Shadowfist Year of the Dragon Starter Set

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Home > Sets > Year of the Dragon
[posted 19 Feb 2003; updated 21 Feb 2009; link check 21 Feb 2009]

What's in the set? - rarity, distribution by faction, and obligatory statistics
Nitpicker's Guide - errors big, small, and ludicrously small
Storyline summary - the story behind this set, summarized in a couple of paragraphs
Card list - opens in new window

Etc - whatever's left, random thoughts and comments, sometimes my opinions on this set or cards in it, and/or the State of Shadowfist at the time of this expansion

What's in Year of the Dragon?

Shadowfist Year of the Dragon display boxYear of the Dragon is a starter-only set released in August 2000 by Z-Man Games. The set contains 110 cards distributed among five fixed, pre-tuned 50-card starter decks (multiples of some cards appear in each deck). All cards are black-bordered with a white (not foil) dragon's head Year of the Dragon in the upper right corner. Each display box contains 2 of each faction, for a total of 10 decks.

The decks were intended for beginning and intermediate players, especially those who did not have any of the Daedalus-edition cards. Year of the Dragon sold through in early 2002 and is now very hard to find.

Shadowfist Year of the Dragon starter deck boxThere is no true rarity in this set, as each deck is fixed. Most of the cards are reprints from the Daedalus editions. The starters contain 4-6 cards that were previously printed as Rare cards, including favorites like Ting Ting and City Square. Fourteen new cards appear in this set, and eight of the reprints feature new artwork.

The decks contain several new feng shui sites. Every deck has one Jade Valley and two Nine Dragon Temples. The other two new feng shui sites don't appear in every deck, although you'll get at least one more. And every deck contains at least one card that is not available anywhere else. You can find the new cards in:

Some reprinted cards featured new art, because Z-Man couldn't get permission from the original artist, or the artist just wanted to redo the pieces. You can find the reprinted cards with new art in:

The secret message appears inside the starter deck box. It says "Don't you have anything better to do than looking inside a box. Fnord." I didn't see one on the display box.

Here's the breakdown by faction and by card type. The table on the left shows the overall breakdown (for new players), the table on the right shows the breakdown of the new cards only (for not new players). Apologies for the formatting of the tables, but it's much smaller to plop an image in than write a table in HTML. Eventually I'll try out the CSS thing and redo all my tables...

Shadowfist Year of the Dragon breakdown by faction and type, including reprints and errata     Shadowfist Year of the Dragon breakdown by faction and type, excluding reprints and errata

Looking at this graphically may or may not help you, but I like it. Click either graph to see a larger version in a new window. These plots include errata and reprints.

Shadowfist Year of the Dragon breakdown by faction Shadowfist Year of the Dragon breakdown by card type

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The Nitpicker's Guide: Year of the Dragon

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Storyline Summary: Year of the Dragon - The Return of the Thing

I wrote the Year of the Dragon fiction; it's published on the Shadowfist website. [, 21 Feb 2009], and here on my site. I make no claim to be a writer, but I was the best we had at the time (i.e., I was available :) and it was fun to try to write everything as character points-of-view.

Year of the Dragon is a sideline to the events in Throne War. The Lotus set up a diversion in 1850s China to distract the Hand and the other factions from their plans in AD69. They let slip to the other factions that a major assault is planned against Nine Dragon Temple in 1850s China. The Dragons send Tricia Kwok, Ting Ting and Little Jim to try to derail the Lotus plans. The Ascended don't really care, but they use the opportunity to issue a challenge to the Iron Monkey, a Hand operative who has been particularly bothersome for them in the 1850s juncture. They send Draco to put an end to the Iron Monkey, and anyone else important from any faction who might show up. We learn that Sam Mallory has been having second thoughts about the Lodge; the Ascended know this and send Sam on the mission so that Draco can assess his loyalty, and remove him if necessary. Homo Omega ensures that the Buro isn't aware of the festivities, and leads a private capture squad to the Temple, since his personal plans require a demon of major stature.

Tricia Kwok and Little Jim take out Four Burning Fists in a scuffle near the Temple. Little Jim is caught by the Architects capture squad led by Homo Omega; Tricia tries to bust him loose but is outgunned by the cyborg left behind to guard Jim. Wong Fei Hong intervenes on his way to defend the Temple, taking out the cyborg and leaving Tricia to help Jim.

