Posted by: gschloesser | August 1, 2011

Dragon Delta

Design by:  Roberto Fraga
Published by:  EuroGames
3 – 6 Players, 45 minutes – 1 hour
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser

When you speak of games with quality components , EuroGames usually springs to mind. Games such as Serenissima, Europa 1945 – 2010 and Condotierre are games which readily fit this description.  Dragon Delta, their very latest release by designer Roberto Fraga (yet another designer with whom I am not familiar), doesn’t disappoint in the component department either. Although the game uses relatively simple components, they are all of high quality and very sturdy. As in Silberzwerg, a new release by Queen, the board artwork is nothing to get excited about, but it serves its purpose very well, as do the components.

Players each attempt to cross a river on fragile bridges built from planks and stones with the objective being reaching a village on the opposite side. In order to accomplish this, players must carefully place stones on islands which are then used to support planks. They then scurry their pawn across these planks from island to island with the ultimate goal of reaching the village on the opposite side of the river.

When I read the rules, I immediately thought, “Robo Rally meets Twixt“. All of the actions are accomplished by each player by pre-selecting five of their action cards in the order in which they plan to execute their maneuvers. This is where the similarity with Robo Rally surfaces as these five cards are set in a row, then executed one at a time. Each player executes their first action, then their second, and so on until all players have executed their five actions. Of course, the play of an opponents may greatly affect the action(s) you had planned and, in fact, may completely nullify them or force you to fall from a plank into the waters! With multiple players, this can be quite chaotic, yet wickedly fun!

For those who disdain the lack of control of Robo Rally, however, Dragon Delta does offer a bit more control as you have ALL of your cards at your disposal. With Robo Rally, you only have a set number of cards chosen randomly from the deck with which to plan your actions. A bad draw can greatly affect what you can do on your turn. Not so with Dragon Delta. You can try to anticipate the actions of your opponents and plan accordingly. No, it’s not foolproof, but it is a bit more control than what is offered by Robo Rally.

So just what are the possible actions allowed by the cards? Each player has a set of identical cards which allow the following actions:

* Place one or two planks (two different cards);
* Place one or two stones (two different cards);
* Move your pawn one or two spaces (two different cards);
* Hop your pawn over another pawn;
* Remove a plank or stone;
* Nullify the action of an opponent.

Each player begins in a village and must work their way to the other side. The six starting villages are arranged so that there are two on the north and south of the board, with one apiece on the east and west. Thus, players will be criss-crossing each other in their efforts to reach the other side. This is important as there are restrictions which limit the number of planks each stone can support (3), as well as rules prohibiting the placement of planks so that they bisect previously laid planks. As the delta begins to fill with planks, they begin to form barriers which cannot be crossed by other planks, so players must find alternate methods in which to traverse the river. This is where the game bears some similarity to Twixt, the game of barriers.

The middle of the board is occupied by water with numerous small islands. Each of these islands can support one and only one stone. Stones are positioned on the island by a player and then cannot be moved. Positioning can be important as when a player attempts to construct a plank, it must reach from a village or previously laid stone to that stone. If it doesn’t, the player must attempt to place that plank elsewhere. If it cannot fit anywhere else on the board, it falls into the river and is removed from the game. Each player begins with six planks, each of a different size and number (1 – 6), so the loss of a plank can be harmful.  To further test the skills of each player, a rule prohibits a player from pre-measuring a distance before selecting a plank. Rather, a player must estimate the distance and correctly choose the appropriate plank. This sounds more difficult than it really is, however, as most of the islands are close in proximity so it is easy to select a plank which will traverse the distance. Things only get risky when a player attempts an unorthodox placement which stretches a greater span.

The ‘steal a plank or stone’ action is VERY nasty as it can cause a path to vanish in an instant. There are important restrictions, however. A plank cannot be removed which currently supports a player’s pawn. Further, a player cannot possess more than two colors of planks in his reserve, nor can he have more than one plank of the same number. It takes VERY careful planning and observation to insure that you are in position to steal planks which thwart an opponent’s movement efforts and assist your own. More than once I’ve seen a player attempt to steal a plank to obstruct an opponent’s path, only to find out he couldn’t take that plank due to these rules. So, at first glance it seems that it is very easy to thwart an opponent by stealing a plank, but these clever rules force the players to actively and carefully plan for such a theft.

Once a plank is successfully stolen, it goes into the burglar’s reserve and can be placed as one of his own. Pawns are free to traverse planks of any player, but may not move onto a plank which is currently occupied by another pawn. That’s what the ‘jump’ action is for! But beware: a pawn jumping over an intervening pawn must have a free plank directly behind this pawn upon which to land. Otherwise, he falls into the water and is returned to his village of origin.

Another ‘smack your opponent’ action is the play of the ‘dragon’ card. Each player has five dragon cards, each colored to match a different opponent. When played and revealed in the set of five action cards, it nullifies that opponent’s action for that round. This, of course, could easily upset the plans of your opponent and render the subsequent actions he had planned useless. Those actions must be carried out if possible, however, frequently causing that player to move his pawn in directions he had not planned to journey. It could also cause a player’s pawn to fall into the river and return to his home village. Very, very nasty. As in the ‘steal a plank or stone’ action, however, there are limits. Each player may only play one dragon card per hand of five.

One would think that the game would have a huge ‘smack the leader’ problem as it would be easy to notice when one player was in range of winning and have everyone play cards which would steal planks or nullify his actions. This would be true except for the fact that the usual occurrence is that several players threaten victory simultaneously. Since table-talk to pre-plan moves with your opponents is forbidden, it becomes a bit of a guessing game as to who will strike at which opponent. It’s quite humorous to see the cards revealed and suddenly realize that no one tried to stop a particular opponent. Many times players hope to selfishly plan actions solely benefiting themselves, hoping that their fellow players will perform actions to hinder the leaders. It’s also very humorous to see the leaders play extremely defensively due to the paranoia of being blasted by their opponents, only to discover that had they just played regular actions they could easily have claimed the victory. It’s these sudden and unexpected surprises which make the game so entertaining to play.

Play ends as soon as one player successfully maneuvers his pawn to the appropriate village on the opposite side of the river. As mentioned, it is quite common to have several players in position to win, so watching the turn order and planning accordingly can be critical.

I find the game to require careful planning, but one must also realize that the best laid plans can and will likely go astray due to the actions played by your opponents. Proceedings can be quite chaotic, but in a fun sort of way. Being able to guess the actions your opponents are likely to take and plan your actions accordingly is a crucial skill in this game.

Having played the game with various numbers of players, I can state flatly that playing with only two players is NOT the way to play. With only two players, the game is quite dull and lacks the unexpected excitement which occurs with the variety of actions being performed by numerous opponents. No, I strongly urge only playing the game with four or more players. With these numbers, Dragon Delta is a fun and entertaining game of planning and chaos. What a weird, yet satisfying combination!

 

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Responses

  1. Dragon Delta presents itself as a three-dimensional game of programming and pathmaking, but what really occurs is a game of simultaneous action selection, mindreading, and chaos. This is a fine filler in a big-box presentation. (5/10)

  2. Lots of blind guessing to move your piece or stop someone else. I understand it but never win. I also like the idea that you cannot measure the distance you need to cover beforehand and that you are limited to the bridge pieces that you can steal. (6/10)


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