Number of Players: 1-6
Time: 45-60 Minutes
Game Type: Deckbuilder/Missions
Gamer Type: Casual
If you read this column often, you know that I enjoy a good deck builder game. Dominion is the granddaddy of the non-pay-to-play deck builders, but without a story, it can be a challenge. Many games have tried to unseat the king. There are ruins at the feet of Rio Grand Games marking the games that have competed for the throne but were simply clones without the soul of dominion. With Draconis Invasion (which just came out with its Wrath Expansion), we have a contender which changes the game enough that it is not a clone, with enough story to keep you engaged in the game.
You are a champion of the realm, seeking fortune and glory. OK, so we are not coming out of the gate with a new storyline. Draconis Invasion is firmly within the “Fantasy” genre and it does not shy from this role. Where DI separates itself from other deck builders in the field is the campaign mode and the terror level, which are a refreshing change from the classic tropes in fantasy games. DI incorporates quests so that the story is always changing and always setting new goals for the players. Like many deck builders, DI is built for expansions (Wrath, the first expansion, is awesome). This leads to a good story, differentiated enough from other fantasy deck builders, with unlimited potential to grow the game as the expansions come out (7.5 of 10 for story).
One of the first things that I tell developers when they submit a game is that they do not have to have MTG quality art. Most game companies cannot drop that much coin for card art, whether they paid for it or just had amazing artists on staff at Keji Toys, the artwork for the game is stellar. Each class of cards has amazing art that, in itself, could be framed. The only knock that we can find with the artwork is the layout of the box. DI is planned for massive expansion (Wrath is larger than the original game) so there is plenty of room in the box. The drawback of this is that until the box is full, the card dividers still allow the cards to slide around. DI did compensate for this with foam dividers, but a vacuum pressed cardholder may have been the way to go. The box is standard size and fits well on the shelf. 9 of 10.
Glossing over the standard buy and play mechanics (in-game, this is not a pay to win game) that are common in all deck builders, we can look at where this game really shines: quests and terror.
The quest cards are the one thing, in my opinion, that classics like Dominion, are missing. Sometimes “beating my buddy” is not enough of a game goal to keep me engaged in the game. While I love Dominion, DI outshines it in the questing to keep the game varied each time you play. The terror mechanic is also unique in this genre. When the dice hits 6 (through a variety of methods), there is an event card drawn and people get terror cards. In your deck, terror cards are the dead cards that slow you down; the fly in the ointment, if you will. These also bring to bear powerful events that can hamper players across the board.
One of the most interesting elements in DI is that you can forward yourself cash in the game. This means that if you do not spend all of your money on one turn (which can happen when you are in between values), you can “forward” it to yourself so you have it next turn. Who couldn’t use a guaranteed payout in the next round? DI brings enough new mechanics to the game so that it is not a clone of Dominion, but has enough of the classic mechanics that you can pick it up quickly. 8 of 10.
How you build is how you play. If you have ever had the chance to play with me, then you know I love building engines to win. This game gives you a great ability to build engines. There is also the ability to go offense, defense, or rush. DI has a good card mix, but as it is built for expansion, you can see some of the future cards coming. This doesn’t mean that it does not have high strategy; it does, it just means that we all know that as each expansion comes out the mix and the methods will become more complex. 5.5 of 10.
When you step into the fantasy ring you have two things to compete with: canon and fanboys. DI walked this line quite well. Staying within the accepted canon for a fantasy story while making a story “yours” is always challenging. Keji Toys did a great job staying with people want. This does mean you see a lot of things that you are used to: humans, orcs, dragons, and like; however, the campaign saves it here as it adds a story to features, expanding the universe. DI is familiar enough that you feel comfortable in the story, but gives players enough license to feel as they are driving the story in the game. 6 of 10.
So does DI make me want to get rid of Dominion and shift exclusively to gaining glory for the kingdom? No. But with a killer score of 36, DI has earned its place as an equal on the shelf with the great classic. DI addresses many of the flaws we see in classic deck builders, which makes it an evolution of the genre (Dominion would be a Gen 2 deck builder, DI would be a Gen 3). This makes DI a great game that may be ahead of its time. However, as with any industry leader, make sure you live up to your promise. The gaming public wants to see strong expansions (if Wrath is any indication, we are going to get them). I recommend shelling out for the game and kickstarting its expansions; this is a great game that, once the rules are explained, anyone can pick up quickly. The events keep the game honest, get too far ahead and the game itself will bring you back in line – this added level alone makes the game something every serious gamer should have.
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Dr. Christopher Smithmyer is a writer for NRN, the Vice President of International Affairs at Brav Online Conflict Management, and an Adjunct Professor of MBA Business at Doane University. He is also part of the founding team at BlackWalletLTD, one of the leaders in stable coin 2.0 ecosystem maintenance. Dr. Smithmyer’s focus is international business and finance, along with reviews of board games, weapons platforms, and survival items.