Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Closer Look at DragonVale for the iPhone

UPDATE!  For those of you seeking the latest, greatest DragonVale info, check out my new DragonVale Update Page for the low-down on everything that is new and funky in the floating islands!
Otherwise, enjoy the main feature below!

Look, I know you don't want to know about my personal life and I thank you for it, but this story begins in the boudoir; I cannot help this fact so just bear with me if you can.  Sometime back in December on a lazy Sunday morning, the wife and I were lounging about in bed enjoying the fact that we had no where to go and nothing to do.  As you may recall from my recent Smurf Village missive, not much was going in the village and I was pretty much fed up with my Trade Nations town, so I was looking for some other time waster for my phone.  I dialed over to the App Store and browsed around to see what the top ranked apps were.  In the Top 25 Grossing category the #1 game was something called DragonVale.  I like dragons and the icon was pretty cute, so I clicked on it. By the description: "Play DragonVale and raise, feed, and breed your own lovable dragons."

I was sold.

There was a chance that I was buying into a dragon themed My Little Pony or Nintendogs here, but I risked it. I am pleased to report that it was worth the risk!  You know I am goofy about Smurf Village, but I think in DragonVale I may have found the best "In-App Purchase" game currently available. (For those of you like me who have no idea what that means, it is the kind of app where it is free to play but there are elements within the game that cost real money)

The premise behind DragonVale is exactly what the description above says.  The game is that simple.  Build Habitats, pick up a few dragon eggs and you are off and running!  Pretty soon you'll have Fire Dragons, Plant Dragons, Cold Dragons, and Earth Dragons everywhere!  Then you start growing food to feed the dragons and raise them to maturity.  Once they become "of age" you can build a breeding pit and let nature take its course.  This opens the game up in all new ways.  Now you can breed hybrid dragons like Storm Dragons (Lightning + Cold), Magma Dragons (Earth + Fire), and Fog Dragons (Water + Air).  Just remember that each dragon type has its antithesis and will not be able to directly breed with dragons of the opposing type. Feed your dragons and raise their levels and then let them compete in the Colosseum for big prizes! And so on.  You can see how easily this game piles on the fun and injects itself into the addictive part of your brain.

Honestly, the game is brilliantly constructed to make sure the fun just keeps coming.  You start with the plant dragons.  Plant habitats build quickly and their dragon eggs hatch quickly so you will be up and going within minutes of starting the game.  The "tutorial" portion is pretty painless and over soon and if you know your way around these games you can work it to your advantage.  Soon after getting your plant dragons going, you'll raise your level high enough to unlock Earth Dragons and habitats and shortly after that Fire Dragons.  So within the first day of starting the game you will have at least 3 kinds of dragons to play with.  After that point the game keeps a steady stream of fun going by introducing new types of dragons, new game play elements, and pretty regular updates.  And then there are the rare dragons!  These are dragons you can only obtain by breeding and only then with some random chance and luck.  Seriously, how are you still reading this and not downloading this app right now? Oh, of course, you already have it.  Silly me.

"But what about the "In-App Purchase" part?  You haven't mentioned that," you say.  See, that is perhaps the most brilliant part of this app and maybe why it is #1 in In-App purchases.  The In-App purchase in this game centers around "gems" that you can use to speed up egg hatching, breeding, and pretty much anything else in the game that takes time to do.  You can also use the gems to buy dragon eggs, particularly rare ones.  But unlike other In-App Purchase games, you NEVER have to buy a SINGLE GEM to get everything the game has to offer.  Unlike similar apps, gems are relatively easy to come by in this game.  You can win up to 5 every day from the Colosseum, your friends can you give one gem per day, or you can spend real money on them.  But you never HAVE to spend money.  If you are patient you can build up enough gems over time to buy pretty much anything in the game you need gems for.  To  my knowledge there are only a handful of things in the game that can only be obtained via gems, hatchery upgrades, the special breeding island, the gem tree, and maybe a couple of other things.  Unlike so many other apps (looking dead square at YOU Trade Nations), you don't HAVE to spend real money to get the very most out of this game, which to my mind makes me much more likely to spend money on this game.  If you make something optional instead of obligatory, then the chance of the human being responding favorably to it is far more likely. (Now go take your PSYCH101 test and pass it, you can thank me later)

Playing this game is a mix of raising dragons, decorating your islands, breeding dragons, and most importantly gaining experience so you can raise your level and unlock more cool stuff.  Experience is gained in many ways including clearing brush, building things, growing food and clearing Goals the game sets up for you. These Goals are a nice touch as they give you some general direction in playing the game.  They can also reward you with bonus food or gold! One of the most profitable ways to make money is to sell dragon eggs you don't need.  Particularly rare dragon eggs (Mist, Willow, Sun, Rainbow, Moon) can fetch one or two million gold each!

