05 July 2018
Not to be confused with Dungeon Draught, which is all about underground ventilation
When it comes to fantasy-based card games, designer Justin Gary is a safe pair of gauntleted hands. A Magic: The Gathering US national champion who’s also behind epic deckbuilder Ascension and digital card game SolForge, Gary has now turned his goblin-slaying attention to the humble single-decker. Comprising a generous pile of cards and a scattering of circular cardboard tokens, Gary’s Upper Deck offering folds fantasy adventure into a fun, quick-to-absorb drafting game (the clue is in the title).
As a prologue, each player picks a trilogy of missions from five dealt quests, which require you to collect sets of cards formed from different combos of classes. So 'mastering botany' needs three druids to complete it, whereas the far more ambitious 'save the world' requires three each of all four classes (warriors, rogues, mages and druids). Completing quests isn’t mandatory, but always worth it – either in terms of rewarding extra XP (victory points by another name – earn the most over four rounds to win), or a bonus ability. The tree-huggy 'mastering botany', for example, means druid cards are cheaper to play from that point onwards.
The core of the game is in the draft deck, from which you build a hand of seven cards through (you guessed it) drafting – a hand which will then contribute towards a rapidly growing set of tabled cards that stacks up attack power, XP and gold production. Each class includes a variety of heroes and weapons, with which you aim to establish synergies via one-off powers, contribute towards quest completion and, hopefully, defeat any monsters you’ve also taken into your hand for extra gold, XP or one-time bonuses. It’s tough letting a great hand go, to be scattered among your opponents, but also a relief to send a bunch of high-powered monsters rampaging off clockwise (or, on alternate rounds, anti-clockwise) when you know you don’t have enough attack power to dispatch them.
Once the hands are created, each player takes it in turn to lay their cards. Heroes and weapons always cost gold (you begin with nine), so if you plan your turn badly and mis-order the card-laying, you can end up with empty coffers and a bunch of unplayable cards, whether they’re heroes you wanted to add to your set but now can’t afford, or monsters you wanted to slay but don’t have the required attack value. These get thrown into the horrible black void that is the discard pile, never to be seen again. (Well, unless you gain an ability to raid the discard pile, that is.)
With everyone using their turn to lay all their cards (or as many as they can), it does make for relatively long periods of downtime. But it’s just a minor complaint – as is the less-than-inspiring cartoony art that owes a Deathwing-sized debt to World of Warcraft. Like the very-differently-themed but similarly engaging card-drafter Sushi Go!, this is a warm-up ‘starter course’ that may well take over your entire gaming evening.
Dungeon Draft packs a lot of complexity and variety into its single deck and straightforward rules. Very likely to earn an 'encore' or two after you first slap it on the table.
Designer: Justin Gary
Time: 20-30 minutes
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