Whelps to Wyrms, designed by Rick Perez, is the latest offering from Lamp Light Games and is a game for 2-5 players. The players take on the role of dragons striving to acquire the greatest hoard of gold in the realm. Everyone begins the game controlling a relatively weak dragon whelp, but as they gain experience from doing what dragons do best: eating livestock (and people), destroying structures, and exploring unknown lands, they will grow in strength and power possibly even reaching the status of Wyrm! With careful planning, strategic use of your unique dragon powers, and a little luck you can emerge as the richest and most feared dragon in all the realm!
The copy that I received was a late stage prototype with a few rough edges, having neither the final rules nor components. As such the final product may well differ to some degree from what I describe in this article. However, based on my two previous experiences with Lamp Light Games I am quite confident these concerns will be more than addressed by the final product.
Players begin the game by taking the game sheet for one of the five dragons: Red, Blue, Black, Green, or White. At the start of the game they are a lowly whelp with all dragons beginning in the center hex of the board, the Nest. The nest is then surrounded by a number of hex tiles equal to the player count, plus one. These tiles are made up of four terrain types: Plains, Mountains, Forests, and Lakes. The first three have their own improvement decks and one from the appropriate deck is place on each of these. Lakes may not be improved and require extra movement to fly across. Next, shuffle the objective cards and place a number equal to the player count face up in a display. Now, take the top nine cards objective cards and place them face down in an objective draw pile. Lastly, randomly determine a first player and give them the starting player marker.
Each round of the game is made up of a number of phases:
Ready Phase: The starting player token is passed to the right, the top card of the objective deck is revealed, and camps/farms receive their livestock/gold.
Action Phase: Players now take their turns beginning with the starting player and progressing in clockwise order. A player may move a dragon a number of spaces up to its speed and perform a number of actions based on its current size. Actions may be used to do the following:
- Attack-The dragon may make a combat roll against a lair, slayer, or another dragon.
- Eat-The dragon may consume a creature on its current hex which awards experience points.
- Search-If on a hex that does not currently have an improvement, the player draws the top card from the appropriate deck and places it on the hex, gaining one experience.
- Explore-The dragon reveals a new hex and places it on an unoccupied edge of its current tile, gaining one experience.
- Raze-The dragon may spend both actions to remove an improvement from its current space rewarding the dragon with gold and freeing up the space to be searched again.
- Skill-The dragon may utilize one of its powers that require an activation that has been purchased with experience points.
- Pass-Players may end their turn while still in possession of unspent actions, to gain one experience for each such action.
At any point during a player’s turn, as a free action, experience points may be used to purchase powers on the dragon’s “ability tree” and/or increase its size. If this results in the dragon gaining additional action cubes, they may be spent on this turn. It is important to note that, players may only purchase powers of a lower or equal level to the current size of their dragon and only those which the player has all of the earlier versions. Players may also take any objective cards in the display whose conditions they have met.
Slayer Phase: In each round after the first, the current holder of the starting player token draws the top card of the Slayer deck and places it in play. In addition, all slayers are moved during this phase, either towards dragons to harm them or away in an effort to deny points for defeating them. After all slayers have been resolved, the round is over and play returns to the Ready Phase.
During the game, combat may occur with slayer or other dragons. In the event that a dragon takes a wound from combat they roll a six sided die and place a marker on the correspondingly numbered action space on their player board. That action may not be taken until the dragon heals. If there was already a token on that action an additional token is placed on top making it even more difficult to regain that action.
Play continues until there is not an objective card to reveal during the Ready Phase. At this time, players receive gold from their completed objectives, any they may earn from the end game objectives, and combine it the gold they have on hand. The player with largest amount of gold is the winner!
Whelps to Wyrms is an interesting game in that it places players in a dragon’s scales for a change, and they discover that their goals are much the same as the adventurers players are accustomed to playing…loot and experience! Whelps to Wyrms is fairly easy game to grasp with its straightforward mechanics and relatively basic goals, but the large number of possible outcomes in tiles and improvements creates an array of challenging tactical decisions. Overall, my fellow players and I thoroughly enjoyed the game, both for its theme and mechanics.
From a mechanical standpoint, I always enjoy a nice modular board, and especially one that grows the world during the course of the game. This, along with the improvement tiles, really works in tandem with the exploration/adventure elements of the theme in a wonderful way. I also liked the manner in which the starting player token is moved around the table, by making the previously last player the new starting player with play then continuing in clockwise manner. This maybe less important with fewer players, but with five it met with approval from everyone. The wound system was also a fairly original take on such a thing, and although random, I rather enjoyed the chance to gamble on what might get damage if I wanted to raze one of the auto-wounding improvements. It allowed me to decide how much risk I wished to face and make that decision based on whether or not I thought the reward was worth it or not. This is the correct use of randomness!
While the mechanics are solid, it is in its theme where Whelps to Wyrms really shines. The simple, yet genius idea of having players start out with a small dragon piece and replace it with larger ones as it grows is great! I know, in the grand scheme of things this seems like nothing, but it helps players feel a true sense of progress as they advance and it really adds to the immersive nature of this game. Speaking of immersion, the skill tree allows players to customize their already unique dragon both for flavor and strategic reasons. The mixture growing your dragon’s size and skills really gives the game a great feel. Even if a player loses, they can still have fun by realizing how far their dragon has come!
There was very little that I disliked about Whelps to Wyrms, and those things that I did mostly fall under the umbrella of personal taste. That being said, there were a few issues that I feel are worth mentioning.
Perhaps it was due to playing with the full five players, but the objective cards seemed to dry up very quickly. I am not sure what could be done about this, as they are also used for a round timer. It just seemed like the initial display was quickly gobbled up and then they trickled in one at a time from then on.
I also could not help but feel that the dragons, while unique, pretty much have a baked in strategy or two for each. This is fine, and they do offer a different play experience, but it makes the game far more tactical than strategic. Your strategy will mostly be dictated by your dragon, but there will plenty of short term decisions to keep things very interesting.
I really enjoyed Whelps to Wyrms as did those with whom I played. Everyone agreed that it was fun to play as the dragons rampaging throughout the realm! Even those who lost commented how they enjoyed the feeling of progress derived from growing their dragon and advancing its powers. As a light to medium weight game with room for some strategy, tons of tactical decisions, that provides feelings of adventure, and offers tremendous re-playability due to the modular nature of its board, Whelps to Wyrms is a great success! If those are features that appeal to you or your gaming group, I recommend adding it to your hoard!
Let it be known to all readers and government officials alike, that Life in Games received a free copy of this game for the purpose of providing an objective review. No further compensation of any sort changed hands between myself and the publisher.
Whelps to Wyrms is live on Kickstarter now!