Dragon Delta Review: High End Board Game

Fascinating Game That Compels the Mind and Spirit

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Sometimes in the world of $24 movie tickets and downloadable content on the latest video games families need to take some time to look back at board games. They are a reasonable family fun item that will teach the kids something and can be fun for the adults too. Some of the classics are fun to play, but if you want to “catch your kids attention,” then you may want to look for a game that is a little more off the beaten path. This week’s installment is a game called Dragon Delta from Eurogames Descartes USA. This ancient Chinese game of legend, or at least a modern legend, is for up to six players but can be played with as few as two. The game won the coveted Speil Des Jahres award in 2001 and has aged quite well for a high-end board game.

As with all games, the story of the game is important. Some games with great mechanics fall by the wayside when they do not have a good story to get people into the game. Dragon Delta is a game based on a set of rival villages who have a tradition that each year teens need to make their way across the great river, the village whose’ teen makes it across is deemed the winner. This game has that “Hunger Games” feel to it as you are struggling against your friends to make it across the river. This gives it a good story that you can really engage in, not too complicated but still interesting enough that you can really get into the game.  For story, this game gets a strong 7 out of 10.

Art Visualization Doesn’t Disappoint

Game, especially games that are going to catch the attention of the Millennial generation, need to be visually pleasing to be a top notch game. Dragon Delta comes out of the box strong with a very well created and visually pleasing game board that could be used as wall art if you lost the pieces. The pieces are simple, cardboard “planks,” wooden “stones,” and colored pawns for each player. The cards of this game fall victim to the classic “multi-lingual” game problem of making the images too simple, which leads to some of the cards looking like things that they are not. The cards do get the message across and the dragon image is quite well drawn. Therefore, the art in this game gets an above average 6 out of 10.

As with all games, the story of the game is important.

The mechanics of the game are deceptively simple. There are basically four actions you can take, place an item, remove an item, move your pawn or block an opponent. Simple games can be either good or bad, and in this case the designers of Dragon Delta found a home run in a very simple package. For the play-test, I played with my younger brother (35) and my niece (5). Both of them had fun and both did well, my niece almost won but misread a card. For mechanics, this game gets a very strong 8.5 out of 10.

With simple mechanics come in depth strategy. The strategy of this game is that you have to choose your move five turns ahead of time. This means that you lay out five action cards (left to right) face down and those are your moves for the “round.” Each card is exposed on at a time and each player exposes the card in the same slot at the same time. Actions are taken counterclockwise from the first player, but with few exceptions operate as happening all at once. It is very challenging as you are playing the moves you need, trying to guess what your opponents are doing and then block them. The one drawback in the mechanics is that the dragon cards, which eliminate a player for a turn are overpowered and if too many people are playing the dragons of the same color, a player may not get to play for a whole round! To remedy this in the second edition, if they make one, dragons could be a “one-off” card that are returned to the box after they are used. Without the dragon mishap, this would be a 9 or 10 in strategy (simple), but because of the dragon cards, Dragon Delta shows a strong 7.5 in strategy (simple).

A Great Concept and Enjoyable to Play

When you have a strong game collection, novelty is a very important factor in a game. There are dozens of Battle Sims and Monopoly Clones, but to my knowledge Dragon Delta is the only game I have seen about teens crossing rivers on makeshift bridges. The theme is fun, not too overbearing and can be understood by young children. The strategy can be straight forward or can be complex depending on who you are playing with. Building games are rare because of the “logistics” of getting everything to fit in the box, but like Settlers of Catan, Dragon Delta delivers a fun experience in a novel simple game. This registers a 8 of 10 on the novelty scale.

Dragon Delta is a fun game that the whole family can play (it says 8 and up, but as I said my niece who is five had fun playing). This is a game that takes minutes to learn but can be played multiple time with different player numbers for a fun game that does not get old quickly. With an overall rating of 37 out of 50, looking at story, art, mechanics, strategy, and novelty, Dragon Delta is a good little game that you can play with your family or with your friends, that is “safe for work parties” and challenging enough for more hardcore gamers. If you are in the market for a new game, take the time to take a look at Dragon Delta.

Christopher W Smithmyer
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