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Each year on the delta of the Dragon River, there is a great competition among the bravest and strongest youths of the kingdom. They attempt to cross the river on fragile bridges built from planks and stones in order to reach a village on the opposite side. The first player to cross the delta is the victor, and wins a golden dragon statue from the King. However, in order to get across, contestants must carefully calculate their moves, negotiate past the maneuvers of their opponents, and avoid the dangerous obstacles presented by the dragons living in the water that give the delta its name.
RULES IN BRIEF
On each turn, the players each choose 5 action cards from their hand. The cards are placed face down in front of them. Then, one by one, the cards are revealed simultaneously. Players then perform the actions (Place one or more stones, place one or more planks, move their pawn, remove a stone or plank). One of their 5 cards may be a dragon, which blocks the move of an opponent. The object is to be the first player to move their pawn to the village on the opposite shore.
Dragon Delta is a simple tactical game, that the whole family can enjoy. Its quick and easy rules require players to anticipate their opponents' moves and attempt to see through their bluffs. Fortunes in the game change dramatically, as player build and alter bridges, and cause fearsome dragons to slow down their opponents. More experienced players will be charmed by the beautiful components, and surprised by the depth and subtlety of the game.
I've played this game about 15 times and I really enjoy it.
First, there is no dice roll. The only aspect of chance comes from the plays that your opponents make. As another reviewer pointed out, this game is not "strategic" in that you can't plan out five moves ahead as the board configuration will change greatly based upon the moves other players make.
The secret of a great evening is to subtly use the work of other players in accomplishing your goal.
In one game, we had a timid foreign student playing with us. For most the game she was dead last, but still won!
The rules are simple, and going cold took us less than five minutes. The point of Dragon Delta is to build footbridges across the delta so you can get to your pre-designated target village from your home village. To build a footbridge, first you must lay bridge stones--these hold the planks. Only one stone per board rock is permitted, and once placed on the rock, it cannot be moved around on the rock. Think of it as a cement bridge abutment, if you will. As for placing planks, no more than three planks may be supported by one bridge stone. And most annoying of all, you are not allowed to measure the distance to see which of your planks will fit best. The one you grab is the one you use. UGH! That makes it difficult for the spatially challenged, such as myself.
Dragon Delta is similar to [page scan/se=0044/sf=category/fi=stockin.asc/ml=20]Robo Rally in that you choose five cards and the order they will be played in for each round. All players turn up their cards at once. However, you choose from the same set of cards each round, so there's no way to do the same action twice in one round. This makes it interesting. There are cards to move your pawn one, move your pawn two, jump an opposing pawn, place one stone, place two stones, place one plank, place two planks, remove a plank or a stone, and cancel the action of one of your opponents. It's a game of getting where you are going without falling in the river.
Visually, this was a VERY great game. The 3-D effect of the stones and planks was sufficient that the more... right brained of us might be able to hear the water of the delta sloshing across the stones.
We only had three players, and it was obvious that this is a game in which you can NOT be the nice guy and just try to reach your goal. You must bite to win. This game probably escalates in intensity with more players. We can't wait to try it.
I came in dead last, but I *still* think it's a great game.
Highly recommended for family groups.
Simple gameplay, but with enough strategy to make you believe you can outwit your opponents despite the inherent chaos. Any plan made at the beginning of a round rarely comes to pass, so contingency plans are a necessity.
It's also a very tactile game as you build and dismantle bridges and try to make your planks stretch between stones.
We found that white is at a slight disadvantage when playing with 5 as he does not benefit from having an opposing player building bridges toward him.
We also found it's easy to forget the rules regarding picking up bridges and later realise you have three colours in your hand.
The hop over an opponent's card more often than not seems to result in a hop into the water and a swim back to your island.
Can you triumph by racing your pawn from its village to its goal across this adventure-filled Oriental delta? Take your six planks of varying sizes, along with a hand of Action Cards, and choose a Starting Player. Rounds begin with each player placing five Action Cards facedown. These are revealed one at a time and resolved in turn order. They allow you to: (1) place stones on islets; (2) select planks and place them between stones--or lose them forever if they can't be placed; (3) remove unused stones; (4) remove vacant planks and add them to your supply; (5) move your pawn (a pawn returns forlornly to its village if it is blocked); or (6) cancel the action of another player. You'll need all the wisdom of the East to outguess your inscrutable opponents.
When you speak of games with quality components, EuroGames usually springs to mind. Games such as Serenissima, Europa 1945-2010 and Condotierre are games which readily fit this description. Dragon Delta, their very latest release by designer Roberto Fraga (yet another designer with whom I am not familiar), doesn't disappoint in the component department either. Although the game uses relatively simple components, they are all of high quality and very sturdy. As in Silberzwerg, a new release by Queen, the board artwork is nothing to get excited about, but it serves its purpose very well, as do the components.
Players each attempt to cross a river on fragile bridges built from planks and stones with the objective being reaching a village on the opposite side. In order to accomplish this, players must carefully place stones on islands which are then used to support planks. They then scurry their pawn across these planks from island to island with the ultimate goal of reaching the village on the opposite side of the river.
