How to Train Your Dragon
Wondering around the many booths of Gen Con, trying to find a hidden gem among the vendors is one of my favorite parts of the convention. Every year it seems there’s a handful of sleeper hits that don’t get noticed until much later, and trying to track these down on your own can be a lot of fun. Incubation from Synapses Games was not one I had heard of before the convention until a friend our ours stumbled across it and picked it up. Could this be one of Gen Cons hidden gems?
Cracking Some Eggs
Incubation tasks players with collecting and eventually hatching dragon eggs of different varieties to accomplish various goals throughout the game. Each player board has two incubator slots which players use to hatch their eggs. Before the game begins players choose one egg to start within reverse player order.
The market board in the middle of the table has more egg cards players can choose from to put in their incubators, end of game objectives players are trying to complete, different quadrants which represent the different colored dragons you can hatch, and an item spinner in the center of the board. These segments will accumulate resources that the players can acquire when they hatch dragons of that type.
After setup is done the first player starts by rolling two dice and performing the actions shown, or they can sacrifice any result to grab an egg from the market board to slot into their incubator. If a die shows a flame or a water symbol that player simply takes those resources from the general supply. When you roll two of the same resources you can take three of that type if you have room. These resources are used to hatch your eggs as shown on the egg cards themselves. For example, if an egg shows three fire and two water you’ll need those exact amounts in order to hatch your new baby dragon.
The coin face allows you to take coins from the reserve which act as victory points at the end of the game. Treasure chests cause the player to rotate the spinner on the market board clockwise one space. Once this is done, any segment of the board that shows a resource where the spinner stopped is supplied with that resource. Rolling 2 treasure chests allow the player to collect all treasures they can hold from any market space instead of moving the spinner.
After a player has rolled the dice and performed the actions they hatch eggs from their incubators that have acquired the required resources. When an egg hatches the card is removed from the incubator, flipped face-up, and set in front of the player. If the egg has a dragon inside that player can choose a market space that matches the dragon’s color and collect all the resources there, though any excess water/fire tokens they’re not able to assign must be left behind.
At this point, if the player has fulfilled any of the objective cards shown on the board, they can claim it for themselves by taking it and placing it next to their dragons. Play continues in this way until two dragon egg decks are depleted or all objective cards have been claimed. As soon as one of these endgame parameters are triggered the current round is played out, then everyone adds up all points gained from objective cards, hatched dragons, and coins collected throughout the game, and whoever has the most is the winner of the game.
Incubation seems to be aimed at a younger family-focused crowd. Though this is not a bad thing, my biggest issue is that relies way too heavily on luck with little to no player decisions or strategy. Family games often use luck to help offset the advantage that parents or older gamers would have over their younger counterparts. That’s fine when used in moderation, however, Incubation is entirely luck-based, with your turns being completely dictated by that one roll of the dice. You’re never allowed to re-roll those dice at any point. This causes players to become stuck if they can’t get the resources they need to hatch their eggs and can leave them bored with nothing to do for several turns.
Turns in this game are mercifully short, but it’s hard to excuse the “fly-by-wire” gameplay. There is very little decision making on your turn if any. Most of the time you’re just obeying the whim of your dice overlords. On most turns all you do is roll the dice and hope you can take the resources you need. If you’re very unlucky you might continue to roll one treasure chest on multiple turns, flooding the market spaces with resources that you can’t grab until you roll double chests, which is rather rare.
The only real choice the game offers is the variety of eggs you can choose to incubate, and even this can be a moot point. You’ll obviously want to take the egg which is going to help you fulfill the different objectives, but you’re limited to the few eggs that are face up at any given time. If none of them will help you advance towards a goal, then you’ll probably grab the egg that will give you the most points when it’s hatched. Your best strategy is to have one small egg and one large egg at all times in your incubator. Since you can hatch the smaller eggs much easier allowing you to grab every resource on a segment of the market board, which usually nets you enough to hatch your other egg as well.
Incubation would’ve benefited a lot from having more options added to its gameplay. Maybe different upgrades for your incubators, dragons that give one time or multi-use powers, or some way to mitigate dice luck. It would’ve also been nice if the coins had a secondary purpose other than just giving you points. For example, players could have the option to spend the coins on resources to complete eggs, but by doing that they would lose the points from the spent coins in turn possibly gaining more points from eggs. A risk/reward element would really kick the gameplay up a notch. When it’s all said and done, the game just has too much of a swing to it. One player can run away with the game early and there’s nothing other players can do to stop that.
On the positive side, the production is pretty good. The cards are decent, the artwork is pleasing, and it feels like that spinner should stand up over time. The custom dice feel nice to roll and the copy we played had some upgraded acrylic resource tokens that helped it stand out. If you have some young kids who really like dragons there might be something here for them, otherwise, there are tons of other family weight games I would recommend to you before this Incubation.
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AKA “The Board Game Mole”
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