Dream Runners – Savoring Serene Sopor
Most of us are merely observers in our dream sequences. There are the rare few that are capable of lucid dreaming – that strange dream state where one is consciously controlling themselves in a dream world. In Dream Runners, you navigate your dream state, avoiding nightmares while trying to hold tightly to those things that would bring you blissful, serenity-filled sleep.
Dream Runners is a puzzle-solving, resource management game for 2-4 players ages 8 and up. It was created by Joan Dufour with gorgeously surreal art from Jade Mosch, and it’s published by Ankama (and brought to the USA by Luma Imports).
How to Play
Form a pile of eight “dreams” face down in the middle of the table. Give each player two coins, a serenity board, a player marker, and four starting tiles in their chosen color. Place the colored marker on the indicated starting serenity spot: if you can keep it here, it will be worth 20 dream points.
Once everyone is ready, flip the first dream tile!
All the players race to create a 3-by-3 square with their own polyominos, as if they are covering the tiles represented in the dream. You do not have to use all your polyomino tiles.
The first player to be satisfied with their composition flips the timer and places it on their serenity board; they may no longer change their layout, but they’ll earn a bonus coin during the scoring for this round.
When the timer runs out, all players must stop moving or reorganizing their polyominos; it’s time to resolve compositions and adjust scores.
For each cell missing (or added to) your 3-by-3 square, move your marker one spot down your serenity track.
Every nightmare present on a dream has a penalty indicated on its cell, usually one or more serenity points. If you fail to apply a “banish” symbol to a nightmare, you must take the penalty.
Now we finally get to the pleasant part of dreaming. For any cell in the dream that you’ve applied a “collect” symbol in your composition, you get to collect the pictured reward: star fragments, serenity points, keys, or coins.
If you apply the “collect” symbol to a chest, you’ll need your keys. Turn over the top chest tile of the corresponding type, then discard the necessary key(s) from your stash and collect the pictured rewards. (Only one chest is opened in any given round, but all players who “collect” it and discard enough keys may take the rewards.)
You can spend coins to buy a new polyomino to add to your supply, or to move your marker upwards on your serenity track.
Star fragments are probably the most powerful reward in the game. Discard a set of four star fragments, one in each color, to move up on the star track, gaining dream points that can never be lost. The first three stars you complete are each worth five dream points, but later stars are worth even more.
After all players have received their rewards, penalties, and had a chance to buy from the market, it’s time to move on to the next round. Flip the next dream over and start again.
After the eighth round, players add up the dream points they have received from their position on the star track, the points indicated on their own serenity track, and any points (moons) pictured on polyominoes in their collection. The player with the most points wins.
Impressions – Happy Little Dreams
There is a ton going right for Dream Runners. Our six-year-old immediately understood how to play the game. Because each player is using the same central decision matrix (the dream tile) but in their own tableau, he didn’t impact siblings’ games while he was learning the strategy of crafting his 3×3 square.
This simultaneous play with the same central cards was also a huge hit. Every player being engaged and rushing to a finish created a nice balance between tension and control; even if another player finishes before you, 90 seconds is still a decent amount of time to wrap up, at least in the early game! With more options at the end of the game, this same time constraint will feel very tight.
Dream Runners even features multi-stage rewards, using the treasure chests. You’ll need to acquire keys to open them, but don’t stock up too much: keys aren’t worth anything at the end of the game.
We can’t say enough good things about the artistic direction, graphic design, and component quality, either. Everything was richly and clearly illustrated, the tokens all featured clear iconography. The few spaces where a fully illustrated canvas was revealed were beautiful (if a little strange).
Amidst all of these excellent features lurks the one big problem with this game, and that is its balance. Implied in the acquisition of coins, tiles, keys, and eggs is the illusion of choice. It seems as though there are various strategies to win at a game of Dream Runners.
It’s not true.
The star fragments and the resultant stars are worth huge numbers of dream points at the end of the game. By the end of the games we played, regardless of player count, various players had accrued upwards of 70 or 80 dream points from stars alone. In contrast, the most dream points available via the acquisition of serenity points is 30. And that’s if the player board is pegged.
Fortunately, Dream Runners does NOT restrict players from gathering rewards if other players have gathered those same rewards (most of the time), so players are rarely blocked out by others from getting these fragments.
It is bewildering, though, why the star fragment board only goes to 30 points. Any chance of winning involves blowing the mercury off the top of this dream thermometer.
Despite this odd misstep, Dream Runners is still a great game for the family. It features a ton of features we look for in family play: simple mechanics, simultaneous play, separate game boards, and a restricted play time (there are eight rounds, no matter what).
Dream Runners is sure to be fun for any family that enjoys spatial puzzles and vibrant art. The chunky pieces make it an easy play down to age six or so. This is definitely one that’s worth a second look.
Find Dream Runners on Amazon or ask for it at your friendly local game store.
The Family Gamers received a copy of Dream Runners from Luma Imports for this review.
This post contains affiliate links, which do not change your price, but help support The Family Gamers.
Number of Players: 2-4
Age Range: 8+ (we say 6+)
Playtime: 30 minutes