By Anthony “LibrariaNPC” DeMinico, 14 August 2019
I originally took a glance at Dragons Conquer America by Burning Games back in October of 2017. Since then, the game has had a few hiccups with Kickstarter campaigns and some delays with the final product, but as of late March, they have followed through and sent out copies of the books to the backers.
Now that I’ve caught up on the backlog, I once more have to ask the question: will this game conquer my heart?
Dragons Conquer America (DCA) is a fantasy roleplaying game set in the Americas during the time of the Spanish expeditions. History is much like ours, only that magic exists, dragons are real, and said beings play a major part in human history: they are defenders, elite combat mounts, and voices of the gods.
Players are able to play on either side (or both sides!) of the conflict between the Spaniards and the native peoples of Central and South America. The game was written with historical accuracy and cultural sensitivity in mind, and players can play out an entirely different scenario compared to what actually happened.
==What You Get==
The PDF for DCA weighs in at 426 pages. The first quarter of the book talks of the different groups players are expected to work with (or play as), including the Anahuac, Mayaab, Inca, and of course the Old World forces. The rules cover a small portion of the book (about 30 pages), with the rest of the book covering character creation/classes (80 pages), gear (under 40 pages), Magic (also under 40 pages), and over a quarter of the book at the tail end dedicated to a bestiary and GM campaign ideas.
The book has a parchment coloration with black font (with green or white headers), and full color artwork spread throughout the book.
One of my favorite things about this book was watching it improve from an incomplete Quickstart to full-blown book, including seeing a number of comments that I and a few other reviewers, commenters, and backers had requested.
For example, one of my snags with DCA was the issue with naming conventions and pronunciation. I lack the knowledge of the cultures presented here, and I also lack the linguistics background to covers the languages of the Americas before the Europeans arrived. This concern of mine was alleviated with well-detailed sections of what languages were spoken, how the words were pronounced, and the various naming conventions. As someone who lacks this knowledge, this is vital to get that proper feeling of immersion, and I am happy to see that we have it.
The improvements thankfully did not end there. Not only do we have a number of additional well researched cultural notes (ranging from how the “nations” interact, commerce and trade, political stances, etc), but the overall quality of the book improved. It is worth noting that the writers of the book are not native speakers of the English language, and the early drafts were exceedingly rough. Now, the book has drastic decrease in typos and mistakes (but still has a few), and the text is overall much clearer (and consistent!) than before. My hat is off to the writers and editors behind this feat!
Other improvements include more details for the RPC system (including more details of the cards vs dice approach), a cleaner magic system (it was rife with balance issues and was almost unusable),
As always, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the art, and this book has art in spades. From well-detailed landscapes to diverse peoples, clothing, and monsters, the artwork in DCA is spectacular and well worth checking out for no other reason than the artwork looking this good. While the artwork is both well executed and well placed within the work, there may be some parts of the book that may be NSFW (at least one topless woman and many topless men, characters in states of undress, etc), so gawk at your own discretion.
Finally, I have to say that the RPC system is a rather interesting system to look at. Mechanically speaking, we have a rather unique setup utilizing cards and various ways to handle action economy (such as gaining more cards/actions when acting within set ranges or specialties). The mechanics also include things that could easily be repurposed, such as crafting and repairs, weapon/armor deterioration, multi-cultural magical approaches (with some awesome spells tied to the cultures), and the “Tolerance” rating which shows the tensions between cultures.
Really, the RPC system has a lot to offer, so even if you aren’t a fan of the setting (which is well worth the cost of the book in my humble opinion), there’s quite a bit of mechanical tinkering most gamers wanting a change of pace will find here.
As much as I love what has changed from the original materials we were given, there are still a few concerns that crop up.
From a layout perspective, I find it odd and slightly disorienting as the format shifts from time to time. Some pages go with the “classic” two-column format, but at times, we are given a page or so in a three-column format. If there was a pattern to it, or a general consistency, I wouldn’t mind three columns, but just randomly having a page like that makes my inner technical writer cringe.
While we have some major improvements over previous drafts and the Quickstart, the writing does suffer from one major and consistent problem: it can get rather dry. The details provided to explain the various cultures and the general setting are amazing, well documented, and detailed, but there were more times than I’m willing to admit that the setting sections felt about as dry as a textbook. The same is true for the mechanics: it’s a dense book to read in the first place with the sheer amount of text and information, but the writing does make even the best parts of this a slower process than I’d like. This may be due to some of the flow being lost in translation, or just me being burned out on the sheer amount of reading and reviewing as of late, but it wasn’t as enjoyable a read as it could have been.
Speaking of the mechanics, while I do find the RPC mechanic interesting, I have to admit that it isn’t for everyone. While I personally am fond of the idea of having a number of cards/resources that are spent for actions, it isn’t for everyone, and with how the scenes are mapped out for conflict vs non-conflict, I find it a bit tough to differentiate and follow. Again, I may not be grokking something here, but it is a much different system than what we see elsewhere and therefore has the inherent flaw of not having much to clearly link it to.
Basically, I have the same love/hate relationship with the mechanic as I have with the core mechanics of 7th Sea Second Edition: I love being able to spend a resource to get an action, and it works brilliantly in combat, but the core mechanic feels awkward in non-combat scenarios (with the examples not helping too terribly much).
Finally, if you are a U.S. buyer, you might be bummed out to know what it will take to get the game. The book is available as a PDF on DriveThruRPG, but to get a print copy, you’ll be ordering it and having it shipped from the EU. If my experience with Modiphius and other international orders count for anything, this means you’ll be waiting a good bit of time and paying an extra premium for the book due to shipping and conversion rates.This isn’t the fault of the creators, of course, but I would be remiss if I overlooked this.
After riding high and marching low, I believe Dragons Conquer America is worthy of 3.5 buns.
As a whole, DCA is the epitome of a tabletop RPG glow-up. It started as an exceedingly rough quickstart and a failed Kickstarter that needed a great deal of love and affection to properly grow, and the patience was well worth it: we now have a book that is just stellar, and not just in comparison to what it was. The art is solid, the writing is stronger, the setting is just something new and not redundantly explored, and the mechanics offer some refreshingly new ideas and fun tech to steal from borrow.
Even with the improvements, the game does suffer from some dry writing and odd layouts, which may detract from the fun for those not fully invested in it. Simply put, it’s a dense book that may be a slog to get through, and may take more time to study and pore over for proper system mastery than other titles. I’m not saying it isn’t worth it, but getting through it may come at a cost not everyone is willing to pay.
If you want a game on the Americas set during the time of the Spanish Conquistadors that is well researched and incorporates traditions from a number of cultures, you really cannot go wrong wtih picking up Dragons Conquer America.
If the setting isn’t your thing, or if you only want a “light” read, then you’ll want to give this a pass.
Dragons Conquer America is created and published by Burning Games. The book can be purchased directly from their website for €44.95 (about $55.90 US) for a physical copy, or a PDF can be purchased from DriveThruRPG for $29.95. An additional setting book has been released (and available on their site), and a Quickstart is still available for free, should you want to continue with the game or try it out first.