Designer: William Umstattd |   Players: 4 only   |   Playtime: 30 minutes

Dragon and Rider is an aerial fighting card game between two Dragons and their Riders. Each Dragon and his Rider will try to communicate to one another by playing cards which will hint or outright tell their partner what they want to do. The team who can best communicate their plans and outsmart their opponents will win.

I had the opportunity to playtest this game on the Pub’s trip to Criticon this year. To be honest, when I first heard it was a paper-rock-scissors variant I was bit skeptical. However, I was pleasantly surprised at what I found after playing this modern take on a classic children’s game.

THEME

There’s really not a lot of theme here other than the fact that Dragons can’t speak to their Riders because they speak different languages. And, you know, even though it’s a bit thin I think it ties in quite well with the mechanisms of the game. It’s a good explanation.

PRESENTATION

Art
Scott Harshbarger did a really nice job with the artwork. I really like how each card type is conveyed in the dragon and rider’s pose. The coolest thing, though, is how each pose flawlessly matches up to any of the other poses of your teammate’s card. That is just neat and well thought out. Excellent attention to detail there.

Graphic Design
The version I had the chance to play was one of the beginning stages of the graphic design. As you can see below it has progressed into a very sharp looking design. It’s not often that we get to see the stages in which a game is designed so I thought I’d highlight a few things that stood out to me.

1) Above all else, the inclusion of the rock around the artwork is just fantastic. I love this most about the graphic design. It transforms the cards from prototype to flashy. It’s very modern looking and I love it.

2) Originally, the rock-paper-scissors symbol was hard to determine what card type your team was countering. Now, the arrow showing the counter is highlighted as well as reminder text at the top of the card. This was a necessary change. Good job.

The inclusion of the rock around the artwork is just fantastic. I love this most about the graphic design.

3) Most people that I know, fan their cards out to the right. The symbol indicating the card type used to be on the right which would be hidden once you fanned your cards. Now it’s on the left which makes it easily visible when holding the cards in your hand.

4) Card size has been improved since I played. It went from a rather large and clunky card to tarot (Dixit) sized cards. Easier to hold and find sleeves for.

5) The overall arrangement of text and symbols has been aligned and pronounced. It’s much easier to read which speeds up playtime.

6) Lastly, I’d like to give a big shout out to the graphics designer, Rubens Castro, for implementing one of my suggestions after playtesting. Each of the damage resolution conditions had unique names which were difficult to remember. I suggested that icons would be easier to identify. They are! Man, does it make a difference. No more need to reference the rulebook. Thank you, Rubens! You’re my hero.

Components
Not much to say here as the components were all in prototype form. I’ll mention again, though, that the decision to change the card size was a good one. Also, (not mentioned above) the decision was made to include a single hit point tracker for each team rather than a deck of cards similar to Star Realms. I think this change will make it easier to track from round to round with a cube rather than hunting for the right value in a deck.

Mechanisms

Partnership
So, this game is a four player only game. (two teams of two) The Kickstarter describes it “like Spades or Bridge…but with a lot less trick taking and a lot more dragons.” I’d say this is just one of those necessary evils. It might be hard to get to the table because of the player restriction but there’s no way around it, really. It needs to be four players. It’s just in the design. A small negative but one to consider.

Player Elimination
Like Spades you’re trying to eliminate your opponent. You do this by matching cards with your partner and countering your opponent’s attacks. There is a lot of math when doing this. Some ifs, ands, and buts. However, I wouldn’t consider it any more difficult than, say, Smash Up’s base scoring. It didn’t really bother me, but mathy games usually don’t.

Rock-Paper-Scissors
So the core mechanism in this game is the age old Rock-Paper-Scissors. But wait, there’s more! So instead of simply countering your opponent’s attack you are also trying to match your partner’s card to give you benefits that may increase your offense or defense. You do this over several planning phases which give bits of information to your partner (as well as your opponents). In addition to this, there’s a speed to each combat type, which allows players to force through their decisions. This adds even more layers to the game.

Simultaneous Action
Like all simultaneous action games, cards played will be placed face down and revealed simultaneously.

So here’s how this works. Your team’s dragon will choose a stance: dodge, charge, or ranged. After it’s revealed, the rider will then pick a combat card to play and one not to play. The one chosen not to be played is revealed and the dragon will then choose which combat card he won be playing. All chosen combat cards are revealed and damage modifiers applied.

Deduction (and Bluffing)
The meat of this game is in the deduction. In my Auctions & Bidding video I mentioned how rock-paper-scissors is basically the most random of all bidding mechanisms and that the best strategy is to really not have one at all. Dragon and Rider changes all of this by including some rather innovative deduction.

When the dragons reveal what they initially want to do each rider must decide if that’s a good counter to their opponent’s choice. Then based on what the rider says he doesn’t want to do the dragon can make an informed decision on whether to carry on with his plan or try to match the rider. Many times the “not played” card gives a ton of information if read correctly. It can also throw off your opponent’s scent if misinterpreted.

It really is a neat system and was fun trying to figure out what your partner wanted along with what was needed to win. I really enjoyed it.

PROS

L

How deduction during the planning stages serves for both hints and distractions

L

The use of inductive reasoning

L

Layered use of rock-paper-scissors

L

New card graphic design and card art

CONS

K

Player Restriction

RATING:

Try this game if you like:

  • Yomi
  • TKO
  • Incredibrawl
  • The Resistance
  • Spades
  • Dixit
  • Element

FINAL THOUGHTS

I think what’s neat about this game is how it uses deduction and planning stages to come to an agreement with your partner. It doesn’t always turn out the way you want but the more you play the more you tend to catch on to subtle hints. It’s also really fun when there’s an obvious choice but you reveal that you aren’t doing it. There’s a lot of strategy here that’s not inherently apparent. And I like that. A lot. All this provides just a little more depth to a rather simple mechanism.

There’s a lot of strategy here that’s not immediately apparent.

I really like a lot of the changes that have been implemented. I think every one of them has been for the betterment of the game. I’m sure it helps seeing the progression the game has gone through. I think many times we take the final product for granted expecting it to be perfect. Getting to see positive development helps increase confidence. At least, for me it does.

Overall I think this is a pretty good game. It’s an interesting addition to your old school four player card games and it’s small enough to throw in your bag on the go. If it’s something you’re interested in I’d highly recommend going to the Kickstarter page and backing it.