Dwarf is an entity from German mythology that dwells in the subterranean landscape. The dwarves are deemed brave miners and master crafters, and this depiction was carried on by Lee Broderick in this game. With the title already bringing the moniker up on the cover, expect to delve deeper with them and their tribes to the vast mines full of the richest material deposits. Beware, there are more than dwarves that scour this almost untainted terrain.
A short disclaimer before you read my board game analysis
As an avid euro gamer and hardcore Legend of the Five Rings (L5R) LCG player, my reviews may reflect a preference for these styles, and I may not cover solo games/variants extensively. Please note that my personal remarks are based on my gaming experiences, and I aim to provide honest insights within the scope of my preferences.
It was obvious to us that Dwarf brought us to the realistic landscape and culture of this mythical creature. Mining materials, forging and crafting legendary artefacts, we competed to bring glories to our tribe. And meanwhile, defending every inch of our shaft from the other extra-terrestrial creatures. Migrating out of our mountain lair was beyond consideration. The game portrays these circumstances in a simplified way. Yet, it still gave us the chill when we set up the game.
The blue dwarf in this picture, for example, may feel happy because he just found a rich gold seam. There are tons of mineral deposit here that attract not only dwarves but something else. Your pride you shared with your tribe, too. We don’t feel we need to split this resourceful bounty with those who just come and steal what doesn’t belong to them. This is our home, not theirs.
You are proud to have been born in these mines. Prouder still to have never left – after all, if there were better things outside, then why would other creatures want to get in?Dwarf
If you want to know how to play the game, there are plenty video on YouTube already. I recommend Meeple University’s rule explanation, they are concise, to the point, and crystal clear.
FIRST IMPRESSION ON DWARF
The typical dwarves’ short stature with their beards and mining tools admitted us on the cover. Thanks, Lars Munck who illustrated the whole Dwarf splendidly. We got the tensed feeling of the hardship to live under the surface through your graphics. Beneath the box lid, the humble components await us. There are neither dazzling miniatures nor deluxe components in sight, despite the game got funded on Kickstarter. Granted, I am always weak against beautiful and glorified components. But I still think Dragon Dawn Productions’s (DPP) no-nonsense approach on this game’s design should be a role model for other similar game in the market.
The Dwarf’s lair is depicted with a set of location cards. With symbols instead of texts explaining the card effects, this facet has earned DPP another plus point from me. A language-independent game like Dwarf ensures accessibility, making the game enjoyable for a wider player range. The illustration helps players to intuitively understand the card effect, too.
The first games with Dwarf
Raw materials are useless when not used to forge the right artefact. Why bother hoarding steel if you can hammer out a legendary weapon? In the end, a common axe is more useful than a sum of gold bars when facing the dragon. There’s a dragon down here? Plenty of them, you’ll see.
With its easy-to-follow rulebook, we navigated through the lodes and gold seams hassle-free. Our first journey as the newly established dwarves’ tribes were packed with actions, aided by imaginations.
With the mine enclosed in a 3×3 space, Dwarf still gave us challenging tasks. So far so good, many things happened and the game flow was smooth. Starting from the first player, we sequentially placed two dwarves’ tokens (the worker) clockwise on each location and triggered the location effect after all workers are on position. To give the last player a chance to fight on, after each player places one worker in turn, the second worker is placed in anti-clockwise order, starting from this last player.
The iconography was pretty clear to follow, too. We didn’t have any problems at interpreting what the cards mean. We also loved how simple the components are. All resources are represented with cubes with different colours matching the one depicted in the card symbols. Nevertheless, we sometimes confused the three and five resource denominations because of its similar size. Both have only a slight difference, so we slowed down now and then just to make sure we didn’t take the wrong cubes.
