Aladdin’s Dragons Review



Morgenland (999 Games // Dutch version) 

Designer: Richard Breese
Publisher: 999 Games
Number of Players: 3-5
Playtime: 90 minutes
Price (approx.):  20 Euro

Long, long ago, a powerful sultan ruled over a bustling Persian city. He, once, was a rich man, but not anymore. All his treasures were stolen and hidden in the deep caves below the city, guarded by dangerous dragons. The sultan wants his treasures back and will reward the ones who will help him. Magical artifacts for those who’ll challenge the dragons and bring back the treasures to his palace.

Overview:

What you get for your money:
1 board, 5 player screens, lots of plastic treasures (gold, crowns, pearls, gemstones and trophies), 40 player tokens, 10 palace guard tokens, 1 camel, 30 artifact tokens, some treasure and magic cards, a reference sheet and the rulebook/almanac. 

How do you play the game:
The idea is pretty simple, you lead a caravan and you want to steal the treasures from the dragons and claim the rewards, some artifact. The one with the most artifacts at the end of the game, when all are claimed, wins Aladdin’s Dragons.

Your caravan is represented by 8 people tokens with a number from 1 to 9, without the 3. One by one, every player places one token face down on the board in a space of his choosing.  After everyone is done, the tokens are turned over and the one with the highest value in a certain area is considered the strongest player and gets the corresponding reward or action.

You can bid on different things. At the beginning of a round the caves (bottom of the board) are filled with treasures. Every round the amount of treasures is different. Every treasure type is put in a different cave. You can bid on one or more treasure types and if you have the highest value in a cave, you win some treasures of that specific type.

In the palace (top of the board) you can exchange these treasures for certain artifacts, but have to pass the palace guard first. The palace guard is a token (1 to 10) and is placed, face down, at the entrance of the palace. You have to place a token at the entrance and the value must by equal or higher than the guard. If it’s lower, you can bribe the guard (the difference between the two values) and you may enter.

Once in the palace, you can bid on the artifacts. You can bid on as many artifacts as there are players. When you have the highest value in a certain artifact field, you have to pay the amount on the token in one treasure type (you win with a five, you must pay five gold bars for instance). When you have two tokens in one field, you have to pay the amount in two treasures types. When you can’t pay, or you do not want to, the player with the second highest bid gets a chance to claim that artifact.

After the caves and before the palace, you will travel through the city. Here you can bid on certain actions (or benefits). You can get magic cards/ spells in Aladdin’s Tent. These cards, when played, are beneficial for you and may be a disadvantage for your opponents. You can exchange one small treasure for 3 other ones at the market. You can become the new starting player at the Caravanserai and you can earn the right to use two artifacts this round in the Djinn’s House.

Use two artifacts? Yes. Artifacts are not only worth points at the end of the game, they also have special abilities that you can use during the game. There are 6 types of artifacts; ‘Aladdin’s lamp’ gives you the ability to use magic cards (every player is given the lamp at the beginning of the game), with the ‘Double’ you can choose one of you tokens to have a double, the ‘Counter spell’ can cancel the effect of a magic card, the ‘Key’ allows you to enter the palace without defeating the guard, the ‘Flying Carpet’ is essentially an extra player token with a value of 3 and the ‘Scroll’ breaks ties at the end of the game. Normally you can only play one artifact per round, but when you are the strongest player in the Djinn’s House, you can use two artifacts that round. At the end of a round, everyone takes back their artifacts (and people tokens). You don’t lose any points when you use an artifact.

So, the game actually consist of blind bidding/ worker placement and using cards and artifacts. Every round, the treasures that no one has bid on are replaced by new ones, new artifacts are revealed, if needed, and a new palace guard is placed face down at the entrance. When every artifact is claimed, the one with the most wins. If there is a tie, the one with the most ‘Scrolls’ wins Aladdin’s Dragons.

Review:

Theme
Imagine yourself in a tale from 1001 Nights. Caravans traveling through an Persian city. Camels! Treasures guarded by dragons. Every man, woman and child tries to get those treasures and you have to be more cunning than the others. Camels all around! 

Magical artifacts you can use, spells you can cast to outwit everyone else. You can bribe the guards or you can just sneak past them. All that, and the blind bidding, the sneakiness and the bluffing, really fits the theme well. And Camels!

