For the first time in a century, a new dragon egg has been laid. The nature of the dragon which will hatch from it remains a mystery, but the Order of the Dragon Whisperers are ready. From the seven Havens, powerful mages gather to prove their worth to the Order. Only the greatest shall be chosen to bond with the new hatchling through a magical process called the Kenning. It is a powerful, dangerous venture that requires a mind of supreme will and absolute cunning, and only through a series of quests can a mage show their true power and worth. Do you have what it takes to be the next Dragon Whisperer?
Taking on the role of hopeful young mages looking to impress the Council, players travel around the seven different Havens within the kingdom and compete with one another in a test of mettle. Players seek to best one another at their quests while also acquiring treasure and defeating monsters in the process.
While having some board game elements, Dragon Whisperer is primarily a Trick-taking game similar to traditional card games like Hearts or Spades. But with dragons. To start, randomize and stack the color-coded Quest tokens face down in their respective Haven locations. Then, a hand of cards is dealt to each player, consisting of cards ranging in value from 1 to 7 across seven different suits. Each suit corresponds to a particular Haven’s colors. The remaining deck is set aside, with the top card being revealed as the Trump suit. Monster and Treasure tokens are also set aside.
To begin each set of rounds in Dragon Whisperer, the top Quest token at each Haven is revealed with a victory point value between 1 and 5. Starting with the dealer in the first round and generally going to the winner of the last trick afterwards, that player decides which Haven play will begin at. They open the trick by playing any card from their hand. Going clockwise, each player must then play a card to match the trick’s suit color. If a player can play a card matching the suit, they must. If they cannot, the player then must attempt to play a card of the current Trump suit. If the player has neither, they may play a card of any suit.
In addition, playing certain cards in Dragon Whisperer triggers certain effects:
- The first player to throw a 1 during a round becomes the first player for the next round instead of the winner of the trick.
- The first player to throw a 2 during a round collects a Monster token. Each Monster token awards 1 VP at the end of the game.
- Any time a player throws a 3 during a round, they have the option of revealing a new Trump card.
- The first player to throw a 4 during a round collects a Treasure token. The player with the most Treasure tokens at the end of game gets an extra 5VP.
- There are a handful of Dragon Rage cards that can be played which have no value. These cards effectively kill the trick, as no Quest token will be awarded. Players are free to throw any card after a Dragon Rage has been used, and the last player throwing a Dragon Rage card becomes the first player for the next round.
If no Dragon Rage is used, the player with highest Trump suit card wins the trick. If no Trump was played, then the player with the highest leading suit wins. The winner collects the Quest token, the first player marker, and if the winning card matches the Haven’s color it was collected from, they also get a Monster token.
The first player then begins a new round. Rounds continue until all players empty out their hands. Once that happens, the deck is reshuffled and new hands are dealt out.
This repeats until there are no more Quest tokens on any Havens. When the Havens are empty, the game is over. Players count up the value of their Quest and Monster tokens, and the Treasure bonus is awarded. The player with the highest total is the winner, becoming the one chosen to bond a dragon and take up their illustrious new role as a famed Dragon Whisperer.
Everyone else is relegated to become members of the new Order of Squirrel Whisperers.
Full of Highs and Lows
Trick-taking is a well-established mechanic for card games. Some games you want to win every trick possible, while with others you want to win as few as possible. Trick games can be team-based, elimination based, or slightly modified any number of ways to help separate them from one another. Dragon Whisperer is no different. Trick-taking, once understood by players, is a very basic mechanic, and trick-taking games with experienced players can be played quickly. Making certain changes are sort of necessary to keep them from feeling like repetitive clones of one another. Adding in extra effects from playing 1-4’s, or the trick-killing Dragon Rage cards, are small but effective tweaks to an otherwise straight-forward system.
As simple as it may be, it’s a little unfortunate to say that the rules are perhaps its weakest aspect. The overall rules are very simple to understand, but there are several corner cases you may run into which go uncovered or are ambiguous in the rule book, such as what happens when a player leads with a Dragon Rage.
The largest example, however, is with one glaring contradiction in its pretty concise rule book. At one point, it states that Monster tokens are worth 1 VP each and possessing the most Treasure tokens at the end of the game awards 5 VP, and yet several pages previously another section stated the exact opposite. (An online errata was released clarifying which is correct.) Mistakes in rules happen, but while it’s tacitly forgivable in more robust games, for one with such a simple rule set to begin with, having these mistakes and vagaries is hardly ideal.
