Manufacturer Hans im Gluck/
Rio Grande Games
Year 2000
Designer Richard Breese
Aladdin's Dragons box

Aladdin's Dragons


Steal the treasures from the dragons, then use those treasures to bribe your way into the palace where the artifacts are stored. Blind-bidding goodness under the crescent moon.

Background

Self-publisher has created several highly regarded games, (Keywood, Keydom, Keythedral), all taking place within his own mythical world. Keydom was the second in this series, and while the game was fairly well received, it had some serious issues. Hans im Gluck got ahold of it, massaged it a bit, and the result was Morgenland, (sold as Aladdin's Dragons in Rio Grande Games' English version). Players must steal treasures for dragon caves, then use those treasures to make their way into the Sultan's palace and buy valuable and powerful artifacts. Whoever ends up with the most artifacts when they are all gone is the winner.

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The Gameplay

Aladdin's Dragons takes place on a board which is divided into three sections: The dragon caves below the city, the city itself, and the palace. There are five dragon caves, each which can hold from 1 to 4 sets of a type of treasure. The four city spaces convey a special action to the player who eventually wins that space. The palace consists of the guard room, and a number of rooms, (equal to the number of players), where the artifacts are found. Players take turns placing tokens numbered 1-9, (excluding the number 3), face-down into these spaces. After all tokens have been played to the board, each space is evaluated, with the player with the highest total value getting to reap the benefits of that space. The different spaces have different rewards for the winner.

The Dragon Caves

There are five caves, one for each type of treasure in the game, (Crowns, Pearls, Jewels, Trophies and Gold Bars). Every turn a card is turned up which shows how the treasures are distributed within the caves. Generally there will be one or two caves with three sets of treasure, (5 Crowns, 3 Crowns and 1 Crown, for example), one with two sets, and one with only one treasure set, (usually three of something). A player who has the highest total value in a dragon cave gets to take the treasures on the "top shelf" of the cave, the second highest gets the next shelf, and so on until all of the sets of treasures have been taken from the room. Once all of the caves have been evaluated, play moves up to the city streets.

The City

The first spot to be visited in the city is Aladdin's Tent, (Note: this space and the Djinn's House are only used in the "advanced version" of the game, but since that is really the only interesting way to play, I'm going to skip the "only in the advanced version" comments throughout the rest of this review. If you really want to play the basic game, omit anything in the following that refers to "Spell" and "Artifact Powers"). The winner of this space gets to draw two spell cards, and choose one, giving the second to the second highest player. The spell cards range form incredibly powerful to next to useless, and introduce a lot of chaos into the game. For this reason, I prefer using the "open spell cards" variant. In this, two spell cards are turned face up at the start of the turn. In this way, players will have an idea of what kind of chaos will be introduced into the game, but won't know which player takes got which card. It also prevents you from bidding high on two cards which both might suck.

Next comes the Djinn's House. The winner of this space can use two artifact powers during this round. The artifact powers can be VERY helpful, so being able to use two of them in a round gives you a lot of flexibility. The powers will be described below. The next space in the city allows the winner to trade in one treasure, and take three different treasures from the bank, (a nice two treasure gain). The final city space allows the winner to immediately move the camel, which determines player order and tie-breaking. From the city, play proceeds to the palace.

The Royal Palace

The first room in the palace is the guard room. Each turn, a guard token, (numbered 1-10), is placed face down in this room. When the room is evaluated, this token is turned up. If a player's token in the room is greater than or equal to the guard value, they can enter the palace freely. If their token has a lower value, they must bribe the guard with the difference in treasures. If they cannot, or choose not to do so, they cannot enter the palace, and any tokens they placed there are worthless. In each room of the palace, an artifact is turned up at the start of the turn. The player with the highest total value in each palace room can buy the artifact there. The cost of the artifact is a number of like treasures equal to the value of the token(s) the player played there. So if you win a palace room with a "7" token, you must pay seven treasures of one kind to buy the artifact. If you played a "5" token and a "2" token, you would have to pay 5 treasures of one kind AND 2 treasures of a different kind. If the winning player cannot, or chooses not to buy the artifact, the next highest player has the option to do so, and so on. Once all of the spaces have been evaluated, players gather up their tokens, and the next turn starts. Once all of the artifacts have been purchased, the game ends, and whoever has the most artifacts wins.

Added in to this are the artifact powers and the spell cards. There are six different kinds of artifacts, each with a special ability which can be used to alter gameplay. Unless you win the Djinn's House space, you can only use one artifact power per turn. The artifacts are:

Aladdin's Lamp - Each player starts the game with one of these. Using this artifact allows you to play any number of spell cards during that turn. As many of the spell cards are very powerful, this is an important and often used power.

The Key - A player using the key artifact does not need to beat the guard, or even have a token in the guard room, to enter the palace.

Flying Carpet - The flying carpet acts as a token with the value of three, and can be placed in any room on the board. Perfect for winning a close battle or swooping in to win an uncontested space.

Counterspell - The counterspell artifact can immediately cancel the effects of a spell card. As the spell cards can be very powerful, this can be a very handy power.

Doppleganger - The doubler artifact doubles any one token in a space. Great for winning a dragon cave space, but not so great for winning a palace space, (as it greatly increases what it takes to buy the artifact).

Scroll - The least interesting of the artifacts, the scroll artifact acts as a tiebreaker at the end of the game. If players tie for number of total artifacts, then the player with the most scrolls wins.

The spell cards do many things, from making all players discard seven treasures, to making all of your opponents play the round with their tokens face up. They can lock a space down so no other tokens can be played there, they can switch the values of the one and the nine tokens, etc. However, they can be counterspelled, and they do force you to use your one artifact power per turn using Aladdin's Lamp.

Why this game is so great

First off, blind-bidding games tend not to be my favorite genre of games. What separates a good one from a bad one is the outside factors that create a somewhat logical framework for the blind-bidding to hang on. If there is enough structure provided to give you some idea as to what has value and what doesn't, then the game can be very exciting and strategic. If that structure doesn't exist, then it becomes a senseless waste of time. Consider the differences between Modern Art and the Milton Bradley classic Masterpiece. In Modern Art, you are often making blind bids for an artwork, whose value is unknown. Yet you get some feedback on what the art will probably be worth, based on the artists' current popularity, (and the number of artworks you hold in your hand for that artist). In Masterpiece, the value of the artwork is completely random, and only if you have already seen that piece of art, do you have any idea as to what to bid for it. One of these is a great game, and one of them isn't. In Aladdin's Dragons, the restrictions placed on purchasing artifacts means you generally do have enough information to make valid and informed choices. Bluffing certainly comes into play, as if you can spare your low valued tokens for the purpose, tossing one into a treasure room may convince others that they will need to play a second token in there to win it, which can prevent them from being able to win some other room you are more concerned with. The artifact powers are very useful, yet you are always faced with tough choices as to which one to use. Should you use your doubler, or will you need it more later in the turn? And if you use it, you won't be able to counterspell the spell card that removes your token from the palace room you were counting on winning. Can you spare a token for the guard room, or should you just plan on using your Key to get in?

In terms of blind-bidding games, Aladdin's Dragons is by far my favorite, just edging out Adel Verplichtet, (and not counting Piratenbucht, which has blind bidding as a major mechanism, but has enough other stuff going on to make me NOT consider it a blind-bidding game).

Why others don't agree

Some people just really dislike blind-bidding games, and refuse to be moved from that position. Others will claim that blind-bidding, coupled with the chaos of the spell cards makes this far too random and chaotic. I dispute the first bit, and think the "open spell cards" takes care of a lot of the chaos.

Recap

Strategy: 8
Complexity: 5
Fun: 8
Overall: 7

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