Dwarf Kickstarter Review

Dwarf Kickstarter Review

There’s a point whilst analysing a game’s design when you realise you’ve seen through the surface information and begun to understand what the game’s designer was trying to do. You’ve opened a window into the designers mind, and can rationalise every design decision and look back at the path that led them to this point. It doesn’t make a game any better but gives you an understanding of why.

Dwarf is such a game. A two to three player worker placement game about dwarves (or is it dwarfs I can never remember), doing what dwarfs/dwarves do; mining, smelting, forging and defending against dragons. Dwarfs are renowned for their greed so the winner is the player who has the most resources in two of the three categories; steel, gold and forged items.

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The unique twist is that the plethora of worker placement spaces changes every round, and this is where I can see through the mystical fog of game design and see the designer’s intent. “Ha”, I can hear him shout in Archimedes style exclamation, “I have invented a worker placement game where you can’t plan, where you’re skill is in the ability to adapt to your surroundings and make the most out of what is available,” and in the way Lee Broderick has succeeded, because in Dwarf you can’t plan, all you can do is plod through and hope for the best.

dwarf worker placement board game review

The game is played in a 3 x 3 grid of mountain locations, each one allowing you to mine iron ore or gold, smelt steel or forge items. Every round two of the mountain locations change, and from the deck you may draw some nasties such as orcs, knockers (the original inspiration for Kobolds, so I am told), sidhe and dragons. Each of which will ruin your day by stealing resources or stopping you from gaining more. The interesting aspect is that these monsters effect all the players, so if they are ignored, everyone at the table takes the bad effect. Which means that someone has to put on their big-dwarf pants and go deal with them, reducing the amount of mining, smelting and forging they can do that round.

With one monster on the table, the game is open to negotiation, as you try and agree who is going to face off against the big red fire breathing cave lizard, while the other player gleefully continues their production. This is fine, and interesting, while there are one or maybe two adversaries on the board, but get four or five bad guys into play and you’re left with an extremely frustrating round or two. There are global abilities that can remove these bad guys, but they are very limited so should be used carefully.

dwarf kickstarter tabletop board game review

Again I can see what Lee Broderick is trying to do. The arrival of a monster or two can really create some discussion, all the more interesting because Dwarf isn't a cooperative game, but if you don't try and work together some of the time, you'll just end up dicking each over repeatedly. It creates a game were planning ahead is impossible, where the ability to adapt is key. The problem is that the game ends up being hamstrung by its own randomness. The inability to see into the future means that there can be no strategy and the result means that there is very little thought, and most importantly, very little of interest going on. I don’t feel that I won a game due to my own abilities, I feel like I won because I was first player for ¾ of the game until the action to change first player came up, I won because a dragon appeared at the wrong time stole all our gold and suddenly flipped the score. I won because I got lucky in the last round and could forge an item with the resources I had. There was no skill, no premeditation, no thought.

This randomness in Dwarf means that every decision is transient, it has no lasting impact on the game.  Which subsequently means that the game itself is transient, as I can’t see me playing it again.

This Kickstarter preview is based on a prototype version of the game provided by the publisher; the final product may look, play or smell different to that used in this preview.
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