That said, whereas it lacks in the finer details of the rule book, Dragon Whisperer equally excels aesthetically. It is a visually gorgeous game. The artwork on the board, tokens, and cards feels straight out of a golden age of fantasy illustration. Every suit has its own designs, with very little repetition in artwork across the entire game. The board is beautifully illustrated as well, providing each Haven its own unique color scheme and setting. The depictions of these Havens vary from snowscapes, to wooded forests, to the ocean, and each one is filled with a menagerie of beasts, plants, and native dragons.
The quality of the game pieces do not disappoint either, with the components made from sturdy cardboard and the cards coming with their own card box. There was apparent forethought to this, since a game like Dragon Whisperer is small and easily portable. It certainly helps when such a game is designed to be quite durable and can stand up to repeated playthroughs.
Interest Trumps All
Behind the veil, Dragon Whisperer is still very much a trick-taking game, and a player’s enjoyment of them depends on whether they ascribe to that fact. Like most trick-taking games, Tacticians will enjoy the game’s skill-based decisions and multiple methods to score points. There is always a best possible move in Dragon Whisperer, and Tacticians will enjoy finding it. Still, even the couple side means of generating VP does very little to sway the central tenant of winning the trick. Monster and Treasure tokens by themselves won’t win you the game – Quest tokens provide the bulk of a player’s victory points. Nevertheless, those extra VP can help push you from second place to first, and Tacticians will appreciate that. Socializers will also enjoy the speed and brevity of Dragon Whisperer. For Socializers, it’s best when played with six players, and it’s not one that requires a great commitment of time or thought to enjoy. However, both of these Archetypes may find Dragon Whisperer grow a little stale after several playthroughs due to the repetitive nature inherent with trick-taking games.
Several other groups are best to pass on Dragon Whisperer entirely. As much as the Immersionist may fall in love with the artwork’s brief window into a larger world, the game’s abstract play will quickly turn them off. Similarly, Architects will find this game lacking in any traits they enjoy to hold their interests.
Moreover, some Daredevils may enjoy the random nature of trick-taking, but with fixed resources Daredevils are without any significant risk or reward opportunity since these style of games run on a linear path. After two or three tricks, savvy players can begin to deduce what suits people have in their hands, mitigating a Daredevil’s love of surprises, as does the fact that the value of the Quest token is known ahead of time. The most appealing aspect to them would be the ability to change the Trump mid-trick by playing a 3 and chance turning a losing play into a winning one through a lucky draw. There may be enough for some Daredevils, but not for the group as a whole.
Likewise, Strikers will find themselves in a similar conundrum. The Dragon Rage cards will appeal to them, as they can stop another player’s goals dead in its tracks and act as a spoiler for many trick-taking strategies. However, Dragon Rages do not propel a player directly towards victory. Indeed, it is occasionally possible for a single player to dominate a round of tricks with a good hand, take several high-valued Quest tokens, and establish a lead which will control the rest of the game. Unless they are the one doing this, though, they may feel that there is too much randomness in the areas they care about.
Dragon Whisperer is an excellent trick-taking game that appeals to a wide range of audiences and makes for a great travel game. It doesn’t require a great deal of space or time to play, but it still rewards good planning and strategy. Above all else, it’s also a visually beautiful game. The artwork alone makes it worth consideration amongst the variety of trick-taking games on the market. As much as the game may physically stand up to repeated play, though, the mechanics don’t allow for a wide variety of options, and play progresses in a very straight-forward manner. It is still a trick-taking game after all. The differing economies of victory points does add depth to the trick-taking aspect, but Dragon Whisperer will not fill your itch if you are looking for a more complex games. However, if you seek a fairly simple card game with a lot of character and a fun take on the genre, Dragon Whisperer certainly won’t disappoint.
Dragon Whisperer is a product of Albino Dragon Games.
Cardboard Republic Snapshot Scoring (Based on scale of 5):
Rules Clarity: 2.5
Replay Value: 4
Physical Quality: 4.5
Overall Score: 3.5
Photo Credits: Metalocalypse by Adult Swim.