Dream Factory Review

Dream Factory  

Designer: Reiner Knizia
Publisher: Filosofia Editions
Ages: 10+
Playing Time: 60 minutes
Rules Language: French
Category: Gamer’s Game 

This review was originally published on Boardgame News.

Dream Factory is an auction-based, set collection game where you play the role of a big-time movie producer. You score points based on the overall quality of all your films and through collecting awards at the end of each round, and the producer with the most points at the end wins the game!

Dream Factory is not a new game, having been first published in German as Traumfabrik way back in 2000, but I had somehow missed the boat on playing it before now. While I was always attracted to the theme, the original version was hard to come by, and the Uberplay reprint (Hollywood Blockbuster) was just plain butt-ugly. And ultimately, I always asked myself, “Do I really need another Reiner Knizia auction game?” After playing my shiny new copy of Dream Factory, however, my answer is a definite “Heck yeah!”

Shiny! Pretty! And a little bit Flimsy…

Since many of you are probably familiar with the basic rules of Dream Factory, let me get straight to what you probably care most about, the components!

The board is similar to previous incarnations, except that it looks really great and has spots for all of the awards that are given out throughout the first three rounds. The movie component tiles are sturdy and in full color, and the caricatures of the actors and directors look really nice. The tokens for movie scoring are similarly solid and well-designed, and the currency, $1 million bills this time, looks great as well. There are eleven award tokens that come with plastic bases, all of which are attractive and relatively easy to figure out which are which.

The only components which are a little disappointing are the movie scripts. They look nice, but instead of being on sturdy cardboard, they’re printed on relatively flimsy cardstock instead. And for some reason, the special effects symbol on the scripts doesn’t match the picture on the tiles. It’s not hard to figure out or anything, but I would have liked a little more internal consistency.

But also don’t forget that this version of the game is in French. For the most part, the components and gameplay are language-independent. Even for the names of the directors and actors, they’re either really easy to figure out or, frankly, don’t matter much at all. So the only real issue is, again, the scripts and the supposedly humorous names of the films. Some are immediately understandable, and a few more were easily figured out feeding them through Google translation, but some were totally lost on me, either because of translation issues or obscure French-language in-jokes that I just don’t recognize. But either way, the actual names of the movies don’t seem to make much of a difference to me in how much I enjoy the game.

Basic Gameplay

There are no rule changes in Dream Factory as compared to its previous incarnations. But for those of you not familiar with it, let me give a quick overview.

At the beginning of the game, all of the players are given three movie scripts (one each of action, drama, and comedy) and an equal amount of money. Each script requires a director, but they vary in whether or not they need one or more actor, music, or special effect tiles. Tiles are placed onto the board in groups of 2-3, and simple “bid-till-all-but-one-passes” auctions are held to claim each set in a particular order as indicated on the board. The winner of an auction distributes his bid among all of the other players, leaving any uneven remainder in the center of the board to be added to the next winning bid.

In addition to the auctions, there are two “Party” spaces on the board as well. These spaces hold one facedown tile per player, which are flipped over when you come to them and chosen by the players based on who has the most actor tiles at the time.

At any time that a player completes a movie by filling in all of the required spaces on its script with appropriate tiles, the film is completed and scored. All tiles and the script itself have a rating of between 0 and 4 stars indicated on them, and the value of the film is the total of all these stars. That player claims the scoring marker from the board that matches the film’s value (or the next-lowest token is the other has already been taken), and then takes the next film (if any) available on the draw stack.

After all the tiles on the board have been auctioned off, it is refilled and another season starts. After four seasons, the game is over.

But there’s one more important thingy that I need to explain first… the awards! No year of movie-making is complete without dressing up in your finest duds, walking down a red carpet, and trying to look surprised and humbled when you win the finely crafted hunk of gold or crystal that you’ve dreamed of since you were in diapers. In Dream Factory, 5-point awards are given out for the first movie completed in each genre and for having the best overall movie at the end of each of the first three seasons. In addition, 10-point awards are given at the end of the game for the best movie in each genre, the player with the “best direction” (most stars on director tiles in their completed movies), and worst overall movie. And believe me; competition for the Razzie can get pretty ugly at times!

A player’s score is based first on the total value of all her completed movies, plus the value of all awards that they win, plus one point per currency token she has at the end of the game. Whoever has the most points, wins!

What I think…

I won’t beat around the bush here, because I really like Dream Factory. As I mentioned before, the movie-producer theme is very appealing to me, and the inherent requirements for different numbers of actors, music, special effects for each movie makes for an intuitive and interesting set-collection mechanic.

The whole “spoof” aspect of the movie and personality names doesn’t really do much for me, though, which may be part of the reason that I’m not bothered at all with them being in French. At most, they would be a one-time gag, and I think that the interesting juxtaposition of casting actors and directors in against-type movie
s (like having Woody Allen direct Star Wars) is a more satisfying and persistent kind of humor. But alas, with hordes of lawyers lying in wait to sue the crap out of anyone stepping on the licenses for real movies these days, it just ain’t gonna happen! Thankfully, the gameplay itself is plenty to make me happy with Dream Factory.

I was surprised at the depth and subtlety that could be found in such a simple auction mechanic. Having a totally closed economy is just brilliant, because you are always aware that everything you bid will go directly into the pockets of your opponents. This alone makes it one of the few auction games that is truly viable with only 2 players. And having the remainder stick around for the next auction causes another wrinkle or two, because players are forced to consider not only the perceived value of the tiles when making a bid, but also the very real possibility of getting back a portion of any remainder the next time around.

With points coming from so many different places, there are also some real decisions that can be made concerning overall strategy in the game. You can try to rush out movies quickly to get the “first” awards and complete as many as possible, or you can take more time to get a better score for each movie and hopefully take some of the “best” awards at the end of the game. But because each genre is evaluated separately, you can also put together a combination strategy that falls somewhere in-between.

And the cool thing is that this variability in play style, along with the inherent value of the currency (in terms of victory points) means that you never really “lose” in an auction. Winning the tiles means that you can advance your strategy, while losing means that you now have more resources to tweak it and make it better. Dream Factory rewards flexibility and being opportunistic, both of which make a game more dynamic and exciting to me.
The Verdict! 

Rules:  The auction, set-collection, and award elements are intuitive, easy to understand, and quick to explain.
Downtime: Everyone is involved in the auctions, and placing the tiles on your scripts takes seconds, so there is virtually none.
Length: Our games have all taken about 45-50 minutes. It moves well, keeps you engaged, and never seems to wear out its welcome.
Player Interaction:  Only through auctions and claiming the scoring tokens.
Weight:  Medium Light
GamerChris’ Rating:  Dream Factory is a great auction game with an attractive theme, and I hope that it sees a lot of play for me and my game group for a long time, so I rate it an enthusiastic 8 out of 10.