You stare at your clock, the day-glow 1:31 AM stinging your bleary eyes. Your body is tired and weak but you know that If could just fall asleep, you would be unstoppable. As you finish your thoughts of puppies and Battlestar Galactica, your eyes close and your mind opens. Killer Cylon cupcakes roam the neon landscape, and you are once again a puppy-riding golden god in a world of your own creation.
Participating in a grand sleep study, you squeeze your cortex to its squishy pink limit. Only the greatest dreamers, the most lucid and phantasmagorical, can be the best. This is your chance to shine- dream hard, dream long and create the most impressive chains that you can.
Project Dreamscape is a set collection card game for 1-4 players, published by Undine Studios. It features a tonne of original artwork from Julie Okahara. Grab soft blanket and snuggle in for our review, while I transmit my suspiciously review-themed dreams directly from my hypobaric sleep-chamber, right to your screen. You might want to watch out for feral Heffalumps.
How It Plays
The idea of the game is to make the most, and longest chains of dream types in your REM Stack, in order to score the most points.
For a 1-4 player game, shuffle the sleep deck and give each player one Z card, which remains face down in front of them (and represents in-game currency, referred to as your Deep Sleep Stack). Stack up the remaining cards in the centre of the table. Leave a space for a face-up discard pile. To finish setup, place the numbered tokens below the dreamscape cards, starting from 5 on the side closest to the draw deck. These represent the cost of the cards, which will change round-to-round.
Players will have two sets of cards, one is their Deep Sleep Deck which you will use to buy new Z cards, and very soon you’ll have your very own REM stack, which forms your scoring pile. You can look at this at any time, but can’t change the order unless a card lets you do so. While the rules state your REM cards should form stack with just the top card visible, I personally opt to lay them out as an overlapping tableau for a 2 player setup.
Once you’ve stopped getting distracted by Taylor Swift riding a cat-shaped unicycle (the dreamscape is a land without judgement), play can begin.
A player’s turn has three phases:
- ‘Deep Sleep Accumulation’ (or as I like to call it, CASH MONEY). You can choose to take a Z card from the Sleep Deck and add it to your own personal Deep Sleep Stack.
- ‘Direct Your Sleep’, (or ‘buy some cards and do their stuff’). You must buy at least one, but you may take as many cards from the Dreamscape as you can afford. Choose one of the two card powers to perform and place it on your REM stack (or beautifully displayed tableau). If you get more Z cards as a result, you may buy more cards and dream even harder. HURRAH!
- ‘Prepare for Next Participant’ (or, ‘make your bed, you filthy animal’). Refilling the Dreamscape and general card-flipping.
The cards that you add to your own REM stack allow you to carry out a whole load of actions, ranging from copying an opponent’s power, moving cards in your REM stack and even reserving a card for later purchase. Your card will have two different actions for you to choose from. Dream types (the actions you carry out) are colour and symbol coded so you can easily identify chains.
Once there are not enough cards in the Sleep Deck to fill the Dreamscape back up to five, the game ends. You score points for chains of each dream type in your REM stack; the longer the chain, the more the points. The card’s orientation doesn’t affect scoring. Subtract one point for each Z card in your Deep Sleep Stack and like a unicorn in an ice cream shop, the player with the most chocolate sprinkles/points wins.
Vanilla Sky: The Game (But not really)
Lucid dreaming is a sweet and unusual theme, and one that I think it under-explored. It’s an area ripe for picking, and I think an interesting one for a set collection game. The game mechanics do skirt a fine line theme-wise, and I think the game would feel a lot more abstract if it weren’t for the artwork of Julie Okahara. While the style isn’t really my usual cup of tea, it does have a satisfying Dr. Seuss quality, like slightly bizarre illustrations in a hypothetical children’s book. You’ve got a mix of imagery, from the dreamers with their hollow tummies, giant teddy bears and night terrors that look like the scarier, redder version of Haunter from Pokemon.
It is of course a set collection game at it’s heart but Project Dreamscape takes a more creative approach to play. For one, the dual use cards. Not only does it mean that there is more potential crossover competition for cards in the dreamscape, but it also allows you to squeeze double the number of options into a small deck of cards. Multi-use cards tend to be a good addition to smaller card games, we’ve seen it done recently in others such as Flip City, where cards are double-sided and can be upgraded.
The feeling of economy is echoed throughout the gameplay; take too many Z cards and you’ll pay for it at the end. You’ll also find yourself feverishly trying to plan your card buying in order to get the best action combos. The fact that the game ships with a full expansion deck of different dream types, a variation rule, and fleshed-out solo play, means that there is a whole lot of potential for the scope of the game. You can make it more or less cutthroat, depending on which combination of cards you choose to include. Personally, I rather like a good pillow fight, so I prefer the more ‘take-that’ type cards, letting me change the order of play or make other players discard precious moolah.
The chain scoring can be perhaps a little tricky to figure out at first but once you’re used to counting the combos you’ll be fine. It’s got few enough rules to be pretty accessible but enough strategy to work as a lighter game for more dedicated tabletoppers. I could probably do without having to remember all of the specific deck names (“Is that my Deep Sleep Stack or the Sleep Deck? Wait, why is your hair made out of organic pasta?”) but this is a fairly minor gripe, and Project Dreamscape isn’t by any means a major offender in the industry.
While I’ve already mentioned the artwork, the rest of game hits a pretty high production standard. The box is sturdy, appropriately sized and looks like it has plenty of room for sleeving, if you so desire. You probably won’t need to though, as the cards feel as durable and lineny as you could want, I can only assume made from fossilised bed sheets of former dreamers. The number tokens are a lovely, chunky addition. It’s only fair to tell you that there was a small manufacturing error during the printing of my expansion deck which made a few of the cards unplayable. A short email exchange later, all was resolved.
The rule book is small but thorough, and there are additional rules reference cards and a handy scoring guide on the side of the box. They even have a QR code right on the box with a link to a copy of the rules. They REALLY want you to know the rules (in a nice way).
I tend to like small box card games, and this is a good example in my book. It’s got more flexibility than many, with plenty of options for changing how a game plays. There is enough going on that I can’t see it feeling samey any time soon. While the box says 1-4, it definitely plays best with two people. I’m not really a solo player but I felt that there was plenty of merit in this variation, and it didn’t feel like an add-on, as is sometimes the case. You lose a lot of strategy when you get above the 2 person mark in my eyes, with it’s sweet spot lingering on that familiar one-on-one play, the comfy old slippers of the small box game.
While it’s not enough game to get me super excited, at 30 minutes play time, it’s short and fun enough that I see its charm as enduring. I hope the cutesiness of the theming doesn’t put people off; just like with WWE Superstar Showdown a fortnight ago, there is a solid game lurking inside the box. I would heartily recommend Project Dreamscape if you’re planning on playing it as a 2 player or solo game.
Disclaimer: While I don’t know designer Sarah Reed well, we are casually acquainted via the splendiferous Women In Gaming forum on BoardGameGeek (which is a wonderful discussion space, regardless of gender). This in no way affected my decision to purchase the game or the outcome of my review. Now, go get your pyjamas on; it’s past your bedtime. And if you don’t brush your teeth, Justin Bieber will haunt your dreams. You have been warned.