Gaming

Lead an Army or Be a Dragon in ‘Dragonbond: Lords of Vaala’

Generals with their armies battle for control of the land of Vaala while also fighting off dragons in the process. However, if a general and a dragon can unite together with a dragonbond, they are more powerful than they were individually. Will you choose to take on the roll of heroic general or might dragon in Dragonbond: Lords of Vaala.

What Is Dragonbond: Lords of Vaala?

Dragonbond: Lords of Vaala is an asymmetric board game for 1-4 players, ages 13and up, and takes about 30-60 minutes to play. It’s currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, with a pledge level of $49 for a copy of the base game. Higher priced pledge levels are also available that include expansions and other content. Dragonbond: Lords of Vaala was designed by Alessio Cavatore and Jack Caesar and published by Draco Studios, with illustrations by Adam Wesierski and Aldo Dominguez.

New to Kickstarter? Check out our crowdfunding primer.

Dragonbond: Lords of Vaala Components

Note: My review is based on a prototype copy, so it is subject to change and may not reflect final component quality.

Here is what you get in the base game:

  • 1 Gameboard
  • 5 Dice
  • 4 Unique miniatures (2 generals and 2 dragons)
  • 4 Player boards
  • 22 Action cards
  • 12 Region cards
  • 12 Upgrade cards
  • 12 Event cards
  • 20 Vaala cards
  • 4 Dragonbond cards
  • 1 Initiative token
  • 4 Dragonbond Tokens
  • 60 Unit tokens
  • 12 City tokens
  • 50 Power tokens
  • Wound tokens
  • Rulebook
  • Example of Play book
Which character will you play as? Image by Michael Knight.

The game includes four miniatures: two dragons and two generals. These are used to represent the players’ locations on the map.

The game board consists of a map of Vaala. Image by Michael Knight.

The gameboard consists of a map of Vaala which is divided up into 12 sections called regions. Players place their characters and armies on the gameboard. The action listed on the lower left or southwest corner are used by general players when they use a region card. 

This player board for a general lists the actions that general can take and also has slots for upgrades to their army. Image by Michael Knight.

Each player receives their own unique player board for their character. These are also used for AI players by flipping them over to their AI side. 

Here are a few of the action cards from a general’s hand. Image by Michael Knight.

Decks of action cards are provided for each player and contain the various actions that player may take during a turn. The action cards in a general’s deck are different than the action cards in a dragon’s deck. 

These are some samples of one of the general’s Vaala cards. Image by Michael Knight.

Each character has unique Vaala cards. These can be added to a players hand during the game and cost power in order to activate them. Some of these cards are very powerful. 

Generals use region cards to reinforce their armies and build cities in regions they control. Image by Michael Knight.

Generals can claim regions cards for the territories they conquer. They can be used as an action card during the game. 

Event cards add some randomness to the game and also provide power needed to win the game. Image by Michael Knight.

Event cards are played at the start and the end of a round. They can add power to regions on the game board or have other effects. 

Army tokens for the two generals as well as neutral army tokens. Image by Michael Knight.

Generals use army tokens of their color to represent their forces. They can have infantry, cavalry, and ranged units represented by the symbols on their token. Neutral armies always consist of infantry.

Tokens are used on both the game board as well as the player boards. Image by Michael Knight.

Other types of tokens are used to represent power, wounds inflicted on dragons, and dragon bonds. 

How to Play Dragonbond: Lords of Vaala

The Goal

The goal of the game is to gain the most power by the end of the game. 

Setup

To set up a game, place the game board in the middle of the play area. Each player then decides which character to play s and takes the matching player board. There are two dragon players and two general players. If four players are not available, any remaining player boards are turned over to their AI side. These will be ‘faceless’ players. If you are playing solo, pick one of the characters and then have three faceless players. There must always be four characters in each game. Faceless players are not controlled by human players but by the game itself. The human players then take the dragonbond card for their character and placed it facedown in the top right corner of their player board. Arrange the seating so that character type alternates. For example, dragon-general-dragon-general. Players place their matching miniatures in their starting regions as dictated in the game manual. General players also place one army token of each unit type (infantry, cavalry, and range) in the region with their general. 

