In an ancient land shrouded by the mists of time, a dragon sits in a lair threatening the nearby cities. This creature may be a boon or a bane if you have the knowledge to command him—this is Tabula Games' Volfyirion. Set in the universe of their successfully-crowdfunded game Mysthea, this deck-building game promised interesting combat in 15-30 minutes and I was keen on checking it out with a friend from my tabletop group.
A game of Volfyrion begins with a bit of preparation. Several decks need to be shuffled. Each player has their starting house deck consisting of eight prospectors, a captain, and a diviner. Command, troop, and building cards are assembled into the common asset deck and wonder cards make up the wonder deck. Volfyirion's lair is equipped with a dragon token and two of the wonders. Each player receives three cities for their side of the board. Finally, the top five asset cards are laid out in the asset row and the game can begin proper.
My copy of Volfyirion was short one card (a diviner) and included an extra (Qoam Exploit), a mistake in the packing. Looking at the deck, we figured out the mix-up (and later confirmed it with Tabula Games) and managed to use the extra card to substitute for the missing one, marking it with a bit of tape.
Players have three distinct resources to juggle in this game. Command points are simply used to purchase one of the five available cards in the asset row. These purchased cards are added to your discard pile and will eventually be shuffled into your deck. Battle points can be used to attack another player's city, acquire one of the two available wonders, or, if you're fortunate enough to amass plenty of them, defeat Volfyirion permanently. Finally, knowledge points can be used to change out asset cards in the row, seal (or unseal) a wonder card, and unleash the dragon on their enemies.
These points are awarded for a turn from the first five cards you draw from your house deck. You don't have to pick and choose - you'll gain all of the points simultaneously. You may find yourself with 6 command points, 4 knowledge points, and 5 battle points in a single hand. You can spend these as you like, but they'll all be gone in the next turn.
Your objective will be to destroy all three of your opponent's cities. These cities have 8, 9, and 10 defense respectively and are effectively representative of your life points. Once all three are destroyed, you're dead. You can place buildings for bonuses that will apply every round or soldiers to simply buff your defenses. These soldiers and buildings may have a secondary effect which will grant you a boon like drawing another card or an additional number of points. Some of them can be permanently removed from the game for a big boost of points—something that's quite useful for that last big push in commanding the dragon or destroying a city.
Ultimately, there is truly only two ways to win the game - either amass enough battle points to overcome a city's defenders or acquire enough knowledge points to send out Volfyirion to attack an opponent's city. In the former case, a defending soldier will give their life protecting the city in warding off the attack. In the latter, the only thing that can send away the dragon is an equal amount of 8 knowledge points on the part of the defender. If you can't muster it, the city (as well the attached soldier and building, if any) are instantly destroyed.
In my first game, I decided that I was going to try for building up battle points. Perhaps I could gain enough to take out the weakest city and then work my way up to the stronger one. However, my opponent saw that it was surprisingly cheap to deploy the dragon - a measly eight knowledge points would do it. Cards may have 2 or 3 points on them, so a lucky draw of three or four of the right cards can let you wield that terrible power. I was not as fortunate and I found myself quickly thrashed.
The second game played out a little differently. I quickly learned that having some measure of knowledge points generation was essential. Even if you decided not to use the dragon, the only way to defend against it was the same method which you would use to command Volfyirion to attack. I managed to gain enough knowledge points early on by sacrificing some defenders and quickly destroyed one of my opponents' cities. Secure in the knowledge that I could (probably) fend off another such attack, I hardened my defenses and built up my battle points. Soon, the second and third cities fell to my warriors while the dragon comfortably slept in his lair.
Our games more or less worked out the same way. Throughout our play time, one thing became apparent - the use of the dragon was terrifically easy to use. Perhaps it was a bit too easy to use. It costs eight points to send out the dragon and eight to send it away and protect your city. I think this disparity would lead players to the only logical conclusion: build up knowledge points fast and use this method to win. Using troops with battle points against cities that will likely have 12 or more defense just takes far too long.
Perhaps the cost of sending out the dragon should be higher or the cost of sending it away should be lower. It might be best if both of these things happened. It struck me as a bit oddly balanced, but not so much so that we didn't enjoy our time with the game. At the end of it all, a game of Volfyirion was said to take 15-30 minutes and that's exactly how it played out for us once we got the hang of it. I'm still undecided if the balancing is in the right place, but I nonetheless enjoyed my experience with the game.
I think if you like deck-building games, Volfyirion just might be something worth checking out. If you're new to them or inexperienced with them, the rules might seem a bit much to take in. (They certainly did for me!) But after our first game, it all just clicked together for us nicely and we got right on with having our fun. It's a wonderfully designed game and it would make a fine addition to any tabletop collection.
The copy of Volfyirion used for this preview was provided by Tabula Games.
What do you think of Volfyirion? What's your favorite deck-building game? Let us know in the comments below!