As centuries went by, the once mighty Dragon Castle was picked apart like vultures on a lioness her decaying corpse. The people who once lived here and who saw the hills change color every spring and fall so many times, could not have imagined this structure to ever be not present anymore. But alas, every man-made structure will once be part of the dust again, and so was that the future for the Dragon Castle in our story already written. The people will have to search for new realms, for new futures, for new prosperity.
But from the seemingly dark times, there will always be some sparks of hope and mankind will rise out of the ashes again. Who will rebuild his own realm stone by stone to be the most formidable of its time again? And who will build a legacy which will stand the test of time and please the spirits & the Elder dragons once more for many centuries to come? Let’s find out and join us on this board game adventure.
And so it begins
We start with a big and empty main board where we will set-up the Dragon castle, from which you will pick your stones. The amount of stones diver on the player count. The possible shapes of the structure depend somewhat on that player count, but the rulebook comes with suggestions, besides the first basic ones, to set your difficulty. But if you have played the game a few times, you can take your own building imagination and take it to the next level freely.
Creating sets of stones of the same type and build shrines on top of them will score you points. Ask for favors of the spirits to manipulate the possibilities and please the Elder dragon to gain the most prestige and be victorious in the end. We won’t be covering the rules in detail but will take you through some main steps you will take.
The stars of the show are of course the mahjong style stones. Those are chunky pieces and give the game a very elegant & classy feel. The publisher didn’t cut back on the production of these beauties.
The different colors and the different shapes have their specific functions. When you pick your stones from the Dragon Castle you will have to combine the shapes and color exactly and when you want to flip, and score the stones on your realm board, you will only have to combine the colors when you connect four or more stones. The shape does not matter anymore.
The actions you will take are one, you can pick two stones. Two you can pick one stone and a shrine or three you can destroy a stone and gain a point for it. Later in the game, a fourth action is introduced, which is gaining a countdown token which depicts points and triggers the end of the game when the set of tokens is depleted. Which is player count depend on how many will be available.
We mentioned shrines and this is why they matter. Shrines score you points based on the level they are set on, but they will also close of that spot for future building. So you need to balance it when you put them on top of the structure. Again, they went all the way and produced lovely plastic rooftops which look amazing.
So in very short, above are the base set rules and those are fairly simple and we would suggest starting with the more advanced rules straight away. Those are, add Spirit and Dragon cards.
Spirit cards will give you an extra ripple or rulebreaker to manipulate the game state. Besides looking fantastic, that does spice up the zen experience a lot. From swapping stones to taking stones from their short side, a lot of variabilities and a lot of extra fun.
Dragon cards change the endgame scoring in quite some interesting ways. Borders of your realm score extra points, different sets of stones can score, etcetera. Again, this will add greatly to the tactical and strategic ways you will play this game. And again, why keep such beautiful art inside the game box? Cinyee Chiu did a tremendous job on the art style of this game.
A zen like experience. Easy ruleset, but still a lot of game there. Production of the stones, shrines and the card art is stunning! Solid schoolnight game and a nice thinky filler. Attracts non gamers as well as more experienced gamers. Always a big win. The player interaction is good. Do you take what you want or what your competitor would have wanted? Nice little take that is possible, but not necessary. You can a nice friendly game too, if you prefer that. It is an abstract game in heart and the story is one you need to provide yourself. The player boards, chits and main board are a little flimsy, but do what they must. Set-up of the Dragon Castle does take a little and adds to play time.
The criteria on which we base most of our opinions, but isn’t the end all and be all.
Does it play well with 2?
Very much and very good. It is our go-to game at the moment if we want nothing brain breaking or we want to chill and game.
Does it suit one of our game groups (D&D, Heavy games, thematic games, etc.) or can I bring nongamers in or take it to others? You could call it a thinky filler, but that is a little bit of a stretch. Something like Azul, Dokmus or Burgundy are better examples of those. The theme is absent, even though we started this review off with some story. So I don’t think this is best suited for more involved gamers on a theme or depth & complexity.
Does it come with a solo variant? Not included in the base game and none yet on The Geek. But, there is a thread where Alessandro talks about possibilities.
How are theme and mechanics tied in together?
Very Yin & Yang like. It’s a take on the classic Mahjong added with beautiful art and it does give a great sense of creating something tangible. So yes it does do a good job tying them together.
Does my collection need this? What stands out?
(New mechanics? better integration of x? new theme? etc.) We aren’t huge on the abstract games, but this one tickles our fancy and serves its purpose very well. It does lead us to explore better-themed abstracts like Tao Long and Dokmus.
And how is the rsp?
With a price on the web from around 50 €, it is something you may want to think about if that is worth your money for an abstract game. We can see why it is a little high, those stones/tiles are plenty and a very high-quality design decision. But still, it is ” just” a Mahjong evolution and not some revolutionary new game. But, all depends on where you want to spend your well-earned dollars or euro.
All we really can conclude is that Dragon Castle hits a lot of buttons for us. It plays great, it plays fast, it looks great on the table, we can get other nongamers easier into our hobby and it lets you tell stories which may not even be there. And if something tickles our fancy like this, we rate it highly.
Thanks for dropping by, sticking all the way to the end and we immensely love you for it!
Review copy was provided by the fine folks of Horrible Games we met last Spiel!