Membership Has Its Privileges in THE TEA DRAGON SOCIETY CARD GAME
I've written previously about the evolution of the deck-building genre, beginning with the seminal Dominion and ending the journey with Clank!. The Tea Dragon Society is an interesting side-quest on that journey. The first thing that may catch your eye is the colorful illustrations and a loose theme that can best be described in the parlance of our times as "totes adorbs." Expect exclamations on the cuteness factor. I am unfamiliar with the graphic novel published by Oni Press that this game is based on, but knowledge of the source material doesn't seem to matter to enjoy the game.
As per most deck-builders, players start with a basic deck of fixed cards that will be added to as the game progresses. One difference is each player has a named tea dragon card which grants a (kinda) special ability. Another difference is that the player's "hand" is placed face up on the table as opposed to being hidden. This is really helpful in teaching the game to younger players; although the reverse is most definitely true; my daughter would catch my mistakes more often.
To win the game, you need to have the most points in your deck.
On a player's turn, there are only two choices; you may buy a card, or you may draw a card. On the upper left of any card there is a leaf indicating how many buying points that card provides. On the upper left a tea mug is the cost of the card. There is a row of "market cards" that may be purchased and added directly to the player's hand. A lot of cards describe some activity the tea dragons may be involved in (Sleeping, Feeding, Grooming, et al), or some kind of useful item. But more importantly, these cards may grant you more buying power and/or more points. Cards in the market row are replenished from a common deck after purchasing.
The "memory cards" are another row. These cards are more expensive, but generally worth more point-wise than market cards. Memory cards are finite and divided up into four seasons, beginning with Spring and ending in Winter. Once all but one Spring card is purchased, the Summer cards are put into the Memory Row, and so on. When only one Winter card is left, the game is over.
The tea dragons' special abilities are pretty much the same for each: you draw again if you drew a certain card that is not already in your hand. For example, if the player who has the tea dragon Chamomile draws a Sleeping card when there is no other Sleeping cards in their hand, the player may draw another card.
As a player's hand has more cards in play, combos will build up, and cards will be constantly drawn and discarded. Many cards that provide points don't have much, if any, buying power. While they are in your hand, they are out of the deck, however, there are cards that will have you discard them, essentially creating dead draws on later turns. A careful balance between cards that provide points vs. currency is a key strategy.
After Winter is finished, the game is over. Players count the number of points in their deck, and a winner is declared!
The Tea Dragon Society is certainly not a "gamer" game. It may be too light for those looking for deep strategy and can be multiplayer solitaire. The only player interaction is the passing of the Mentor card (given to the player going last at the start to make up for first player advantage), and buying cards that your opponent may have wanted. However, I did find the card combinations more interesting than what Dominion's base game provides. All in all, this is a light family game, and a great if not ridiculously cute intro to deck-building for younger players.