Review: Draconis Invasion, a dark fantasy deck building game with some interesting new elements

Welcome to a detailed look at and review of Draconis Invasion a Dominion-like deck-building game that features some interesting new mechanics I’ve never seen in a deck building game before. 

Draconis Invasion features a static market but also has a system where you need to pay for your defender cards not only to draft them but also to use them when they come up during play. There’s also a hotly debated Terror system that acts as a timer for play.

Disclosure: Jeff Lai, the designer of Draconis Invasion, sent us a copy of this game to check out. Links in this post may be affiliate links. Using these links doesn’t cost you anything extra and helps support this blog and our podcast. As an Amazon Affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

What is the card game Draconis Invasion?

Draconis Invasion comes in an odd sized box. Draconis Invasion was designed by Jeff Lai and features some striking artwork from Juan Pablo Fernández, Vuk Kostic, Manthos Lappas, Grzegorz Pedrycz and Unrealsmoker. It was published in 2016 by KEJI Inc after a rather successful Kickstarter. 

This non-collectable card game plays one to six players with games taking up to an hour and a half. Draconis Invasion has an MSRP of $75 CAD.

In Draconis Invasion you are a noble hero charged by your king to defend the Kingdom from the invasion of the Draconis, a monstrous horde. You start off with a handful of Imperial Guard and some gold which you will use to buy action cards and recruit mercenary Defenders. These Defenders will let you defeat invading troops as long you can afford to pay them. Earn additional glory for completing contracts for the King, requiring you to defeat specific foes. Do all of this as the terror builds rushing the game to its end. Can one of you defeat enough of the Draconis invaders to save the realm or will you all be forced to retreat?

For a look at the various cards, which come in three different sizes, and other components for this game I welcome you to check out our Draconis Invasion unboxing video on YouTube

The box for Draconis Invasion features three card troughs which I found a little confusing as none of them are wide enough to fit the square cards that come with the game. Also, the graphics on the box are wrapped over the edges of the box which causes cards at the end of the row to get caught there.  

The rules are in a very thin rulebook that looks like it was made to fit into a standard card box, so it looks like maybe this larger box was something added after the fact, maybe a Kickstarter stretch goal?

These rules are presented in English, German and French. They are clear and easy to read and include quite a bit of flavour text in addition to the game rules. Being a deck building game with a static market, the game comes with layouts for ten different scenarios as well as a way to randomize between all the cards. 

The cards themselves are of really good quality and come in three sizes which makes sorting them out when you first open the game much easier. Dividers are also included which makes organizing the cards easy and there are foam blocks which are handy since there aren’t enough cards in this game to fill the box. 

There's a lot of air inside the box for Draconis InvasionWhile I do appreciate room for expansions, there is a lot of air in this box. 

Draconis Invasion comes with Action cards and Defender cards, that you use to build your deck, Campaign cards, that give you end game scoring opportunities, two levels of Invader cards, that you will be striving to defeat, Terror cards, which will clog up your deck and advance the timeline, and finally Event cards, which occur ever time the Terror level reaches six.  

The game also comes with a D6 die that has nice large numbers which are easy to read from across the table, which is important. This die is used to track the terror level and needs to be seen by all the players. 

Finally, there’s a black cloth bag included with the game for no reason. There’s nothing in this game that needs a bag. This was confusing enough that I went online looking for a use for the bag, and no one seems to have figured out what it’s for. 

How do you play Draconis Invasion?

Draconis Invasion set up and ready to play.You start a game of Draconis Invasion by deciding what Action and Defender cards you want to use. There is one card from each of these types that are always in play but the other five cards in play can change between games. The rules include ten different scenarios that are meant to be played in order before you unlock random market play. 

While we played them in order, there’s really no reason you couldn’t just start off with random decks, though going in order does start you off with simpler easier to use cards. 

The market is created with the cards you’ve selected to use and then the Invader, Campaign and Event cards are all shuffled. Three Invaders are drawn from each deck and put out on the table. Players are dealt two campaign cards each then three cards are flipped face up to make a market. A set number of event cards are drawn but not revealed and are placed on top of the Retreat Card. The number of events is based on the number of players. Players collect a starting deck of seven Wealth and five Imperial Guards. 

Start player is determined by a roll of the Threat Die, and that player then rolls again to determine the starting Threat level. This number is referenced on the starting threat card which will give all players some cards to start with usually involving at least one threat card and some starting gold, both of which go in the players’ discard piles. 

The turn overview card from the board game Draconis InvasionEach round of Draconis Invasion uses the ABCDEF system which I thought was pretty brilliant. On your turn you may do A, then you do one of BCD or E and then you may do F. Here is a short summary of each of these actions:

A – Play an Action card from your hand and do what it says. Some action cards will give you additional actions.