At the Temple, Draco begins single combat with the Iron Monkey. Ting Ting arrives and tries to join the fight, but is held off by Sam Mallory. The fight is interrupted when the Thing with a 1000 Tongues is summoned on the Temple grounds and all hell breaks loose (sorry :) as Lotus demons battle Hand monks.

Homo Omega and the capture squad show up and try to capture the Thing. Wong Fei Hong also shows up, and tries to kill the Thing. Homo Omega succeeds, but the Thing is badly wounded, and so is Wong Fei Hong. Omega takes the wounded Thing through a Netherworld gate. Tricia and Jim show up and help Ting Ting, Sam, and Wong Fei Hong leave the battlefield.

This story intentionally leaves a couple of plot threads open. Homo Omega's capture of the Thing leads to the abominified Thing appearing in Dark Future. We don't know yet what happened to Wong Fei Hong. And the plot thread with Sam and the Dragons hasn't been followed yet; Daedalus had planned to have Sam defect to the Dragons eventually as a "Redeemed Bear" but anything could happen :)

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Etc: Year of the Dragon

I can't provide anything like an independent review of Year of the Dragon, so I won't try :) Instead I'll give you a little history, with a few opinions slipped in here and there.

The set started out as "Combat in Kowloon", which was Daedalus' planned name for a two-deck Dragon vs. Lotus set. Daedalus scrapped their concept in late 1995 and decided to go with booster-only sets instead (Netherworld, then Flashpoint). Z-Man revived the concept in 1999 for the relaunch, due mainly to the poor economics of printing a set of random starters (starter decks generally don't sell as well as boosters, so they end up being subsidized by booster sales). The Z-Man concept was similar to Daedalus', only Dragons vs. Ascended to get a more modern-day Hong Kong feel.

At first, the decks were aimed at completely new players, to introduce them to the mechanics at a basic level and whet their appetite for more. Unfortunately, given the intended faction mix of Throne War, there wouldn't be many Dragon and Ascended cards available from Z-Man for a new player to move on to. After a lot of testing and spirited discussion with the design team and the playtesters, Z-Man concluded that two beginners' decks would not be sufficient to relaunch Shadowfist because sales would be driven in substantial part by veteran players, who wouldn't be interested. That led to two changes: the two-deck set was changed to a five-deck set (one for each of the major factions), and the deck power level was increased significantly so they might appeal to both old and new players.

You can still see some residue from the two-player concept in the oversized deck boxes: they were designed to hold two 50-card decks side-by-side. Z-Man kept the oversize box design since that allowed the rulebook to be printed at a larger size (and with a larger font as well).

Around this time, Rob Heinsoo (former member of the Daedalus triumvirate) submitted yet another set of decks. His decks weren't used, but he also suggested the name "Year of the Dragon" and that stuck.

The decks were tested extensively against each other, and tweaked until each deck had an overall win record of approximately 50%* in dueling. I've heard many players claim that the Ascended deck is more powerful than the others, but the testing didn't bear that out (and the GenCon 2000 sealed deck results don't entirely support it). Many of the Ascended "power cards" are in the deck, although not in great numbers, which may contribute to that impression. On the other hand, the Architects deck is considered weak, and that does seem to be supported by post-release results. During playtest, the Architects had a known weakness against the Lotus (Nerve Gas vs. Characters), but made up for it against other decks and so came out at roughly 50% overall. In the wild, they seem to have done less well against everyone. But in any case, the Hand deck is probably the most sought-after for veteran players, so they can get more copies of The Iron Monkey :)

* win-loss records and how they're tracked could be the subject of a huge article, especially as it pertains to the perceived "who goes first" advantage in dueling. In brief, we kept statistics on stuff like that and found that with these decks there was an advantage to going first, but not as much an advantage as getting the first site (the two are not unrelated though :). There's also a huge grey area regarding how the tests were done, relative skill levels of the players, etc., etc. We tried to compensate for that, but...

After Year of the Dragon sold through, 10,000 Bullets appeared as the next fixed starter set.

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