It was an obvious choice, then, for me to pick up a game about cute dragons and tea. It may still be a competition, but the lovely art and theme seemed like an easy decision.
So it was, that I discovered the world of the Tea Dragon Society.
The Tea Dragon Society Card Game is a simple game based on a graphic novel by award-winning author (and artist) Katie O’Neill. This particular story is set in a fantasy world but focuses on the relationships and growth of the characters rather than epic adventures.
In the world of Tea Dragons, there are, well, tea dragons; tea is brewed from the plants that sprout from small dragons. Each tea dragon latches onto a caretaker, who must raise them and handle each dragons’ specific temperament.
I enjoyed the graphic novel as it was suitable for all ages, and my children enjoyed me reading it to them. I was glad to see the same themes carried over into the card game as well, as it’s a game where you handle a specific dragon while building memories from both the markets and seasons.
The goal in Tea Dragon Society is to gain the most points at the end of the game, which runs four seasons (Spring through Winter).
Each round, players may take a single action: draw a card from their deck or buy a card from the Market or Memory. The only way to earn more draws is through specific items or cards, which may cause you to draw more.
Market items are worth less than memories, but often have special rules that let you perform more actions. Memories are worth more points (and grow in value as the seasons change) but focusing too much on memories causes the game to end faster, possibly before you’re ready.
Most drawn cards are placed into your Hold, which is a space in front of each player. There are no hidden hands in this game, as everyone sees what’s in your hold at all times.
Cards remain in your hold until you spend them or are forced to discard by other cards. Some cards have special abilities that activate upon drawing specific cards; you may find your hold activates a chain of draws and effects.
Cards in your hold can be spent to purchase cards from the Market or Memories. This process is the primary way you earn points, as mentioned earlier.
Market cards go directly into your hold and may activate on your next turn. Memory cards, however, go into your discard pile and then your cards are shuffled together; that means the more powerful Memories might not make it into your hold until later (if at all).
Adding complications to each player’s turn is that their particular dragon has different quirks, based on their deck.
Each tea dragon has a unique ability, and their decks contain specific Growth and Mischief cards. Growth cards are kept in the hold until spent on the Market or Memories; Mischief cards, however, will make you lose specific cards from your hold, as your dragon acts up.
Knowing your dragon is key to winning, as you can purchase Protection cards from the Market to prevent Mischief, as well as cater to their unique ability and specific Growth style. This aspect of the game makes the Market even more critical, so you can stack your deck to your particular dragon’s favor.
Tea Dragon Society is an intriguing hybrid of variable hero decks and deck-builders, like a mix of Red Dragon Inn, Scott Pilgrim’s PLCG, and numerous similar games. Unlike those others, however, this game is far simpler and a slower paced experience.
This game requires a bit more forethought, as you must plan on what to purchase from the market, whether it’s worth buying a memory (which might push the seasons forward), and how your particular dragon is likely to behave. For all the strategy, however, this game is very accessible to younger players, both in theme and rules.
I think my main complaint is the game itself isn’t particularly integrated with the theme and could easily be skinned with any franchise. Unlike games like Scott Pilgrim or Red Dragon Inn, there is nothing in the mechanics that’s married to the fiction; the relationship is primarily in the artwork and relaxed play style.
I like the Tea Dragon Society, for its easy yet strategic play as well as its peaceful theme and experience. This card game makes for a good travel game and to introduce new gamers to concepts like deck-building.
The fiction itself helps, as Ms. O’Neill is a great author and artist that helps bring the game home. I only wish the story was more integrated with the mechanics; although, I do admit you begin to feel like your tea dragon is causing Mischief after a while.
I give the Tea Dragon Society Card Game a relaxing 4 cups of rooibos out of 5.
(I’d like to thank Comics Cafe for helping try out this game!)