Each human player collects the action cards for their character. This will be their hand. General players also get a region card for their starting region. Now the human players take their Vaala cards, shuffle them, and place them into a deck on the spot on their player board. Faceless players do not get Vaala cards. However, these AI players do get action cards. Shuffle their action cards into a deck and place it next to the matching playerboards. These cards will determine what the faceless players do. 

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Shuffle the upgrade cards into a deck and place them to the side of the gameboard. Then draw the top six and place them faceup in a line next to the deck. Next shuffle the event cards into a deck and place them in the matching spot on the game board. Place one power token and one neutral army token in each of the non-starting regions on the game board. Place the remaining tokens next to the game board for easy access by the players. Finally, give the initiative token to the player who has most recently seen a dragon in a movie. You are now ready to start the game. 

The game setup and ready to play. Image by Michael Knight.

Gameplay

Dragonbond: Lords of Vaala is played in a number of rounds, each consisting of three phases: Planning, Resolution, and Cleanup. After all three phases have been completed, a new round begins.

Planning Phase

At the start of this round, place an event card from the deck face down within easy reach of all the players to begin the action stack. Starting with the player with the initiative token and then continuing around in a clockwise direction, each player then places an action card or a region card (generals only) onto the action stack. This continues until a player chooses to pass by not placing an action card into the stack. If a player has no action or region cards remaining, they automatically pass. When playing with faceless players, when it is their turn, simply take the top card from their deck of action cards and place it into the action stack. As soon as a player passes, they immediately take the initiative token and place another event card on top of the action stack to end this phase. 

Resolution Phase

Once the planning phase is over, the first player takes the action stack and turns it over so that the first event card is faceup on top. Be sure to keep the action stack so only the card on top can be seen. Resolve the event card by following the directions on it and then discard it. Do not return it to the event deck. Continue resolving each of the remaining cards in the action stack one at a time. Each action card has one or two glyphs that correspond to the player boards. Players complete these actions one at a time in the order they appear on the card, from top to bottom. Once the actions are completed, the card is returned to the owner’s hand. If the card is a region card, then follow the glyphs as shown on the game board. This occurs even if the player who played the region no longer controls that region. Return the card to the owner of that region (which may change during the course of the phase) or to the region deck if there is currently no owner. Remember, only general players can have region cards. Dragons can choose to not do any of the actions on their action card and instead heal as explained on their player boards. Once the last card, the second event card, is resolved, continue to the cleanup phase.

There are four main types of actions which players can take as represented by the glyphs. Maneuver or soar, for generals or dragons respectively, basically allows players to move their unit and armies into other regions without attacking. Assault and wrath are used to move and then attack. Harvest and hoard are used to collect power tokens from the map. Vaala lets players either draw a Vaala card from their deck into their hand or spend power to play a Vaala card already in their hand. 

Action cards for a dragon. Image by Michael Knight.

When a player performs an assault or wrath action and the move into a region with another player, combat begins. The attacking player first determines their combat value. A dragon’s combat value is listed on their player board. It decreases as the dragon takes wounds. A general determines their combat value by adding up all of the army tokens in the battlefield region. They get +1 if they have all three unit types represented (at least one of each). Plus they get another +1 if their general is in the region. The attacking player rolls the number of dice equal to their combat value. They can roll a miss, a hit, two hits, a critical hit, or two critical hits. For critical hits, remove defending armies immediately or inflict that number of wounds on the defending dragon. The defender can then decide whether to retreat from the battlefield region into a friendly or uncontrolled adjacent region or they can counterattack. If they retreat, they take only the critical hits. If they counterattack, they calculate their combat value with their remaining units or health and roll that number of dice. Any damage is inflicted on the attacker. If there are defending enemy units or a dragon still in the battlefield region, the attack must then either retreat or continue the attack following the same steps as before. Continue the battle until one side retreats or is destroyed. If a general has no more army tokens to take damage, or a dragon can take no more wounds, they must retreat. It is important to note that dragons do not control territory. Therefore, they do not prevent a retreat into their region and they can retreat into any territory from a battlefield. 

