Dragons are cool. That’s what my son told me when I asked him why he liked The Book of Dragons. Depending on who I played the game with, my experience has varied wildly. But this matter-of-fact answer that dragons have an irresistible appeal to young people helped my put my thoughts into a new light. Because The Book of Dragons is, as it turns out, a children’s game.
In The Book of Dragons, you take turns bidding on dragon cards on display. These bids are placed in the form of dice. These must be higher than the current minimum bid of the respective dragon card. If you are outbid, the dice are returned to you and are each increased by 1 pip. Thus, although you didn’t score a card, you can now immediately make a stronger bid than before. Alternatively, if you have dice on a card at the beginning of your turn, you can also take that card. This in turn has the effect your returning dice are reduced by 1 pip each. You scored victory points, but now start the next round from a somewhat weakened position. This results in tactical dice placing, bidding and outbidding, occasionally interrupted by one-time abilities of the dragon cards you’ve collected.
Neither game flow nor rules are particularly complicated. But The Book of Dragons is not a children’s game because it is simple or trivial. Even if many adults may feel that way. It is a children’s game because it introduces inexperienced players to tactical play by presenting them with clear decisions, coupled with short- to medium-term planning.
Experienced players will not be impressed by ny innovative and fancy design tricks. Nor does the game’s appeal lie in getting lost in heady, psychological contests of I know, that you know, that she knows, that he knows, that I know….. etc.
The Book of Dragons is a simple bidding game that invites less experienced players to try their hand at planning ahead. A tactically placed bid with the sole purpose of being beaten and increasing the dice value is a great sense of achievement for young players. Suddenly this “defeat” made a higher bid possible.
At least in my games, excitement and indifference seemed to mirror the age difference at the table (and to some extent, playing experience). Those who play a lot did little more than shrug. The young and/or inexperienced were fascinated by the tactical options that opened up to them.
It’s only the dragons’ special abilities that seem a little too pedestrian. They are effective, but also quite unsurprising. A more inventive or daring design decision might have excited experienced games here. Where it could have been scaling new heights, The Book of Dragons seems content with covering well-trod ground. A missed opportunity.
What remains is a calm children’s game, which stands out due to, if anything, its presentation: children-friendly only at second glance. Some children find it easier to get excited about giant, fire-breathing lizards as opposed to the cutesy world of bright colors, so many other children’s games are cursed with. Because dragons, as I was recently taught by a somebody who knows about these things, are cool.