To watch an overview of this game and see a few sample turns, click here.
What is this game about?
For those of you who have played Shadowrun: Crossfire, Dragonfire is a reskin of that game with a D&D theme and some rule tweaks. For those of you who haven't, Dragonfire is a cooperative deck building game in which 2–6 players work together to complete adventures, level up their characters, and play a longer campaign over time.
In Dragonfire, you complete adventures by choosing an adventure card and playing through a number of "scenes," during which you face challenges and eliminate encounter cards. Within your party, four different class types must be represented: Martial, Arcane, Devotion, and Deception. If you are playing with two characters, each will represent two classes for the purposes of the game. The classes more or less match up with the traditional D&D classes of fighter, wizard, cleric, and rogue. They have different symbols and colors, which also correspond to different damage types when fighting monsters or dealing with location cards. You need to defeat each encounter by dealing specific types of damage in a specific order, according to what is listed on the cards.
You will begin each adventure with an "equipment pack" (i.e. deck of cards) that is tailored to your character. You use the same equipment pack each time you play a new adventure, no matter how far along you are in the game. Using these starting cards, you defeat monsters, collect gold after eliminating them, and use that gold to purchase better cards from the market. You don't draw new encounters until you handle the ones from the "scene" you are currently playing, but don't waste too much time—every round, you draw a "dragonfire" card that makes the game progressively harder as the dragonfire discard deck grows.
Dragonfire is truly cooperative. Encounters are placed in front of each character in the game, but you do not have to deal damage only to the encounter in front of your character. In fact, it is crucial that you attack the monsters confronting your companions, especially your wizard if you are playing with one. It also differs from a traditional deck building game, in that you are only able to draw two cards at a time, and the cards you purchase from the market are placed directly into your hand--not your discard pile. In fact, it is unlikely that you will cycle through your deck more than two or three times during a game.
How does it play solo?
To play Dragonfire, you need to control a minimum of two characters. You may, however, want to play with more—the game seems to be slightly easier with three or four. This is especially true for the quick start scenario, which is nearly impossible to beat with only two characters in play.
There is a lot to like about Dragonfire. There is definitely something about it that keeps me playing. I should warn you, however, that sometimes you are going to lose—badly—and there is nothing you can do about it. If you draw difficult-to-beat encounters right away, it can take several turns to defeat them, and in the meantime you'll have progressively fewer cards to work with (because you only draw two at a time) and no gold with which to draw new ones. Meanwhile, the dragonfire cards will pile up to make future encounters even more difficult. If you end up in this sort of situation, your party is probably doomed. There is no doubt that this game has a very swingy difficulty level, which can lead to a lot of frustration.
That said, I enjoy the puzzle that Dragonfire presents. Also, you can still give your characters at least some experience for failed adventures if you are playing a campaign. Over time, experience allows you to purchase upgrade stickers which you place on your character card. The early upgrades aren't all that great, but they definitely start to get better in the higher experience ranges—and the core set of Dragonfire only covers you up to level five. There may be more interesting buffs in the future as the level cap increases.
When you complete adventures, you also get a chance to acquire magical items for your deck. Some of these items are pretty cool, and there are even exclusive ones that you can pick up after successfully completing a Dragonfire adventure in your friendly local game store. I love that Catalyst seems to have big plans for the future of Dragonfire, and I want to see where this game is going to go.
Do I recommend this game?
Yes, if you know what you're getting into. Dragonfire can be very frustrating, and criticisms of its difficulty spikes and slow leveling system are legitimate. However, I can't help really liking this game. I know that I will keep coming back to it for some time, because I am enjoying it despite its flaws.
I may add a revision to this review in the future, after Dragonfire has had some more time to expand and develop.
Overall Rating: 3.5
5 stars — I love it!
4 stars— I really like it.
3 stars — I like it.
2 stars — It's okay.
1 star — Meh.