Flamecraft Review: Cuteness Overload

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With the mere mention of dragons, the citizens fled for their safety, leaving the town deserted. In most cases, this is how books and games portray dragons: as an often evil, all-powerful presence that grips the land in fear, rendering mortals unable to resist. One should never meddle in the affairs of dragons, for they are crunchy and taste good with ketchup.

But what if dragons were instead cute and actually wanted to help people? It may not be a revolutionary concept or something unseen before, but Flamecraft’s stunning artwork beckons you to admire and appreciate its intricate details, igniting a desire to explore the world it presents.

Now, you might be wondering: how exactly are dragons helping humans, and what does that have to do with a board game? Well, continue reading my Flamecraft review, and you’ll find out. 

Rating:8
Playing time:60 to 90 minutes
Number of players:1 to 5
Age:10+
Complexity:Simple to moderate
Genre:Engine building, worker placement, strategy, family
Release date:2022
Publishers:Cardboard Alchemy and Lucky Duck Games

Pros

  • Gorgeous artwork
  • Lovely board game mat
  • Fantastic box and token design
  • DRAGONS!
  • Cute dragons
  • Did I mention dragons already?

Cons

  • Simplistic game mechanics

How Flamecraft Came To Be

Like many other modern board games, it was through a successful Kickstarter campaign. It surpassed its goal of $25,000 and reached over two million dollars, largely due to the incredible art design by Sandara Tang. Which is exactly what its game designer, Manny Vega, was aiming to do. Reel the players in with the cute art style and finish them off with the fun game mechanics. 

Initially, Manny planned to develop an engine-building game centered around a ship concept where players would collaborate to keep it operational. However, after seeing Sandara’s now-famous crème brûlée dragon artwork, he modified his original idea, giving birth to Flamecraft.

Flamecraft creme brulee
This is one restaurant I wouldn’t mind visiting.

I’d seen the above picture long before I had ever heard of Flamecraft, and I immediately wanted to know more about it and started imagining such a world. You can imagine my surprise when I saw Flamecraft. It was a dream come true. 

The game was pitched to Cardboard Alchemy, which partnered with Lucky Duck Games to co-publish it via a Kickstarter campaign. As we mentioned before, the Flamecraft Kickstarter campaign was a smashing success

Both publishers already had multiple board games under their belt and a strong reputation for delivering high-quality experiences to board game enthusiasts worldwide. In other words, they had consistently met expectations and had not disappointed their fans in the past. Flamecraft would be no different. 

The Flamecraft Universe

So how are humans and dragons working together? How did that happen? Unfortunately, the game doesn’t tell us much about the world of Flamecraft. What it does tell us is that there are a number of different artisan dragons with specialized flames that assist shopkeepers in creating highly sought-after goods. This is represented in the game by the dragon’s fire-up ability. More about that in a moment.

These dragons are smaller and more magically talented versions of the larger dragons seen in other universes. It isn’t known if the bigger dragons even exist in this universe. But, just how small are our draconic heroes? We’re talking about a size comparable to that of a child.

Flamecraft artwork
Just look at them!

Since the dragons are magical creatures, you need a special kind of human to communicate with them. Dovahkiin? No, wrong universe. Go back to the land of Skyrim, from which you came. There will be no dragon slaying here! 

I’m talking about the Flamekeepers, and this is the role the players take on in the Flamecraft board game universe. They are the only ones capable of communicating with the dragons and harnessing their special talents. It’s the Flamekeepers’ role to assign the dragons to the right shops, making the most of their abilities and using special enchantment decks to encourage them to produce wondrous things.

Flamekeepers aren’t selfless servants, for they too are only humans. They assist dragons and shopkeepers to gain reputation, money, and goods. For you see, the Flamekeeper who attains the highest reputation (victory points) will claim the coveted position of Master of Flamecraft, a highly sought-after role within the community and the goal of the Flamecraft game. 

The Dragon Lair – Box Content

Before we get to the game itself, let’s talk a bit about the Flamecraft box design and content, or, as I like to call it, the dragon lair. Because all the dragons are there, get it? I’ll see myself out. 