There is a whole special island for dragon hanky-panky
One of the most interesting facets of the game is the breeding.  One would be tempted to turn this Closer Look into a DragonVale Breeding Guide (that would be me), but one would do so in vain.  Breeding in DragonVale does follow basic logic, but there is no set of definitive "how to breed" rules.  A Tree Dragon is the hybrid result of breeding a Plant Dragon and an Earth Dragon; that is a fact.  But a Moss Dragon is also the hybrid result of breeding a Plant Dragon and an Earth Dragon.  How do you determine which one you'll get?  You don't.  Electronic Mother Nature rolls the dice and you get one or the other.  A breeding guide would be redundant, except in a very few cases and we'll get to those soon.  The random element to the breeding aspect of this game keeps it fresh, fun, and occasionally maddening, particularly when it is two days to Valentine's Day and you are frantically trying to breed a Love Dragon before the window of opportunity closes!

So instead of trying to construct anything like a Breeding Guide, I think it would be better to just put together an Official Tour Guide to the Wonderful World of DragonVale and take a look at the many interesting things the game has to offer.

Raising Dragons
The heart of this game is raising dragons and constructing awesome habitats for them to flourish in.  There are 8 basic kinds of dragons that you can raise: Plant, Earth, Fire, Cold, Electricity, Water, Air, and Rare.  Each type of dragon has its own special habitat and most rare dragons have their own habitats as well.  Hybrid Dragons can live in any habitat that is part of their make-up (i.e. Magma dragons can live in Fire or Earth Habitats).  Most dragons are either base dragons or dual hybrids, but there are a few very special, usually limited time offer, dragons that are multiple hybrids of three or four kinds.  The aforementioned Love Dragon is a Fire/Plant/Electricity hybrid.
Raising Dragons requires you to build farms and grow food to feed and mature your dragons.  The higher your level of dragon, the more money it can generate (from seemingly purposeless guests that wander your islands).  Building farms and harvesting food is simple and so is growing your dragons.  Later in the game you can build type-specific shrines that will unlock higher levels your dragons can grow into.  There does not appear to be a rare dragon shrine.
The game is wide open and you are free to raise whichever kind of dragons you choose.  That is definitely part of the appeal.

Although your dragons are already bringing in money on a regular basis, there is an even better way to make them work for you.  Once a day you can enter one of your dragons in competition in the Colosseum.  Your dragon can take home gold, silver and bronze medals.  Each medal rewards you with Gold, Experience, and precious gems.  At its very best, you can take home 5 gems a day this way.  There is no big secret to winning at the Colosseum, but it seems like high levels and pure types do better than hybrids and child-dragons.  The type of event changes every day and there does not seem to be a rare event although rare dragons can compete in any event.
I mark my gold medals with flags because I'm a dork.

Fountain of Youth
At higher levels you will gain access to the Fountain of Youth.  This "building" will enable you to revert your higher level dragons back to their post-hatching form.  Sometimes dragons are just cuter in their pre-adolescent stages.  This is definitely true for the Quake, Lightning and Magma dragons.  The Fountain of Youth effect has no detrimental side effects on your dragons; the change is entirely cosmetic.  You can still raise them up to higher levels and breed them.  This process does take time, however, and your dragon will be out of commission during the transformation.
Fountain of Youth on the left, Hibernation Cave on the right.

Hibernation Cave
One thing DragonVale does limit you on is the number of habitats you can have at one time.  As your level goes up, you often get +1 Max Habitats increasing your total number, but raising levels can take time and overcrowding can quickly become an issue if you are breeding dragons left and right and looking to keep them; you'll find great refuge in the Hibernation Cave.  Available at higher levels, the Hibernation Cave will allow you to stow extra dragons away for later enjoyment.  True, you don't get the make any money off these dragons as they are effectively out of play, but you get to keep them and they will be minty fresh when you pull them back out.  You can upgrade the Cave with gems to increase the capacity. 

