Three-Dragon Ante – Games I Play

Three Dragon Ante – Game Overview

Three-Dragon Ante Box

Three-Dragon Ante is a simple non-collectible card game produced by Wizards of the Coast. At its core it is meant to be a poker-like gambling game that should feel like something a group of adventurers would play while sitting around the local tavern just after returning from an adventure.

The game is played in a series of turns called “gambits”. Before each gambit players play an ante card, with the highest ante card being the number of chips (“gold”) the players must bet for this gambit, and also indicating which player begins the first round in the gambit. Gambits are broken into rounds where each player plays one card.

Cards have a number from 1 to 13, with higher numbers usually being better as the player with the highest “flight” at the end of the gambit wins the pot. Each card has a power that is associated with its color (exception, “mortals” are colored purple and each have a different power) but its power only triggers if you are the first player in a round or if the card you play is of equal or lower value than the last card played.

The game ends when a player runs out of gold and the player with the most gold wins the game.

What I Like About Three Dragon Ante

Three-Dragon Ante has become a staple of our gaming group. It’s simple and fast paced and offers an excellent filler between longer games, or works well as a cool down from an intense role playing session (or more often as a “something to do” while waiting for a late player to arrive for a role playing session). Primarily I enjoy the fast pace of the game as there is little waiting but the game is also fun for the most part.

What I Don’t Like About Three Dragon Ante

Three-Dragon Ante can be frustrating. Often the best a player can do when they are dealt bad cards is mitigate damage and sometimes they can’t even do that.

Moreover Three-Dragon Ante suffers because much of your turn is dependent on the player to your right, as your dragons’ powers only trigger if your card is equal to or lower than theirs. This results in some frustration as potentially great hands are ruined by the player to your right only having very low cards.

Thoughts on Three Dragon Ante’s Game Design

The game was designed to be a fantasy “poker” like game but I think it has more of a “trick taking” game feel to it. While most trick games do not involve a pot or “money” of any sort poker doesn’t involve the cards having special powers (unless you count wild cards) so it’s not as if this game fits perfectly in any category.

I think the most interesting aspect of the game is the dichotomy between wanting to play high cards to win the pot and low cards to get their effect. This can lead to some interesting decisions and occasionally becomes very difficult as players naturally want to trigger the powers of the dragons, but sometimes it is better to go for the pot as it can be worth more.

One thing I don’t quite understand is how they came up with the powers for the cards. They obviously had no interest in balancing the dragons’ powers against each other, which is fine, but it seems they could have slipped some balance in by making the powerful card abilities show up on cards with lower values.

Gold dragons are considered by our group to have the most powerful ability (“Draw a card for each good dragon in your flight”) and yet they contain the only 13 card associated with a specific color (I say this because Tiamat, the evil dragon god, is considered to be the color of all five of the evil dragons, however he does not have the power associated with any of them). This seems to be a slight disunity. I suspect that they might have thought it would be harder to trigger the larger cards but since your card triggers when you go first in a round I have not found it all that difficult.

Another problem our group has with the game are the green dragons. The green dragons’ power is “The opponent to your left chooses either to give you a weaker evil dragon from his or her hand or to pay you 5 gold”. The brass dragons have a similar power for good dragons but that dragon passed to the player must be of greater value, and in the case of the brass dragons it effects the player with the strongest flight (more on this in a second) instead of the player to your left. The green dragons cause problems in that they often hurt a player that you don’t want to hurt and they will hurt that same player through out the entire game. Also there is a green dragon that is a 1 and that card will always give the player 5 gold.

A similar problem comes from the cards that effect the flight leader in that the person currently winning a flight is not always the person winning the game. This can result in a player’s first playable hand being torn apart by players dropping cards that affect the flight leader.

I’m not sure if I would go so far as to call these aspects design flaws but they sometimes hamper people’s enjoyment of the game.

Three-Dragon Ante – Bottom Line

Because our group does play Three-Dragon Ante quite a bit I felt that I really needed to include it in Games I Play. I should also mention that it is a tradition for me to get the crud kicked out of me at this game but still I enjoy it enough for what it is.

Some reviewers have commented that the game can go on for several hours but we have rarely had that problem. I do feel that in games with less than four players this could crop up however and thus generally do not play unless we have four or five people present.

I never really consider this a gambling game. It has almost no bluffing and while they seem to want it to be a poker-like game it doesn’t come off feeling that way to me. This fact doesn’t bother me at all. While I do play poker this game comes out at completely different times than poker would. I really can never imagine playing poker as a “filler” game.

I remember playing Tunnels and Trolls when I was in High School. At one point the players decided they wanted to gamble. The game master just played “High/Low” with a deck of cards, so we were able to win or lose gold very quickly. For some reason this did end up going on for a long time but the players were seemingly enjoying themselves so the game master let it go.

One last comment I would like to make regards the rules for using Three-Dragon Ante in a Dungeons and Dragons game that they include in the back of the instruction booklet. I have personally never done this and doubt I would ever try to. This isn’t because the rules they provide (which allow you to use your skills to manipulate the game) aren’t interesting but rather because I can’t imagine stopping role playing long enough to play a game of this as part of the game.

Leave a comment if you have played Three-Dragon Ante and let me know what you think of it!