When I read the rules, I immediately thought, "RoboRally meets Twixt". All of the actions are accomplished by each player by pre-selecting five of their action cards in the order in which they plan to execute their maneuvers. This is where the similarity with RoboRally surfaces as these five cards are set in a row, then executed one at a time. Each player executes their first action, then their second, and so on until all players have executed their five actions. Of course, the play of an opponents may greatly affect the action(s) you had planned and, in fact, may completely nullify them or force you to fall from a plank into the waters! With multiple players, this can be quite chaotic, yet wickedly fun!
For those who disdain the lack of control of RoboRally, however, Dragon Delta does offer a bit more control as you have ALL of your cards at your disposal. With RoboRally, you only have a set number of cards chosen randomly from the deck with which to plan your actions. A bad draw can greatly affect what you can do on your turn. Not so with Dragon Delta. You can try to anticipate the actions of your opponents and plan accordingly. No, it's not foolproof, but it is a bit more control than what is offered by RoboRally.
So just what are the possible actions allowed by the cards? Each player has a set of identical cards which allow the following actions:
Each player begins in a village and must work their way to the other side. The six starting villages are arranged so that there are two on the north and south of the board, with one apiece on the east and west. Thus, players will be criss-crossing each other in their efforts to reach the other side. This is important as their are restrictions which limit the number of planks each stone can support (3), as well as rules prohibiting the placement of planks so that they bisect previously laid planks. As the delta begins to fill with planks, they begin to form barriers which cannot be crossed by other planks, so players must find alternate methods in which to traverse the river. This is where the game bears some similarity to Twixt, the game of barriers.
The middle of the board is occupied by water with numerous small islands. Each of these islands can support one and only one stone. Stones are positioned on the island by a player and then cannot be moved. Positioning can be important as when a player attempts to construct a plank, it must reach from a village or previously laid stone to that stone. If it doesn't, the player must attempt to place that plank elsewhere. If it cannot fit anywhere else on the board, it falls into the river and is removed from the game. Each player begins with six planks, each of a different size and number (1 - 6), so the loss of a plank can be harmful. To further test the skills of each player, a rule prohibits a player from pre-measuring a distance before selecting a plank. Rather, a player must estimate the distance and correctly choose the appropriate plank. This sounds more difficult than it really is, however, as most of the islands are close in proximity so it is easy to select a plank which will traverse the distance. Things only get risky when a player attempts an unorthodox placement which stretches a greater span.
The 'steal a plank or stone' action is VERY nasty as it can cause a path to vanish in an instant. There are important restrictions, however. A plank cannot be removed which currently supports a player's pawn. Further, a player cannot possess more than two colors of planks in his reserve, nor can he have more than one plank of the same number. It takes VERY careful planning and observation to insure that you are in position to steal planks which thwart an opponents movement efforts and assist your own. More than once I've seen a player attempt to steal a plank to obstruct an opponent's path, only to find out he couldn't take that plank due to these rules. So, at first glance it seems that it is very easy to thwart an opponent by stealing a plank, but these clever rules force the players to actively and carefully plan for such a theft.
Once a plank is successfully stolen, it goes into the burglar's reserve and can be placed as one of his own. Pawns are free to traverse planks of any player, but may not move onto a plank which is currently occupied by another pawn. That's what the 'jump' action is for! But beware: a pawn jumping over an intervening pawn must have a free plank directly behind this pawn upon which to land. Otherwise, he falls into the water and is returned to his village of origin.
Another 'smack your opponent' action is the play of the 'dragon' card. Each player has five dragon cards, each colored to match a different opponent. When played and revealed in the set of five action cards, it nullifies that opponent's action for that round. This, of course, could easily upset the plans of your opponent and render the subsequent actions he had planned useless. Those actions must be carried out if possible, however, frequently causing that player to move his pawn in directions he had not planned to journey. It could also cause a player's pawn to fall into the river and return to his home village. Very, very nasty. As in the 'steal a plank or stone' action, however, there are limits. Each player may only play one dragon card per hand of five.
One would think that the game would have a huge 'smack the leader' problem as it would be easy to notice when one player was in range of winning and have everyone play cards which would steal planks or nullify his actions. This would be true except for the fact that the usual occurrence is that several players threaten victory simultaneously. Since table-talk to pre-plan moves with your opponents is forbidden, it becomes a bit of a guessing game as to who will strike at which opponent. It's quite humorous to see the cards revealed and suddenly realize that no one tried to stop a particular opponent. Many times players hope to selfishly plan actions solely benefiting themselves, hoping that their fellow players will perform actions to hinder the leaders. It's also very humorous to see the leaders play extremely defensively due to the paranoia of being blasted by their opponents, only to discover that had they just played regular actions they could easily have claimed the victory. It's these sudden and unexpected surprises which make the game so entertaining to play.
Play ends as soon as one player successfully maneuvers his pawn to the appropriate village on the opposite side of the river. As mentioned, it is quite common to have several players in position to win, so watching the turn order and planning accordingly can be critical.
I find the game to require careful planning, but one must also realize that the best laid plans can and will likely go astray due to the actions played by your opponents. Proceedings can be quite chaotic, but in a fun sort of way. Being able to guess the actions your opponents are likely to take and plan your actions accordingly is a crucial skill in this game.
Having played the game with various numbers of players, I can state flatly that playing with only two players is NOT the way to play. With only two players, the game is quite dull and lacks the unexpected excitement which occurs with the variety of actions being performed by numerous opponents. No, I strongly urge only playing the game with four or more players. With these numbers, Dragon Delta is a fun and entertaining game of planning and chaos. What a weird, yet satisfying combination!