- Designer: Manny Vega
- Publisher: Lucky Duck Games
- Players: 1-5
- Age: 10+
- Time: 60 minutes
- Played with review copy provided by Lucky Duck Games
Flamecraft is one of the rare games that the cover art pretty much sold me on the game. The art of Sandara Tang is simply beautiful, and I’ve always had a thing for all things dragony, so I was pretty much interested in the game from the get-go. The backstory here: “Artisan dragons, the smaller and magically talented versions of their larger (and destructive) cousins, are sought by shopkeepers so that they may delight customers with their flamecraft. You are a Flamekeeper, skilled in the art of conversing with dragons, placing them in their ideal home and using enchantments to entice them to produce wondrous things. Your reputation will grow as you aid the dragons and shopkeepers, and the Flamekeeper with the most reputation will be known as the Master of Flamecraft.” After getting a nice demo of this resource gathering game at the Lucky Duck stand at SPIEL 2022, this was high on my list of games to play as soon as I got home.
The long neoprene town mat is unrolled and placed on the table. There is space for shops around the outside edges, and the score track runs along the center. The game starts with 6 starter shops placed next to the town, each with a starter artisan dragon on it in the leftmost of the 3 dragon slots in each shop. A deck of 10 shop cards is constructed, shuffled and placed near the town. The Artisan Dragon deck, the Fancy Dragon deck and the Enchantment decks are all shuffled and placed in their respective areas in the center of the board. A display of 5 Enchantment cards is placed on the town center and a display of 5 Artisan dragons is made near its deck. The goods and coins are placed in a supply; coins can be substituted for any good. Coins are also useful as they are worth VP at the end of the game.
Each player takes the player token and player aid in their chosen color. The matching score piece is placed near the track. Each player gets dealt 3 Artisan Dragon. Then, each gets 2 Fancy Dragons, of which they keep 1. There are two types of Fancy Dragons – a Sun Fancy is scored in the midst of the game, whenever its criteria are met while a Moon Fancy is scored only in the final scoring at the end of the game. A first player is chosen, and compensatory goods may be granted to those at the end of turn order.
Turns are taken around the board until either the Enchantment Deck or the Artisan Dragon deck runs out. The format of each turn is quite simple, and easily summed up on the player aid.
First, you must visit new shop. You can go to any shop in town, but you can’t stay where you are. When you arrive, you must give 1 Good or Coin to every other player already at that shop. If you can not pay this cost, you need to choose a different destination. Once you are in the shop, you now have to decide whether you will Gather Goods or Enchant.
Gather Goods – If you choose to Gather goods, you cain 1 good/coin/artisan from the shop (Seen in the upper left corner) as well as a good from every Artisan Dragon and Enchantment installed there (again seen in the top left of each of those cards). Goods and coins are put in your supply (which is public) while the cards are placed in your hand.
Next, decide if you want to place an Artisan from your hand. The icon in the upper left be seen in the empty slot where you want to place the Artisan. If you do place one, gain the reward seen at the right of the dragon’s slot. Rewards might be Reputation (VPs), a dragon card or coins. If you have filled up the last empty dragon slot in a shop, draw the next shop from the Shop Deck and place it facedown in any empty spot.
Third, you can choose to fire up a dragon in your shop. All dragons of a particular icon type have the same ability – you can see them at the bottom of the dragon card next to the flame icon. Finally, if the shop has a special ability printed on it (found just above the dragon slots), you may take advantage of it at this time.
Enchant a shop – if you choose to do this (instead of Gathering Goods), you must be able to cast a suitable enchantment on the shop you are visiting – the correct type must be available and you must be able to pay the cost. When you do this, you must choose an Enchantment card from the display row in the center of the board whose icon matches the icon of the shop you are in. You then pay the cost in goods printed on the card. Some Enchantment cards even have a variable cost which then provides a variable reward. Take the Enchantment card and tuck it behind the shop card. Note that there is a limit of 3 Enchantments per shop. After you place the Enchantment, you may use the Fire ability of every dragon at the shop in any order.
After you have Gathered or Enchanted, then you end your turn. First, if you placed any facedown shops (by filling up other shops with Dragons), flip them over. Next, discard Artisan Dragons in your hand down to 6 and Goods in your supply to 7. Finally, refresh the displays for Artisan dragons and Enchantments so that 5 of each are showing.
The game continues until either the last card in either the Enchantment or Artisan Dragon deck is drawn or revealed. At this point, each player gets one more turn, including the player who triggered the end game. At the end of the game, there is a bit of final scoring. Each coin left in your supply is worth 1 VP. Each Fancy Dragon is judged on the criteria printed on the card and scored. The player with the most points wins. Ties broken in favor of the player with the most Artisan Dragons left in their hand.
