Dragon Delta

A game for 2-6 players by Roberto Fraga published by EuroGames
These comments copyright 2001 by Steffan O'Sullivan
This page last updated February 3, 2001

Dragon Delta is an interesting game in the guess-what-I'll-do-now category. Although listed for 2-6 players, it's not very good with just two. We've found 3-4 players plays best, although I was surprised at how much fun a six-player game actually was. The basic theme is that of racing across a river delta on planks you or other players have placed from rock to rock. Each of the players starts in the village matching their color, and has to reach the village directly opposite their own village.


The game is good looking, with a mix of sturdy cardboard and wooden components, and simple but colorful cards. The board shows a southeast Asian river delta, with six villages around the edges and numerous rocks scattered throughout. There are wooden "stones" to place on the pictured rocks, and wooden pawns representing the players and the start player. The planks your pieces walk on are thick cardboard, color-coded for your home village. Finally, there are six decks of cards, identical except for backs and colors of the dragon cards in them.

A Basic Turn

Each player has a deck of eight cards plus one dragon card for each opponent in the game. Each turn you "program" your actions: lay down five cards in a row, face down. This is similar to RoboRally, with the major difference that you always start with the same cards each turn - there are no random draws.

Once everyone has programmed their turn, the "phase one" cards are all revealed. The start player performs the action pictured on his card, then the other players do the same, in sequence around the table. The only exception to this is a dragon card - if a dragon card is played, the player whose color it matches takes no action that phase.

Once phase one is complete, everyone turns over their phase two cards, and those actions are carried out. And so on through all five phases, at which point the turn is over, everyone picks up their cards, the starting player pawn is passed to the next player, and you begin programming for the next turn.

The Cards

Each player has the following cards:

  • Place one stone
  • Place two stones
  • Place one plank
  • Place two planks
  • Move one space
  • Move two spaces
  • Jump over an adjacent pawn
  • Pick up a stone or plank
  • One dragon card for each opponent in the game, matching their colors
Stones can be placed on any of the pictured rocks on the board. Once placed, they may not be moved (except if actually picked up with the card that allows that).

Planks can be placed from stone to stone, or from village to stone, or from stone to village. You have six planks of your color, numbered 1-6, all different sizes. When placing a plank, you can only eyeball the distance, then pick the size plank you wish based on your best guess. If it's too short for the position you're aiming for, you have to place it in another position, or it drops into the delta and out of the game. You can't have more than three plank-ends on any stone or village, and all planks must be over a stone at both ends, without crossing another plank in the middle.

Moving is just that: moving your pawn one or two spaces, from your starting village to a plank, or from a plank to an adjacent plank, or from a plank to another village. Only one pawn per plank is allowed, and you can only jump over an adjacent pawn if you play the Jump card. If you can't move or jump, you fall into the delta, and have to start over at your starting village.

Picking up a plank or stone is where the bowbing begins. Ideally you pick up a plank that another player needs to move to, hopefully causing him to fall into the delta, provoking much merriment among the other players. The plank you pick up goes into your stockpile (or a stone into the common stockpile). There are some limitations on collecting planks, though:

  • You may not have planks of more than two different colors,
  • You may not have two planks with the same numbers.
A Dragon card prevents another player from taking his action that phase. Your deck contains one dragon card for each opponent, in their color. You may not play more than one dragon card in each five-card turn, however. Notice that you also effectively sacrifice any action yourself that phase - your action is to cancel another player's action. Used at the right time, this is the other main bowbing card in the game.

So What's the Thrill?

Timing. It's all timing. Let's say you're on a plank two spaces away from your target village. You've already placed the stones you need to lay the planks down, but haven't yet placed the planks. So during your turn, all you need to do is lay down two planks, and move three spaces: two spaces onto the planks you'll lay down this turn, and then one space from the last plank to your goal - then you win!

This is trivial to figure out: all you need to do is play your Two-Plank card, then your Move-Two card, then your Move-One card, and the game's over. Except the other players might not let you get away with it, of course ...

Since I know that's all you have to do to win, I'm going to try to stop you. What can I do to stop you? Basically three things:

  1. Cancel a crucial action with a dragon card,
  2. Pick up critical plank or stone before you get to use it,
  3. Interpose my pawn into your path so you have to move backwards.
Since you know I may be able to do those things, you have to plan the timing just right. (I might not be able to do all of those things, by the way. My pawn might be too far away to block your move, and I might not be able to pick up a plank because I already have ones of the numbers you place, or already have two different colors than the colors you place ...)

So it's a guessing game: when will you make your move? When will I try to block you, and how? And if there are more than two players, will someone else try to block you, too, or is it all up to me?

So the game is more psychological than mechanical. Oh, it's definitely a tactical game - don't get me wrong. There's a lot of "Hmm" going on during the programming phases, as players ponder their best options, rejecting some choices as the pitfalls become clear. But the pitfalls are just potential, not actual, and that's what brings it into the realm of the psychological.

You learn the value of redundancy, by the way: if I need to place a plank, I may actually play first my One-Plank card, then my Two-Plank card. This is because you may cancel one of them with a dragon card, but by playing both, I'm hoping to have at least one of them succeed. So that when I later play my movement card, I have someplace to move to. Hmm - maybe I should play both movement cards in case you cancel one of them ... Fortunately, the game includes two stone-placing cards, two plank-laying cards, and two movement cards.

And so on. The game is all about when to play which cards, and how many times to try an action. Will you be gutsy and just go for it in the first phase? Or will you offer a timid stone-laying card first that you don't care if it's cancelled or not?

Why Wouldn't You Like This Game?

If you hate psychological guessing games, you'll hate this game. Don't even try it. The mechanics and the board layout are too simple by themselves to offer any intellectual challenge: the challenge is all in the timing of your actions, the routes taken, and the interaction between the different players' actions.

The game can occasionally develop into an obvious end before it happens. All of a sudden, a player will be in a position to win regardless of what the players do on their next turn. This is a bit of a let-down - and though it doesn't happen often, any game with a potential anticlimax has at least a minor flaw. Games should not be anticlimactic.

It's a bit lacking with only two players. (Although if you're really good programmers, you could play two different colors each in a two-player game...) Some players might not like the chaos of a five- or six-player game, but I actually do.

There are some absurdities in the rules - you may place a plank across two stones in the middle of the delta, for example, even though no one has built to either stone. We figure helicopters come and lay them down ... And you may hate absurd, theme-weakening loopholes like that.

There are some ambiguities in the rules: If you reach your target village in the first half of a double move, do you win, or must you move off the village with the second part of your move? Can you use a Jump card when you're on a plank adjacent to a village and your opponent is in the village, and thus jump to another plank leading from that village? (The rules themselves are vague on this one, though I admit the back page summary clearly states "over another pawn resting on an adjacent plank," which doesn't really include jumping over a pawn in a village.)

Summing Up

This is pulled out pretty frequently in our group. It's short - a three-player game takes less than half an hour, usually - and we find it fun. It's a nice-looking psychological game with good replay value with a light-hearted feel to it - if this sounds like something your group would like, I recommend it.

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