Almanac: The Dragon Road is a perfect example of how modern board games can innovate on tradition. While its primary mechanic is based on classic worker placement games, it also features a flip-page adventure book to spice up your long, caravan-bound adventure. With easy-to-learn gameplay and a surprising amount of strategy involved, everyone (of all ages) can hop in for the ride and find something to enjoy.
On the surface, Almanac: The Dragon Road plays like a hybrid version of Monopoly sprinkled with some Catan and Splendor. In it, 2-4 players take on the role of merchants travelling between magical lands and collecting various goods. Each location is represented in vivid colour on the map book and contains special rules and events depending on what unique cards are drawn each turn.
The Dragon Road journey will take players through six different lands, with each allowing players to build their wealth, the strength of their caravans and the number of workers that travel with them.
The main goal of the game is to obtain ‘fame points’ which can be earned by completing shipping contracts (where players hand over goods they’ve collected), purchasing additional wagons and ultimately claiming the ‘dragon key’ at the end of the game.
It’s how you get there that’s most important, though.
Alamanac: The Dragon Road utilises a spiral-bound book, rather than an adventure board, to take players on a magical journey. (Similar to the recently-released Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion.) Each land is filled with gorgeous details, and special rules on each page shake up gameplay by providing players with new ways to gain fam points.
The map book makes each world feel fun and alive because the illustrations are so gorgeous. Each land you travel through has a distinct visual style and its own quirks. For example, if you travel through Razorbeak Canyon, you’ll wind up in a rickety, multi-story land. Some lands are islands you’ll need to spread workers across, while others involve river rapids and boat markets. You won’t get to every locale as you play the game (you’ll get A or B options on every page, depending on where the guide wants to go) but that’s part of the unique appeal of the game.
Every time you play, you’ll uncover new lands and have a unique journey in your quest to gain resources and fulfil contracts.
If you’re the ‘guide’ (selected via a bidding war mini-game) you’ll be able to steer your whole playing squad to the lands you most want to visit. Some have a greater abundance of particular resources, so you’ll want to strategise and plan for what you’ll need to complete the most contracts and end up with the winning number of fame points.
While the action itself is fairly simple, it’s backed by a fair amount of strategy. You’ll want to hide your cards and your money from other players, for example, so they aren’t clued in to what resources you need or how well you’re doing until the very end when scores are finally tallied.
While exploration makes up the largest portion of gameplay, there’s also a bunch of other neat mechanics at play.
The first is combat. As you travel through each land, you’ll end your turns on an ‘encounter’ card which blocks your way to the next location. Sometimes, this will involve a simple bartering encounter, while other times it’ll require you to fight enemy hordes. You can coast throughout the game with no armour if you get lucky, but surprise fights can easily put you at a disadvantage (both in money and fame).
The potential for major fights to break out means you’ll need to focus on strengthening your caravan with additional wagons and guard tokens while building your wealth. It also means you’ll need to balance your financial ambitions with the need to survive the Dragon Road. You’ll want to think deeply about which lands you lead players to (if you’re the guide) and where to place your workers on each map. If you place them on the right squares, you’ll be able to grab more goods and fulfil more contracts, gaining more overall fame.
You can also reverse these tactics and use them to block players from obtaining more goods — some locations will have rules about where players can put their tokens, and ‘guide’ players who go first can nab the best (and most inconvenient) spots.
Because each player has a cardboard shield in front of them during gameplay, you won’t know who wins until the very end of the game. While some may be frustrated by this lack of transparency, it does mean each location is always tense because you’ll need to make the absolute best decisions for your coffers and work to gain more fame than your opponent.
An entire game of Almanac: The Dragon Road will take players roughly an hour, depending on how slowly each player takes their turn. It’s a perfect length for the game, especially for first time players or less enthusiastic board gamers. It’s enough time to have a lovely little adventure, work out exactly how to squeeze the most fame out of your location and build up your wily team of workers.
With an innovative mix of strategy and adventure, Almanac: The Dragon Road is a total blast. There are new and exciting locations around every turn, it’s easy to keep players engaged, and there’s a lot of complexities to discover as you go along. The layers mean everyone from the ultra-competitive to the first-time board gamer should have a fantastic time. For families or friends, it’s a great, fun option.