Please Take Note: This is a review of the final game, but it might change slightly based on the success of the Kickstarter campaign. The game is being reviewed on the components and the rules provided with the understanding that “what you see is not what you might get” when the game is published. If you like what you read and want to learn more, we encourage you to visit the game’s web page or visit the Kickstarter campaign. Now that we have all that disclaimer junk out of the way, on with the review.
- For ages 6 and up
- For 2 to 6 players
- Variable Game Play Length
- Active Listening & Communication
- Counting & Math
- Logical & Critical Decision Making
- Strategy & Tactics
- Risk vs. Reward
- Cooperative & Team Play
- Hand/Resource Management
- Child – Easy
- Adult – Easy
Theme & Narrative:
- Protect your dragon from the Hunters!
- Gamer Geek rejected!
- Parent Geek approved!
- Child Geek approved!
Dragons are sacred beasts. They embody magic, strength, and benevolence. Tribes of warriors and mystics have dedicated their lives to protect these beasts from those who would harm them. You are such an individual and you have trained your whole life to be the sword and shield for these magical creatures. Your greatest allies are other Keepers who have sworn to protect the dragons and the dragons themselves.
Dragon Keepers, designed by Catarina Lacerda, Vital Lacerda, and to be published by Knight Works, will reportedly be comprised of 22 Battle Event cards, 36 Keeper cards, 18 Shield tokens, 6 Dragon tiles, 15 Arrow tokens, 5 Flame tokens, 8 Player boards (4 small, 4 large), 36 Action tokens, 1 Hunter token, 19 custom six-sided dice (in the colors, black, white, and red), 4 Player Aids, and one cloth Training bag. As this is a review of a prepublished game, I cannot comment on the game component quality. Artist Mihajlo Dimitrievski has done a wonderful job of illustrating the dragons and heroes in the game.
Keepers and Their Dragons
Dragon Keepers has two important game components that will be part of any game mode. These are Keepers and Dragons. Keepers are individuals who have sworn to protect dragons and the Dragons are – well – dragons. Each Keeper has a favorite Dragon (that matches their color), but they are honor-bound to protect them all.
Dragon tiles have two sides. One is considered “friendly” and the other is considered “trained”, wherein the dragons have become fearsome combatants. The “friendly” side shows the dragon in a peaceful and almost puppy-dog like state. Only the dragon’s life strength (indicated by the hearts) is shown, but so is a faded attack (representing the dragons harmful potential). The “trained” side portrays the dragon in all of its fearsome glory. The life strength is again displayed, but so is the dragon’s attack power. Open slots are available on the “trained” side and used to track damage and abilities.
Each dragon has a special “power”, which makes every dragon unique, both in their overall strength and their ability to avoid and engage in combat. For example, the “red” dragon’s strength is fire, but the “yellow” dragon’s special ability is its armor that allows it to protect itself and other dragons from harm.
The “big bad guy” in this game is referred to as the “Hunter”. The Hunter represents those forces that are trying to harm the dragons the player’s Keepers have sworn to protect. The Hunter is played in different ways depending on the game mode being used.
How to Train a Dragon
Dragon Keepers can be played several different ways. Each game mode specifically targets certain age and skill ranges, allowing younger and inexperienced players to enjoy the game, as well as the elitist player. Each of the game modes are summarized here.
This cooperative game mode takes about 15 minutes to play, is suitable for ages 6 and up, and can sit three to six players. The goal of the game is place three Shield tokens on one or more Dragon tiles.
Six random Dragon tiles are placed in the center of the game playing area on their “friendly” side. The “trained” side is not used. A Keeper card is randomly chosen to become the Hunter and placed in the center of the game playing area, as well. Each player is given their own Keeper deck and the game begins.
The game mode is played in phases, wherein the Hunter goes first with the player who has the Hunter token. The Hunter attacks (using dice) and places the dice that match specific dragons on the appropriate Dragon tile. Each dragon can only be targeted once. The players then go by simultaneous selecting and then revealing one Keeper card from their hand. The selected cards are played to the center of the game playing area. Players then resolve attacks, which each Dragon tile without a matching Keeper taking one point of life. If a dragon was protected by only one Keeper, that player places one of their Shield tokens on the Dragon tile (the dragon might also heal if the right Keeper card is played). The game ends when a dragon dies or a player has all three of their Shield tokens in play.
This cooperative game mode takes about 40 minutes to play, is suitable for ages 9 and up, and can sit two to four players. The goal of the game is to attack the Hunters with a predetermined number of “trained’ dragons.
The game mode has different difficulty settings which determine how the game is won or lost. For example, on the “easy” setting, the game is won if four different dragons successfully attack, but the “extreme” setting requires the players to have six different dragons successfully attack and a “missed” attack is introduced based on the results of the dice being rolled.
