Aladdin's Dragons is an excellent board game with a rich
setting. As is typical for Rio Grande Games, the game is beautiful:
lush color board, handsome plexiglass treasure pieces, sturdy colorful
chits and cards, stand-up screens to hide your chits and treasures.
All are easy to use and read. This helps set the mood of the game,
which takes place in the Arabian Nights era, of course.
(And, as a point of interest, it's an American translation of a German
adaptation of a British game ...)
Each player in the game has assembled a team of eight adventurers (with
a chance to recruit more). There are treasures available to those bold
enough to dare the dragons' caves where they can be found. Once you have
the treasures, you may try to gain privileges to help you to barter the
treasures for magic artifacts in the Caliph's well-guarded palace.
The winner is the one who has the most artifacts at the end of the
The board has 15 spaces, in three rows. The bottom row consists of
five dragon caves. Each turn, a number of treasures is distributed in
the five caves as shown on a randomly drawn card. There are five types
of treasure, but not all will be found in any given turn.
The middle row has only four spaces, those of the city streets. Here you
can vie with your fellow players for magic spells, the ability to use
more than one artifact in a turn, treasure-swapping, and the right to
be first player.
The top row has up to six spaces: a guard room and one palace room for
each player in the game. In each palace room can be found an artifact
- whoever bids the most treasure in each room gets the artifact in that
The game is played in two phases: the chit-placing phase, and the
In the chit-placing phase, each player, starting with the first player,
places one of their eight adventurer chits face down in any of the
15 spaces on the board. When all players have placed a chit, one at a
time, they place their second chits, and so on. It's best to be last
player during the chit-placing phase: you get to see where others are
concentrating their forces before having to commit yours.
Each chit has a number, from 1-9 (you don't start with a 3-chit). You
can, over the eight rounds of placing chits, place more than one in a
given space, if you wish. But you can already see that eight chits to
cover 15 rooms means you'll have to decide which rooms to concentrate on,
and which to ignore in a given turn.
Room Resolution Phase
Once all chits are placed, the chits are revealed, one room at a time.
You start with the leftmost dragon cave, and then go across the whole
bottom row. Then you resolve the middle and top rows, one room at a
time in order.
To resolve a space, reveal all the chits in that space. Whichever
player has the highest total printed on his adventurer chits in the
space wins the space. For example, if I put two chits into the first
dragon cave, my 4 and my 6, I win if you only put your single 9-chit
there. However, in some spaces, the second and even third or fourth
place player can win something - this is especially true in the dragon
caves, where there may be more than one treasure in a cave.
Ties are won by the first player, or the player closest to the first
player's left. Thus it's good to be first player in the
room-resolution phase, a nice balance to the chit-placing phase.
The Streets of Bagdad
Next you resolve the street spaces, the first of which is Aladdin's
Tent, which allows you to win Magic Spell cards.
There are 21 different spells, one of each, and they can be cast at any
time by use of your Magic Lamp artifact, which all players start with.
They range from fairly powerful to fairly mild in effect, but are
always fun and make the game different each time.
Normally you may only use one artifact each turn. However, whoever
wins at the Djinn's house, the second stop in the street-level row, has
the right to use two artifacts that turn. Everyone starts with a Magic
Lamp (but no spell cards to cast - you have to win those). Available in
the palace are five other types of artifacts:
- a Flying Carpet, which allows you to add a "3" adventurer to
a room after the chits have been revealed,
- a Counterspell token, allowing you to cancel another player's
- a Key to bypass the palace guards,
- a Doppelgänger, to double any one adventurer after the
chits have been revealed, and
- a Scroll which acts as a tiebreaker at the end of the game.
So winning in the Djinn's House in the second or later round might enable
you to use your Key and your Magic Lamp, for example, or to fly
in a 3-chit on a Flying Carpet to give you the lead in a room, etc.
The final two street spaces are the Market and the Caravanserai, which
allow you to swap one treasure for three, and the right to be first
player, respectively. Once those are resolved, it's on to the Palace
to barter treasure for artifacts.
The Caliph's Palace
There are ten palace guards, ranging in value from 1-10. Each turn
they are randomly mixed, and one is selected for the turn, still face
down. When the room is resolved, turn the palace guard face up. Your
adventurer must be the same value or higher in order to get into the
palace rooms. If you're low, you can bribe the guard with treasure for
the difference - or use your key artifact (if you can still use an
artifact this turn - see above).
Each palace room has a number of artifacts stacked face down. Only the
top artifact in each room is face up, available to be won in a given turn.
The player who has the highest value in adventurer chits in the room wins
the right to buy the artifact. But ... you have to pay a number of
treasures equal to the value of your winning chits! Each chit value must
be all the same type of treasure. So if you win with a 2- and a 4-chit,
you must pay four of one type of treasure and two of a different type.
If you don't have the right amount of treasure, the second-place winner
in the room may buy an artifact at their own chit level.
That's a game turn. Continue until all artifacts have been collected
(usually six or seven turns), at which point the game winner is the
player with the most artifacts. The most scrolls break ties.
Why Wouldn't You Like This Game?
Well ... it's not to everyone's taste, but that's hardly a flaw: no
game is to everyone's taste. So I'll try to address why you might not
like it, and you can call them flaws or not as you see fit.
First, although you couldn't tell it from the above description, most
of the game takes place in the chit-placing phase; this takes up the
bulk of the time. Some people simply don't like hidden information
games, and all chits are kept hidden until each player has played all
eight chits. In a five-player game, this means 40 chits, of course.
That's a lot of time spent processing hidden information, and it might
drive some people batty.
Secondly, there can be a runaway leader problem. If you win a good
artifact early, you can sometimes use it to make sure you continue to
win more good artifacts, and to insure that other players win fewer
artifacts. This has only been the case in a fairly small percentage of
the games I've played, but it is sometimes present, so I thought
I'd mention it. This is eventually self-correcting as you learn that
Flying Carpets and Doppelgängers are very powerful artifacts
(especially to someone who wins at the Djinn's House!), and they become
highly contested. That is, if you're going to let your opponent win
one of these in the first half of the game, better make sure they pay
a lot for it ...
Third, the 21 spells vary significantly in potency. If I get lucky
and get three powerful spells in my three trips to Aladdin's Magic
Shop, and you get three mild spells, I'll have a significant
advantage in the long run. Of course, the way around this is not to
let your opponent win in Aladdin's Tent, but that takes a lot of your
limited resources ... A better fix might be to read the spells carefully
after having played a few games, and either remove or modify some of the
stronger ones. I haven't done this yet, but am tempted to -
I'm worried the luck factor in drawing spells might ruin an otherwise
Fourth, if you don't allow reaction time, play can get messy. For
example, if I cast a spell, I must give the other players time
to think about the implications and decide if they wish to use their
Counterspell artifact to cancel the spell. Otherwise, if I just bull
ahead with the action, people may get annoyed that I've changed the
board before they had a chance to think about it. So all players need
to be patient with each other - which may not fit your style of
Finally, I suspect frequency of repeat plays is actually not all
that high. I haven't had the game long enough to tell for sure, but
I believe this is the type of game I'll pull out once every two or
three months instead of weekly. But I'm fairly confident I will
continue to pull it out every few months for many years (and I have a
lot of games to compete with for play time!), so that's not strong
criticism. But to some people, it may be.
Each game is very different, and the game plays well with three, four,
or five players. It's not hard to master the mechanics, but it's
always a challenge to know where to place which adventurer chit. This
is an excellent game that plunges you into an interesting, colorful
world of difficult - but rewarding! - decisions.
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