Fist of Dragonstones
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Fist of Dragonstones takes the chaotic imaginations of Bruno Faidutti and combines them with the terrific components of Days of Wonder. Players are attempting to get a certain amount of Dragonstones, utilizing the abilities of a variety of characters. To use these powers, players bid with gold and silver coins, as well as respawning "fairy"gold. Players must be careful with this "blind bidding", as they can lose their money even if they don't win! Games are fascinating and quick, as players attempt to outbid each other and use the abilities of the characters in the right combinations. A simple card game similar to Faidutti's classic, Citadels, Fist of Dragonstones uses a fantasy theme to create an enjoyable bidding game.
Fist of Dragonstones:
Fist of Dragonstones is a quick, fun, gorgeous, and often tense bidding game by Bruno Faidutti (Citadels, Warrior Knights, and many more) and Michael Schacht (China, Coloretto, Draco & Co and many more). This is yet another stunning production from Days of Wonder, with components that really make the game a pleasure to own and play. If I’m ever asked to show off one or two games from my collection, I almost always pick this game or Shadows over Camelot, both are gorgeous games where the high quality and attractive nature of the components really make you want to open them up and play them. Again the artist Julien Delval (Shadows over Camelot, Citadels and many more) has done a brilliant job with the card artwork, they are absolutely stunning, and do much to invoke the theme and atmosphere of the game.
In Fist of Dragonstones players are competing to be the first to obtain three points; points can be bought with Dragonstones. Every turn players will blind bid on each of the characters in the character deck, the player who bid the highest gains the use of that character’s power, some of these characters allow you to get Dragonstones, others allow you to buy points with Dragonstones, additional characters allow you to affect the other players, bids or characters.
Three points doesn’t sound like many, but when the game is played by a group of people who know the character abilities well the third point can be extremely difficult to get. This game is one best played by people who are familiar with the processes and powers, by people who know the value of the various characters given the in-game situation. If played by such a group of people Fist of Dragonstones can be one of the most exciting and tense games available for a group of six to play.
The blind bidding system has been much maligned by various individuals for being either too repetitive or too unforgiving. People who claim that the bidding process is repetitive could just as well claim that chess is dull because all a player does is ‘move pieces’, the bidding is not the game, it is the vehicle through which the game can be played – and as the vehicle does a brilliant job. People who believe that the blind bidding is too unforgiving are not wrong, the fact that everyone must pay all that they bid means that every bid you make must be well thought out, quite deliberate, and decisive.
Fist of Dragonstones is a clever game filled with much bluff, second-guessing, intelligent and controlled use of player resources, and tension. In many ways it feels like a less luck based game of poker, but designed for people who love great Fantasy books like Lord of the Rings or the many tales of Elric of Melnibone.
Faidutti and Schacht have done a brilliant job in their careful designing of this game, it is gorgeous, fun, and involves a level of nervous tension every bid that other games have difficulty inspiring only once or twice in their entirety. Fist of Dragonstones is a great game that is quick to play and always filled with tension and fun.
I was very excited about the release of Fist of Dragonstones, as it looked to be similar to one of my favorite games Citadels. Reading the rules for Fist of Dragonstones (Days of Wonder, 2003 Bruno Faidutti & Michael Schacht) got me even more excited. After reading mixed reviews on the web, I was still excited and eagerly waited for my game to come in the mail.
Was it worth the wait? The answer is that Fist of Dragonstones is one of my favorite Faidutti games to date (and by that, I mean one of my favorite games!) and is extremely fun for three to six players. I really enjoy the game mechanics and am excited about the expandability of the game. There are so many good things to say about this game, so I will start with the game play.
Each player is given a screen, behind which they hide their money. Each player receives 8 yellow wooden disks (fairy gold), 2 beige disks (common gold), and five silver disks (silver). Each player randomly draws four stones (aquarium style) from a bag and places them in front of their screen (the stones are red, yellow, or blue). Finally, each player puts a scoring die in front of their screen, rotating it so that no dots are showing on the die. A deck of twenty-five special character cards is shuffled and placed in the middle of the table. The eight standard characters are set aside, and the first round is ready to begin.
