Dragonbond: Lords of Vaala
In Dragonbond, you play either as a general commanding troops or as a dragon swooping down on the regions on the map board. It's a highly asymmetric game but, whether you're a warlord or a dragon, you're racing to be the first to collect 10 power tokens from those scattered across the map. But there's a twist... if a general and a dragon are at the same location and not locked in combat then they can form a Dragonbond... That means they become permanently allied for the remainder of the game; they'll gain additional abilities but they share victory when one of the pair achieves the victory condition.
There's a strong area control element - particularly for those playing as generals - but the main mechanic in the game design from Jack Caesar and Alessio Cavatore is programming. In each round, an event card is taken face down from the deck of 12 cards and players in turn add face-down action cards from their individual decks until a player passes, at which point another event card is placed on the pile, and the pile is flipped and the cards worked through in sequence. Event cards can shake up the board state, including adding or removing power tokens, and of course the game state can change before any cards you've played are actioned; but that tactical gamble is at the heart of the game.
When you collect power, you add it to your individual board, but these aren't just inert victory points: certain powerful actions can be activated by 'spending' power. That doesn't mean you lose the power, just that you flip the token showing it has been spent; it still counts towards your victory condition.
Combat and other actions are resolved using the custom 10-sided dice (0,0,0,0,1,1,1,2,x,2x - where x is a critical hit). When you score a critical hit, it deals a wound immediately, so before the defender has a chance to roll their dice in counterattack. Tho' area control is an important factor in Dragonbond: Lords of Vaala, it can often be a wise tactical choice for a defender to retreat to a neighbouring territory rather than counterattack. You'll have already seen the attacker's roll before you decide so, if for example, they've rolled four non-critical hits then you know that retreating will save you from taking four damage...
Dragonbond can be played solitaire but it's at its best with four players so that both generals and both dragons are player-controlled. That said, the automata work pretty well in filling the gap when you're playing this as, for example, a two-player game: tho' the automata play cards at random from their shuffled decks, the rules for focusing their actions make them reasonably formidable foes and partners. And of course it's the Dragonbond partnering up of a general and dragon that's the standout feature of this game. It gives each game a distinct arc. Players almost invariably set out to win as individuals but if a player or 'faceless' (non-player) dragon or general seems to be doing well, it makes them an obvious target for Dragonbonding, so in our Board's Eye View plays we found that when a player or automata developed a lead over others of more than two or three power, the game changed up so that players actively sought to Dragonbond with the leader. Whether or not you Dragonbond isn't a matter of free choice - both roll a die and if both roll at least a 'hit' on the custom 10-sided die then you are Dragonbonded for the rest of the game. Players (but not the 'faceless') can spend (flip) a power to re-roll, and this can also be done to try to avoid Dragonbonding.
With its striking minis and art from Irene Aretia, Tom Babbey, Aldo (Eyari) Dominguez, Steve Prescott and Adam Wesierski, Draco Studios and River Horse have done a great job in producing Dragonbond: Lords of Vaala. The board is two-sided so you can choose to play on a light or dark-coloured map. Either way, it's a tactical game that you're sure to want to return to for multiple plays. If no-one has achieved the victory condition before the event deck has run out then the win goes to the player with the most power tokens, so games are played over an absolute maximum of six rounds. In practice we found most of our plays at Board's Eye View ran to around 60 minutes.
And if Dragonbond gets you hooked, there's a dragon horde of more content in the pipeline, with Dragonbond: Battles of Valerna due to launch soon on Kickstarter. Dragonbond: Battles of Valerna will particularly appeal to those with access to a 3D printer because it's expected to come with the print files for 250 minis!
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