Deck building games are still a rather new breed of board game. I’m always shocked when I’m reminded that the granddaddy, old geezer of deck builders, Dominion, is not even ten years old yet; however, its safe to say that the genre has made a big splash and there are deck builders at every turn clawing at your wallet like some massive horde of raving undead screaming “BRAAAAINSSSSS…and don’t forget to shuffle well….”
It’s pretty clear that the market for deck builders has not wavered in the slightest as more and more games get released with countless expansions. Deck builders have a way of forming an almost cult like presence with its followers. There are purists that insist that Dominion is the end all, be all and every game that has come after are just wannabes, while others have latched on to highly interactive deck builders like Star Realms and then there are the new kids on the block…deck builders with a game board! Woah!
So where does that put Draconis Invasion, the new deck builder from designer Jonathan Jeffrey Lai and Keji Inc.? Let’s find out.
I think we need to get something out of the way right off the bat. It’s impossible to ignore the fact that Draconis Invasion is clearly inspired by its great granddaddy, Dominion. It just has a lot of similarities. Is that a bad thing? Yes and no.
The similarities are seen in a lot of deck builders of this ilk. The core mechanic of using a starting hand to slowly build a better deck throughout the course of the game is here. A fixed market of better cards that you want is there. Junk cards are often put in your deck which may inhibit a turn you’ve been setting up for. In this game, they call them Terror cards and we will get to those in a second because they are much more important in this game than others. There are three types of cards: money or gold, action cards, and attack cards…wait…attack cards? Oh yes, my pretties, be patient for a moment.
So it has the basic formula for a deck building game. But then it does some things that make it stand out just enough without trying to jam a bunch of NEW, SHINY STUFF down your throat.
And I appreciate what they have done here.
On a turn in Draconis, you can play a single action card from your hand to do cool stuff like trash junky cards or draw cards or give other players terror cards (I suggest you cackle wildly while doing that) and then you can do one of a few options. You can buy an action or defender card from the open market with your gold. The more expensive the card is, the better it is usually. That’s a pretty standard, yet essential part of any deck builder. It lets you hop in the driver seat and attempt to build the best deck you possibly can.
And now get ready for some different stuff.
The second thing you might do on your turn is get new campaign cards. These cards act like secret agendas. Accomplish whatever task the card says to do and you will get bonus points at the end of the game. I love it when games do things like this. They help direct your game should you choose to pursue a secret quest dealt to you.
What kinds of things do these secret missions, campaign cards want you do, you ask? They simply want you to kill more stuff!
You see the way you get points in Draconis is a little different. There are big hulking monsters that are called Invaders. You wanna kill em and kill em good. You do this with your attack/ defender cards that you’ve been acquiring from the market. Kill a creature and its worth points at the end of the game. The secret missions on your campaign cards will grant you bonuses if you kill specific monsters. It’s all very simple until you realize that your Defenders are super greedy monsters as well! That’s right. Nothing is free in the game of Draconis Invasion (well…except those cursed Terror cards that I’m gonna get to…I promise). Those Defenders will help you, but you have to pay them with a specified amount of gold from your hand. This is a great design move because it forces players to really diversify their deck through the choices they make in market purchases.
Okay…time to talk about the Terror cards. Because I really think this is my favorite part of Draconis. Terror cards are junk cards that don’t help you do anything at all. They just occupy a space in your hand where a better card could have been. You get these from a variety of places, sometimes self inflicted…but that’s not the cool part. The Terror cards act as a crazy train of a game timer. Every time somebody plays a terror card from their hand this evil little D6 die goes up once. If it ever ticks up to 6, then an event card is revealed. These are cards that punish the players, especially the player that is currently in first. It’s an awesome catch up mechanic that you don’t see often in this style of deck builder. It also acts as a timer because there is a limited amount of event cards and when they run out, the game ends. So it leads to some interesting situations. Sure you want to give your opponents lots of terror cards, but at the same time it will dramatically speed the game up and if you aren’t ready for that it could blow back up in your own face!
On top of all that, Draconis Invasion is a simply stunning game. The artwork is top notch, components are great, the custom terror die is a nice touch, and it even came with nifty labeled dividers for every card type. It’s definitely not lacking in the production department.
So let’s run Draconis Invasion through the FRAK! Test.
Fun? It is. I’ve enjoyed playing Draconis a good deal. It’s simplicity is nice and it certainly would be a great deck builder to start with. The player interaction is pretty minimal but I think that’s okay for this style of deck builder.
Replayability? There’s a lot of variety here since you get to select what cards go into the market. Play with a different market and you are playing a different game. There are a lot of different cards in the base game alone and seeing how half the box is empty I see expansions are inevitable.
Affordability? It costs about $50 or so which is pretty standard for these bigger box deck builders. I’d say based on the art alone the game is worth that and the high replayability ensures you will get your hard earned moneys worth.
Keep? Totally. This one will see play at my table. Is it one I will grab all the time? Maybe not, but since it’s so accessible when it does hit the table we will be able to get down to business very quickly without having to consult the rule book every time. That’s a small blessing but a big part of why I like Draconis Invasion in the first place. If you enjoy easy riding, smooth deck builders with great production, look no further.
DISCLAIMER: The copy of Draconis Invasion used in this review was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.