Dragon’s Breath follows the exploits of four dragon children who discover a mysterious column of ice filled with brilliant, sparkling stones while out on an adventure one day. Keen to get their whatever-qualifies-as-hands-on-a-dragon on the stones, the young dragons begin trying to melt the ice. But they’re too young and, despite their heroic efforts, they simply cannot melt it. Their dragon breath isn’t hot enough. So, they do what any group of smart dragon children would do, they cajole their father into doing it for them. As the ice melts away, the suspended stones begin falling to the floor and the young dragons begin collecting them in earnest.
Winner of the 2018 Kinderspiel des Jahres, Dragon’s Breath (a HABA Games production) pits two to four players against one another in a stone collecting free-for-all. The bottom layer of the play area is composed of the game box, which has been segmented into nine compartments. Atop this sits the game board with the four corners removed and several holes punched into its middle. Each corner hovers over a different compartment and these are representative of each child’s personal Dragon cave. Similarly, the holes in the middle hover over a larger compartment which represents the Daddy Dragon’s cave. Each player receives a standee which straddles the corner of the box belonging to them.
In addition to the components previously mentioned, the game also includes nine plastic rings (redolent of clear napkin holders), a large bag of color-varied plastic gems, an ice floe tile, a Daddy Dragon figurine, and several single-sided sparkling stone tiles in different colors. At the beginning of the game, the nine plastic rings are stacked, atop the ice floe tile, in a tube. Then the tube is filled with the plastic gems. From this point on, what happens next depends entirely upon which of the game’s three variations you’re playing: the basic game, the Younger Players Variant, or the Secretive Players Variant.
The Basic Game
At the start of the basic game, beginning with the player holding the Daddy Dragon and moving clockwise, each player selects one of the sparkling stones tiles and takes it into their possession. After each player has made their selection, the Daddy Dragon player will carefully remove the uppermost ring and set it aside. Any stones which fall out are collected by the players, with each player collecting only the stones matching the color of the sparkling stone tile they selected earlier. Uncollected stones are swept into Daddy Dragon’s cave, the Daddy Dragon figurine is passed to the next person in clockwise order, the sparkling stone tiles are returned to the supply, and the entire process begins anew.
Once the final ring has been removed, the game comes to an end. Players collect their final stones, returning any uncollected to the Daddy Dragon’s cave…with a caveat. Stones left on the ice floe tile cannot be removed. Then each player counts up all of the stones they’ve collected and the player with the most wins.
In the Younger Players variant, the gameplay is exactly the same except each player will retain their original sparkling stone tile selection for the entirety of the game.
Skills For Life: In these two most basic modes, players can clearly see the stones that are visible on the top layer of the central column. Using this information, the players can make reasonable predictions about which stones are likely to fall out and select their sparkling stone tiles accordingly. But, you can never be sure. There’s still that small element of chance. Being able to make predictions based on perfectly imperfect information will come in handy in the future when you and your child are playing Irish Gauge together. Like Dragon’s Breath, even though everything’s right out there in the open, there’s just enough chance involved to keep things interesting.
Secretive Players Variant
In the Secretive Players variant, the sparkling stone tiles are turned face down at the start of each turn. Then, beginning with the player holding the Daddy Dragon figurine and moving clockwise, the players take turns drafting one of these and keeping it secret. Now, nobody knows who’s looking for what. Aside from that, the game play is the same. A ring is removed, players reveal their tiles and collect their stones, the leftovers are pushed into Daddy Dragon’s cave, rinse and repeat.
While this doesn’t change up the game very much, it adds just enough tension that you’ll find yourself removing the rings much more carefully than you normally would, in a dual effort to not only disrupt the least amount of sparkling stones as possible, but to also leave enough of a pile sitting on top so that going last won’t hurt so much in the next turn. Getting the last pick of the sparkling stone tiles isn’t as frustrating when there’s a virtual mountain of stones waiting to collapse during the next player’s turn.
Skills For Life: This process of adjusting your actions in accordance with your hidden information will be a real game changer someday when you and your child sit down for a relaxing game of Small Islands. In Small Islands, your motivations will shift from round to round forcing you to prepare for an uncertain future even as you are reacting to an oft unexpected present.
There have been many times when I’ve looked at one of the winners of the coveted “des Jahres” awards and I’ve wondered just what in the heck the jury was thinking. Some of the games they select are just outright weird choices. Some have won out over other games that, in my opinion, were far more deserving. In fact, this disagreement with the jury’s decisions happens more than I’d like to admit. But in the case of Dragon’s Breath, they got it so right.
This game is an absurd amount of fun.
I suspect that one of the reasons I find it to be so much fun is simply because it’s so ridiculously easy. Because of how easy it is to play it, my four year old is able to compete on a level even with his parents. That puts a big smile on his face—and that puts a big smile on mine.
Another reason the game is fun is because of its production value. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: HABA’s production value is through the roof. The wooden pieces are nice and chunky. The colors are bright and vibrant. The artwork is exciting and inviting. When we play Dragon’s Breath, the story sucks him in and encourages him to be a part of the action. My son isn’t just a little boy playing a game with his parents. He’s a dragon breathing fire on a pillar of ice.
Yes, he even makes the fire breathing sound when it’s his turn to lift the ring. How friggin’ adorable is that?!
As a parent trying to introduce my child to the idea of boardgaming, I find that I tend to focus a lot on what the game is teaching my child, not just mechanically, but also educationally. I want my boy to grow up smart. I dream of the day he, his mom, and I can crack open our copy of Gloomhaven. I have high hopes and aspirations for him and for our future as gamers together. Sometimes I get so caught up in the teaching that I forget about the fun. And that’s why I’m thankful for games like this one. It helps to remind me that he’s still just a kid. And it reminds me that it’s okay to just let loose once in a while and be a kid myself.