Tuesday 22 July 2014

Review - Dragonology: The Game


Published by Paul Lamond Games
Designed by Anne Nonimous
For 2-6 players, aged 8 to adult

Dragonology game box
Pretty, pretty box.

Anyone who knows me, and knows what I do for a living, is aware that I am a huge fan of mythology. I love Greek mythology, and anything involving werewolves and vampires (not the sparkly kind) is going to catch my interest; but if I had to pick one type of mythological creature that I love more than any other, it would be dragons.

Why am I telling you all this? Because it should help to explain why I went out of my way to pick up a copy of Dragonology: The Game.

Way back in the mists of time, when my wife was still my girlfriend, I purchased her a copy of the Dragonology book. It is a very special book, full of humour and magic. My wife loves it, I love it, and my daughter (who is rapidly approaching her fourth birthday) loves it too. It was only natural that I wanted to see what a game based on that book was all about.

Of course (rather depressingly), it is about rolling dice.

And moving.

Okay, to be fair, I knew it was a roll and move game before I purchased it; but it has an enjoyable theme, and the box is packed with cool plastic dragon pieces, so I thought it was worth a look. Unfortunately, those lovely pieces are the epitome of what is wrong with this game: It is all style, at the expense of function and fun.

Dragonology playing pieces
The playing pieces.

The problem is immediately apparent as soon as you open the box. For a start, the cards are shaped like dragons. Seriously. Have you ever tried to shuffle a dragon? It isn't easy. And they really don't like it.

And then there are those playing pieces, representing the characters that are jet-setting around the world looking for dragons, and the dragons themselves. They look fantastic, but most of them don't stand up due to the stupidly small bases. Of course, the bases have to be stupidly small because of the stupidly small spaces on the (rather beautifully illustrated) board.

But at the end of the day, it is the game that is important, right? As long as the game is good, you can overlook the frustration of constantly picking up the pieces, or the annoyance of trying to shuffle cards that seem to be designed specifically to prevent you from doing so.

Of course, the game isn't good.

The aim is simple. You move around the map (usually by rolling a dice), trying to land on spaces that give you the option to draw one of those stupid dragon cards. These cards are called, rather unimaginatively, "Bit of Knowledge" cards. They are called this because they contain bits of... Yeah, okay, I think you can figure it out.

Some cards have your standard "take that" spells that allow you to screw other players by stealing their cards, or even stealing their dragons, while other cards allow you to take extra turns, or defend yourself. However, most of the cards contain a bit of a description about a specific kind of dragon. If you ever have three cards from a set, and you land on the "home" space for the related dragon, you can claim that dragon as your own. If you successfully collect three dragons, and then land on the "dragon's eye" space on the board, you win the game.

Dragonology cards
Stupid-shaped cards

In theory, it doesn't sound so bad. It's just set collection, with a bit of "take that" and dice rolling.

In practice, it is an agonisingly long exercise in tedium.

The biggest problem is that movement is primarily by dice rolling, and you always have to move exactly the number of spaces rolled. This results in that classic, laugh-inducing situation where a player is desperately trying to land on a dragon space in order to claim a dragon, but keeps rolling the wrong number. Now, everyone knows how annoying that is when you are rolling a six-sided dice. Well... Now imagine that with a 12-sided dice.

That sounds fun, right?

Okay, to be fair, the game tries to do several things to mitigate the dice-rolling. First of all, one face on the dice is a dragon's eye logo, which allows you to teleport to any dragon space you want. Additionally, certain spaces on the board allow players to take a transportation ticket card. Players use these to move by air, sea, or road, without using the dice.

Even so, most of the time, movement is going to come down to dice rolling; and the possibility of having to move up to 12 spaces out of your way means that landing on anything you specifically want to land on is a real chore.

Things are made even worse thanks to the layout of the board. In most cases, a player will end up with a choice of three or four routes, so every turn comprises  rolling the dice, and then painstakingly counting the number of spaces along multiple routes to determine the best space to land on.

Dragonology board
Choices. So many choices...

And then there is my favourite thing in any game ever: Blank spaces. There is nothing better than rolling the dice, checking all your possible routes, and then realising you are going to end up on a space that allows you to do... absolutely nothing.

And finally, as if it wasn't already tedious enough trying to win the game, there are the "take that" cards. There are 81 cards in the deck, and 36 of them are special cards. Of those special cards, there are 10 cards that allow you to take cards from other players, and two "master claw" cards that allow you to take one of their dragons. The real kicker? The "master claw" cards cannot be blocked by any of the "shield" cards in the deck, so that hard-won dragon you have in your possession is getting taken away, and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it.

That sounds fun, right?

The sum total of rolling the dice, counting all the spaces, gradually accumulating the cards you need, claiming dragons, then losing dragons, and then trying to get to the "dragon's eye" space to win, takes almost forever. The nightmares will last even longer.

Really, this game just wasn't well thought-out. The board needs a complete redesign, with less spaces, for a start. I would also go for rolling two six-sided dice and then having the choice of using one value, or adding the two values together. But honestly, the game isn't worth tinkering with. I bought my copy for a couple of quid in a charity shop, and I think that might have been just about worth it for the dragon pieces. Other than that, there is nothing to see here.

Dragonology dragon piece
So pretty.

Anyone reading this is probably thinking, "What did you expect from a children's game that was churned out to the mass-market to take advantage of a related book's status as a New York Times Bestseller?"

The answer is simple: I wasn't expecting much at all.

But it's always nice to be surprised sometimes, isn't it?

Unless, of course, that surprise is someone playing an unblockable "master claw" card when you are one space away from winning the game.


  1. My 7 and 9 year old love this game..

    1. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. I'm glad to hear you are having fun with the game. It really is a very beautiful game, and I really wanted to like it a lot more than I did!

  2. I loved this review to shreds, especially the conclusion: "It's always nice to be surprised sometimes." :D I think you saved me a handful of quid, so thanks very much!

    1. You're very welcome! Glad you enjoyed the review. I hope you consider subscribing.

  3. Thank you for excoriating this terrible game. It has cost me unfortunate hours as my son loves it.

    1. You're welcome. I hope you and your son find some other, better games to play together soon. There are so many good ones!

  4. I have played this game several times with children 5-10 years old and they LOVE it!! They keep asking to play it again. However we edited the game and speeded it up by taking out the 2 Confusion cards, and making rules that if you land on a city or anchor space you get a bit of knowledge, and if you land on a dragon space you get 2 bits of knowledge. We also play it in teams so 2 or 3 players team up and share all of their bits of knowledge and tickets that they’ve been collecting. They still have their own individual player pieces to move around the board and they still take individual turns rolling the die and moving around the board and doing things. But it’s a lot of fun to compete in teams of 2 or 3 against the other team(s) and strategize with your teammates about how to use your team’s bits of knowledge and tickets, and how to each move around the board to get your team closer to winning. The Master Claw card is pretty messed up lol but there’s lots of dragons to “master” so you COULD find another one to master and that makes it part of the challenge. I personally really enjoy this game now with the edits we made to game play. Oh also we like to play the game while listening to dragon related music such as “Puff the Magic Dragon” or the How To Train Your Dragon soundtrack. :) and I own the Dragonology book so it’s fun to compare the pictures and info in there with the game. I love dragons and the kids I play the game with all think the little dragon pieces are so cool and they’re so excited to “master” one of them. I played the game once with one other adult, just the two of us, and I found the game to be really long and boring and tedious like you said in this review. But with the edits we made, the kids and I are really really enjoying it now. :)


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