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Set in the world of Dungeons and Dragons, Dragonfire is a 2-6 player cooperative deck-building game with legacy elements. Dragonfire is designed by Randal N. Bills, Dylan Birtolo, Loren Coleman, Talon Coleman, Mike Elliot, Rob Heinsoo, Jim Lin, Gregory Marques, Sean McCarthy, Jay Schneider, Rob Watkins and published by Catalyst Game Labs. It plays in 60-90 minutes.
Players will take on the role of a common race, such as a dwarf, elf, half-orc or human as either a cleric, rogue, fighter or wizard. During the game, players play cards for abilities and effects and deal damage to any enemies they are engaged with. If you fail to defeat your enemies, they will deal damage back to you. Additional cards are drawn if you have fewer than three cards in your hand and then extra cards can be purchased from the market.
Each round, there will be a Dragonfire card which adds some randomised event to the round. A typical game is played out over a number of “scenes”. When a scene is completed, players can perform a short rest before moving on to the next scene. After all of the scenes have been completed, players are awarded experience, which you can spend to add new abilities (in the form of stickers) to your character's player board.
This levelling up of your character makes you more powerful for the next mission.
Dragonfire was a game that I had been interested in for a while and decided to eventually take the plunge and purchase the core game. I was interested in the levelling up and the character progression, as it reminded me of old school video games with missions, experience and getting stronger from game to game. So has Dragonfire lived up to my expectations? Read on to find out more.
Core of Four
The core concept of the game is gaining cards with different coloured symbols on to defeat the baddies. You'll need to deal each baddie an amount of generic damage (any coloured damage) and specific coloured damage (which must be dealt out in a specific order). Typically, a character's starting deck will be tuned to be better at one of these colours than others. This is in itself as an interesting concept as there is a uniqueness to your character which I like.
However, it does present a problem as well. You need to have enough characters to cover the majority (if not all) of the colours. The two-player variant does not do enough and I think this is better at the higher player counts (4 players). Dragonfire is very challenging at two players.
As Dragonfire is a co-op game, you can technically play it solo. Two characters are manageable but controlling four is a lot to keep track of. The tweaks to the decks in a two “character” game don’t do enough to balance the game. Controlling two characters makes the game fiendishly difficult and controlling four becomes a slog. This is a real shame. I had high hopes for Dragonfire and I like a lot of the mechanisms in the game. However, if you have a group that is into D&D or likes a challenge, this is could be a great game for that situation.
Puzzling out the Damage
The attacking is an interesting puzzle that you need to work out and think through. You have to play the cards in the right order and sometimes it is better to deal out damage to a character that is not engaged with you so the other player can take them out on their turn. You can get some good synergies and combos with the card play, which I really enjoy.
Grind your way up
The game has an element of “grind” to it and I don’t mind this. In fact, this is something that I enjoy in video games and could see the potential in Dragonfire as well. Stick with a character, play a few games, gain some experience and get better. Some of the really powerful abilities are very expensive and would require many plays to unlock. In principle, this is not a bad thing as it gives you something to work towards and also adds another element to the end game. Do you spend a small amount of experience to gain a small ability or save up for that big prize?
There is also a cool location mechanism. At some point in the game, your party might get split up and be in two different locations. This thematically works well as you can’t assist each other if you are in different locations. I love this. It all makes sense and works well. These locations need to be dealt out damage to overcome them, just like a monster.
There are lots of other cool things in Dragonfire which I haven't discussed in great detail, such as distributing money, the market cards, magic items, levelling up and the permanence of the stickers, how the scenarios are set up. There is a lot in this game.
So Long, Farewell.
Ultimately, Dragonfire is not a game for me. I can see the amazing design in the game and it saddens me to see it go. I knew going into it that my main gaming partner would not like this game and I intended to play it mainly solo. Controlling two characters is manageable but is very hard and I don’t think the deck tweaks are enough. Controlling four characters (which I did for a good number of games) was too much of a slog for me.
I wish there were other ways to scale the game for the number of players. As hard as it was to let this one go, in the end, it had to leave my collection. Two players controlling two characters would be manageable, so if you want some D&D action, something with legacy elements to really get your teeth in to and grind through, then Dragonfire might be great for you. It is a fun game; the legacy elements work well and are interesting, the scenarios are varied and the game offers a challenge.