The Damsel’s Tale goes live on Kickstarter in April 2019!
Please note that the images in this review are of a pre-Kickstarter prototype. These are adequate representations of the art, style, and theme of the game, but do not convey the polish of the final product.
Most of us have heard the tales following a valiant knight on a perilous quest to save a princess from a ferocious dragon. It’s textbook. It’s basically all knights are able to do. In fact, I’d be willing to bet they wouldn’t last a week in today’s job market! Sure they can slay a few dragons and save a few damsels but can they type 80+ words per minute and have 10 years of relative experience right out of college!?
I’m getting ahead of myself…
The Damsel’s Tale by Red Genie Games is a 2-player experience following a Knight, a Baby Dragon, and a Momma Dragon. One player takes on the role of the Knight while the other plays as the Baby Dragon (and by extension, the Momma Dragon). The game operates as a back-and-forth battle of wits as the Knight tries to make his way through the dragon’s fiery cavern without being spotted by the big Momma Dragon.
The game comes in a box that is crafted in the shape of a book. Inside you’ll find a game board, a rulebook, 3 game pieces, and 18 cards. The rulebook doubles as a ruleset and a short story. In most cases, I use the rulebook as a reference after watching a how-it’s-played online, but this is one of the exceptions where I read the rulebook in its entirety before playing, mostly so that I could learn about the lore of the world I was about to dive into.
It seems as though Red Genie Games has focused a lot on storytelling in their latest game, and it’s worth the read before playing. The short story set up the game perfectly by giving me a slice of the Knight’s personality as well as explained why there was a damsel that needed saving in the first place. The story took the exhausted trope of knight-saves-girl-from-dragon and flipped it on its head. The story doesn’t get referenced in the gameplay at all, but it added a certain depth to the experience that I appreciated while playing.
The game is asymmetrical so each player has different card abilities and options presented to them each turn. The Knight is generally a more challenging role to play, as he must move across the cavern path and three different types of spaces: hiding spots, noisy areas, and normal landings. The Baby Dragon must do everything in its power to cause the Knight to misstep, slow his progress, and ultimately be discovered by the Momma Dragon.
The setup of the game is simple and takes less than 2 minutes. The Knight begins at the start of the cavern path, the Momma Dragon begins at the start of her “step path”, and the Baby Dragon’s “panic meter” starts at 1. Each player has a deck of 6 cards, of which they will use 4 at random per round, constituting their hand. Each round consists of 4 turns where players play one card from their hand, face-down, and reveal them at the same time. The player with the lower number card resolves that card’s effect first, then the other player resolves theirs. Players continue to do this until they are out of cards, then they shuffle their discard pile in with the 2 cards they didn’t play with previously, draw a hand of 4, and begin the next round.
Throughout the game, the Baby Dragon will attempt to get the Momma Dragon to make her way to the end of her step path, giving her the opportunity to catch the Knight. The Baby Dragon does this by playing cards that allow the player to draw from the Momma Dragon’s deck, which is composed of 6 “step” cards ranging from 1 to 3 (2 of each) that cause the Momma Dragon to move along her path that many steps. However, if the Knight is located at a hiding spot when the Momma Dragon gets to the end of her path, the Knight has successfully “hidden” from the Momma Dragon, thus returning her to the beginning of the path.
The Knight has cards that allow him to move tactically across the cavern trail, but he also focuses on raising the Baby Dragon’s panic meter (up to 4 max). When the Knight has a movement action, he moves spaces equal to the panic meter. It is advantageous for the Knight to manage the panic meter during each turn, or else he could end up moving onto a noisy space or failing to reach a hidden spot in time. If the Knight lands on a noisy space, he automatically causes the Momma Dragon to move up one space on her track.
The game ends when the Knight can successfully make it to the end of the cavern trail without being spotted, or when the Momma Dragon spots the Knight out in the open.
Damsels Don’t Save Themselves
The Knight definitely has his work cut out for him. While the game is asymmetrical, it gives the player taking on the Knight a much greater challenge, in my opinion. While it can feel very, very satisfying to win with the Knight, I wonder what this disparity does for the dynamic between players of the same and varying skill levels. On one hand, if a more experienced player is introducing the game to a new player, then the new player can play as the Baby Dragon and have an “easier” time being competitive in the game. On the other hand, for two players who understand the game well, the Knight is definitely a tactical uphill battle.
Perhaps each player can trade off playing the Knight and the first one to win with the Knight and then stop the other player could win? It sets up the game for a lot of replayability, in my opinion. Not only does the game provide challenges that are built into the mechanics, but there are so many different ways to strategize with just a few cards. After only a few games, players should know the cards present in each deck and be able to anticipate their opponent’s moves accordingly. This enriches the game by allowing players to dictate the pace and level of tactics in a given game.
The cards seem well balanced with the exception of one of the Baby Dragon cards. Every time I played as the Knight, I knew there was a good chance my opponent would have and play this specific card, which allows the Momma Dragon to make several moves. Now, inherently the card isn’t bad, but I think it needs to be the highest number card in the game so that the Knight has the ability to resolve his card effect first. Aside from this one little hiccup, the game played very well and very quickly.
I have a few issues with the choice of font and general placement of elements on the cards and the game board, but they were very minor. Given that this is a Kickstarter review, these elements are subject to change at any time. The card art, which I assume is mostly finalized, is unique and humorous in nature. The depictions of the Knight and the Baby Dragon add a level of silliness to the game that I think falls in line with the game’s lore and overall experience.
The Damsel’s Tale by Red Genie Games is a short story, a knight’s quest, and a dragon’s rage all wrapped up in a charming package and tactical 2-player experience. The game plays in less than 30 minutes and the setup/breakdown is quick and easy. Learning the mechanics of the game is easy and straight-forward, but mastering the strategy takes time and multiple playthroughs, giving the game excellent replayability. While there may be a few tweaks that need to be made, in my opinion, to the gameplay and graphic design, the overall experience was a pleasant one and the game was a joy to play.
- Quick and easy to learn and setup
- Simple to understand mechanics with strategic depth
- Charming lore and thematically cohesive
- A small issue with gameplay balancing between the two characters
- Minor graphic design changes would make certain cards and the game board easier to understand
The Damsel’s Tale by Red Genie Games scores a 4 overall on the burning meeple heat index!
The Damsel’s Tale goes live on Kickstarter in April 2019!