Dragon Face

strategy game

One of my personal tests for a good strategy game is what happens after I play. If I find myself walking around in a crowd, looking at people I might be able to jump, I know I’ve played something deep enough to engage my conceptual entirety.

Then, of course, I start thinking about who I can find to play it with me. Then about how easy it will be to teach. And how fun. And how impressed they’ll be when they see the beautiful fabric board and the hefty, two-sided pieces, and, of course, the long, red metal cylinder housing it all. And by that time, I know that the game I’ve just encountered is Major Fun.

Dragon Face is a bit like checkers and a bit like chess. Actually a bit more like chess than checkers. If you know chess, you will immediately understand how the pieces move. There are only three kinds: one, the Governors, move exactly like a pawn (one or two spaces forward on the first turn, attack only diagonally, can only move forward, and have a special power if they manage to cross the board). The other two are the Emperor (which moves exactly like a king in chess – one space in any direction – and, like the king in chess, if it is inescapably attacked, you lose); and the other, the ambassadors, moving as many spaces as they can, in a straight line.

But then you discover that they capture more like checkers – you don’t take the opposing piece off, you jump over it. And even then, you don’t take it off. You turn it over, and it becomes one of your pieces! (Similar to Shogi – the Japanese version of chess.)

Which makes you realize, eventually, that everything you know about chess – Indo-European or Japanese – is really no help at all. Which makes the game that much more interesting, that much newer.

Then, to add further fascination, the border around the playing area is called the “sacrifice zone” – which doesn’t sound too attractive if you ask me. But it is – oddly so. Some times, you find yourself jumping over an opponent’s piece, right into the sacrifice zone. If it’s one of your wonderfully powerful Ambassadors, the poor thing just stays there. Unless you manage to get one of your Governors across to the opposite side of the board, which, because of political implications too profound for a mere game maven, allows one of your lost Ambassadors to return to the conceptual fray.

All in all, Dragon Face is an exceptional accomplishment – a strategy game that is easy to learn, deep enough to engage a chess player, and elegant enough to invite your casual game player into extended strategic delights.

Dragon Face was very intelligently designed by Thierry Denoual, and is published by Blue Orange Games.

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