Shrines and Boosters
Don't think the game is over just because you maxed all of your dragons out a level 10.  After unlocking all of the habitats you'll gain access to the shrines.  There is a shrine for each kind of dragon and when you honor that shrine you will be allowed to raise your dragons past level 10.  Honoring a shrine is easy, kind of.  All you have to do is raise 50 dragons of that type to level 10.  That sounds like a lot, but hybrids can count for two shrines at once so that will help cut down on some of the grinding.  Higher level dragons earn gold faster and get physically bigger.  They also get a little ball over their head representative of their dominant type.  Just remember, feeding higher level dragons consumes a bounty of food, so keep those farms a growing!
Shines change color when you reach 50 dragons at level 10
Speaking of earning gold (I did!  Three lines ago!), to help your dragons maximize their earning potential, you can also erect boosters for each type.  When these boosters are built they will enhance all dragons and hybrids of their type so that they earn 20% more gold.  But just as each type of dragon has its antithesis, not only will each booster enhance dragons of its type, it will also diminish dragons of the opposing type.  Therefore if you have cold dragons and fire dragons living on the same island and you build a fire booster, your cold dragons will earn less gold as a result.  This creates real havoc when you have hybrids like the Frostfire dragon who is both cold and fire!  The display says that the detrimental effect takes precedence, but there is clearly some kind of cancellation when you have a dragon of two opposing types being boosted.  Thus, your Sandstorm dragon will not loose all of its boost if you have a Air Booster built.  Boosters are excellent, and while some look a little odd, I strongly recommend building one of each type on the islands where you have habitats of that type.

RARE Dragons!

This is what we all play for!  The rare dragons!  Only available through hefty gem prices or through very lucky breeding, the rarest dragons are highly prized and very, very cool looking.  While luck does play a big part in getting a rare dragon, there are certain factors that can influence your chances of landing that oh-so special egg.  In what is a really nice touch, your chances of breeding a Sun Dragon are dramatically increased if you breed dragons in the day time.  Likewise, getting a Moon Dragon is helped greatly by breeding dragons at night.  The Rainbow Dragon is perhaps the most elusive and the internet is aflush with theories about which dragons yield a Rainbow.  I have not seen anything definitive that proves any of those theories true, but if it is working for you don't question it.  I've bred three Sun Dragons and all of them came from different pairings.  I will also say that the special Breeding Island doesn't seem to significantly improve your chances either, no matter what the game tells you.  However, it does double your breeding capacity and that goes a long way. The only real way I know to get the three base rare dragons is to breed and keep breeding your dragons, and eventually you will get that happy message telling you that your breeding time is 48 hours.  Then it is just a matter of waiting the process out to see what kind of dragon you'll get.
And then there are the specialty rare dragons that are released as temporary offerings generally associated with a coming holiday or season.  I've been playing since December and I've seen Bone Dragons (which I assume are from Halloween), Reindeer Dragons, Panlong Dragons, Leap Year Dragons, Love Dragons and Cloverleaf Dragons.  I can only assume they keep them coming.  These dragons are generally hybrids, with the exclusion thus far of the Leap Year Dragon, meaning that your chances of getting them are slightly better since you have some illusion of control.  Take the Reindeer Dragon for instance.  It is a hybrid of Cold and Plant, two things that don't generally mix.  Thus, you will not be able to get a Reindeer Dragon by breeding a Cold and Plant dragon.  The result is trying to figure out which hybrid mix will give you the best chance of breeding a Reindeer.  Originally, I thought that the flag indicators on the dragon's profile gave some indication since they seem to indicate a dominance in type (i.e. the Crystal Dragon lists Lightning then Earth whereas the Quake Dragon lists Earth then Lightning).  However breeding experience has disproven any meaningful correlation between the profile listing and the breeding result.  This might sound annoying, but it turns out to be a lot of fun and keeps the game fresh and new.
The Moon Dragon is maybe my favorite!
So there you have it!  Everything that is cool and fun about DragonVale.  If you aren't already having a blast with this app, go get it!  Then, when you figure out the best recipe for breeding a Sandstorm Dragon, come back here and tell me, I am desperately chasing a second one and cannot seem to find the right mix!

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