B – Buy a card from the market. Play gold cards and spend the income earned to buy one card from the market, either an Action or a Defender. Some action cards will give you additional buys. 

C – Draft two Campaign Cards. These can come from the face up cards or can be drawn from the top of the deck. Keep your campaign cards secret.

D – Attempt to Defeat an invader. Play a number of Defender Cards from your hand as well as enough gold to pay them and collect an invader whose health is equal to or less than the total attack value of those paid for Defender Cards. Reveal a new Invader and do what it says on the card which usually involves you gaining a Terror card. 

E – Eliminate a card from your hand. This lets you prune your deck returning a card from your hand to the market. 

F – At the end of your turn you can Forward one gold card from your hand and place it face down on top of your deck. 

A hand of cards from Draconis Invasion the card game.Along with this every time you have to discard a Terror card from your hand, you advance the Threat die one level. When the die hits six and Event card is drawn and handed to the next player. They will read it off and everyone will follow the text there before they start their turn. The next turn of the die will roll it over to one and multiple events can trigger in the same turn if enough Terror cards are discarded.

After advancing the Threat Die, play passes to the next player. This continues until one player has defeated a set number of Invaders (determined by the player count) or the Retreat card is revealed at the bottom of the Event Deck (note the last event doesn’t happen).

At this point, players add up all of the glory value on their cards adding any bonus glory for completed Campaigns and the player with the most points wins. 

Lots of actions but no Defenders in this hand of cards for the boardgame Daconis InvasionDue to this being a card based deck-building game there are a number of cards that may break these rules in some way or provide additional actions that are not part of the A-F system. These include things like upgrading cards to better ones, drawing extra cards, searching your deck for cards, swapping up what Invaders are attacking, etc. 

There are a total of thirteen different Attacker and Defender cards, four different event types, four different low level Invaders, eight different high level Invaders and seven different campaign cards in the base game for Draconis Invasion.

Draconis Invasion is a deck-building game where we just kept coming back for more. 

A three player game of Draconis Invasion taking place. I have to admit that when I first sat down to learn Draconis Invasion I wasn’t expecting much and that trepidation grew even more when I started to see the abilities on the cards. This modern deck-building game is obviously based on Dominion. The play one and only one action card, then do one thing aspect of Draconis seems to be right out of Dominion, including a number of Action cards that give you additional draws, actions and the ability to buy more than one card. 

One afternoon we even played a game of Dominion right after having played Draconis and we noticed a number of mechanically identical cards between the two games. 

What I was pleased to find, once we started playing Draconis, is that there’s enough other stuff going on in Draconis Invasion that it doesn’t feel at all like playing Dominion. Instead of being a flaw with the game, this just makes it more approachable for players who know Dominion well.

Your Defenders have to be paid for in Draconis Invasion, something unique to fantasy deck-building gamesOne big part of that other stuff going on is the way you have to pay for your Defender cards to use them when you draw them. This is something I’ve not seen in a fantasy deck-building game before. I’ve played plenty where you buy attack cards which you use to defeat enemy cards but usually, you pay once to acquire the card and when it comes up in your deck you just use it. In Draconis Invasion you not only have to pay a Defender to hire them, but you also have to pay for them each time they are used. This concept can take some time to get used to and can be very frustrating when playing when your Defenders keep coming up but you never have enough money on hand at the same time to use them.

Now one thing I did appreciate in this game was the entire ABCDEF system. This actually worked really well and made teaching the game to new players very easy. The step names manage to be thematic and still fit the letter pattern which I found impressive. I also like the fact that culling a card from your deck is a standard action you can take, and I love Deck Builders that let me put something on the top of my deck to line it up for the next turn. 

This leads me to the Terror and Event system. This is something else I’ve not seen before in a deck-building game. While many other games have a punitive card you can end up with that clogs up your deck, Terror cards are more than this. Having a lot of terror in your deck not only means you won’t have as good of a hand it also advances the game towards the end, which causes events, which cause people to get more terror.

The market and invaders in a game of Draconis Invasion the card game.This has another effect, due to the way terror works you don’t want to thin your deck too much. Which just feels strange, as this is such an important part of other deck building games. The problem with thinning your deck is that you are going to make those terror cards come up even more often. There is only one way to remove a terror from your deck and that’s via one event that has you Eliminate a random card from your hand. It’s not something that even comes up every game and definitely can’t be counted on.

Speaking of events, I have mixed thoughts on these. My first issue with them is that despite giving you a rather large deck of Event cards there are actually only four different event types. This makes events feel repetitive and boring after your first couple of games. The second is that every single one of the events is designed to punish the leader. Besides lacking variety, this actually encourages players to hold back and try to be in second place or worse and dissuades players from taking on the Gold Backed Invader cards due to them being a tiebreaker for which player is affected by an event in the case of a tie. Both of these end up artificially increasing the game time. While these are valid player responses I don’t think it fits the theme and design intention of the game. 

