Feld-ruary #2 – In The Year of the Dragon

8 Feb

IMG_0778One trademark of Stefan Feld games is that the players must deal with some level of adversity. In most of his games, the penalties are usually annoyances that you have to keep a partial eye on, but you can largely do your own thing. Not here. In the Year of the Dragon is all about trying to mitigate the litany of disasters that are about to befall you. The player that can do that is the winner.

Dragon plays out over 12 turns / months. Players are Japanese princes, using the talents of the kingdom’s subjects in order to stem the tide of the many challenges that will take place throughout the year.

IMG_0771A game turn lasts four phases. First off, players get to take one action from an array of tiles placed into the center of the board. These actions allow players to gain resources from one of the seven sources on a turn. In a 2-player game, you take the 7 action cards, and split them into two piles. Each player must pick their action from a different pile (unless they pay a penalty). With 4-players, you split them into 4 piles. This makes it increasingly difficult for players later in the turn to get beneficial actions without paying coins, and the money situation in this game is extremely tight as it is.

Second is the evocatively names “Person phase”. Here, you get to purchase the services of one of the various servants by playing a card from your hand and then placing that worker into one of your palaces. You start the game with a set of 11 cards. You must play 1 per turn. There are 2 wild cards that can be used to get any character you’d like, but remember that you lose these cards after you use them. There are 9 characters you can choose from. Most of them give you further benefits when you take actions during future turns, a couple only help mitigate specific disasters when they happen. All of the characters give you points that are used on the turn order track… which is Feld trope #2. He loves mixing up the turn order in his games. You can choose a novice worker, and move up many spaces on the track, or you can take a season worker. These give more benefits, but with the downside that you likely will be going last during the action phase (which is terrible with more players).

Next is the event phase…this is where Feld exacts his revenge on the players. You start the game by flipping up 12 tiles across the bottom of the game board. These show you exactly what event will happen on which turn as the game progresses. This gives you time to try and prepare for disaster, but often times you’ll discover that you need 1 more turn. Feld does give players a fighting chance, however. The first 2 months, nothing happens. From then on, there is only 1 other “good” event, and that’s the Dragon Festival. Players can gain points for having fireworks tokens. Beyond that, players will have to deal with droughts (starving your workers to death), Mongol invasions (killing your workers), paying Tribute to the Emperor (losing your precious coins), and Contagious disease (wiping out tons of workers). Each of these events happen twice in the game. In our 2-player game…none of these really did too much damage, but it is easily possible to get totally destroyed if you can’t get the right actions done in time. If any of your palaces are empty after the event, they begin to decay – meaning they can’t even hold as many people as they did before.

 

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Finally, there is an end of turn scoring. Feld trope #3 – Point salad. Pretty much everything you do in most Feld games gets you some amount of points, and that’s no different here – though it’s not as rampant as some of his other games. You get points for the number of palaces you have in play. You also get points for collecting dragon icons on the various cards and Privilege tokens you can buy during the action phase. At the end of the game, you get further points for each person that survived the game.Monks can get you points for having several floors in your palace. Even the extra fireworks tokens you collect can be worth points at the end of the game.

In the Year of the Dragon is a punishing game. It’s all about disaster management. There are times when you will have no choice but to take stock and determine which of your workers is expendable. Workers will die, palaces will crumble, and you will want to just lie your head on the table at the end of this game. Especially with 4 players. The game worked ok with 2, but I don’t recommend doing that if you can help it. Even 3 players is a somewhat better option, because actions get somewhat harder to get. With 4 though, I don’t know if I’ve ever played a more punishing game. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy this game, but it most definitely isn’t for everyone.

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