Draconis Invasion is a deck-building game for 1 to 6 players designed by Jeff Lai. Evil invaders have crossed the borders into your kingdom and as a noble hero, you must gather an army to defend your lands. Collect defenders to defeat these invaders and earn glory from the King. The player with most glory points is deemed the greatest hero and wins the game.
As far as deck-building games go, Draconis Invasion was a bit more challenging to craft a strong deck. Players have to strike a balance between buying lots of gold, actions, and defenders. Where Dominion is largely about buying lots of gold to buy victory point cards, glory is not for sale in Draconis Invasion. It must be earned by defeating invaders. Furthermore, just because you can acquire a defender card, doesn’t mean you can afford the cost for that defender to do battle. Draconis Invasion really puts your deck-building skills to the test.
Each game is a different battle with the forces of Draconis. The rulebook includes 10 battle stages with different defenders and actions available. You can progress through these stages, or use the randomizer cards to create your own battles.
Draconis Invasion vs. Dominion
From a rules and mechanics standpoint, Dominion is the gold standard of deck-building games. However, many will complain about the weak theme and admittedly I will get bored of Dominion until I pick up a new expansion. Draconis Invasion has a more prevalent theme, that of war in this medieval fantasy kingdom. Your actions in the game reflect the story; gathering a deck (your army) of defenders, attacking invaders, or drawing new campaign cards (orders from the King). The end game trigger is both thematic and more interesting than just ending the game because too many card piles are empty. Either players defeat enough invaders that they win the battle or events happen that cause the heroes to retreat. Both games have their sets of cards that will be available for one game, but different campaign cards, events, and invaders are revealed in each game of Draconis Invasion. This helps give Draconis Invasion a little more staying power, so you can play it more often before tiring of it. Dominion is however, more straightforward and easier to form a clear strategy. Long combo chains happen more in Dominion, where at most one or two actions cards are chained Draconis Invasion won’t unseat Dominion as my favourite deck-building game, but certainly rivals it well and will be a great substitute when I bore of Dominion.
The turn structure in Draconis Invasion provides an abundance of choice. In most every deck-building game I’ve played it is possible to draw a hand where you cannot do anything. However, playing actions and buying cards are only two options in Draconis Invasion. Players also have the option to draw new campaign cards or trash a card from their hand. This may not feel like you are accomplishing much that turn, but at the very least you are able to do something.
The production quality of the game is excellent. Despite the base game cards filling less than a third of the box, it is heavy. The design features sturdy walls built into the box and dividers to organize the cards instead of plastic inserts. There is plenty of room for future expansions and foam to fill the space in the mean time. For those who sleeve their cards, the box has just enough extra width to fit the sleeved cards in. Many people end up creating custom boxes to house card games like Smash Up and Dominion that have tons of expansions. The Draconis Invasion box is not one that will be tossed in favor of something custom.
One important thing I felt was lacking in Draconis Invasion was terror control. There are no abilities to trash terror cards or to manipulate the terror die. Since cycling through the terror count triggers events and the game ends once all events are drawn, it felt like players had no control over slowing the game down. Players could end the game by defeating the specified number of invaders, but there was no way to draw out the game to ensure you get another turn. So not only were these terror cards diluting your deck, but they were hastening the end of the game. Some defenders and action cards let you give players more terror cards and increase the terror count. These help end the game faster, but there are no actions other players can take to combat this. Actions to lower the terror count, trash terror cards or at least give yours to another player, would have been nice.
Two other things bothered me less so than the lack of terror control, but are worth noting. There are no invaders with 20 health points. There are invaders with 10, 15, 25, 30, 35, 40, and higher health points, but none with 20. With the defender cards that can be purchased for under 50 gold (hard to afford much else early in the game), getting exactly 20 damage total seemed to happen all too often. Players could settle for a weaker invader (if possible) or do something else instead, but it was still a little frustrating. The other small gripe was regarding the other choices for what you could do in a turn. As mentioned previously, having these options is great for when you can’t do anything else. Doing so little on a turn is fine in a pinch, but sometimes you needed to choose to eliminate cards or draw more campaign cards. Trashing cards to make your deck more efficient could be accomplished by other means, such as action cards (if you were willing to dilute your deck with them). However, there was no way to gain more campaign cards, other than by sacrificing your turn to draw some. In some cases when I was after a specific campaign, I spent several turns drawing campaign cards and getting nothing else accomplished. An action card to draw 5 campaigns and keep 1 would have been a wonderful addition. Though frustrating, these were by no means critical flaws that tarnished the game for me.
Draconis Invasion is a well designed game that has a lot to add to the deck-building genre. Play is familiar to other deck-building games making it easy to get started, but offers new aspects such as combat and hidden goal cards. Far more thematic than Dominion, it is worth checking out for those who found the lack of theme unappealing. Overall, the base set of Draconis Invasion is a solid game whose issues can be resolved with cards in future expansions.
Follow Draconis Invasion on Facebook for updates on getting the base game through their upcoming Kickstarter expansion or ask your local store to pre-order.