The action has moved towards the middle of the map during the game. The blue general has the advantage but has a dragon on each flank. Image by Michael Knight.

If after an action card is resolved, an unbonded general is in the same region as an unbonded dragon, you must check for a dragonbond. Each player in that region rolls a single die. If both dice show a hit, then the two players are not dragonbonded. A player can spend a power token they have collected to roll again either to try for a dragonbond or to try to avoid being bonded. this continues until neither player wants to spend power. When dragonbonded, the two players flip over their dragonbond cards on their player boards. These show new abilities that are available to them. they also take the dragonbond token of their ally’s color and place it on their player board to show to whom they are bonded. The victory conditions now change for bonded players. Instead of needing 10 power tokens to win, the allies need a total of 15 tokens between them to win. Plus allies cannot attack each other or their ally’s armies. 

Cleanup Phase

Once the action phase is complete, check to see if the event deck is empty. If it is, then the game ends. Otherwise, players check their hands to ensure they have all their action cards and generals take region cards for the regions they control on the map. Shuffle the unclaimed upgrade cards back into the upgrade deck and deal out six upgrade cards face up for a new lineup. Now begin the planning phase again. 

Game End

The game ends immediately when a player collects 10 power tokens or a dragonbond alliance has 15 total power tokens between them. The individual or dragonbonded team are the winners. Power tokens can be collected with a hoard or harvest action. In addition, dragons earn one power token for every three armies they defeat.  If at the start of a cleanup phase, the event deck is empty, then the game ends. Count up each player’s power tokens. The player with the most is the winner. In the case of a dragonbonded team, only count the total of the player with the most power tokens rather than the sum of the two players. 

Why You Should Play Dragonbond: Lords of Vaala

Let me start off by saying that I really enjoyed playing this game, even more than I thought I would. I love the asymmetric aspect since playing as a general or a dragon is like playing two different games. In fact, you play each type of character differently with unique strategies and tactics. The way players create the action deck has a strategy to itself. Any player can pass and end the phase at any time, so this creates a press your luck aspect since you may have several actions you want to take in a certain order, but trying to do too much before you harvest or hoard could backfire if another player passes. In fact, I found passing a great way to spoil the plans of others. 

Dragons have player boards that are different from those of generals. Image by Michael Knight.

While each player has similar action cards, the Vaala cards are unique to each character. Some of these are quite powerful. When you spend  power, you do not lose the power token. Instead, you flip it over. As a result, players have a limited amount of power for the game, but do not move away from victory when they spend power. There are two action cards in each player’s hand that allow them to do one action as well as a Valla action. So at the start of the game, players will want to use those action cards even they don’t have power to get those cards into their hands for later use. 

These dragon Vaala cards are powerful. I used Mercurial Breath to wipe out all of any enemies armies for the cost of three power and a wound. However, I collected power tokens for defeating those armies. Image by Michael Knight.

The concept of faceless AI players works very well in this game. There needs to be four players for this game. I even tried a solo game with me and three faceless players. The AI rules work great. In fact, a faceless players almost beat me. So whether you have four players or less, you will still have a great time. 

In conclusion, I highly recommend Dragonbond: Lords of Vaala for players who enjoy asymmetry as well as area control. When playing as a general, you are trying to capture and take control of as many regions as you can. On the other hand, as a dragon, you are focusing on going after getting power tokens from the map and defeating armies. I can’t wait to play the final production version of the game along with the bonuses and stretch goals from the Kickstarter campaign. 

For more information or to make a pledge, visit the Dragonbond: Lords of Vaala Kickstarter page!


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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.

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This post was last modified on August 2, 2021 9:37 am

Michael Knight

Michael teaches high school classes in Science, History, and Computer Science including Game Design. He is the father of six with ages ranging from 24 to 13. Michael is the author of over one hundred published video game strategy guides and when not playing board games, enjoys reading and spending time with his family.

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