Teaching Time: 10 mins
Playing Time: 25-30 mins
Setup Time: 10 mins
Value For Money: Mid
Dream Catchers is a cute as pie looking co-op kickstarter project from a creator marking a first successful project after a previous cancellation. It was well worth the relaunch; the box is satisfyingly weighty and the quality of components within would grace any big-name release.
The theme of the game casts players as good dream providing spirits who must protect sleeping children from bad dreams and monsters under the bed. Its illustrated in a sweet and cute fashion, but the nightmares and monsters are in some cases genuinely disturbing. They make a good metaphor for the game actually, cute on the surface but quite nasty on closer examination, with the game looking like a simple enough co-op but revealing itself to be hard as nails when you get playing.
Gameplay consists of placing out a set of dream and nightmare cards which players then use power cards with matching symbols to remove. If enough are removed players win, if too many nightmares build up, too many turns pass or too many monsters arrive (monsters arrive under the bed at certain points in the game until players attempt to remove them) players lose. Player characters have unique powers and some dreams award treasures to benefit players and spice up gameplay. The game comes with several separate boards representing different children’s bedrooms with different levels of difficulty for a good level of replayability.
The game looks great and super cute with its illustrations and very fine pierced monster meeples but don’t be fooled, it’s no lightweight cutesy game, its viciously tough and will hand out its fair share of early beatings for players. It can be learnt though so it’s not tough just for the sake of it and can be beaten. For better or worse the game has a lot going on at any one time, a time counter generates monsters, eventually losing the game. Monsters eat dreams when generated and end the game when 3 build up but can be defeated by 3 power cards and (weirdly) the roll of a dice. Dreams can be captured, building towards victory, but will be replaced sometimes by new dreams but sometimes by nightmares and arriving nightmares can attack, generating bad dreams in a sort of card grid mini game that can have nearly totally unforeseeable cascade effects taking players from nowhere near losing to game over. Its all elegantly managed and you’ll get the process down after a few turns, but its very hard to feel settled or like you have a real handle on what exactly is going on in all the game state at all times. Formulating a plan more than a turn or two ahead, particularly until you’re close to victory is very tough. Ironically with so much going on its not unusual to have to waste an action on your turn through no real fault of your own because so much of what is ticking past you you can’t actually effect. If you have the right cards for one action at the start of your turn there’s rarely much point performing a second one.
There are two game balance issues, on a minor level one character is far and away better than all the others (the obligatory take an extra action character). On a more major level is the dice. The only thing in the game not driven by cards is the defeat of monsters which require a dice roll without re-rolls or dice bonuses, meaning that it’s not unusual for your game to boil down to if you can roll a five or more in two or four rolls and if you can’t there’s very little you can do about it, which is a very real mis-step in an otherwise competent and confidently put together game.
Dream Catchers is a stunning looking and challenging co-op game with a lot of replayability and tons going on that clicks along well once you get the hang of it. Cogs occasionally jarr and there can be a sense of powerlessness but not for long enough to ruin a generally good overall experience.