The box and the game design are masterfully done for both the regular and the deluxe editions. What I like is that instead of the regular cardboard playing board, you get a playing mat that represents the shopping district. Instead of unpacking the cardboard-style board and wondering when you are going to rip it apart, you just have to unroll the neoprene mat, and you are set. 

You also get various shops, which you’ll be placing around the mat, and a bunch of dragon cards. Of course, there are multiple tokens representing players, resources, and, let’s not forget, coins. After all, you can’t have a dragon lair without piles of coins lying around. 

Flamecraft board

The only difference between the Flamecraft deluxe edition and the regular one is the tokens themselves. The regular edition has cardboard tokens and dragon head meeples, which represent the players, while the deluxe edition comes with wooden resource tokens, metal coins, and more detailed plastic dragon miniatures instead of wooden ones. 

Due to the high demand, the board game is available for pre-order on the Lucky Duck Games website. If you are looking for a deluxe edition, don’t be alarmed if you don’t see it on the website. You can buy the deluxe tokens separately. 

Flamecraft meeples

How To Play Flamecraft

The Flamecraft board game is an engine-building and resource-gathering game with elements of a worker placement game. As I mentioned already, you are trying to gather the most reputation points by making the best use of your dragons. Dragons are a recurring theme in both the game and the art, but you spend a lot more time interacting with the shops, and the dragons are more like workers you are placing down for everyone to use if they so desire. 

You start the game with six shops, and as the game progresses, you’ll keep revealing new ones with the maximum being 12 shops. Each shop has a unique ability and three artisan dragon slots. Depending on the type of shop, you gain either goods, coins, or a dragon from an artisan dragon deck. Be aware that money is not a good but a separate entity. This is important to distinguish because, when the game tells you to pick a good of your choice, you can’t pick a coin. 

Flamecraft board and cards

Visiting the Shop

Once it’s your turn, you need to pick a store that you’ll visit. It must be a different shop than the one you visited before. If there is another player at that shop, you have to give him either a good of your choice or a coin. If you can’t afford it, then you can’t visit the said shop. When you do make a shop visit, you’ll have two options, either gathering resources or enchanting the shop. 

Gathering Goods

If you choose to gather goods, you gain all the goods, coins, and dragons indicated on the shop, enchantments, and artisan dragons already placed in the shop dragon slots. 

Flamecraft shop and dragon cards

Then you can choose to place a dragon from your hand in a vacant slot with a matching symbol. Placing dragons earns you the rewards listed on each empty slot. Rewards include money, fancy dragons, and reputation points. Once you fill the shop with dragons, you take a new shop card from the shop deck and place it face down until the end of your turn.

Afterward, you may use the fire-up ability of a single artisan dragon in the shop, including the one you just placed. And lastly, you can activate the shop’s ability. Different shops have different abilities.  

You do not have to perform all of the actions. You can choose to only gather goods and skip the rest. However, if you choose to skip one of the optional actions, you will not be able to return to it later. Actions are played in the order we presented them. 

  • Gather goods
  • Place a dragon (optional)
  • Fire up a dragon to use their ability (optional)
  • Activate the shop’s ability (optional)

Enchanting a Shop

Instead of gathering goods, you may choose to enchant a shop by picking an enchantment card and paying its cost. The symbol on the enchantment card must match the shop’s symbol, and unless otherwise stated, you can pay with money instead of goods (1 good = 1 money). 

Each shop can be enchanted up to three times, except for shops with money and dragon icons, which can’t be enchanted at all. Once you pay for the enchantment card, you’ll immediately collect the rewards indicated on it, which typically include a set number of victory points. 

Enchanting shops allow you to use an optional ability to fire up any number of dragons located in the enchanted shop, or you can skip this optional step altogether (though there’s very little reason to do so).

End of Turn and Possibly the Game

Once your turn is done, reveal the new shop card(s) if there are any, and refill any used enchantments from the enchantment deck, and artisan dragons from the appropriate deck. Once you run out of enchantment or artisan dragon cards in the deck, all players get to play another turn before the game ends. The Flamekeeper with the most points gathered will be declared the game’s winner.

