everyone sleeps, no cards remain to pick up or someone summons Mama to bring the nighttime’s play to an early end.
So I played with younger children, which admittedly gave me just about every advantage I could ask for and my victory should have been swift and merciless. But never doubt a child’s ability to understand a game. Ever. Especially if it lets them lord it over you. I got greedy, lapped up points left right and centre, got deck swapped by one child and game ended by the other. So that’s what I love about well designed family games. The mechanics favour me in every aspect. I move faster, I read faster, I understand rules better. But that doesn’t mean I have to win. A frantic game where any moment could decide it is exactly what you look for when trying to engage younger audiences while still keeping the game exciting for older players. And then, of course, you need eye catching art too.
Luke Parsons designed some adorable dragons for Baby Dragon Bedtime, and the cartoony aesthetic is exactly the kind of bright pop of colour you need to make each card instantly recognisable. It doesn’t take long to know what a card will do based off remembering the art instead of reading the info bar at the bottom, and the game is concise enough you can easily manage that within a few times playing. There’s comedy in the cards too, and they paint a fun little story about siblings who just do not want to go to bed without the biggest pile to sleep on.
So my final verdict, Baby Dragon Bedtime is hectic fun for really anyone to give a shot. I think in family houses this will find itself a big hit, but I’ve played other hectic games with my adult friends and reckon we could give a big game a shot and have a lot of fun over drinks. Steve designed the very first game I reviewed on ATGN (more on that soon) and I’ve since strongly enjoyed his work. I wasn’t 100% sure what looked like a kids game would be right for every table, but having played it, I am sure any of you can find room on the shelf for this little gem.
Want to know more? Keen to pick up a copy for yourself? Head on over to the official website here – https://www.tinstargames.com/baby-dragon-bedtime.html
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I was the lead writer for the online game War of Ninja for the duration of its life, but went on to have boring, normal people jobs when the website closed. Normal people jobs are no fun though, so I've contented myself with countless miniature wargames, card games of varying ilks, board games and a borderline terrifying range of Roleplaying Games. These days I judge for the Dragon Ball Super Card Game, play whatever flavour of RPG my mates are down for, and sneak in some 40k when I can. Some might think I have too many hobbies, and they're probably right, but it means I write the best stuff I can for you, dear reader, so who really loses here?