Let’s be honest dragons are pretty epic mythical creatures. They are surely up there with unicorns, fairies and gnomes. So when Kosmos announced a new game for Essen 2023, featuring said mythical marvels, I was intrigued. Fortunately for me, one of the four review copies to hit the UK landed on my doorstep so that I can tell you more! I’m assuming that is why you are here!
Dragonkeepers is a family weight game about herding dragons. As magicians, players will be competing to lure the correct breed and number of dragons to their board. How many dragons and which type, will be dictated by the ever-changing magic book.
First you will need to split out the black dragon cards and the starter dragon cards to one side. Then you’ll shuffle the two remaining decks of cards(left and right pages) into two face down piles to form the book, turning the top card of each, face up below.
Remove the correct number of amulets and stack the remaining ones in piles by number. Then layout the other components into piles in easy reach: eggs, crystals, crests. Decide a start player and deal starter cards as appropriate, zero to the first player, one to the second, two to the third and three to the fourth player. Then you are ready to go dragon herding!
On your turn you will draw one to three cards from below the magic book, immediately replenishing it with the top card of the respective pile. The active player can then choose to play a card from their hand to the magic book to adjust it.
Then, they will have the option to play the number of dragons and type of dragon that is on display. Gaining the reward for doing so, this is always an amulet plus a bonus. The only point scoring bonus is the golden eggs. All other players also have the opportunity of placing this number and type of dragon gaining the same reward. Only the active player can manipulate the magic book though.
When playing dragons, they are played to a pile of matching dragons face up in front of you. However, as soon as you play your third dragon, you can no longer play cards to the deck that has been flanked. Same goes when adding your fourth dragon type. At least when you place your fourth dragon you get a crest, these are worth more points the sooner you claim them.
When you complete an amulet by having three pieces, you place a pearl in the middle of it. Amulet pieces are worth the points printed on them. The pearls also have differing points on them. The three red ones are worth more than the blue ones so you kinda race towards those but at the detriment of having higher value amulet pieces.
Depending on player count, the game ends immediately when a certain number of amulets have been completed. The person with the most golden eggs, flips one from its four point side, to the 16 point side. Then points are tallied for eggs, crests, amulets and pearls. Most points wins!
What it’s like
Dragonkeepers is from the designer Michael Menzies. They are also the designer behind the board games Andor and The Adventures of Robin Hood. Although this has a book in it, that is where comparisons end! This game reminds me more of a Reiner Knizia design, being very easy to learn and quite simple, but with hidden layers of strategy that aren’t immediately obvious. For example, at first, you will be looking at what dragons you need and collect those, but actually you might be better off taking a dragon for its ability to manipulate the deck later, or just to refresh the book more organically.
There are differing paths to victory that are fun to explore. I haven’t actually found a path to victory yet, having been beaten by every member of my family! Perhaps I am exploring the different strategies too much!
To be beat by my kids is great though, it shows how accessible it is. To quote a Board Game Angel t-shirt design ‘I play to win, but I don’t mind losing’. My eight year old, Max, did struggle with the concept of manipulating the book a little on his first play. On his second game he smashed it and beat me comfortably! I think some of his eight year old friends could struggle more, not being board gamers, but there is a family variant offered in the additional rulebook.
As a family game, it is a shame it couldn’t play five, but understand time between turns would be a put off especially for younger players.
If unravelling the different strategies doesn’t offer enough replayability, there are treasure chest tiles included in the box. The rulebook suggests adding these in once you’ve played the base game a few times. These allow you to spend crystals on a powerful, game-changing ability that keeps games fresh and different, without particularly adding to the complexity.
Thematically I don’t feel like I am herding dragons, but I do get a really strong storytelling vibe. The book helps! The artwork is great throughout, the dragons are adorable and have their own characters. There is enough differences in the card designs to keep my eyes amused. I really appreciate how the card art lines up when cards are next to one another on the table. It is a tremendously satisfying detail that I adore.
The rulebook got me up and playing in no time at all and there is an appendix which gives more info if required. The box stores everything away fine with cardboard trough divides, I’m not sure it would hold up to being put in a backpack to take out and about sadly. I also don’t think vertical stackers of board games will be pleased!
What the kids thought
Max (8): It’s brilliant! I love the artwork with all the little details. It reminds me of How To Train a Dragon. I enjoy how you can score points in different ways. I like it most at two players as it’s quicker!
George (12): Dragonkeepers is a good game. I love how the cards line up. I like how I can manipulate the book especially when I can manage to get the double amulet bonus from the black dragon.
Harrison (15): I was reluctant to play this one as I thought it was going to be a real kiddie game, but I was surprised and pleased it wasn’t. The placement of cards feels unique, deciding when to block off the middle pile of cards is an interesting decision. I find it odd how you don’t score your sets of cards, however, I think it does a good job of giving you points elsewhere so I don’t mind that. I really enjoy manipulating the book to my advantage or my opponents disadvantage.
Final thoughts on Dragonkeepers
I think Dragonkeepers is one of those games that benefits from multiple plays. After one play, the card drawing and playing feels easy. It’s like a board game pass-the-parcel, with every play another layer of simple strategy is revealed. This makes the game all the more interesting to play, even for a so-called ‘grown-up’.
I hope it keeps hitting the table so I can enjoy exploring the subtle strategy and see the game bloom even more. My only concern is that it might be gathering dust in a year’s time, kept from the table by the seemingly endless other possibilities I am lucky to have.
I’m certainly looking forward to introducing more people to Dragonkeepers soon!
Number of players: 2 to 4
Board Game Review Recommended Age: 8+
Publisher’s Recommended Age: 8+
Playing Time: 20 minutes
Setting Up and Take Down Time: 2 minute
Designers: Michael Menzel
Artwork and Components
Value for Money
Need more games?
If you already own Dragonkeepers and enjoy it, or are looking for other inspiration, you might also like these similar games:
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