One Sentence Synopsis: Thar be Dragons in them thar hills…and dungeons…and swamps..and…
Hey everyone, and welcome back for another COG Gaming review of a delivered Kickstarter project! Draco Magi was the second game I backed on Kickstarter, and one I was particularly excited about given its amazing art and theme of dueling dragon armies. The campaign blew past all of its stated stretch goals, and ending at over $95K pledged of its initial $15K goal it even hit one of the two final-5-hour goals of having a special Celestial Dragon card included; the other, which was new box art, was gifted to backers by Robert Burke in appreciation for such a strong campaign showing. So, having received the game did it live up to our expectations?
Draco Magi is a light, quick dueling game for 2 in which players take on the role of acolytes seeking gems in their quest to become the supreme King or Queen of the Dragons. To do so they must effectively harness their legions of dragons and capture territories, some of which provide the victorious owner with different colored gems. The first player to amass either 3 gems of different colors, 3 gems of the same color, or 4 gems total, wins.
The game hits its advertised playtime of 30 minutes consistently, and is relatively easy to learn the rules. I only had to check the rules for a battle clarification once during our initial playthrough, and the rulebook is well-organized enough that players needing to check things more often shouldn’t have an issue finding the right section. A reference booklet with information on each dragon card’s ability is also included, should any questions arise surrounding individual powers.
Players start the game with identical decks of 32 dragon cards(one with green backs, one with gold), as well as identical decks of battle cards. The battle decks are given some slight differentiation at the beginning of each game in an abridged drafting mechanic wherein players each draw 3 cards from the deck of ‘advanced battle cards’ that have red borders, choosing one card to keep, one card to discard, and one card to give to their opponent. These advanced battle cards are much more powerful and versatile than the basic battle cards, and players have the opportunity to gain more of them the longer the game progresses. Three battlefield cards, each with their own special power, are then drawn from the bottom of the deck(they’re double-sided for added randomization) and placed in the center of the table, representing the starting territories the acolytes will fight over. If any territories are captured during a round, the line is refreshed to 3 at the beginning of the subsequent round.
After territories are placed, players draw 8 dragons into their hands, and alternate placing their dragons on the battlefields. No more than 3 dragons per player may be present at a location, so strategizing which dragons to place where with their varying powers and combat values is important for success. Once a player places a dragon, they also have the option to make a ranged attack on the top-most dragon of those the opposing player has also placed at the same battlefield. To resolve this, the attacker draws a number of cards from their battle deck equal to the ranged attack value of their dragon that is located on the left side of their dragon card, and the defender draws a number equal to the defense value of their dragon located on the right side of the card. Players then compare the number of starbursts in the respective fields on the battle card, and if the attacker has more the defending dragon is discarded.
After all dragons are placed or both players pass, the round proceeds to the melee phase. The player holding the first player token chooses a battlefield to resolve, and each player adds up the total melee values shown at the top of their dragons at that location, and draws that number of battle cards. They then take turns playing attack cards, and having the other player have to counter the attack played with the same type of card(i.e. defending against a claw attack requires a claw card be played in defense). If a player chooses, they may also play battle cards with the same symbol in the top corners together as an attack combo, which requires the opposing player to block all incoming attacks with cards from their hand. Play proceeds like this until either all the dragons on one side are defeated, or a player runs out of battle cards. In the latter instance that player gets to draw the top card from their battle deck as a last-ditch effort to defend. In either case the player with the most dragons left after both opponents have run out of battle cards is the winner, and the first player token is passed to resolve the next battlefield. In the case of a tie, the battlefield stays on the table to get resolved next round.
If no player has reached one of the victory conditions after all 3 territories have had their battles resolved, players choose to keep or discard any dragons remaining in their hands, they each draw one new advanced battle card, and then start a new round by re-seeding the battlefields in the middle of the table. Play proceeds until there is a winner.
I enjoyed Draco Magi as a light, quick, 2-player dueling experience. The various powers, rewards, and double-sided design of the territory cards ensure the battlefields are randomized well each round/game, and the advanced battle card draft at the beginning of the game gives each player a little differentiation while ensuring they stay on more-or-less equal footing. For those seeking more differentiation between players, I’d recommend implementing house rules that either have you start the game with multiple drafts, or changing the ‘draw an advanced battle card’ mechanic at the end of each round to function like the starting draft. The dragon cards also have a good range of powers, and can make for some interesting combinations with other dragons or battlefields if they’re played right.
Even with the randomization and power elements, however, I found the strategic options of the game limited which I predict will decrease the game’s replayability for me. There’s some strategy to determining which territories to go after and which dragons to place where, but the impact of those choices is mitigated by the completely random resolution of ranged attacks, and the simple back-and-forth of melee combat. Determining when to use powerful defense cards like ‘flight’, which let you block any and all attacks the turn it’s played, adds a bit of strategy to melee, but it’s still a crapshoot as to whether the battle cards you drew are going to let you successfully block or attack what your opponent drew. Attack card combos at first seem to add a strategic layer to combat, but in the end they’re extremely situational and really only useful if your opponent is on his/her last legs at a battlefield and you’re wanting to try and finish them off to avoid defending further.
Now, components. First off, let me say the dragon art on these cards is amazing, and I really hope Robert gets the full rights to the dragons at some point and attempts to Kickstart larger print proofs of just the art like he recently did for 2 additional prototype cards for the game. The colors on the cards are not as vivid as the images on the campaign page, but they’re still magnificent which is why I’ve tried to include numerous pictures of the cards here for people to see. The design of all the cards is also exceptional. Relevant information is laid out very neatly and clearly on each card, and the text is a good size for readability. The designs actually evolved over the course of the campaign, and their final functionality is a testament to Robert’s ability to work with backer feedback and continue to improve his games over the course of a campaign.
That said, the components here are mediocre overall. The box is of good quality, and everything fits very nicely into the insert provided. That is, until you try to sleeve them. Once sleeved you’ll have to throw away the insert, and even then your box is not going to close all the way with just the base set, let alone if you ordered the set of foil metallic dragon cards and want to keep them in the box. Some of the response comments I’ve read about this from people amount to it being “not that big of a deal.” Sure it’s not going to affect gameplay, but it’s still annoying and something that should be taken into account when designing a box for a card game that goes through multiple shuffles in just 1 round of play. Saying it’s not that big of a deal is a glossing over of an obvious components issue, especially since you’re going to want to sleeve these cards; even if the card art wasn’t amazing or if the cards didn’t get shuffled so often, the cards just don’t feel like they’ve got a sturdy weight to them even with the stretch goal hit for better card stock. If you ordered the foil cards, you’ll also probably notice they are cut slightly larger than the other cards. This is a problem that is solved by sleeving, but which spawns the storage issue listed above. The cutting issue aside I was still a little disappointed in the foils, though for the minimal add-on price the completionist in me is still glad I got them. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I think having the entire card printed with a rainbow sheen on it is actually distracting. Update: Robert Burke has already acknowledged some of the quality issues with the components, and has decided to no longer use the company that printed this initial run.
COG Takeaway: Draco Magi is a light, enjoyable dueling experience for 2 players that plays in 30 minutes or under. It doesn’t have the strategic gumption of some other non-LCG/non-CCG dueling games on the market, but it also takes less than half the time and has better card art than any of them. Even with the components niggles the game is worth its low price point, and I have no regrets about backing the campaign. If you’re in the market for a fast, 2-player game competitive card game with great art, check it out!
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