Now entering Dreamwell – where you’re navigating a vast dream world in search of your lost friends. In your quest, you will encounter fantastical lands and psychedelic animals that will guide you to your friends.
Designer: Nick Little
Artist: Tara McPherson, Scott Hartman
Publisher: Action Phase Games
Genre: Set Collection, Grid Movement
Play Time: 30-45 minutes
Number of Logged Plays: 5 (2 players)
At the beginning of the game, each player will select a player marker and gather the corresponding standees to move around the board. The game board will then be created by laying out the sixteen tiles in a 4×4 arrangement in random orientations. Lastly, players will receive the first two friends that they’re searching for in the Dreamwell. The first player is determined by who slept the longest the previous night.
The game will continue until one player has found seven friends, which begins the last round of the game. The player with the most points from their friends is the winner!
The point of the game is to find your missing friends. In order to do that, you must meet all three requirements of each friend card – two animals and one terrain. Each tile has one animal and one terrain, so players move their standees around the board until they are tiles that meet the requirements of a friend card.
On a player’s turn they can do up to three actions from the list below:
The player can move either of their pawns around the board by using the doors on the tiles. Movement is limited to one tile. The exception is if the player’s starting tile and adjacent tile have connecting doors. If each tile has doors on the same edge/corner, the player’s move to that tile doesn’t consume their movement action. The same rule applies when moving pawns from off the board onto an outer tile. This allows players to move multiple tiles using only one move action.
Rotate a Tile
The player can rotate any tile they are on or any unoccupied tile. This action can be used to better line up tiles to optimize your move action.
Play a Friend Card
If a player meets the three requirements of their friend card, they can play that friend. Each friend will score based on the scoring symbol located on the bottom left hand corner of the card. The bottom right hand corner of the card will be resolved immediately.
Draw a Friend Card
Players can take a friend card from the display or draw one off the top of the deck. There is a hand limit of four cards.
Refresh the Friends Card Display
This action will discard the four face up friend cards to the bottom of the deck and four new friend cards will be placed out for players to choose.
There is also an advanced game variant and nightmare variant. The advanced game introduces the dark side of the tiles, which has different terrains on them that are required for some friend cards. At the beginning of the game, players will arrange half of the 4 x 4 grid to be dark tiles and the other half will remain on the light side. New friends will also be added to the deck that have a little more advanced abilities that players get to use when they find them.
Advanced Game Action:
Flip a Tile
In the advanced variant, players can use this action to flip the tile they’re currently on or any unoccupied tile. The player reference cards will display what will be on the other side of a tile.
The nightmare variant adds an additional standee representing a nightmare that will scare standees away and make a tile uninhabitable. At the end of each player’s turn, they will move the nightmare standee through a door. If a standee gets scared away, they are removed from the board.
I remember seeing Dreamwell on Kickstarter and I was on the verge of backing it. It looked like a pretty fun and simple game. I kind of regretted not backing it since we tend to enjoy quick and easy to learn games with some depth to them. Thanks to our friend Cat who did kickstart the game, and let us borrow her copy to write this review.
Exploring the Maze
After playing the game for the first time, I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly the game went. The rule book was very well written and had a good amount of examples that helped in learning the game. I only had to reference it once in our first game. This helps make Dreamwell a very easy game to learn since there are not an overwhelming amount of actions a player can choose from.
This is the first game we’ve played where the tile orientation matters with movement. With the doors leading from one tile to the next, you have to figure out how to map your path through the tiles. I found that I rarely ever rotated the tiles and really only used that option to create an opening to a tile that wasn’t there. I initially thought this action would be used more often, but I never found it very useful. It does feel pretty good though when you get two or three tiles to lineup perfectly and only use one move action to get to the tile you need.
Having two standees to move around the map gives you freedom since you can just place one on each end to get good coverage of the board. Most of the time, I’d like to bring my standees off the map because then you can move them onto any of the outer tiles. This gave me nine tiles to choose from on my turn, rather than having to consume up an action to rotate a tile and then use another action to move onto it.
Ducks Fly Together
The goal of Dreamwell is to find your friends, and not all friends are created equal in this game. It seemed like the strongest friend that you could get is Astra & Orbit, which would give you a good amount of points straight up or would give you five points if you are able to get three friend cards with them on it. When compared to the card that gives you three points for each pair of Ace and Ion, it seems pretty strong. In most games, I usually went for the Astra & Orbit combo, which worked for me three out of four times.
Mandee had a good combo with a friend card that gives you points for each Orion friend in your tableau. This combined with three Orion cards with wilds gave her 14 whopping points that lead to her winning by one.
Investing into one or two types of friends isn’t too difficult since you can use an action to clear the selection board with new cards, so you could use this action twice in a turn to cycle through eight cards and then use your third action to select the one you want. You have to be careful though if you invest in friend cards that only give you points for meeting a certain requirement. If you aren’t able to get everything you need, those cards will be worth a whole lot of nothing.
Every friend card also comes with a special ability that is either a one-time use or every turn ability. These helped set up some quick points if you get the “Located” ability, which could fulfill 1/3 of the friend requirements. The abilities that gave you an additional action every turn are also very strong. You’ll have to maximize the use of these abilities because only the most recent card’s ability is in play. This lead to a lot of moments where I’d have to plan my turns out a few rounds in advance so I could chain together my abilities in the best way. So while movement doesn’t have that many interesting decisions, the friend cards make up for it with a lot different strategies.
