A Classic Card Game
by Whatsits Galore
You might remember a card game from the '70s called Dragonmaster. It has something of a cult following today, and for good reason. This trick-taking card game never grows old. It's a lot like Hearts with a fantasy overlay, but the different goals chosen for each of the five hands, combined with fabulous artwork, elevates Dragonmaster to classic status. The four suits, Warriors, Nomads, Druids, and Dragonlords, represent fantasy clans, each with its own hierarchy ranging from King and Queen down to the lowly Fool. The dealer chooses the goal for each round of play according to the cards in his hand: will he try not to take the first and last trick? Or any of the Wizard cards? Or perhaps Prince Theo and his Runesword, or the entire suit of Dragonlords. Players who do take the taboo cards pay jewels to the dealer, jewels they must try to regain when their turn as dealer comes around. And, of course, there's the Staff of Power round, when all the goals are in play at once, a good time to recoup your losses. Or lose your chainmail shirt.
Although the official instructions include three variations of the game, that was never enough for our family. We somehow, over the course of hundreds of gameplays, developed a number of house variants. Some worked better than others, but all are worthy of a try. So Whatsits Galore presents them here. Game on!
We never enjoyed removing the Fools and Barons for a three-player game, as listed in the official instructions, so we came up with another idea. Deal out all the cards evenly, which will give each player ten cards with two left over. Place those extra two cards face down to the side of the play area. Then continue the hand normally, without knowing which cards are out. And if Prince Theo is missing from the Runesword round...oh, well...
Instead of five rounds, you can play only three per dealer by doubling up. Not the Staff of Power; let that stand alone. But you can combine First or Last with Wizards, and Runesword with Dragonlords, or Runesword with Wizards, and...well, you get the idea. Any configuration will do, just to give you more cards to avoid taking.
Pass the Buck
Take a tip from the game of Hearts and begin play by passing three cards to the player on your left. In subsequent rounds, pass three cards to the player on your right, then to the player across the table. The fourth round starts with passing one card to each of your opponents, and finally, pass no cards at all in round five.
Instead of giving the dealer the choice, try choosing each hand at random. Your strategy then shifts from choosing the best hand for your cards to making the best of the hand of cards you're dealt.
Rapid Random Round
If you're short on time, you can play a mere five hands, the order chosen at random. All losses are paid to the bank. Scoring is the main difference between this variation and the Random Round, as your losses do not become any other player's gain.
Repeat All Over Again
In normal game play, each round is chosen once by every dealer. In this variant, players are free to select the same hands over again. Were you dealt the Wizard, Baron, and Fool of Warriors again? Looks like it's time for yet another Runesword round. Better not allow Staff of Power to be repeated, though; its larger pot will skew both your gameplay and scoring.
Set in Stone
The first dealer chooses the first round, for example, Wizards. Four hands of Wizards are then played in a row, each with a different dealer, who also takes in all the points for that hand as usual. Deal then passes to the next player, who chooses any of the remaining taboos, let us say, Runesword. Four hands of Runesword are then played in the same way as stated above. In this manner, each dealer has fewer choices, so be sure that the starting dealer is chosen randomly and fairly.
Blind Man's Bluff
Whoever deals first selects the first round normally, but hides the card that designates the round under the game box lid without showing it to the other players. Play then proceeds normally with gamers forced to play cards without knowing which are the point cards for the round. As soon as a point card is taken, whether a Dragonlord, the First Trick, or whatever it might be, the dealer reveals which round is being played.
Staff of Ultimate Power
Do you really want to blow your friends' minds? Make every hand a Staff of Power. Play five, ten, twenty rounds, depending on how much of a glutton for punishment you are.
All game art images are © Milton Bradley and are used for fan purposes only
All other content © 2016-2020 Whatsits Galore
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