In each round, the Witch card is separated from the standard cards. Two special character cards are drawn from the deck and added to the standard cards, which are then shuffled. The shuffled cards are placed face down, with the Witch being placed on top. Each card (starting with the Witch) is then turned over and auctioned off, in turn. All auctions are secret auctions, with the players putting their bids in a fist, which all players will then reveal simultaneously. Any money bid in an auction is lost, whether the player wins or not. Fairy gold that is auctioned is placed in front of the players screen, for they will get it back at the beginning of the next round. Common gold, once used, is gone forever. Silver coins are not used to bid, unless two players have a tie when bidding. After a tie, both players involved in the tie bid again, but with silver coins only. Silver coins are also lost forever when used. The player who wins the auction for the card immediately uses the power of the character on the card. If no one bids on the card, the card is set aside, and the next card is auctioned off.
When a standard character is won, each has a different effect for the winning bidder
- The Witch gives a black wooden disk to the bidder. The bidder can bid this coin in a future bid (during this round only) to cancel the effects of that character.
- The Red Dragon gives the bidder a red stone.
- The Blue Dragon gives the bidder a blue stone.
- The Yellow Dragon gives the bidder a yellow stone.
- The bidder who wins the Sorcerer can take a common gold coin from the bank, or they can pay four identical stones to the bank and receive two points.
- The bidder who wins the Magician can take three silver coins from the bank, or pay four stones to the bank and receive one point.
- The bidder who wins the Wizard can take three silver coins from the bank, or pay three different stones one of each color to the bank and receive one point.
- The bidder who wins the thief can steal a stone from the second highest bidder, unless they have no stone, or if no one was the second highest bidder.
There are twenty-five special characters, and they do a variety of things, such as
- The bidder who won the Sorcerer Apprentice puts two identical stones in the bank and scores one point.
- The Ancient Dragon gives the bidder a stone of their choice.
- The Fairy gives the bidder an extra fairy gold.
- The Goblin draws a character at random from those that havent yet been auctioned and plays it.
- And many, many more.
Once one player reaches three points on their scoring die, they are the winner!
Some comments on the game:
1). Components: The components for this game are absolutely incredible, starting with the box, which is illustrated with a beautiful fantasy flair, and which holds everything inside. And everything in the box was pre-bagged which is a wonderful touch! The cards are fantastically illustrated, and very easy to understand. The wooden disks are very plentiful, and easy to handle. The player screens are of good quality, with a good illustration on the front, and a summary of game rules on the back. A nice cloth bag comes in to hold the beautiful stones, and the scoring dice are neat little three dimensional rectangles, which while unnecessary, add a little more effect to the game. Fist of Dragonstones is worth buying based on its components alone!
2). Rules: There is an eight-paged booklet in full color, explaining the rules. After three pages of rule explanation, there is a detailed description of each character card in the game, and how they play. There should almost never be an argument over how the rules work, since the manual goes into such detail. The game is very easy to teach and learn, but even then, a web card comes in the box, which a player can go online to www.dragonstones.com and play the game there.
3). Website: There are several blank cards provided with the game. On the Days of Wonder website, there are many, many cards that players have submitted that can be added to the game. Some of them are even officially play tested and approved. This means that the game can be played countless times, with maximum variety. The website is also useful, as it includes tutorials, forums, and strategy tips.
4). Thief: The one character Im not a huge fan of is the thief. A player can only use his special ability on the second highest bidder. Since most people dont like to be stolen from, almost never is the card bid on. And if a player does bid on it, most likely they will be the sole bidder, in which case they have spent their coins needlessly. The character isnt so worthless, but we will replace it with the Goblin, and put the Thief in the special character deck, to be used once a game.
5). Bidding: It takes a little bit to get used to the bidding. When you lose all your money, whether you bid or not you tend to become extremely careful with your bidding. Many, many characters will not be bid on, and then others will have quite a bit bid on them. Its funny to see one player bid six gold on a character, when no one else does. If you bid five gold on the same character, however, its not quite so funny, as youve spent most of your gold, and have nothing to show for it. The Witchs special ability is also quite fun, as whoever gets the black coin has a nifty veto power. The game can turn into a game of bluffing, where each player tries to determine from the other players faces as to how much theyve bid.
