Updated: Sep 28, 2021
Diary of a Lincoln Geek were pleased to be asked by Dragonvault to review their game, and for them to guest-star on our Let’s Talk Board Games show this month.
Dragonvault is a quick-to-learn, quick-to-play game for 2 – 8 players. At the time of writing this review, it is currently out of stock but is available for pre-order from the Dragonvault Online Store (www.dragonvaultgame.com). The basic theme of this game is a very familiar high fantasy setting of elves, halflings, ogres, etcetera and is a new, simple format for competitive questing. For the full backstory for the game, visit the Dragonvault website.
On receiving the game, it is immediately apparent how good the print quality is, just by looking at the box. It immediately entices you to get inside and get going. However, this proved problematic. The box is a basic case design like that of most standard playing cards only deeper. The issue was that it is so full of cards that there is very little give, making opening it without damage (certainly for the first few times) very tricky.
The cards themselves are a fairly standard stock, which works perfectly well but may not be durable long term without sleeves, and for those who habitually sleeve all their favourite games the box will not accommodate this at all. This is easily overcome by upgrading to a deck protector case though you would lose the case artwork. Dragonvault have told us that they are working on a new addition that will solve the problem of the box being too tight, and may even produce a deluxe version that could accommodate space for sleeved cards.
Once in the box, you are greeted by beautiful high-quality artwork on every card designed by artist Kyle Herring.
The rules in brief are provided on a playing card. In theory, you can probably start playing directly from these. However, certain details are not fully explained and the text is very small. For example, during set up certain cards need to be removed based on player count and to form a supply. Dragonvault do seem to acknowledge this, as at the bottom of the rules card they tell you to check out their website for more in-depth rules and FAQs. However, this means you feel forced to do so to play correctly, which is unnecessary hassle. In addition, whilst all the details seem to be there on the online version they are not written in a straightforward format, and setup feels poorly explained. This is such a shame given that the basic gameplay is so intuitive thanks to the card text.
Whilst the included and online rules are not the best, the card effects are done very well. Each card's description is very clearly explained without being text-heavy and is printed crisply and in a good size.
Having learned the rules and browsed the FAQs etcetera, it is time to play. To set up, you will need to remove eight champions (+ Morgana’s companion Victor), nine food and 18 gold coin cards from the deck. Also for 2-4 players remove one gluttonous ogre. The main deck is then shuffled and placed in the middle of the play area face down. The unused cards that were removed will form the side deck face up to one side as some card effects will draw supplies from here. Each player chooses or randomly draws a champion and is dealt two gold coins and one food.
Each champion has his or her own ability/advantages and a toughness rating. In this game, toughness is essentially a player’s health. As you play through the game, various factors will lower or restore your toughness. If you reach zero you are out. Sadly the game does not provide any form of health tracker. There are many ways players can overcome this, including pen and paper, coins, 12-sided dice, etcetera. However, it is a shame not to have something provided. The Dragonvault website actually recommends a 12-sided die for each player.
The first player is decided by a roll-off using a six-sided die. It is also worth mentioning that no dice are supplied with the game at all. To play the game however you will need at least one, as many card effects are resolved by rolling. Only one six-sided die is needed to play, but for a well-paced game having some spares or one per player is recommended. By not including at least one six-sided dice and some way of health tracking the game pack as a whole feels a little incomplete. While I can see that the target audience for this game is likely to have spare 6 and 12 sided dice etc, it is perhaps bad form to assume this is the case.
The aim of the game is to reach the end of the main deck alive, with more treasure than your opponents. To this end, each player must take turns playing cards from their hand (as many as they wish) then drawing from the main deck. If you draw treasure, action, response, or mercenary cards then these go into your hand for later use. However, encounter cards must be played face up and dealt with immediately. Some encounters effects are determined by rolling a die, whilst others give the option of taking damage or paying your way out with treasure. But it’s not just the encounters players need to survive.
On their turn, a player may target one or all opponents by hiring mercenaries. This requires playing a mercenary card and sufficient treasure to pay them. There is also no limit on how many a player may hire on his or her turn, other than how many they have and coughing up the funds.
Action and response cards are fairly straightforward. Action cards are played before drawing from the deck for effects such as healing or looking at the top card and deciding to draw it or not. Whereas response cards are played when a player would take damage to either avoid harm or to harm an attacking opponent.
So what do we make of it? Overall Dragonvault is a good game. Whilst there are some drawbacks for Dragonvault, I would like to point out that most, if not all, are very minor. So while it may seem like a list, bear in mind the actual gameplay impact.
So far we’ve played 2- and 4-player games as lockdown has hindered us from maxing out the player count. With two players we found it could be fairly tricky to survive the deck and players were unlikely to target each other if it would kill the opponent. With four players surviving the deck was much easier but players would wait till late game before attacking each other. We look forward to trying with six to eight players to see if the dynamic continues to shift.
The greatest strengths of Dragonvault are its appearance and its simplicity. We have all loved the high-quality artwork and how simple it is to understand the card effects and play. You can literally learn, set up, and play this game in minutes and have fun doing it. However, for fans of complex games with in-depth rules, this may not be a hit. The general feeling for us is that this is a good game to have a few rounds of to start/end a game day or to have a break between two complex games. With some minor tweaks and balancing this could gain depth for a greater sense of risk and competition.
It is hard to give a firm rating to Dragonvault. It definitely has a
place in the game collection. It works well for some light gaming and is family-friendly. The theme, artwork, and simplicity are all fantastic. If I were scoring solely on the cards' appearance, how easy it is to learn/play, and the general gameplay I could give it a fairly comfortable 4/6. But not having some key accessories, poor rules explanation, and not quite enough depth for certain audiences can’t be ignored. Therefore, I give Dragonvault 3/6. However, with some work to produce a second edition with more depth and/or an accessory pack with a case upgrade, health tracker/player board, and at least the one six-sided die required to play the game it could quickly earn a four or higher and Dragonvault have got plans for an improved addition.
As always, and especially now, stay safe - stay healthy and most importantly Get Your Geek On! - Samwise.
Hey Geeks and Geekettes, Dino-Girl here, I personally loved this game, it's quick to learn and play, the artwork is stunning. As Samwise points out, however, the hassle of gathering up sufficient extra counters/trackers does detract from the gameplay for me. I've given this a hearty 4/6 but if the Geek Lords of Dragonvault can cough up some counters, and some space for card sleeves to add to the durability, of what is likely going to end up a firm favourite in our house, then I'd be happy to bump the die up a couple of notches. Much love and stay safe. Dino-Girl xxx