I was excited to introduce N to Dragonwood. It is a basic swords and sorcery themed card game that involves building hands and rolling dice to defeat foes and win points. We started playing it when N was 4.5 but with an official 8+ age, we thought it was always going to be a game for N to grow into. But having a clear narrative for explaining the game meant he was able to pick it up really fast.
We’ve found that games which may appear complicated can be easy for young children to grasp if there’s an accompanying story that makes sense of the available moves (for example Sleeping Queens). As we explained it, in Dragonwood, each player is putting together teams that will give them the greatest chance of capturing the creatures that live in the wood. Capturing the most difficult creatures, such as ogres or dragons, wins you the most victory points. There’s also special potions and weapons in the wood that your teams can try to win to boost your battle power. Simple really!
How the game plays:
Each player is dealt a hand of five cards from the adventurer deck. The deck consists of numbers 1-9 of barbarians, wizards, elves, sorceress, warriors.
Five cards are then laid out face up in the centre of the table from the green ‘Dragonwood’ deck. These cards represent what is currently lurking in the Dragonwood forest. This deck includes the creatures to be defeated (such as ants, ogres and dragons); magical item cards that boost players hands (such as potions, magic swords, unicorn); as well as special event cards (such as windstorm or quicksand) that instantly effect all players hands (such as causing players to discard a card).
In each round player have the choice to either build their hands by drawing a card from the adventurer deck or play a hand to try to capture something from the forest. Whether you want to battle a Dragon or capture a potion, the technique is the same: Players must either Scream (play a hand of the same colour), Stomp (same numbers) or Strike (hand of consecutive numbers). There is no minimum number of cards in a hand, so players can play just one or two cards or up to six cards. Each card played equates to a dice that can then be used in a capture attemp.
To capture a Dragonwood card, players must roll the dice to equal or surpass the number shown on the card for the chosen attack method. For example, if a player decides to Strike the Giggling Goblin they need to roll a total of 7, but a Scream only requires 5. If the player doesn’t achieve the required number in their rolls, they must forfeit one card from the hand they played but they can keep the rest. The more challenging the foe, the greater the roll need to defeat it, but the victory points for capturing that card is also bigger. The winner is the one with the most victory points when the game finally comes to an end. The game ends when either the two dragons in the wood have been defeated or the adventurer decks have been played through twice.
The main strategy is deciding when to save adventurer cards to build a bigger hand in order to fight more difficult foes and when to go for a quick win for fewer points. When a card is removed from the Dragonwood, a new one replaces it immediately. But because the forest is a shared pool players are often trying to get the best cards before others do which means occasionally attempting some risky rolls so you can have first attempt at the card.
What we love about this game:
There is just enough of a theme here to make the game instantly understandable and quick to learn. I think the cards themselves are beautifully draw and will appeal across genders. Note there’s also very little reading required, only the weapon advancement cards and event cards found in the Dragonwood have text on them – so we just read them as and when they turn up and N usually remembers what they do afterwards.
In terms of game play, Dragonwood strikes a good balance between steady hand building, luck and risk taking. This type of combination makes it great for levelling the playing field in mixed age play. There’s also enough strategy involved in deciding whether to try to end the game quickly, go for big scoring cards or pick off smaller foes, and how best to use any battle enhancements, to keep it interesting for repeat playing. Because of this, it feels like the first ‘proper’ hand building game I’ve come across that younger players can really engage with. As a huge Marvel fan N is desperate to play Legendary (which we own), so we see Dragonwood as a great starter game for introducing this style of game play, where the emphasis is on combining cards to battle foes.
Even so, Dragonwood is perfect as it is! We continue to pick it up when we want a game that doesn’t last too long or require a lot of set up but is a bit more involved and thoughtful than picture matching (like Dobble) or more luck based games (like Too Many Monkeys). As N gets older his weighing up of strategies and risk taking becomes more advanced so I can really see us playing Dragonwood for many years to come. It certainly makes it into our top 5 card games for young families!