Stop me if you’ve heard this one. An undead knight, a two-headed ogre, a woman-spider, a walking eyeball, and a vampire queen walk into a dragon’s lair. I forget the punchline but I’m actually talking about Dragonscales, a Dice Rolling and placement game from Arcane Wonders. If you’d like to know how this mash-up of Clank! and King of Tokyo plays out, check the review below.
You’re playing as villains, so suffice to say you’re not nice people. Or people at all. Savathene, the spider assassin, presents the biggest problem with her clothing design. Apparently the character designers wanted to really make sure you knew she was a girl. Mezerax is an eyeball with tentacles for legs, and a big tongue. Tatyana is a vampire queen in a tight black dress, Tor’Lok is a two-headed giant, and Grimmveil is an undead knight who originally was killed by Archerex.
Players have different abilities and possibly treasures that follow common fantasy tropes such as damage, healing, summoning minions, protection spells, and the like.
When I first heard about Dragonscales, I thought it sounded a bit like Clank!, which in case you didn’t know is a deck-building game where you delve down into a dungeon and try to steal the most treasure without arousing a dragon, who is more likely to attack you the more noise you make. Dragonscales is actually the reverse of that scenario, plus a little King of Tokyo thrown in to boot. You’re already facing the dragon at the start of Dragonscales, and are then forced to make decisions after that. Based on how you roll you can defend, get loot or Villainy cards, attack, or flee. You can also arouse the dragon’s rage by unfortunately rolling a Dragon Rage symbol, which cannot be re-rolled.
A basic round goes like this: Roll dice, Choose actions, Take actions, Reset. When players roll their dice, they can re-roll each die up to two times, meaning a die could be rolled three times total. Should a Dragon Rage symbol come up however, it cannot be re-rolled. Players may also encounter items or Villany cards that allow them to change results in their favor, or hinder other’s results. After everyone’s dice are revealed, players will go in order taking turns placing their dice. The order is important, because if you have more dice than someone else in a given category, you supplant them in the far left box, which is where the best results are. Players to the right get to do less and less depending on how far they are. For instance, in the “Flee” row, the player with the most dice gets to move up to the movement die +1. The next player in line just gets to move based on the movement die, and the third player just gets to move one space (this spot is only used in 4+ players) and the last spot just gets one dragonscale (only used in 5 player games).
Most of the actions are straightforward; Defend lets you heal or prevent any wounds, Loot lets you loot, Flee lets you move, and so on. Attack lets you do battle with Archerex, but confusingly you have to consult a separate table to see just how much damage you did. I’m not sure why they didn’t just use less attack dice. However one thing I found interesting was there were a couple times I actually wanted to come in 2nd when we were choosing actions, and that felt harder than trying for first. I felt like that was a good indication that they were doing player choice correctly.
Game play continues until someone escapes, or kills Archerex (or all the players die). Then players tally up their scores and see who won. Bonuses are passed out for whoever did the best, depending on how the game ended. If Archerex dies, his killer gets 10 Victory points, while the players who did the least damage or were closest to the exit get negative five each. If someone escapes, that player gets 10 Victory points, the next closest player gets five, and the player furthest away gets negative five. The players who did the first and second most damage to each of the dragon’s three colors get bonuses of 6 and 3 Victory points each.
I like a lot of the things that Dragonscales does, but had a couple nitpicks that stood out. For one, the symbology in the rule book and cards could have been better – for one the dragonscales themselves (a form of in-game loot and currency as well as the title) are purple, but when they show up on cards or in the rules they’re blue. Except for once when they’re not. And on a few of the dragon rage cards, one or more players get to draw a card, but it isn’t clear just from looking at the card whether you get a treasure card or Villany card. After looking at the rules we surmised it was a Villany card. Also, the insert was frustrating: it seemed to have slots for Villain’s dice and decks, but then the other cards would just flop around.
My only other problem is a bit bigger, and it’s with Savathene. Not just from an artwork standpoint, which I’ve already covered. But also from a game play standpoint. She’s the only character in the entire game (Archerex included) who can poison other villains, and you cannot heal from poison. Now there’s only a couple cards in her whole deck that can do that (sidebar: all of the cards in the Villany decks are unique, kudos to the designers there) but that makes her character seem too powerful. Due to her appearance and overpowered abilities, I would probably ban her in games with less than 5 players. Back to my small gripes – 3-5 players is a weird window. Wish it was 2-5 or 3-6.
OP half-nude spider-ladies aside, this is a fun game that lets you lean into your inner villain. “He’s almost out, let’s kill him,” is not something I usually find myself saying at the game table (real life, sure), and by that time everyone at the table was on board except the one trying to escape first (Sorry Carter). If you thought Clank! needed more strategy and backstabbing, then send your minions into town to pick up a copy of Dragonscales.
A review copy was provided by the Publisher.
The Bottom Line
A solid fantasy game that lets you be as bad as you wanna be, Dragonscales feels like Clank! and King of Tokyo smashed (up) together. With solid choices and multiple paths to victory, players will find a lot to like here. I wasn't a fan of Savathene aka Spider-Woman (fantasy edition), but you can also just not play with her. Anyone who played Clank! and wanted more control over what they did each round will probably enjoy this game.