6). Theme and Fun Factor: There is s slight fantasy feel to the game, about the same as Citadels, but not a truck load. The game is still a lot of fun, however. Some people on the internet complain about the secret bidding, but we find that the bidding is a lot of fun. If youre not a fan of secret bidding, I wouldnt recommend the game, as its done about 60 times. If you do like secret bidding, however, the game is a blast! We really enjoyed the poker aspect to the game, and the new and different special characters kept the variety going.
So I highly recommend this game to everyone except those who dont like blind bidding. The components are of the highest quality, the game has infinite replayability and expandability, and its a whole pile of fun. With bidding, bluffing, and backstabbing Fist of Dragonstones is surely one game that will hit my table time and time again.
People who buy this game expecting an auction game will be sorely disappointed, as evidenced by the previous reviews. (People looking for a pure auction game should try Pizzaro and Modern Art, both exceptionally good games.) Despite the core mechanic seeming to be an auction, this is a bluffing game.
The bluffing mechanic stems from one simple rule. Whenever people bid, all the bid money is lost, whether or not anything is won. In a normal auction, everyone estimates what something is worth and selects an 'ideal bid' based on that. But when all bid money is lost, the 'ideal bid' is either 1 more than what any other player is bidding or zero. Because of this, it's critically important to deduce what other players will bid-- and to mask what your actual bid is. The ideal bid of a character is not based so much on the character's power but the amount of risk the players are willing to take to try winning the character.
As an auction game, this game is 2 out of 5 stars. But I have never seen a better bluffing game (with the exception of Poker), and for that reason, Fist of Dragonstones earns 5 stars in my book.
Mike Clifford believes that, in most cases, reviews should be short and with this one that is an easy target to achieve. The game has a fantasy theme and consists of a long sequence of "in the fist" auctions. Any questions?
In each round 10 characters are auctioned off, one at a time. The winner of an auction makes immediate use of the character's special power and then it is a matter of "next card, next auction". Eight of the ten characters are the same in each round; the other two are drawn from a deck in order to add a little variety to the proceedings.
Bidding is done using gold coins, which can be either Fairy Gold or Common Gold. The difference between the two is that when Common Gold is spent it is gone for good, while Fairy Gold is returned to you at the end of the round. There are also Silver Coins, which are used to break ties. Like the Common Gold, Silver Coins are "one use" items. Bidding is "in the fist" and all money used in a bid is considered as spent whether or not the bid was successful.
The first character to be auctioned in each round is the Witch. She gives its owner a black coin. This is another "one use" item and the way it works is that if its owner bids with it in an auction, the character bought can not use their power this round. So money has been spent and no advantage gained. If you own the coin, your aim is either to catch somebody making a large bid or to use the threat of playing it to psych the opposition out of an auction.
The other nine characters in a round come in random order. Three are dragons who give you a gemstone to match their colour and a fourth is a thief who steals a gemstone for you from whoever came second in this particular auction. The other three standard characters all give you a choice: either take Common Gold or Silver Coins from the bank or hand in a prescribed set of gemstones in order to receive 1 or 2 Victory Points.
The winner is the first person to collect 3 Victory Points and because accumulating them is a fairly slow process, this means that the game will take getting on for an hour.
The others in my group enjoyed the game and so we shall certainly be playing it again, though it will be at their suggestion rather than mine. I quite enjoyed it, but if I am going to play a game which consists of nothing but auctions, I'd sooner play Magellan (Pizzaro & Co in the Rio Grande version). This is for the purely subjective reason that of the various methods of conducting an auction, "in the fist" is the one I like least. Whether you will like the game will depend on whether you enjoy the guessing games that this type of auction involves.
The game's production values are high, with graphics by Julien Delval, who was also one of the artists for Bruno Faidutti's very successful game Citadelles (Ohne Furcht und Adel). His drawings add significantly to one's enjoyment of the game. A pity therefore that they didn't think to put his name on the box.