I managed to play a preview build of ‘Dragon Racer’ at Vault Game’s launch party. As the game’s Kickstarter has come online since then, I thought I should put up a quick preview.
The first thing that impressed me about the game was how gorgeous its art is. Myles O’Neill, one of the creators of the game, informed me that their company has an in-house artist that is handling all the art assets. Shortcomings and inconsistency of the quality of art has been a common weakness for indie tabletop projects, so this was a welcome quality assurance. I was also informed the the finished game will include far more dragon and character art, which I am looking forward to seeing.
The game centers around, as the name suggests, a Grand Prix of sorts for dragons, in which up to 8 players can be compete to get their team of dragons as far around the track as possible before the conclusion of the seventh turn. Before the game begins the track is set by putting down ten race track cards on the table. Four of these cards are always the same and are placed at the opposite ends of the circuit. After that three out of four ‘upper track’ cards are chosen at random and placed faced down as the upper track and then the same process is repeated for the ‘lower track’ cards.
After the track is set it’s time for the players to choose their characters. First thing I noticed is that there’s an even divide for the gender of the dragon racers, which is always nice to see. Currently there is only one art for all the characters but the Kickstarter is scheduled to give each character their own art. The core game is supposed to come with four characters, though a new fifth 2-sided character card has just been unlocked as a stretch goal on Kickstarter, so you will need two copies of the game to play the eight player variant. The characters have different abilities where their dragons gain a little boost every time a specific condition is met so if you can’t agree on who gets to be which legendary dragon racer you might have to hand those characters out at random. Each player will then be represented by a token on the track that is the colour of their chosen character.
After the characters are chosen everyone will be given three dragons each and a turn order at random and the game can begin. Each round begins with all of the players being given a certain number of dragons face down. Players then pick up their pile and ‘draft’ these dragons, which is a CCG terminology that means each player picks one card from their pile and then passes the rest of the pile to the next player. This is repeated until the pile run out. The point of these drafted dragons are to support your main three dragon team. The supporting dragon needs to contribute the top left symbol on their cards to the symbol requirement listed on the bottom right corner of the lead dragon. If all of the lead dragon’s symbol requirement are met, it then contributes the number listed on the bottom left to the total amount of movement you will be doing for this turn. So ideally you are attempting to activate as many of your three lead dragons to be able to go as far as you can each round. After you activate each dragons you can then swap out one of your lead dragons with a supporting dragon.
After all the players have activated their dragons, there is a special phase where each player counts out how many dragons they have from each exposed track. For each piece of track, the player with the most dragons gets to move a certain number further down the track. This is repeated until all the exposed tracks are accounted for and then the turn ends with all the player returning all of their supporting dragons. At this point, the next track card is flipped over and the dragons that represents are added to the draft pool. The round then begins again and all of the steps are repeated.
One of the appeals of Dragon Racer is how easy it is to learn. I can imagine even those without much board game experience would be able to grasp the basic rules in one or two rounds. That is not to say the game is simple, as I noticed a fair bit of strategy involved. The main source of strategic depth of the game come from the drafting aspect and how the player chooses what to draft and what to pass. While the main goal of the drafting is to support and activate your lead dragons, there are other factors you would need to pay attention to. As each track flipped adds another lot of dragons that share the same symbol as it to the the draft pool, you can determine what type of dragons are more common when you are making your drafting decisions. As the later tracks add dragons with special abilities you would then have to start choosing between abilities and support. There’s also the idea of drafting dragons you just want to keep out of other players hands. Between ability dragons and the fact that you have open knowledge of what the other players’ lead dragons are, there are plenty of opportunities to ‘hate draft’ in this manner. With all these factors to keep abreast of, Dragon Racer packs a lot of strategy into the simple and quick process of drafting.
Another appeal of Dragon Racer as a light and social game is the way it’s structured to allow big comebacks, meaning that one player is unable to dominate the whole game. Introductions of the dragons with abilities and raising the the bonus movement gained from having the most dragons on a particular piece of track as the game goes on allows for some big late game swings.
Currently, the Kickstarter has the estimated delivery of August 2015. When I talked to Myles regarding delivery, he informed me that he picked a conservative date in case the demand outstrips his initial plan to use a print-on-demand service and requires a Chinese printing company that can accommodate higher volume but needs more time. Considering the huge success of the Kickstarter, I’d say Myles made a good call in his conservative estimate. Kickstarter projects, especially tabletop ones, are starting to gain notoriety for severely overshooting their estimated delivery dates. Due to this, I was glad to find out that the design team for Dragon Racer is keeping these issues in mind. While it’s no guarantee that this would keep the delivery on time, it certainly raised my good will and trust toward the game’s Kickstarter.
Overall, I definitely feel that Dragon Racer is a solid game that I am willing to play. Judging from the fact that the Kickstarter has earned over $11,000 so far, more then tripling its goal, it seems to me that a lot of gamers agree. I am quite excited to get my hands on the final copy of the game and especially keen to find out what’s next from these promising young designers.