The action is as fluid as I’ve ever really encountered. Games simply fly by in a flurry of delight, despair, cursed luck, and devilish skulduggery.
Some games enter your life at a gentle pace. They slow burn a route to your heart, climb the league table of board game love that we all keep nestled snug in our minds in one form or another, before eventually fulfilling their destiny of being considered a family favourite.
Dread Draw is not one of those games.
Dread Draw kicks down the door, grabs you by the lapels, and snarls right in your face. Dread Draw doesn’t ask if you fancy a game, it demands you play, and play again, and again, and again. And having spent a few days in its company, I can safely say, I am only too happy to oblige.
When a game brings such a potent cocktail of dark-hearted artwork, beautiful simplicity, and deeply engaging play, the temptations are impossible to resist. Not that I’ve tried yet.
Dread Draw, published by Upper Deck games, and designed by Ryan Miller, is my new favourite game night filler (How poetic). It offers a delicious combination of light strategy and pure blind luck as players attempt to summon ever more powerful cards and creatures from a blind draw deck, but more importantly than that, it offers round after round of quickfire fun. We’ve found in our games of three to four players, that within ten to fifteen minutes we’re crowning a winner, shuffling the deck, and going at it again.
One game of Dread Draw can be learnt, played, and packed away again within twenty minutes. Chances are however, you won’t be packing it away after only a solitary play.
Let’s discuss the design and workings of the game. Dread Draw comes in a neat looking box, beautifully decorated in a dark fantasy style. Inside are 100 cards that make up the draw deck and life deck in play. The cards are styled similarly to a tarot deck, with titles such as The Mother, Justice, Domination, and The Puppet, and the designer actually suggests that the winner of each match should draw three cards at random and the group attempt a little fortune telling of their own, interpreting the detailed cards as they see fit. Whether there is potential for some Father Ted style three Death cards in a row remains to be seen. However, in reality you’ll likely skip over this to get another game going.
I also quickly have to state just how striking the artwork is on the cards themselves. Every one of them spills out darkness and beauty in equal measure. The only situation the game will ever encounter downtime is when players have become so preoccupied with staring at these magnificent images that they’ve forgotten they were even playing a game at all. Dread Draw could easily sell itself on the strength of the art alone, luckily for us though, the game is comfortably worth the entry fee as well.
So, how does it play?
Dread Draw works in such a beautifully simple way, that the few pages of the thin rules book need only be read once before being placed back into the box for eternity.
It comes together something like this; every player is dealt a hand of ten cards, these cards make up the life deck, and represent the hit points, if you will, of each player. The remaining cards sit in the centre of the table, this is the draw deck from which players will attempt to blindly summon the cards with which to vanquish their opponents. In round one players draw one card each. This drawn card will have a numerical strength value between one and ten. The player who drew the card with the lowest value becomes the first player for the second card draw. When drawing the second card the players must now hope to summon something from the deck with a higher strength than the previous one summoned. If they do, the card is summoned successfully and joins the previous card in their hand. If the number is equal or lower however, they fail to summon the card and are out of the round. Play continues as so until only one player remains. The remaining player wins the round and deals damage to their opponents. The total damage is indicated by adding a number of red dots marked on their summoned cards together. The losing players then remove that many cards from their life deck. And so on, until one player is left standing with cards in the life deck. It’s that simple…almost.
There are however, a few details to address. When a player loses cards from the life deck they can choose one to go into their reserve pile. From here, players can opt to play a reserve instead of drawing from the blind deck on their turn. This is where a hint of strategy comes into play. Players can try to keep the numbers low in the progression of summoned cards to make the summoning process easier, but, this tactic also means they will likely be drawing first each round, as the player with the lowest combined card strength always draws first. However, going for the bigger strength cards early means it becomes more difficult to summon going forward, as each newly summoned card must ascend in strength from the last. The reserve store can be used to great effect in this respect, as it takes away the luck aspect of blind drawing, and can be used to fit a player’s particular style of either going big, or playing cautiously.
Then, we also have card powers. A number of the cards have special powers that come in to play at specific times during a game. Some spark when summoned, meaning that if a player successfully summons a card, they then get a little bonus action to take. This might be to deal some damage, or maybe take a card from the deck into their reserves for later use. Next, we have cards that offer additional bonuses when played from the reserves. Again, this might be to damage an opponent, or strengthen your own hand, or maybe even scupper another player’s next draw. And finally, we have aftermath card powers that occur at the end of a round, and again offer a variety of bonuses to the summoner of the card. These little card effects add a lovely bit of depth to proceedings, and each is so straightforward that they never hold up the flow of the game.
And it’s this flow of action where, Dread Draw, truly excels! The action is as fluid as I’ve ever really encountered. Games simply fly by in a flurry of delight, despair, cursed luck, and devilish skulduggery. This is not a game that ever needs a pit stop, it never even touches the brakes to be honest, with no moments of puzzled and hurried rulebook scouring, no drawn out player turns to contend with, and no player down time. Now, on the flipside of course it has to be noted that the game is weighted heavily on the side of luck over strategy. The slight strategic thinking offered by the use of the reserve deck is very light, and because of this there are plenty of players that won’t find anything that really captures their imagination. I’d be deeply surprised if Dread Draw didn’t split opinion more than most games tend to.
For myself though, the game offers something special.
Dread Draw is a lightweight card drawing game, where luck is seated at the head of the table. But, it also brings some of my favourite elements of board gaming life to the action, elements such as tension, laughter, simplicity, and, most importantly of all, fun. I have yet to play a round of this superb little card game that hasn’t delivered big on fun.
One for the Kids?
Here we have a game that can easily be played by the younger family members based upon the simplicity of the rules, and pace of the play. However, some of the artwork is of a darker nature that might potentially scare the little ones into a few sleepless nights. So, tread with caution. My twelve-year-old has no problem with Dread Draw’s artwork, but I’ve kept my seven-year-old away from the game.
Holly, 12, said, “I think that Dread Draw’s great! A super easy, quick-fire game, and also a great filler for a long board game night. One of my favourites.”
Dread Draw is now my go to filler game. It offers everything I want from this type of title and more besides. I went in without any great expectations, unsure how something so simple and luck based could possibly hold my attention. But I left, after a whole lot of rounds, completely dazzled by Dread Draw’s brilliance. Now, let’s hope lady luck is smiling tonight.
Find Dread Draw at your local game store here