Here Be Dragons 

While we only mentioned two types of dragons, there are actually three types you should know about. Those are:

  • Artisan dragons
  • Fancy dragons
  • Companion dragons

Artisan dragons

They are the backbone of the game and, apparently, this town’s economy. You start the game with three of them and can only have a maximum of six at the end of your turn. 

Flamecraft dragon types

Dragons of the same type possess the same abilities, regardless of their names.

Fancy Dragons

On top of the hardworking dragons, you also have fancy dragons that don’t work in shops like the rest. They like to be free, but sometimes they work with the Flamekeepers and help them out during their daily tasks or at the end of the game. Game mechanics-wise, they give you extra rewards either during the game or during the final scoring.

You start the game with one fancy dragon, but there is no limit to how many you can have during the game, and they don’t count toward your maximum hand size.

flamecraft dragons objectives
So fancy, so stylish. 

Companion Dragons

Companion dragons are optional playing cards dealt to the players at the start of the game. Each companion dragon has a special one-time ability, and some even provide a start-up bonus. Since companion dragons are on vacation when you play a solo game, you cannot use them. Sorry, Dragon Union policy. 

Flamecraft Companion Dragons
Each card represents a team member who worked on the game.

Solo Play

The game can also be played in solo mode, and this is how I played it first. It’s well-balanced and helps you before you show it to your friends

Flamecraft successfully emulates the interference of other players with your plans, without the need for any mobile app. This is achieved through a simple additional step of drawing and placing dragons in the shop areas, along with moving other non-player tokens around. 

Once you end the game, you compare your score with the achievement table and unlock extra shops and fancy dragons for your next solo game, which creates a sort of campaign-like progression. 

Flamecraft Board Game Overview

Flamecraft is a beautiful game with incredible art and graphic design. It deservedly took home this year’s 2022 Golden Geek’s Best Artwork and Presentation award. We liked the design so much that we commissioned MistiqArts to create some fan art featuring one of Flamecraft’s gorgeous dragons and our dapper little site mascot. 

Flamecraft MistiqArts fan art

While the original art is out of this world, the game mechanics aren’t anything new. What’s more, the game feels rather light. At first glance, it looks deep and offers many playing options, but after a few plays, I realized it’s just a facade. You’re just doing the same thing over and over again, hoping to win. So the game essentially turns into a race.

You are all racing to collect goods to buy the best enchantments and place them at the appropriate time (and shop) to score the most points. All of the players at the table are doing the same thing, and all of them are hoping that nobody notices what they are doing. There is some variety in enchantments and shops but ultimately a lot of the players at the table may go for the same goals.

It may sound exciting at first, but it gets really tedious after a couple of games. Especially because this is a race where the finish line can change at any moment and other people can jump in front of you and snatch that enchantment prize you were racing towards before you can do anything.  Let me use an analogy here:

Picture yourself out on the sea during a storm. You are trying to chart a course to get to safety, but the wind and waves keep changing constantly. Even if you successfully manage to brave the waves, you are hit with the sudden realization that the storm is moving with you and you are nowhere near a safe haven. Since it’s impossible to 100% predict what will happen next, in the scenario and in the game, my approach is to just let go and let the waves carry me. 

To me, this is the best way to play the game. Let the game play out and go with the flow. Try to avoid creating a big plan or analyzing every possible move. You’ll get stuck and lose out on the fun. Take advantage of opportunities when they appear and enjoy the game and its art. After all, you are a Flamekeeper, and every problem can be overcome with the right dragon. Now you are getting it, now you are thinking with dragons. 

FAQ

What kind of game is Flamecraft?

Flamecraft is a light eurogame that combines several mechanics including worker placement, resource management, and even some engine building.

Can you play Flamecraft solo?

Yes, Flamecraft has an excellent solo mode that even features a pseudo-campaign-like progression.

Is Flamecraft cooperative?

Flamecraft is not a cooperative game. All of the players at the table compete to win the title of Master of Flamecraft and there is fairly limited player interaction throughout the game.