A group of wizards has been tasked with exploring Dragon Island, a mysterious place filled with gold, treasure, and, of course, dragons. You’ll use your magic to tame these great beasts and possibly capture them for fame and fortune. After conquering the land, the wizard with the most fame will be victorious!
How To Play
In this tile-laying game everyone gets a player shield, which also doubles as a player aid listing all of the possible actions you may take on your turn. You’ll notice that there’s a list of eight actions, with only three that must be taken each turn: Place a tile and produce energy, move your wizard, and, finally, draw a tile. The other five are all dependent on these three actions.
Throughout Dragon Island you’ll gain fame (victory points) as you tame and/or capture dragons, construct buildings, or produce gold. The player with the most fame wins.
On your turn, place a tile. This tile, along with any adjacent tiles, produces your turn’s Active Energy. This AE may be used to construct buildings or capture dragons in the subsequent steps.
Next, move your wizard. They must end on a different tile than they started and if there are dragons on it, you may either tame or capture a dragon. Taming a dragon gives you an ongoing special ability, depending on which dragon you tame. Capturing a dragon gives you fame.
If there’s an action icon on the tile such as constructing a building, then you’ll resolve it. If you’re on a tile that is surrounded by the colors listed on your treasure map card, you may reveal it and receive fame and gold.
Finally, draw a new tile and the next player begins their turn. The game ends when all tiles have been placed onto the table; everyone counts up their fame and any gold they have on their pet dragons. The most fame wins.
Capture This Dragon or Release It?
I was thrilled to see a game by Mike Fitzgerald land on my To Review shelf. Fitzgerald’s Baseball Highlights: 2045 is one of my all-time favorite deckbuilders, and his trick-taking Diamonds is a solid game I’ve always enjoyed. And while I’ve never played his Mystery Rummy series of games, I’ve heard enough good things about them that I look forward to playing them someday.
Unfortunately, Dragon Island’s clunky gameplay and generic fantasy theme fall short of the high standard of Fitzgerald’s more popular games.
There is some decent stuff in Dragon Island. As a tile-laying fan, I was immediately drawn to the game’s core mechanism. Take a tile, place it and gain resources, move your wizard, and perform an action.
While the artwork and components are good, nothing stands out. The four player colors are represented by different-looking characters, but mechanically they’re all the same. Not until you start capturing dragons does your character begin to feel and play differently because of the ongoing powers that dragons provide. Ultimately, though, the dragon theme doesn’t help the game. Dragon Island could have been re-themed as a sci-fi or farming game, and it would’ve played the same. And the generic fantasy theme does nothing to make it stand out in a crowded field.
The rulebook and player aid make things seem way more complicated than they are. Take a look at the player aid and you’ll see eight steps listed, each one explained as (M)andatory, (C)onditional, or (O)ptional. You’ll go through this list on every turn. This may have seemed like the best way to make sure players do everything on their turn, but it can be initially overwhelming. It’s easy to see a casual or non-gamer viewing that list and being immediately turned off. I would’ve preferred a list of the three actions I do every turn (place a tile, gain resources, and move my wizard), with additional notes for any other actions that may be triggered.
Throughout my games I was always wondering if there was a way to streamline all of this. The game really isn’t that complicated and after a few turns you should be able to get into a groove and figure out how things work. It may take a game or two to really understand the flow of the game.
Here’s the problem, though, and it’s a big one if your fellow gamers are prone to Analysis Paralysis: downtime. It’s easy to get bogged down trying to figure out the best way to set up a combination, which leads to a lot of downtime for other players. As the game continues and the playing area expands, you’re faced with an ever-growing amount of spaces to go to, thus giving you more choices, leading to even more downtime.
And with each tile being double-sided you have even more options to choose from. Depending on where you place your tile, you’ll generate Active Energy; this energy consists of the color of the tile you place and the color of any adjacent tiles. Since you need Active Energy to build structures and tame or capture dragons, it can be quite a chore figuring out the best way to be efficient on your turn.
Thankfully, my main gaming group doesn’t suffer from AP, and we’re relatively quick in our decisions. With two players the downtime isn’t too bad, but with four players, there’s nothing to do for three whole turns. Yes, you have two tiles behind your screen so you can prepare for your next turn, but with three players ahead of you, the game’s state can change dramatically before you can lay your tile and pull off that sweet combination.
After my initial underwhelming play, the game grew on me a little. I got past its initial clunkiness and I liked some of the combo-riffic plays you can set up with your tiles and wizard movement. Captured dragons give their owners ongoing bonuses such as paying one less Active Energy for a building or gaining an additional Fame when completing a Treasure Map card.
For example, if I’d already captured a red dragon, it allows me to pay one less active energy to capture another dragon. On my turn I could place a tile that contains another red dragon I want to capture for a point. I’d gather the active energy from the surrounding tiles, then move my wizard to that tile, since dragons allow me to fly to a tile of a similar color. Once there, I pay the active energy to capture the dragon for a point. And if I’ve played my tile right it’ll match my treasure map card, which is worth even more points.
Fans of Takenoko may like what Dragon Island has to offer since the games share a similar DNA: lay tiles, move figures, and attempt to match tiles to a secret objective for points. In fact, you might call Dragon Island a next-step Takenoko. Personally, I prefer Takenoko due to its smoother game play and superior artwork and components.
There’s a decent tile-laying game with resource management to be found in Dragon Island. While there are some clever parts to its game play, especially in terms of resource management and working with your captured dragons’ abilities to hit those point-scoring combos, it ultimately wasn’t for me. It’s not a bad game, but it’s not a great one, either.
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank R&R Games for providing us with a copy of Dragon Island for review.