A review copy of this game was provided by the publisher; however, my opinions are my own
The mighty Dragoness has summoned her subjects to a royal competition. In Reign of Dragoness, players will assemble their dragons into sets and runs, trying to outcompete each preceding act to win the dragon queen’s favor.
The deck of dragons is constructed according to the player count, shuffled, then everybody is dealt 13 cards. The goal is to be the first player to empty their hand by playing single cards, sets, and runs. The start player sets the pattern. Everybody must follow along by playing higher valued cards in the same pattern as the previous player. This continues until all players pass. The player who played last sets a new pattern, and play continues until somebody has emptied their hand.
The first player to lay down their hand wins the tourney and earns three points. The player with the fewest cards left in their hand earns two points, and the player with the second-fewest receives a single point. After five tournaments, the player with the highest overall score is crowned the “Grand Champion of the Dragoness” and wins the game.
Reign of Dragoness is a ladder-climbing game – the primary objective is emptying your hand by playing a card or set of related cards that exceed the value of what was played previously. It’s similar to Rummy but with an element of constant “one-upping” the competition and trying to gain control of the pattern.
The deck consists of different suits of dragons, numbered 1-12 along with some special cards. Each player is dealt 13 cards and must make tactical hand-management decisions about what to play, and when. The ability to set the pattern is beneficial, and determining when and how to gain and maintain control is a major part of the strategy. Managing your cards effectively to win the race is challenging.
Players familiar with Rummy-style games will quickly see useful strategies, but whether these strategies are successful depends heavily on the actions of others. I enjoy trying to save up some large sets and runs in order to finish the round strong, but occasionally that will backfire when another player empties their hand unexpectedly Good timing, hand management, and a bit of luck are essential.
This is a fairly quick card game which seems appropriate for the game’s weight. For those who want a shorter or longer game, it would be easy to simply add or subtract rounds to fit the needs of the group.
There are no asymmetric player powers here to cause imbalances, but the luck of the draw can make it very difficult to gain control of the pattern when a poor hand is dealt. Gaining control at some point mid-tournament is crucial to placing well, and sometimes it is impossible to overcome a bad hand. In my experience, Rummy-style games often have this issue and it’s not something I fault the game for. Fortunately, rounds move quickly and players have four other rounds of cards to make up the difference.
Weight / Replayability
Grandpa Beck’s Games is a family company with a mission to create games that everybody can enjoy. Reign of Dragoness is no exception. The base game itself is easy to learn and plays quickly. I can play this with my 7-year-old, but there is still enough classic card game strategy here to make it enjoyable for the more experienced gamers at the table.
Grandpa Beck tends to add variants to their rulebooks and Reign of Dragoness is no exception. Several advanced variants are described, each adding new layers of strategy to the game. This can increase the difficulty if players crave additional challenges and variety, and adds replayability to the game.
The rules are straightforward without many exceptions, which makes the game easy to explain to new players. The deck construction is the most time-consuming part of the setup. If the cards are pre-sorted into separate suits, it’s pretty quick.
Theme / Aesthetics
The dragon theme appeals to a wide audience and gives artist Apryl Stott plenty of creative space. As with many card games, the theme is inconsequential here; however, I appreciate having lovely fantasy illustrations to look at while I play. And as much as I enjoy the dragons, it’s the human portraits in the game that draw my eye the most. Grandpa Beck’s family tends to make appearances in his card games, and these are beautifully rendered with warmth and care.
The cards have a nice thickness and texture, which is what I expect from this company. They shuffle well and feel durable. The cards, rules, and recipe card are all packaged in a compact, sturdy box that has artistic touches inside and out. This is a nice production.
Interaction / Fun
Ladder games require players to work off of their opponent’s cards, so there is a lot of interaction in Reign of Dragoness. Skilled players will pay attention to the hand-size of their rivals. They will attempt to anticipate when a player may empty their hand and adjust their tactics accordingly. It is very interactive in this way, but there’s really no “take-that” or actions that feel aggressive.
The game is exciting, especially as players are vying to gain control of the pattern and ride it to the end of the round. There are meaningful choices to be made, which makes a successful round even more satisfying. Although the turns are snappy without much downtime, it does break down a bit when a player has a poor hand and is stuck passing for a good portion of the round. Fortunately, rounds are fast and the pain is usually short-lived.
Reign of Dragoness is light enough that players can feel free to socialize in between turns. Although my children tend to become hyper-focused on their strategy (or holding and re-sorting their cards), the games I’ve played with other adults have been chatty. This one is fun to play with people who want some casual competition and maybe a bit of conversation.
Grandpa Beck’s Games are known for creating family-friendly, versatile card games inspired by some of the classics, and Reign of Dragoness fits in beautifully with their line. This one has my favorite artwork of all the Grandpa Beck games I have tried, and the mechanics are very appealing to me as a person who used to play a lot of Rummy.
I believe the biggest turnoff in the game revolves around the luck of the draw. Skill certainly comes into play, but skill alone isn’t enough to overcome a really poor hand of cards. On the other hand, luck can be a wonderful equalizer – very useful for leveling the playing field between adults and less-experienced children in family games. I grew up playing plenty of Rummy, so I don’t take issue with the luck in Reign of Dragoness. Ultimately the game is more interesting to me and provides more variety of choices on my turns.
This game is simple to learn, easy to teach, and I think will appeal to a wide audience. It has classic card game nostalgia but offers an interactive twist that gives it a little more oomph. This is the type of game I could take to family functions and find plenty of willing players – aunts, grandparents, cousins… I have found that comparing a game to something well-known, such as Rummy, makes these sorts of games much less intimidating to more casual gamers.
Overall, I think Reign of Dragoness is a great casual card game with a lot of versatility and stands up well against the other games in the catalog.