GAMEPLAY, WHAT TO LIKE FROM THIS GAME
After several games, we understood the basic concept of Dwarf. This game is more tactical (as per proclaimed by the publisher). With two locations changing every round, we must pick and manage the location that brings the most benefit for the game. That gold seam may not last until the next round, and the blacksmith who forges the crown does not stay forever. Your opponent may or may not have the same plan, and only one worker can stand on a location. Every round needs to be treated differently.
The location effect (card action) is triggered in the resolution phase, and these effects set off in a fixed order, starting from Get Help, Defend, Mine, and ending up with Forge. Each order triggers simultaneously, making the game does not get dragged too long.
I loved the presence of the Special cards, especially when it helped us to fend off some unfavourable cards (mostly the invasive creatures we must defend). They give other options for players to alter the game state, and they add another layer to consider during the decision-making process. The special effects are strong, and they activate immediately after we place the workers here. I agreed that it needs two workers to activate it, it is a necessary cost to make the game well-balanced.
Winning by claiming resource majority
Winning is not about collecting the most resources. Well, technically, we need to do that, but Lee Broderick gave a tweak that makes the game more interesting. The winning condition is decided through the resource majority owned: steel, gold, and forged item. That means, I can still win without having the most gold as long as I have the most at the other two. Having too many resources of one type does not help you winning in Dwarf. Resource management to convert them into another type is the solution to achieve this.
The cooperative aspect in this game
I told you there are dragons here. The war cry of the Dwarves hangs in the air along with the clanking sounds from pickaxe meeting rocks and hammer meeting swords.
There are a lot to love from Dwarf, especially how the game becomes rather semi-cooperative. Besides firing up the rivalry between three tribes through mining and forging, the mutual love for our home drove us together to depose the other creatures’ assault.
The mechanic for all defending, mining, and forging use the same worker placement.
Anyway, the action to defend the lair is voluntary. In the end, Dwarf is a competitive game, so when I considered the drawback of not defending did not really affect my position, I let the invaders loose. Sometimes, it did help if the drawback really hurt the other tribes. For example, when the Dragon arrived, it stole one gold from each player. As I did not possess any gold, I did not intend to waste my worker to defend against a meaningless threat. It sure is a selfless act to help others defending your shared home, but dwarves must remain greedy to win the game, no?
Do you think Dragons are the worst? You haven’t met the ancient Great Dragons, have you?
Defending your home does not necessarily go in vain, though. Players earn medals of honour whenever protecting the grid. Despite not having much direct influence in the winning condition, these medals become the first tie-breaker. Furthermore, by paying four medals, players can activate the Special cards with only a worker! This can be a game-changer in the mid and late-game.
Dwarf uses a deck of cards to randomize what and when something does happen. We didn’t find any gameplay variation, but the randomized locations contribute to motley events and the order they would happen during the game. In this aspect, the replay value can be considerably higher than expected. The concept and how the game is played stays attractive even after a few more rounds.
I like Dwarf a lot. The game has captured my entire heart thanks to its language independent facet. Furthermore, the game is easy to understand and to execute. One or two games, and we understood how we need to play (and to win, of course). The game did not get dragged too long, too. Although not as meaty as other worker placement games out there, Dwarf definitely gives us something new to try on. We had to adapt to the new cards and make decisions accordingly.
The only complaint I expressed above was merely cosmetic. I really wish the cubes representing three and five resources can be more distinctive. Overall, Dwarf is an exceptional game that went under my radar. I missed Lee’s next game on Kickstarter, but definitely will never overlook his future release from now on, and from Dragon Dawn Production (DDP).
Many thanks to Ren (Timo) Multamäki for providing a copy of this game for us. I want to express my gratitude to Sini Duduk and Invaders Board Game Station who trusted me and decided to distribute this game in Indonesia (along with DDP’s other games) soon.
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I am a full-time food technologist during weekdays. However, when the calendar hits weekends, I transform into an avid board gamer. I am a hardcore Legend of the Five Rings (L5R) LCG player from Fantasy Flight Games (FFG). Current hobby: buying board games. My shelf of shame’s list is getting longer, thanks to you, Kickstarter.