Dragons Conquer America is an aptronym, as the game dresses its stage with dragon riding Spanish conquistadors in Mesoamerica and the Andes. It is the first game by Spanish publisher Burning Games.
The book is bulky and heavy, more than 400 pages of coated paper. Not as bad as the infamous Hero System, which allegedly stopped bullets, but still beyond what I can comfortably hold and handle during a session. Given the desire for one book games, the publisher probably had little choice but to cram everything in one book – I would have definitely prefered several booklets.
The illustration are in the hyperrealistic fantasy style that is common today. They are well drawn, beautifully colourful and fit the book’s air. They are mostly just pretty though, and not used to illustrate a concept or rule that was described in the text around them. Generally, this is a common problem throughout the book: It looks pretty, but it is not easy to use. Something for the display cabinet, not for the workshop.
This becomes most obvious during the setting description. This dutifully describes the political system of Mesoamerica, the Inca Empire, and Europe with some important sites and political centres. The text does not include maps though, there is just one map at the back of the book. It also seems not properly focussed, the description of Europe gets as much space as the description of the New World – despite the book being centred on the New World. Even worse, the descriptions do not show how affairs in Europe might affect the New World, but just how Europe is set up. The descriptions are rather static as well; they only describe what happened so far, but not what the different entities or individuals aspire to.
The book was definitely not properly edited, probably not edited at all. I do not mind a misspelling or punctuation error now or then, but there are sentences that just stop in the middle and are never finished, or sentences without verbs. There are flavour paragraphs being repeated within two pages, while rules are glossed over. Examples only show when to apply a certain kind of check, but not how to actually resolve it. And, worst of all, the text is long-winded and dull instead of concise and dull.
Dragon Conquers America has its own rule system, with levels, classes, and skills. The rules are not tied to the setting, and could be easily converted into a generic rule set. There are some nifty ideas in the rules, like exhaustion or tyranny disposal.
The basic mechanism is to draw cards from a poker deck, where each type of cards corresponds to one attribute. You play cards from your hand to overcome challenges and can play as many cards for any test as you like to reach the threshold. If you play a card that corresponds to the attribute for the check, you also get a boon. If you play all cards in your hand, you can no longer participate in a given scene (like a fight), because you have been completely exhausted. Tyranny disposal is a small minigame that includes support points, which measure how much support tyrant and rebels have among the populace. Both group and tyrant can spent their support points to hinder their adversary or help their cause.
As I understand it, all classes use magic, in a Gloranthan kind of way. Some of these magic system are somewhat exotic, even though not as exotic as those in REIGN, but most are generic magic systems with a New World wrap. Same is true for plot ideas, most could be used in any fantasy setting and are not specific for Dragons Conquer America (even though I found a list of RPG Plots for Mesoamerica elsewhere).
The game has some good ideas, but the execution is flawed. With a proper editing, it would probably reach a C+, but in its given state, it is more a C−. I would not recommend this game, despite the few alternatives I know.
The rules have some interesting bits, but nothing spectacular. As many players dislike learning new rules, most groups are probably better of with a Meso- or Southamerican setting book for an established ruleset like Maztica / Lopango (AD&D Forgotten Realms), Sons of Azca (BD&D Mystara), Aztecs: Empire Of The Dying Sun (d20), GURPS Aztecs (GURPS 3), Mysteries of Mesoamerica (Call of Cthulhu RPG) or Im Land des Mondjaguars (Midgard – Das Fantasy-Rollenspiel).
If you are willing to learn new rules, I could find suprisingly few alternatives to Dragons Conquer America. Crimson Cutlass (from 1990) is probably difficult to find, which leaves two medieval fantasy games (New Fire: Temikamatl Book of Dreams and Witch Hunter: Aztec Empire) and one contemporary urban fantasy game (Nahual RPG). D.Athair mentioned another medieval fantasy game: Heirs to the Lost World.
There’s another alternative: Heirs to the Lost World
I don’t own it and do not have many information about it, but I suppose they are available.
Thanks for mentioning it, I will add it to the list!