Preview/First Impression: Dragon’s Path
Designer: Ágoston Erdélyi
Artist: Dorottya Kitka (conceptual artwork) and Béla Lajos Nagy (design)
Last month, I got a review game in the mail from Hungary. Not knowing what to expect, I tore open the wrapper and found a beautiful vivid box with dragons and promise of a 3D game inside.
Having played Chaostle, a fine game with high drama, I thought I knew what I was in store for . . . boy was I wrong. The rules are one page, but the gameplay is not obvious and it is not yet another two player abstract. The game board is beautiful and basically a 6 x 6 grid. Each player takes a corner space with one of the four dragons. The remaining 32 places receive large tactile cubes in nice indentations in the board where they sit. Each cube has five sides in common, a neutral face and around that one face each for each of the four colors. Given that there are 32 cubes, the color opposite the neutral side is red for 8 cubes, green for 8 cubes, etc.
The heart of the game is moving your dragon on to an orthogonally adjacent cube. When you move from one cube to another, you rotate the cube you are leaving, rotating it in the direction you are moving. If you rotate the cube you just left to the neutral color or your dragon’s color, you get to move your dragon again. In this way, the mottled board slowly becomes green when the green dragon moves, then becomes red when the red dragon moves. This creates a pleasing effect.
The goal of the game is to be the first dragon to score 100 points. Points are scored when you are done moving for your turn. Each cube with your color face up at the end of your turn counts as a point, whether you landed on it this turn or not. This is cool because a long move where you rotate lots of cubes to the neutral side face up will not score as much as a shorter move that brings your color face up.
This is an elegant game. I’m betting you have one question now. What if I go into a corner? If you move into a corner, you basically go around the corner to the other cube adjacent to corner space, rotating the cube you left towards the starting space. In other words, once you make your first move from the board, you never land on the board again, just cube to cube. You may not move on to a cube that already has a dragon.
Since you start with all the neutral dragons on top, you both don’t get free points early on and you also have no idea which cubes have your color on the other side.
I love the heart of the game, the cube you leave rolls towards the one you are moving to. This makes for a visceral feeling that the cubes are rolling as you leap to the next one, almost as in a computer game.
In terms of board games, it sort of reminds me of a great little Adlung game called Ebbe & Flut. It is a special game because it has a visceral flow to it that I have not seen elsewhere. It is a two player game where waves almost literally ripple across the table, then back again.
Joe Huber noted that there is also a video game of this sort, Q*bert Qubes for ColecoVision, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vtvp5h6pkRY , but Dragon’s Path has a charm and central mechanism that has lasts as only board games can.
I have two small issues. The game is a race game, so there does feel like a first player advantage. The game ends when the first person reaches 100 points, but I wonder if everyone should have an equal number of turns. Second, if you play it more than casually, you will want to look at the cubes from multiple angles, which can only be done by either walking around the table or putting the game on a spinning base, like the one that came with Rumis.
All in all, a really nice abstract for 2-4 players that takes some thought as well as some fortunate alignments to win the race to 100.