Players can take four different actions in this game mode. These are “Defend” (removes attacks on dragons), “Heal” (removes Arrow tokens from injured dragons), “Train” (flips a “friendly” Dragon tile over to the other side), and “Attack” (wherein the “trained” dragon opens a can of whoop butt). Battle Event cards are also used and passed out to players as rewards. Battle Event cards represent magical artifacts, potions, and other bonuses that make a dragon and their keeper into an unstoppable force.
The game mode is played in rounds and phases, starting with the Hunter attacking. The next phase is for the Keepers to defend their dragons by running to their aid. The last phase is for the Keepers and the dragons to cooperatively attack the Hunter, defending against attacks, and healing wounds. This is all done through the use of dice, Keeper cards, and moving tokens to help keep track of actions and their results.
The game ends if one of the dragons expires or the Battle Event deck is depleted, meaning the Keepers have lost. However, the game is won if the predefined number of dragons (per the difficulty settings decided by the players at the start of the game) have all made a successful attack.
Both game modes were a hit with the Child Geeks. As the game designers intended, the easier game mode allowed younger players to join in the fun, while the more difficult game mode challenged the players to not only work together, but manage on going threats. According to one Child Geek, “What I like most about this game is how you can set the difficulty. I thought the first [Keepers] game mode was too easy, but I really liked it when we played the harder [Dragon] game mode. Especially when we went extreme!” Another Child Geek said, “I like the different dragons and the artwork. It made me want to go draw dragons after we played.” All the Child Geeks voted to approve Dragon Keepers.
The Parent Geeks enjoyed the game, but mostly only with their family. According to one Parent Geek, “I like dragons and all, but only because I read such books with my kids. With adults, the whole dragon theme fell a little flat. Like, why should I care about these dragons? When I play with my kids, I feel like we are part of a team and protecting them. With adults, I feel like I’m just playing a game.” Another Parent Geek said, “Well designed and I like how the game can be played differently with different groups of people and different ages. I think my favorite is actually the easiest version of the game because it let me play with all my kids.” None of the Parent Geek found fault with Dragon Keepers, but only a few suggested they liked the game better with their peers rather than with their families and Child Geeks. This lead them to believe that Dragon Keepers was a family game and they all eagerly endorsed it.
The Gamer Geeks liked a number of the game’s ideas, but found the game play to be less than what they were hoping for. According to one Gamer Geek, “I like how the game allows players to adjust the difficulty level, but I never felt like we dialed in the game correctly. We were either able to win without too much fuss or had our asses handed to us so quickly it made our heads spin. It was difficult to find a sweet spot in the middle that provided both a challenge and fun.” Another Gamer Geek said, “I thought the game was good enough to be played with my kids and the extended family, but I doubt it would get much table time other than once if I played it with my gaming buddies.” The Gamer Geeks decided the game was not for them, passing it back to their Child Geeks, making them responsible for defending the dragons from harm.
With different game modes and difficulty settings, it would take too long to go over each of their subtle game play differences and set ups. Needless to say, I doubt I could hold your attention that long if I were to go over every detail. The games are different in play, but their approach is similar enough to allow players to learn the game using the Keepers mode as a base and then expanding on it with the Dragon mode. I like this direction in game design, as it suggests that the players have room to grow and the game itself can match the current skill levels of its players. This makes the game much more playable, allowing it to get to the gaming table more often. Rather than having one game that targets a specific skill and experience group, Dragon Keepers invites all players, regardless of their background and experience, to sit and defend some dragons.
I personally found the game to be OK at best. Like the Gamer Geeks, I believed the game’s direction and challenge to be entertaining, but not as engaging as I would have liked. This is most likely the result of the game’s greatest strength ironically being its biggest weakness. By design, it’s meant for all players. This means, also by design, it cannot be something specific. If you have a group in mind, you can design a game around their assumed skill level and areas of interest. When you design a game that is meant to capture a wide audience, you have to focus more on generalities versus specifics.
But, as it turns out, there is another aspect regarding the game design that few will know about. I’m going to let you in on a little secret. One of the game’s designers, Vital Lacerda, was influenced by his daughter. He designed the game with her not only in mind, but included her in the game designing process. Her suggestions were integrated into the game’s systems based on her ideas and stories. It was her imagination that influenced the game’s thematic and narrative elements, and ultimately, why I think the game is the way it is today. When you design a game with Child Geeks, the game will most likely be best enjoyed by the same group. This is certainly the case with Dragon Keepers per our observations.
Do try this game with your family and friends when time allows. Dragons are most certainly a creature worth protecting and playing with.
This is a paid for review of the game’s final prototype. Although our time and focus was financially compensated, our words are our own. We’d need at least 10 million dollars before we started saying what other people wanted. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek which cannot be bought except by those who own their own private islands and small countries.