There is also a solo game which is set up similar to a 3p game with some automa actions to place dragons in shops and move other player pieces into shops (so that you have to pay gifts). While there is not a specific campaign, as you play the solo game, you can unlock 11 different Achievements which change the setup a bit and make the game feel like it is progressing a bit with each successive change.
My thoughts on the game
Flamecraft is a beautiful game, and I’ll admit that the artwork I saw online, and then again in person at the Lucky Duck booth at SPIEL 2022 made me want to check the game out. And now that I’ve had a chance to play the game a few times, it’s definitely one of the most beautiful games in my collection. The fantasy / dragon art is absolutely beautiful, and the quality of the art has been mentioned at each occasion this game has hit the table (by at least one of the other gamers).
But how is the game? Flamecraft is a solid worker placement game. The setup makes you think that the game is going to be fairly complicated, but in reality, the mechanisms are pretty streamlined, and the game is really quite simple to teach/learn/play. I think that I got the wrong impression of the game in the initial setup because the components take up so much space on the table, and there are different sets of cards which each need their own setup; but when you get down to it, each turn is surprisingly simple – and even though there are plenty of cards with unique abilities on the table, they are all easy to understand and the game doesn’t get bogged down too much trying to understand your options. Sure, if you play with an AP gamer, it’ll take time. But, heck, I assume that statement to be true about an AP person regardless of the game…
Make sure you play at a large table. Or possibly get two card tables and place them next to each other. The neoprene mat that serves as the board is surprisingly long, and you’ll need space around it for the shops and you’ll also need a fair bit of personal space for each player to player aid and your dragon cards. We ended up using the BGG neoprene card racks as a great solution to hold both the cards as well as organize the resource chits.
The two action choices are easy enough to follow, and there is a nice balance between them. If you gather goods, you mostly get things, but you do get a chance to play a card from your hand as well. When you enchant a shop, you make it better for everyone in the game, but then you also get a fairly powerful turn where you can fire all the dragons that are in said shop. Sometimes you only need a single fire action – and in that case you might be better off gathering goods so that you collect a bunch of resources in addition. Other times, you might be forced to take a less desirable action because of the forced movement rule – you have to move, and maybe you don’t want to pay or can’t pay the resource cost to go to a shop with other dragons. This is obviously a more common occurrence in a higher player count game, but there is also a higher chance that people will be paying you resources as well – so it seems to balance out just fine.
I personally like to get a few fancy dragons early on so that I can work towards their end-game bonuses as I play, but as I have lost more than I’ve won, this might not be ideal. I have seen plenty of different strategies in the game, and it does seem that they all can be successful.
Have I mentioned the art? Well, it’s gorgeous. Really spectacular. I don’t often say that abot games, but there is definitely something about Sandara Tang’s artwork in the game that really appeals to me. The cards are well laid out with all of the information easily visible. I am not the biggest fan of the neoprene mat, as I favor a flat cardboard board which is more likely to stay flat – but I have found that I am in the minority around here as everyone else loves the mat. I also am a bit down on the size of the game. We have a large enough table, but the length of the board means that some of the shops might be literally two and a half feet away from me, and at that distance, it’s hard to read the cards or see what’s going on. Your feeling about this could easily be swayed by the lighting of your gameroom and your visual acuity.
The game works fine, and after a few plays, each game remains enjoyable, but there isn’t much variability between plays. I mean, you probably see different shops each game as you only use 10 out of the deck each time out, but in the end, it is a fairly simple game – so you won’t be taxed to make complex decisions. While this doesn’t work out great for our serious gaming group, it does make it an excellent choice for family night or casual gamers. It’s accessible enough to be taught to most anyone, and again, the artwork really attracts people to the game. The length of the game (~60 minutes) maybe puts it a bit longer than I’m looking for in the super-filler category, but that is ultimately the niche where it fits for my game group due to the relative simplicity of the game.
The spot that Flamecraft will nicely fill is that gateway-plus sector. A longer game with just a bit more chew to it; a game to play with folks who have some experience with gaming but maybe aren’t ready for Mombasa or Caylus yet want more than Qwirkle, Farkle or Kingdomino. This is a beautiful middle ground to explore for that set.
Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers
Mark Jackson (1 play): A lovely “gateway-plus” game – with as Dale says, gorgeous artwork. However, there’s not enough “oomph” in the design to make it necessary for me to play it again.
Jeff Lingwall (2 plays): It’s one of the most beautiful games I’ve seen–my teenage daughter bought a copy because she’d had one of the pieces of art that inspired the design for a year before seeing the game. The gameplay is quick, smooth, and pleasant. I would put it on the shelf next to Ticket to Ride and get it out with family and friends. Those looking for a long and epic experience can easily find other worker-placement fare.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it!
- I like it. Dale Y, Jeff Lingwall
- Neutral. Steph H, Eric M, John P, Mark Jackson
- Not for me…
Thanks for the review!