Reviewed by: Dave
If seeing the name of this game makes Dragonforce start playing in your head, you're not the only one.
In Dragon Flame, you are a dragon! Each game consists of a certain number of castles (depending on the number of players) and a 3x3 square of randomly dealt villages and fields. (There is always the same seven villages and two fields, but their placement is random.) The basic premise is that dragons do two things: raid castles for loot, and torch villages to the ground. On each turn, players play cards from their hands onto one of the castles, then each player chooses a castle to loot. (Lower number castles can hold fewer cards, but put players higher up in turn order on the next turn.) Loot scores you points, dragonflame cards let you set fire to villages in a line, and the more fire you set to a village, the more points it scores you at the end of the game.
Except it's not quite that simple. You want to get chests of treasure, but you want the same type of chest; having more of one type gives you exponentially more points (one for one, four for two, nine for three, etc.), but each other type chest gives you a penalty, and if you end the game with a curse the variety of chests hurts you even more. You want statues, but not a matching pair; statues are worth five, but the same two statues means neither is worth anything. Relics can help you if their powers are used well, but are not worth points themselves. Princesses are worth a point per type of valuable item you have (offsetting the penalty for a variety of treasure chests), but a second one is discarded. Apparently dragons are monogamous. Who knew?
This added complexity creates something of a paradox. Without it- if the game were simply to grab the loot and add it up- Dragon Flame would be far too simple and boring after a couple of playthroughs. However, even when the game is fully explained, most players will take at least a few turns to see the strategy start falling into place, which is a lot considering the game is only about six turns long. So it's a nice quick game, but it's a game that will be best played by a group that has already seen it in action once or twice. And yet, the complexity is not part of a game with extraordinary strategic depth, so the big question quickly becomes figuring out how your opponents will approach the game rather than digging into the game mechanics to find your advantages.
The game's aesthetic works with its gameplay well, which makes it an enjoyable experience. It will probably fit in a game collection as something small to pack on a trip where bag space is at a premium, or as something to introduce to friends relatively new to these types of games but who are capable of playing something that requires a little more thinking. A good pickup for $20 or less; the Kickstarter page is offering copies of the game with a promo card for $29.99, but that seems a little pricey for what you're getting.