A first impression of Seven Dragons may be, “Oh, it’s fancied up dominoes.” In some ways, yes, but dominoes is a classic game that has been around centuries. Why not have a similar dynamic and then take it to whole new levels?
The main comparison between Seven Dragons and dominoes is the matching, like the original Looney Labs game Aquarius. While dominoes matches end to end (or sometimes by corners, depending upon the variant), Seven Dragons features cards with randomized matching abilities with a single connection, two, or even four with every corner of the card featuring a different dragon. Two to five players can participate with each round lasting from ten to thirty minutes.
Gameplay has a bit of a learning curve, but once the matching technique is understood (all cards in the same direction and in rows, at least one image must match the card it is being placed beside), the game takes off. It is very logical, which carries over from a similarity to dominoes, but the game carries luck from the draw of the cards as well as Action cards. The five Actions cause changes such as trading hands or moving cards into more profitable positions. Two other Action cards alter Goals. A promotional card adds Shuffle Hands, just for a little more craziness.
This Goal is what sets Seven Dragons apart from a simple game of dominoes. Rather than getting rid of a set, each player receives a Goal card that features a dragon color for which the player needs to assemble seven connected images. With the Action cards changing the goals, players can steal potential wins from each other or even the unused Goals, which are never out of the game even with less than six players. It is a wholly new level above simply matching and adds layers of strategy.
The game itself is rated at ages 6 and up, though it is fairly complicated for youngsters. The instructions include a column fixing that, entitled, “How to play Seven Dragons with your preschooler.” By amending the rules, the game can be simplified down to a matching game dubbed “Dragon Connections” that is suitable for three- to four-year-olds. The next stage of “Basic Dragons” adds in the Goal cards, and the “Single-Action Dragons” gives rules for instituting the advanced Actions one at a time, giving younger players a chance to figure the game out steadily.
Perhaps best of all in Seven Dragons is the dragon art, provided by fantasy artist Larry Elmore. Game mechanics make it good, but the production values kick the game into greatness. Even without playing and just flipping through the cards, the visual experience is enough with a deadly Black dragon with a soldier’s skeleton or greedy Gold dragon sitting atop its horde or the mythical Silver dragon gazing into a mirror.
Looney Labs has even put together a gameplay video showing the ins and outs of the game in a suitably hilarious fashion.