Game spotlight: Three Dragon Ante

I mentioned Three Dragon Ante, or TDA as my friends and I refer to it, in my last post. Like I said, I can’t believe I had never talked about it before that. It’s a really fun game and one that I can always get my gamer friends to play.

Like I mentioned in the other post, it’s sort of a cross between Dungeons and Dragons and poker. But not really. It’s produced by the same folks that make D&D, but the only connection it has with the grandaddy of all RPGs is instead of having suits you have dragons. The deck consists of a number of suits, with each one being a different type of dragon (blue, red, copper, gold, etc.) and each card within a suit having a number value from 1 to 13.  Each player starts out with six cards. Play is divided up into gambits, with each gambit having three rounds. A round consists of each player laying down a card, and at the end of the gambit the player with the highest total wins the stakes. Usually. The game ends when one player runs out of chips. Sounds pretty simple, eh? Everyone just plays their three highest cards and we see who wins, right? But there are a lot of interesting twists that make the game very fun.

The first one is that each dragon/suit has a power that can trigger when it is played. Each color dragon has the same power, so it doesn’t matter if you’re playing a red 1 or a red 13 it’s the same effect. What’s interesting about powers is that they only “trigger” if the number on it is the same or lower than the card previously played. So if the player on your right plays a 6 and you play a 7 or higher your power doesn’t trigger. This makes the small cards worthwhile, because while they probably won’t help you win the stakes, they can get you some extra chips or cards.

We have a friend who I will mercifully not mention by name that we call “Doesn’t trigger” because he has a tendency to forget about the lower number rule and play cards that won’t trigger, thinking that they will.

Another nice twist to TDA is that there are other things you can do besides win the stakes during a gambit. In poker, your only goal is to win the pot, and if you don’t have good cards, there’s nothing you can do (other than bluff of course). But in TDA, when you have no shot at winning the stakes you can do all kinds of other things, like play certain combinations of cards to get extra chips, get yourself more cards, steal chips from the stakes, or just build up your hand to get ready for the next gambit. Having multiple possible goals every hand is a very neat aspect of the game and adds a lot to both the strategy and fun factor. You should always try to win the stakes if you can, but having other things to shoot for is very nice.

One of those other goals to shoot for is making what’s called a special flight, meaning three dragons of the same color or three of the same number. These are very powerful (especially the color flights) and are definitely the best thing to try to do if you can’t win the stakes. Sometimes special flights are even better than winning the stakes! And sometimes you’ll get into a situation where you have two cards for a special flight such as two blue dragons or two gold dragons and you have to decide whether to play one now and take the immediate payoff or save them and try to get a third one.

As far as strategy, I would think of it as a list of priorities:

  1. Win the stakes if you can. If you think you might be able to it’s probably best to go for it.
  2. Play a color flight (preferably) or a number flight
  3. Collect more cards in your hand. There’s never a situation where it’s bad to have more cards.
  4. Steal chips from the stake.
  5. If there’s nothing else to do, play some of your junk cards just to try to build up something decent.

So there’s always something to do, which is nice. There are some other factors to consider to, such as how big the stakes are (if it’s a small one you might not want to use your two 13s on it), what the other players are doing, and whether the game is close to ending or not; when one player runs out of chips the game ends and the player with the most chips wins, so you can always see how you’re doing in the game.

Overall it’s a great game. There is an expansion called Emperor’s Gambit which can be played by itself or shuffled in to the original deck, which is of course what we do. It’s best for 4 – 6 players but we’ve played with as many as 8 and it’s a lot of fun, so come on by and we’ll deal you in! 🙂

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Game spotlight: Three Dragon Ante

  1. This is interesting.. I don’t know if I gave it much thought when you’ve mentioned it before, but I guess I imagined it more like a board game! Now I have a clearer mental picture.

    • dantherpgman

      Wow that’s some lightning fast commentary right there! Thanks for reading and commenting!

      I think you would like the game. In fact I’m sure you would.

  2. Yes, well, I’m a lot like lightning!

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