Spice It Up: Dragon Market from Blue Orange Games

 

After 30 years of blissful marriage, my wife and I planned a huge anniversary trip to Europe, specifically, northern Italy. Neither one of us have ever been to Venice, and the beautiful “City of Water” called to us as the perfect trip to celebrate. (We like hiking, so a trip to the dormant volcano near Pompeii was on the list, too).

The world wide pandemic cancelled (postponed?) our big European travel plans, and instead we hopped, hiked, and biked over five national parks in six days in Arizona and Utah.

But before we left for the Big Five, we had the chance to visit a game sent to us by Blue Orange Games for review called Dragon Market. When I opened up the box, I was pleasantly surprised to see little pontoon boats, and that the game play included floating the boats across a serene waterscape to pick up objects and return them to the port. Quelle coincidence!

Would playing a few games of Dragon Market satiate our desire to visit the Venetian canals and see the magnificent gondolas glide through the waterways?

Of course not.

But is Dragon Market a fun experience for family gamers? Let’s find out!

Dragon Market is a 2019 game designed by Marco Teubner with art by Tomasz Larek that is perfect for two to four players and plays in about thirty minutes. It is published by Blue Orange Games, which was gracious enough to provide us with a review copy.

PRESENTATION:

If you are a fan of the production value of Blue Orange Games previous family weight releases like New York 1901 or Scarabya, you will not be disappointed here. While the artwork and production are not quite on the level of the beloved New York 1901, with its visually appealing art from Vincent Dutrait, the player pieces and pontoon boats are well represented by sturdy cardboard and wooden pieces. The cards are thick, and the tile items are well done.

Note: if you dig into the history of the artwork in this game, you will be pleased to know that caricatures of the youth marketer and the female customer have been softened from what many in the American market thought was offensive stereotypes. Kudos to Blue Orange for quickly changing the cover upon learning of the American complaints on BGG.

GAMEPLAY:

Dragon Market is a family weight game, so the rules correspond to that market. The game comes with two slightly different variants, easy and more advanced modes. The basic game is the same in both.

Players will be assigned a color, representing the person who will retrieve items from the different pontoon boats placed in the water. These items will correspond to objective cards randomly assigned to each player, which has four different items that each player must grab from the boats and bring back to their home dock to complete the objective.

On their turn, players will roll a die, which determines the number of actions they can take that turn. Players can use those action points to move their player piece, move boats around, and turn the boats on the turning axis. They can even save some of the action points by turning them in for coins. The coins can be used later on to take “extra” actions, in essence, borrowing time from the present to make a big play in a future turn.

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Once the objective card is completed, a player then draws another random card. First to complete two cards wins the game.

The advanced version throws in one tiny wrinkle. Each time a player completes the three or four objectives on the card, they then have access to either a special one time power or an ongoing effect. The cards thus give each player an asymmetric special power for use during the game.

BUT IS IT ANY FUN?

My family is always on the lookout for family weight games that have visual appeal and can play in about a half an hour. That’s the perfect window for school nights or a lazy Sunday afternoon game session.

Dragon Market fits that bill nicely. The boats and player pieces are bright and colorful, and there is a kinetic energy present as the boats glide around, and players hop from one end of the board to the other.

BGG users rate the weight as a 2.0, and that feels about right, especially when using the advanced cards. And, unless you are playing with young kids, I would always recommend that you play with the advanced cards. Sure, the game play is essentially the same — roll dice, move boats, hop around and pick up items — but the addition of the special powers that can be earned by completing the advanced objectives really spices up the game.

Each player will draw two of the advanced cards upon completing their initial card, and pick the card they want to complete next. Will they choose an easier one with a lesser power? Or will they geaux with a card that has the spiciest power to give them a little bit of an advantage in the second reel of the game?

Without the advanced cards, I feel pretty certain that my family would have tired of the game more quickly. I cannot see us going back to the basic cards unless we are playing with the wee ones just getting into board games.

SUMMARY:

Dragon Market is not as meaty as New York 1901, nor as puzzly feeling as Scarabya brings to our table.  But, Dragon Market does scratch a little bit of a different itch for us.

If you like a little bit of randomness injected into your puzzle game play, namely managing the dice rolls you get for your action points, as well as the random objectives that come out, and you enjoy reacting to a changing landscape as players sail chaos onto the player board each time they move boats around, then you will probably enjoy Dragon Market.

If you want a little more heft out of your euro games, then I’d suggest looking at New York 1901, as long as tile placement is your jam. If you enjoyed Karuba, but thought it felt too much like multiplayer solitaire, then Dragon Market might just have enough player interaction in the movement of the boats and the use of the special powers in the advanced cards.

Dragon Market is not one of my favorite Blue Orange releases of the past few years, but it is a solid choice for family game nights, and I will definitely play it if asked by the family. Until next time, laissez les bon temps rouler!

— BJ @boardgamegumbo

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