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Dragon Whisperers – A Trick-Taking “Smaller Form Factor” Family Game -in its Kickstarter Final Hours

“Every hand is a mystery and that mystery is different in every hand. That is the intrigue of pinochle. Playing the game just to throw out cards is not really playing pinochle. It is just throwing cards.”

Stonebridge Pinochle Strategy Site

Double Pinochle only scores points if you take a trick.
Double Pinochle only scores points if you take a trick.

When I was three, I would sit on my Great Grandmother’s lap as her, her sister, and two daughters, (my Grandmother and Great Aunt), would play Pinochle at every family occasion. On big holidays like Thanksgiving, the entire basement of my Grandmother’s home would be dedicated to Pinochle playing, with three to four tables of four going at one time. Winners would exchange tables and “grand champions” declared. Sometimes they would play for a “penny-a-point.” They would tell and re-tell for years the stories from the games played, like the time Grandma Getty, (my Great Grandmother) had Double Pinochle, (a rare feat, and 300 points!), however, her and her partner could not take a trick the entire game, and so, lost their meld and opportunity to score the rare Double Queen of Spades, Double Jack of Diamonds combo. Or, there were the stories of how Aunt Sylvia could never, ever, remember what suit was trump…Oh, the hilarity and hijinks were endless.

However, I was never allowed to play. All I was allowed to do was sit there in Grandma’s lap, and when she won a trick, I pulled all the cards into a pile. Not until I was 16 years old did anyone think to teach me how to play. They thought it was “too complicated” for me to handle in my tender years. When finally they let go with the information, I was hooked. I think I spent more time in college playing Pinochle than study, sleep, eating and, well, drinking beer, combined. And for good reason, Pinochle is fun, highly cooperative (it is a partnership game), deep in strategy and “confidence” tactics, with its bidding and trick taking elements. Plus it has like 8 aces. And no Deuces, in any suit.

Dragon Whisperer. The Pinochle of Lenur’s Glade.
Dragon Whisperer. The Pinochle of Lenur’s Glade.

So, why all the “bla bla” about an “old lady’s card game?” Well, because I never played Canasta, and also because “throwing cards” that everyone likes to throw is the whole point of this blog. When I heard about Albino Dragon’s latest Kickstarter project, Dragon Whisperer, well, I just knew I had to check it out, and you should too, as it is in its final hours of a successful Kickstarter funding campaign!

Background/Story of the Game

Though not long on story, it is not comply lacking in this game. Players assume the role of candidates for the coveted title of Dragon Whisperer. Set in a light fantasy setting, in Dragon Whisperer, players take on the role of one of the Council’s initiates. As a mage of all trades, players try to show they have what it takes to become a Whisperer by completing quests and defeating monsters throughout the game’s seven regions. If you can come out on top, you’ll bond with your own dragon at The Kenning as you embark on your apprenticeship as a Dragon Whisperer.

What’s all this about “Dragon Whispering?” For the first time in over a hundred years, a new dragon egg had been laid. Now a new Dragon Whisperer must be chosen to bond with it, as Dragon and Whisperer are bound together for life. The Council has called a meeting and announced they will hold the traditional ceremony that marked the beginning of the Questing, a special series of trials to choose the next initiate that would bond with the new dragon hatchling. One victorious apprentice will be welcomed into the Order of the Dragon Whisperer!

Object of the Game

Through trick taking and acquiring of certain special point values throughout the game by card-play, by winning quests, defeating monsters and collecting treasures, players will amass victory points which are totaled at the end of the game to determine the winner. Alas, a new Dragon Whisperer is born! Check out the full rules here.

Game Components

Can I say enough how incredible these cards are?
Can I say enough how incredible these cards are?

The game comes beautifully packaged and appointed in a small box profile with the following components:

53 cards (7 colors numbered 1-7, and 4 Dragon Rage)
49 Quest tokens (7 colors, numbered 1-1-2-2-3-3-5)
34 Treasure tokens (6 with the number 5)
34 Monster tokens (6 with the number 5)
1 Dragon Token
1 First Player Token
1 Game board

The art for the game is fantastic, and as the creators say, they are trying to bring to a smaller, more accessible and less complicated game the same high quality art you would expect from a big-box hobby game, like Descent or Twilight Imperium. They have accomplished this in Spades. Or Swamps. Whatever suit in the game is Spades, they did it in that.

But there is possibly more where that came from as some of the game’s stretch goals include upgrading some of the pieces of art to even higher quality and more unique pieces for every suit. Check some of that out on the Kickstarter site.

Thoughts/Opinions

Although no print and play version of the game was available, it is very easy to comprehend how it will play, to understand the mechanics and ultimately to teach, heck, even to a 16 year old. Dare I suggest this is a family game your 8+ year old could pick up and play, yet you still have a game with depth and strategy available to you with that will challenge your regular play group.

The game is targeted at family gamers and game groups wanting high quality art and production value, yet a simpler, easier to start-up game experience. No set up time and quick, easy gameplay is the hallmark of this card game that naturally will lead to a lot of replayability.

I have never played a single game of Dragon Whisperer, yet I know I will thoroughly enjoy it. Why? Well, Richard Borg, game designer, (who also brought us Memoir ’44, BattleLore, Stonehenge and others), has taken elements from other well known and popular trick taking trump games like Pinochle, Spades or Euchre, (minus the bidding element) and melded it into a high fantasy setting with great art and theme.

What excites me most about the game is its teachability, married with fantasy theme, sprinkled with high strategy and gameplay. Any trick taking game with rules like these guarantee a high level of calculation and strategy to play well. However, there is just enough flair in the rules with the special card abilities, ways to change trump and did I say gorgeous card art to make this a new family game night favorite.

Give this one a look while it lasts. And when your three year olds grow up enough, they will never ever blame you for not teaching them how to play all those really cool games!

How many points is a run worth?
How many points is a run worth?
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