Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Tuesday 24 July 2018

The Shrineing:- Dragon Castle

Game: Dragon Castle

Publisher: Horrible Games

Designer:  Hjalmar Hach, Luca Ricci and Lorenzo Silva

Year: 2017

Dragon Castle is a 2-4 player abstract game in which you build your own castle and shrines out of building materials stolen from the dragon castle. The game is played with a series of Mahjong-esque tiles which you will be trying to collect in coloured sets on your board.

On each players turn they do one of 3 things; Take 1 tiles from the top floor and 1 shrine from the pool, take 2 identical tiles from any floor and add them to their castle, or (should the castle be reduced to 1 floor) take a victory point token. Whenever you connect 4 or more tiles of the same colour you score points (proportionately more for larger sets) and get a chance to place shrines on top of them (rarer colours let you build more shrines) The higher you build your shrine the more points you get, but you can never build your castle more than 3 tiles high!. This simple gameplay leads to some complex thinking, especially in a 2 player game where you have to weigh up every opportunity you offer your opponent, many times it can be best to take tiles they want rather than ones you are after. Occasionally you may decide it's worth the risk freeing up tiles you want for the taking, hoping that your opponents won't grab them before your turn comes around.

The higher up you build your shrines the more points you get, so it's important to plan your building strategies appropriately.

Once you are used to the base game (which should be after only 1 play really) you can add the two kinds of bonus cards: spirits and dragons. You will draw 1 of each for each game, and with a good sized deck of each it will be a long time before you encounter a repeat combination. Spirits all grant you bonus abilities during the game, but in order to get their ability you have to pay a cost: either discarding 1 faceup tile or discarding a shrine. These abilities can be extremely useful, so are often well worth the cost. Dragon cards offer you a new way to earn points at the end of the game, and given that in my last game 25% of my points came from the dragon card, they are well worth pursuing!

For me Dragon Castle really hits the perfect abstract game mark of Easy to Learn but difficult to master. You can easily play it carefree, just take the best move for yourself on a turn by turn basis, but you will soon find that that's no way to win! You want to build the largest area in a colour to maximise your points, but you score as soon as you get 4 of a colour touching. So you start devising ways to get groups of 3 of a kind that you can eventually connect together to score the maximum amount of points. This is simple at first but as you can't build over shrines or above 3 tiles high it soon gets tricky, especially if your opponent sees what you are doing and starts trying to prevent you from getting that colour, suddenly half your board is unusable until you get the tiles you need! This is only further improved by the dragon and spirit tiles which, with minor rules changes, entirely change your priorities in the game and how you accomplish them.

There are a vast selection of bonus cards which change up the gameplay every game.

The tiles are all nice and chunky with a good weight and nice, clear printing. Unfortunately though they can still be a little bit difficult yo use. Perhaps I'm just clumsy, but setting up the dragon castle in the first place is time consuming and flipping over your tiles when yous core them similarly so. This wouldn't be a problem in a 4 player game when there is more time between turns, but for two players we often ended up slowing the pace of the game as we waited for each other to finish manipulating their tiles. I'm also a touch confused by the dragon and spirit cards, the game instructs you to draw one of each at random, but rather than the dragon cards all sharing a card back they each have unique art. Don't get me wrong this looks wonderful, but it does make it difficult to feel like you have adequately randomly selected a card.

I'm being quite petty about these things though as they really are minor issues. Dragon Castle is a very solid game with great art design and component quality. The gameplay is extremely enjoyable and (un)surprisingly deep with huge amounts of variation being offered by the bonus cards. It is a completely abstracted game with the only theme being it's pseudo Japanese aesthetic, but it a game that I hugely enjoy and would encourage anyone who likes abstract games to give a shot.


Dragon Castle was a review copy provided by Asmodee UK. It is available for an RRP of £46.99 at your friendly local game store or can be picked up at http://www.365games.co.uk/.

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