The Upside Down
The one thing that I thought the game was lacking a little bit of was player interaction. This is especially true in the standard game because the only way you could affect someone else was to select a friend card they might have wanted. But you’d have to figure if it’s worth it to use up an action to take that friend card that might not be useful to you.
Rotating a tile could be annoying too, but the only way you can rotate a tile with an opponent on it is if you also had a standee on that tile. At that point, it doesn’t seem worth it to rotate it just to slow other players down unless it also benefits you.
The flipping action in the advanced variant is similar to the rotating action where the only reason you’d really use it is for your own benefit rather than to block another player. It’s the Nightmare variant that adds a bit more control and meanness to the player interaction. Since this standee is moved at the end of a player turns and doesn’t cost an action, it makes it a lot easier to slow down another player if you know what they’re going for.
In a two player game, it didn’t really have too huge of an effect unless you’re able to find a tile that you know the other player wants. This situation happened once in our games and I was able to keep it blocked because I could just move the standee back there at the end of each of my turns. The nightmare standee also added a strategic element of being able to move your own pawns off the board if you wanted to save yourself an action on your turn.
Overall, I enjoyed Dreamwell. The game played quick and is simple to teach, which makes me feel like this would be a great gateway game or a game to play with the family. The artwork is unique and is very well done with all the vibrant colors on the tiles and friend cards. I do think most players could probably skip the standard game and go straight into the advanced game. The reference card will tell them everything they need to know about what the tile flips into. I probably also wouldn’t want to play the game without the nightmare variant either since that adds a bit more strategy. It plays well with two, and, I imagine, with more players the map gets chaotic and would change more between turns.
In Dreamwell, there are elements of this game that are great and some that are not so great. It’s a great light game with a little bit of strategy to it. It also has excellent artwork, and a few of the game mechanisms make for some fairly interesting game play. It’s a fun game to play, but I had a few issues with it.
Theme, Where Art Thou?
When I play a game, I want the actions I take to have some meaning behind them. In Dreamwell, the theme is almost nonexistent, and the actions you take really don’t seem to relate at all to a theme of navigating a dream world to find friends. It’s a very procedural game – move your standee around the board until you are on the correct animal/terrain then turn in your friend card. To be honest, I didn’t even realize that the theme was to find your missing friends until we started writing this review.
There are small things that could have been changed to really make the theme pop. Like instead of saying “Play a Friend Card,” it could easily have been changed to “Discover a Missing Friend” on player reference cards. Or there could be an explanation as to what flipping or rotating a tile means – is it you entering into a different dream? Are you in your own dream world or in someone else’s? Basically, I want the lore to be fleshed out just a little bit more.
In addition, the pictures on the standees make no sense to what little theme the game has. To me, they look like balloons, and I’m not sure what that has to do with a dream land. They are adorable, and the artwork is fantastic in this game. But it feels wasted when the theme is not tied in well at all.
Creating a Dreamland
The modular board (one that’s different every game) that you can then shift and change throughout the game is fantastic. This is an element I haven’t seen implemented in too many games, and it makes for a very interesting game.
In the game, you can rotate or flip tiles in order to make it easier to navigate the board and also complete friend cards. In all games, unlike Calvin, I utilized the rotate and flip action more than anything else. This was because the addition of having to move through a door made things more difficult, and the easiest solution was to rotate tiles. I did not utilize moving off the board and then moving back on the board nearly as much as I should have. But that’s what’s nice about this game – there are a few different strategies you can take with this game, and no one strategy is the right one.
Is Anyone Out There?
What I did not like about the game play was how solitary the game is. Adding the Nightmare element adds some player interaction, but not enough. The majority of our games, I didn’t even pay attention to what Calvin was doing. We played one game where Calvin asked me why I let him get a certain card because he had been collecting a lot of cards with that terrain. I honestly didn’t even notice anything he was doing because I was focused on my own strategy. Because of this, it is very possible for one person to just run away with the game.
If you add in the Nightmare element, it does add some player interaction, but it does make it a little mean in a two-player game. For example, Calvin kept moving the Nightmare standee onto a tile I needed to complete a friend card, and would not move it off until I had changed directions and moved away from the tile. Though this does make the game significantly more interesting and I would not play it without the Nightmare element, it can go mean pretty quickly.
Going, Going, Gone
If you aren’t paying close enough attention, the other players can really take the game away from you. However, that’s what makes it tough – it’s almost impossible to really know what someone is going for because you don’t have to announce anything you do other than, “I’m playing this friend card.” So if someone gets a lot of great combos, like getting a lot of the Astra & Orbit friends cards, you’re almost guaranteed a win. There are so many friend cards that just can’t live up to that.
Luckily, I found another strategy that worked as well, with Orion cards, but that really fell into my lap. What I’ve found is that you really just have to commit to one type of card or one strategy. If you are collecting Orion cards, go all in on that. If you’re collecting pairs, go all in.
If you’re looking for a quick and easy game that has a little bit of strategy to it, Dreamwell is a good game. I was excited to play this game, and though it’s a fun game, I was definitely underwhelmed. Overall, I liked it and would play it again, but it’s not my favorite.
- Easy to teach
- Quick to play
- Different variants for more replayability
- Cool artwork
- Feels solitary
- Some types of friends seem weaker than others
- Could end abruptly if someone is able to chain multiple friend cards in one turn
- “Dark” tile background could be misinterpreted as the “Light” side on some tiles
- Little to no theme
- Regular variant is really not worth playing (no player interaction)
He gives this game 7 Lil’ Heroes out of 10.
She gives this game 6 Orions out of 10.