The lack of variety in the event cards is repeated in other areas of the game as well. There are only four different Invaders in the low level Invaders deck, despite having sixteen cards in the deck. There also isn’t a Campaign card for every Invader Type and there are more Campaign cards for the Invaders that are featured than there are cards for those Invaders. 

Close up of some of the card stacks from a game of Draconis InvasionI also feel the need to point out that the rules aren’t the most clear at times and some of the card abilities can be ambiguous. While there is an FAQ online it didn’t answer any of the questions that came up during our plays. The rulebook does include a summary of every card, but it just repeats the text on the cards instead of giving a more detailed explanation. For our games, we just decided on an interpretation and stuck with it for all our games. 

Overall I have conflicted feelings about Draconis Invasion. On one hand, the game has a number of flaws. The action system is somewhat boring and too derivative of Dominion, but we loved the A through F turn system. The fact you have to pay your defenders is an interesting rule change and actually fits mechanically but we found that more often than not it just leads to frustration during play. On the other hand, we thought the Terror and Event mechanic worked well but it suffers from not having enough variety, a problem we also found in the Invasion and Campaign deck. 

The thing is, with all of the bumps and potential flaws, Draconis Invasion ended up being really fun to play. When we broke out this game for the first time we had planned on playing it a couple of times to get a feel for it. Instead, we sat down and played three two-player games in a row, which was later followed up with a couple of plays at higher player counts.  We ended up basically spending an entire afternoon playing, and enjoying, Draconis Invasion. The only reason we stopped is that Sean was in town for a short visit and he had other games he wanted to try before the weekend was over. 

An early hand in a game of Draconis InvasionIf you enjoy deck-building games I think you should consider checking this game out. While a lot of the game is stuff you’ve probably seen before Draconis Invasion does add some new elements that put quite a twist on things. While the game is in no way perfect, it’s quite a lot of fun despite any problems we found. 

I suggest this game even more for fans of fantasy, beat up the monster style, deck-building games like Thunderstone. The fact you have to pay your Defenders to use them is what makes this game stand out and I think really fits the fantasy adventure theme well. It’s a rule that I think grognards and dungeon crawl fans will dig. 

If you aren’t a fan of deck-building this game isn’t going to sell you on the mechanic. At its heart, Draconis Invasion is a pretty pure static market deck builder with some other cool stuff added on. That added stuff isn’t going to be enough to hide those roots though. 

Personally, I’m really glad I got to try this one out and am excited and looking forward to exploring the Draconis Invasion Wrath expansion that includes twelve scenarios that each unlock a new sealed pack of cards. 

While Sean, my podcast co-host, is the bigger Deck-Building fan of the two of us, I’m also a fan of this board game mechanic. While I had a lot of fun with Draconis Invasion and plan to play it more in the future, it didn’t displace my favourite deck-builder, which you can read about in my Dungeons & Dragons Tyrants of the Underdark review.

What’s your favourite deck-building game? Let us know in the comments!

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2 Responses

  1. Great review, I think you covered the game well to give me a good feel for what it is and isn’t. Were this sitting at $45 I’d probably give it a try but at $75 I simply thing the price point is too high for what you are getting.

    As for your question my favourite DBG at a pure mechanical level is Dominion. I haven’t played a DB yet that does the card interactions, balance and general flow better. That game may have pioneered the mechanic but IMO it hasn’t been topped. However there are other DBG’s that I enjoy as well that have taken the core play and put twists on it. Hero Realms is probably my second favourite DBG when I just want to sit down and play some fast games. I really enjoy the aggressiveness of the engine and the combative nature. Star Realms used to hold this spot, but it got nudged out.

    Hardback is another favourite for me with its incorporation of Spelling and Deck Building. It’s a brilliant game and hands down better than Paperback (which is still a great game).

    Those would be my favourite pure (or 99% pure) DBG’s. From there it gets into hybrid DBG’s like Clank (in particular the Legacy version) and Blood Bowl Team Manager and more recently Dune Imperium, which I still need to spend more time with.

    As I think about my collection Deck Building is probably my favourite mechanic that I love to see games built around or at least incorporate. I enjoy the engine building aspect that it brings to the table as well as the concept of control and player agency that it brings to the game.

    1. Chris,

      With your love of Dominion I do really think you will enjoy Draconis, once it comes back into print. Also note the MSRP is $75 Canadian but that doesn’t mean you can’t find it cheaper. I did see that it was more around your acceptable price point before going out of print at Canadian OLGS.

      I’m a big fan of Star Realms but couldn’t get into Hero Realms. I have heard that it improved A LOT since it was first released and I think I need to give it another shot. I do love Clank, and I used to love Blood Bowl but the last two times we played it, it fell totally flat. I would love to try Dune.

      Thanks so much for your comment and regular interaction!
      Moe T

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