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Klaus-Jürgen Wrede &
Jean Du Poel

Publisher: AMIGO 2005

Awards: none



The new AMIGO-game Drachenreiter by Jean du Poel and Klaus-Jürgen Wrede actually is based on a much older playing concept which Jean du Poel already used for a chariot-racing game in his own small publishing line HISTORIEN SPIELE. However, whereas the older game was about races in ancient Rome, the new game is about a Dragon-race in which the players take the role of Wizards which try to ride their Dragons so fast that they might become first in a race flying over an enchanted race-track.

The basic playing mechanism of the game is fairly easy to explain. Each player has a Dragon-playing piece with a hexagonal base which he moves along the race-track which has been assembled from differently shaped track pieces before the game. How far the Dragon may be moved forward depends on the Dragonīs current speed, and each available speed allows the player to take a different sized ruler which he has to put in front of his Dragon, adjusts its heading so that it points into a desired direction for movement, and then moves his Dragon to the front position of the ruler. The faster a Dragon goes, the longer is the ruler so that a faster Dragon moves further. However, the smaller rulers give the player a wider possibility to adjust a Dragon`s facing, so that a fast going Dragon virtually can only move straight ahead, whereas a slower Dragon has a considerable possibility of turning.

During a turn, the players simultaneously have to set their speed for the current turn. Here a player is allowed either to keep his speed from his last turn, or he may either accelerate or slow down for up to three "Dragon speed levels". When all players have set their speed, the Dragons will be moved, starting with the Dragon of the player who is currently leading the race and then continuing with the following players in the order of their current positions in the race.

When a player gets to move his Dragon, he reveals his speed setting for the current turn and then takes the corresponding ruler which he places in front of his Dragon to start measuring where the Dragon goes. Here is becomes quite clear that a player needed good judgement how far his Dragon might be moved without actually leaving the race-track or touching the track limits with the ruler. If either of these two accidents should happen, the player has caused his Dragon to crash and will be penalized: First, he must stop his Dragon`s movement at the player where it has left the race-track, and furthermore he must reduce his current "Dragon speed level" to "1". Also, the player will loose Dragon energy tokens which represent a Dragon`s power during the race. As long as a player still has at least one Dragon energy token the Dragon is still powerful, but when a player looses his last Energy token the Dragon is considered to be exhausted. In this case, the player most move his Dragon back on the race track to the last "energy area", and furthermore the Dragon`s current maximum speed is reduced to "5". Also, the player receives an "exhausted" card together with two energy tokens, and if - for any reason - the player should lose these two tokens as well the Dragon will be removed from play.

As indicated, there also are some special areas on the racetrack where a player may gain something. On the one hand, there are "energy areas", and any Dragon who ends his move in such an area is allowed to take one additional energy token to his stockpile. Furthermore, there also are some "spell areas" on the racetrack, and whenever a Dragon crosses over such an area the player is allowed to draw a random spell card. A player already has one or two spells available at the start of the race, but since they might quite effectively help a player in the race they assist a player as much as do energy tokens.

Spell cards need to be chosen after all players have adjusted their speed levels for the current turn but before any Dragon has been moved. At this point each player is allowed to put one of his spell cards face down in front of himself, and during the following movement phase he is allowed to turn the card over either before or after his movement (as indicated on each spell card) and try to make use of the spell`s abilities. As a matter of fact, quite a range of different spells exist in the game:

  • The Fireball can be cast on another player, possibly forcing his Dragon to lose some energy tokens.
  • The randomly drawn magical traps are placed next to a player`s range ruler while he is moving his Dragon. Any player who is flying over such a trap later will lose energy tokens as indicated on the downside of the traps.
  • The magic lasso is quite effective to catch a leading player. If successfully cast, the Dragon of a player in front of the caster will be moved back so that it is only slightly ahead of the casterīs Dragon.
  • A very powerful spell is forced cooperation. If cast on a Dragon in range, the caster forgoes his own movement phase but instead his Dragon will be moved alongside his victimīs Dragon during his movement phase. Thus, the caster`s Dragon may receive a considerable move forwards in the race.
  • Nasty may be the steal energy spell which allows the caster to take an energy token from another player. This may cause an other player`s Dragon to become exhausted.
  • Quite handy on the other hand are the magical winds, allowing the caster`s Dragon to move up to three Dragon speed levels faster or slower than currently indicated by his speed level.
  • Finally, there also exists a magical Amulet, effectively immunising a player`s Dragon for a whole turn against any unfriendly spells.

However, most of the spells are not guaranteed to work, since they may have a range restriction which allows a player only to cast them if an other player`s Dragon is within range. Here once again the range rulers are used, and thus a player also may forfeit a spell he has play if during his movement phase no suitable victim is in range.

When a turn is over, the next turn starts once again with the simultaneous setting of speed levels, and this way the game will continue until a player has crossed the finishing line with his Dragon.

As said in the beginning, Drachenreiter actually is based on a concept for a chariot race which I know from an earlier game made by Jean du Poel. Totally new however is the use of spells in the game, and to my mind this adds considerably to the scope of the game and the fun of the participating players. Although the rules are rather easy to grasp, the game has good ratings in both terms and strategy and measurement, since a player is not simply done by flagging a suitable racing course for his Dragon. Instead, a player will need to keep a close eye on the available speed rulers, since a Dragon going too fast easily may be caught in a disasterous crash if it leaves the racing track. Here the players will need to gather some experience through experimentation, since a good balance between risk and safety needs to be found to stay on the track while at the same time keeping up with the leaders. To my mind, this introduces the feeling of a race quite well into a boardgame, and additional playing fun is added by the spells which keep the game better balanced since it gets a bit easier to catch up with a leading player.

However, as playtesting shows the game also has a slight design error which is not actually found in the rules but instead with the playing pieces. More than one player in my testing round has criticised the weight of the Dragons, since these are made of very light plastic which has a strong tendency to be easily moved. In a normal boardgame this would not cause any problems, but here we have a game which regularly needs to players to measure distances on the gameboard and to put down their rulers to find out where a Dragon moves. Here the risk of touching and moving a Dragon is rather high, and although a Dragon always can be placed back roughly to it`s previous position, it gets quite difficult to readjust its current heading. Here it would have seemed sensible either to manufacture playing pieces with more weight or a magnetic gameboard, but of course this would also have increased the costs of the game.

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Copyright © 2012 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany