Here be Dragons. A phrase written on maps after medieval map makers would draw dragons to denote unexplored areas where they thought such monsters existed. They were regions of mystery, danger, possibility, and adventure. In the case of Flamecraft it’s just the line below Welcome on the town sign. Here be Dragons. They are here to help.
It’s unlike me to jump on a new board game, especially one that was getting hyped so much. I tend to wait until things have cooled off a bit before assessing a game for my collection. When it comes to reviewing games I want to make sure you can get the games I am telling you about, even if I don’t like them. With Flamecraft I got to play before I decided to buy. I was drawn in by the art and production, but I stayed for the gameplay. Flamecraft is designed by Manny Vega, with art by Sandara Tang, and is published by Cardboard Alchemy.
Flamecraft is the most adorable game I’ve seen in a while. A long neoprene mat shows the centre of the village, with spaces for some of the cards and even a fountain for the coin tokens! Along the edge of the town square, well town rectangle I guess, are spaces for shops. Everything from baked goods at Critical Rolls, to gems from Fragile Reptile, can be bought in this town. The door bells jingle as the shops open for business, and artisan dragons make their way to work.
How do you come into this adorable pastoral scene? As a flamekeeper you are great at helping dragons find their calling, and the shops need your help to fill some vacancies. On top of that the shops can always be spruced up with an enchantment or two. What’s in it for you? Everyone in the town likes someone who helps out. Your reputation will grow. Have the best reputation at the end of the game and the town will give you a lovely hat. You’ll win, I can’t guarantee the hat.
Flamecraft is basically a worker placement game, driven by a race element. Each round you’ll visit one of the shops, gathering supplies or enchanting the premises.
Gathering gets you goods from the shop you visit and allows you to employ one of the artisan dragons in your hand at the shop. This not only gives you some bonus rewards, but gives you more options on who to fire.
Fire? Haven’t we just helped this adorable dragon to find a job? Fear not! In this case fire just means we get to take the action on one of the current employees of the shop. They could give you more options to gather resources, play dragons into other shops, draw more into your hand, or even swap dragons around between different shops. There are only 6 suits of dragons in the game so you aren't having to remember loads of actions here, just 6 and each dragon has its possible action written on it. Each player also gets a handy reminder of the rules to reference throughout the game. Flamecraft goes out of its way to help you play the game without having to constantly recall the rules.
Why gather these goods at all? Here is where the race element comes in. The shops need an upgrade from time to time and one of the ways to get reputation is to do that with an enchantment or two. You trade your goods in and enchant the shop, not only making it better at producing goods but giving you reputation and some other bonuses along the way. Of course everyone else may be eyeing up the same enchantments you are, so getting their first becomes vital. That’s not all though! Enchanting a shop allows you to fire every dragon in the shop!
This is the shape of the game. Gather resources, race to get that enchantment you have your eye on. The shops start simple, allowing you to gather and choose an action. As they fill with employees you get a larger choice of actions. More than that though you can eye the correct moment to enchant the shop, firing all the dragons and scoring points alongside a cavalcade of actions.
Fancy dragons, hidden goals, add a wrinkle of other objectives to achieve. These cards push you towards certain combinations of dragons, favouring one suit of artisans over another, or manipulating the board to achieve a particular combination of dragons in shops. Some will be revealed during the game, but others only show themselves at the end of the game. You can manipulate the board to your advantage, accelerating in the final scoring to get that wonderful hat (hat is not guaranteed).
As shops fill up, new ones open up. The village becomes bright and vibrant, filled with wondrous places and amazing possibilities. Unlike the basic shops, these new shops will all have an extra action you can take when you Gather, opening the game up even more as you play.
Flamecraft is one of those games where the arc feels absolutely perfect. It starts simple, giving players an easy way into the game. As you play more possibilities open up, the turns become more complex, but the mechanisms remain simple. Each turn you are just doing one of two things, with some extra twists as the game progresses.
Throughout it all the game remains one about generosity and helping out around town. It doesn’t want players to be in conflict, it wants them to improve the town, even if doing so potentially gives other players an advantage. So many games we encounter in the hobby emphasise competition. While that is present here, there is only one winner, the path to it feels like one paved with good deeds and neighbourly affectations. Come and visit Flamecraft, I am sure you’ll want to stay a while.
I bought Flamecraft with my own money.