Like most geeks, I spend a lot of time alone – reading, playing MMORPGs, watching sci-fi and fantasy movies or TV shows; but I’m also a very social person, and I love talking about these things I do alone when I get into a group of like-minded individuals. Since I packed up and moved across country, I haven’t found a group for regular game nights yet, so my socializing has been at a minimum of late, and when do I get a chance to play games with a group I especially enjoy it if what we are playing sparks conversation. Over and over again, I have found Looney Labs games to inspire imagination and conversation. They have such a variety of themes in their award-winning games that no matter what interests someone might have (not so many geeks in this neck of the woods), Looney Labs can deliver a great conversation-sparking game.
Seven Dragons definitely delivered in that department. It’s a variation of their classic Aquarius, but instead of primary-colored landscapes and rainbows, as the title suggests, the cards feature colorful dragons. The artwork by Larry Elmore is beautiful – like some scene from a fantasy novel that is selected to grace the cover of the book. Each dragon is featured in some action or setting that either calls to mind stories you’ve read or makes you wonder what the story is the card has to tell, and sometimes does both.
While playing Seven Dragons, we were reminded of our favorite dragon-filled tales and talked about everything from Eragon and Harry Potter to The Hobbit and Xanth, but also made up our own little stories to explain the scenes on the cards. It was kind of like being a kid again, playing the “let’s pretend” game. You know the one, “let’s pretend that…”, and then you describe some scenario that you then either act out or tell a story about, each person contributing their ideas and creating an interactive adventure. Though our ages ranged a 20-year span from teen to late 30s, we were suddenly all little kids again, our imaginations running wild. What was meant to be a fairly short gaming session to kill time before leaving for work turned into a long session of laughter and leaving for work more than a little late.
Enough about the fun social aspect of playing the game, and on to the gameplay itself:
Seven Dragons is for 2 to 5 players. Gameplay is a little like dominoes with an UNO twist. There are 5 colorful dragon goal cards: Red, Gold, Blue, Green and Black. Once each player is dealt a goal card, they must attempt to be the first player to create a chain of seven connected dragons by matching the cards, the way you connect the numbers on dominoes. Each player begins with 3 dragon cards and 1 goal card. At the beginning of each turn, the player draws a dragon card and then plays a card by matching one or more of the pictures on the played card to one of the cards already placed. The dragon card may have 1 to 4 different pictures featured on it and you get to draw bonus cards if you can match 2 or more. To create a chain, the player must place an unbroken line of 7 touching matched cards. While this may seem simple, once you add in the Action Cards it gets more complicated.
This is where the touch of UNO sets in. Once you throw down a Trade Hands, Trade Goals, Move a Card, Rotate Goals, Zap a Card or Shuffle Hands, you are adding twists and turns that can turn a losing hand into a winning hand or vice versa in 2 seconds flat. Since you don’t know what goal the other players have, you have to guess which color dragon they are trying to match so you don’t inadvertently help them. You have to lay a card down with each turn (or forfeit the turn), and you may not want to give your goal away by aggressively pursuing it, so you may end up laying down a chain of cards simply because you need to get them out of your hand in hopes of drawing more of your goal dragon cards in the next hand. Your opponents are probably doing the same.
Just because someone matched 4 black dragons in the last hand doesn’t mean it’s definitely their goal. You could throw down a Rotate Goals card thinking you will win if you do, since you have the card in your hand needed to link those 4 black dragons to 2 others and win in the next hand, only to find out they actually have the green dragon as their goal. Suddenly, you’re eyeing the table trying to find enough green dragons linked to still win, only to discover you were better off keeping the goal you had.
The more people you play with, the better the chance is that you are helping someone else achieve their goal every time you lay down a card. Because of these tricky little twists, gameplay can get pretty complex if you are the strategizing type, though the basic principle and gameplay is so simple, even young children can play it. The instructions even include a version for pre-schoolers, making Seven Dragons truly a game for all ages.