Gameplay
I consider this a great gateway game. Many mechanisms in this game are used in more difficult games, more ‘gamer games’. Worker placement, bidding/ bluffing, cards with special abilities and resource management, but everything is done at a low/ easy level, very understandable. The bidding gets everyone, almost immediately, involved in the game, there is something at stake here. 

If you want to, you can play a basic version, without the special abilities of the magic cards and the artifacts. Only the bidding mechanism remains. This is less fun and there are probably better games out there that only do that. That’s why you should play the ‘advanced’ version.

The only thing why this game wouldn’t be a good gateway game, is the rulebook. The reference sheet is OK, but it only explains the basics. The rulebook itself is very confusing. All the rules are mixed up. They call it an almanac, so here they protect themselves against any critique, but I don’t understand why they would write a rulebook, uh almanac, like this. Please write a proper rulebook and if you think everything should be explained again in alphabetical order add an almanac later. But first explain all the rules in an understandable manner. Thank you.

The game flows very nicely (most of the times). One by one, every player places a token in certain area and when everyone is done, every area is handled from the bottom left to the top right corner. Maybe the first round not everyone has an idea what they are exactly doing, but they will find out right away when every token is flipped over. 

A lot is secret in this game, but when you flip over every token, you have that ‘Ah, I see what you did there’ effect. This enables everyone to quickly learn how this game can be played. That is another reason why this is a nice gateway game.

A small problem I have is that there can be timing issues with some Magic card/ Artifact combinations. How long do you wait for people to play their cards or artifacts? If there is a lot at stake, it might turn into a waiting game. The one who plays an artifact or card first has a disadvantage (‘If you had played that card first , I wouldn’t have played my artifact.’). I think this is part of the bluffing aspect of the game. Simply bad luck if your move turned out wrong. But some fellow players disagreed and thought everyone should play cards and artifacts at the same time. No action-reaction.

Maybe, to ask if someone wants to play a card or artifact, clockwise from first (camel) to last player, would be logical. The rulebook doesn’t tell you how to deal with that. So house rules are welcome. 

Another problem with this game (and probably with many bidding games) is that when people know, at the end of the game, that they can’t win anymore, they just choose a player they like (or a random one) and try to sabotage the other player. You can have a kingmaker. This can be a bit of an anticlimax.

With five players it can be a bit on the long side for what the game brings (especially with new players), but it is still nice. Four players hits the sweet spot.  

In conclusion, this is a fairly easy game. A little bit more difficult than, say Ticket to Ride, but it is still easy to handle. The blind bidding system that is implemented in this game can ease people into the whole worker placement concept. The artifacts and magic cards add a layer that makes the game still interesting for gamers. It also makes the game less predictable. It’s a worker placement game, but you can’t plan everything, because of the magic cards.

To learn the ‘advanced’ game, you need the rulebook, but the rulebook (OK, almanac) is terrible. I don’t really know why they thought you should play the base game first, the ‘advanced’ game is pretty easy to learn already.

Looks
The board looks great, but it can be a bit too crowded. Pretty nice artwork. They should have chosen another colour for the guard or the black/ grey player. Yes, the guard has a picture of a guard on it, but at first glance they look quite similar. Small issue. 

AlDRAG1

The plastic treasure are very nice and colourful. When all the treasures and tokens are on the board it is a bit crowded, but also very colourful and a joy to look at.

Quality of the game parts
Nice, thick, cardboard pieces, good card quality (linen) and the plastic treasures are very high quality too. Nothing to complain here.

Fun
Yes, this game is very fun. People are involved from the start. There is a lot of secrecy, but at the end of the round every token is turned over and we all will see what everyone has done. And then the ‘Ha, you sneaky bastard!’ s will fly over the table. In a friendly way of course.
 
There is a lot to think about, but not so much that you can’t play this game, casually, with a drink or two. With five players it can drag on a bit. Personally I don’t care, but for people who don’t play games often it can be an issue. 

I mostly play games with two players and this one can only be played with three or more. Because of that, I don’t get it on the table very often. But when I do, it’s very fun.

It is, maybe, hard to find for some, but if you can get it, do.

 

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