Typical! I’m always the last to know when it is snowing! The curse of being a Dwarf, I guess; of being altidudinally challenged. But I careth not one jot for I am subterranean bound. Yes, I’m off to the mines for a spot of prospecting in the shifting mountain. What could possibly go wrong?
Press play for a Dwarven mining ambiance to accompany your read
So What’s All The Fuss About?
In some respects I think this little title has fallen under the radar and should be receiving considerably more fuss and attention than it currently gets. I first came across this as a prototype on the Dragon Dawn stand at Essen 2 years ago. I played a demo multiplayer game and thought it had some most interesting concepts, not least a decidedly unstable playing environment. Later, (designer) Lee sent me a prototype to try with solo play.
Now we’re talking…and it proved to be a really decent variant.. but I get ahead of myself. The game is a worker placement, resource management game set in the depths of the Earth, where Dwarven kind’s plight is to become the most prolific and most renowned of miners the community has seen. However, there are many a nasty lurking in the tunnels just waiting to scupper our plans, not to mention opponents, in the form of an AI.
Immersion or Subversion?
Ok, so Dwarf illustrations and a mine setting may not be all that we desire to immerse us into a world of mining. Fortunately this title offers something significantly more ‘Dwarfy’ and a lot more ‘Miney’. We place our Dwarven miners on various locations on a randomly generated play area to acquire resources, take crafting actions and combat adverse mine conditions. We can craft resources into new resources, earn acknowledgment from overcoming negative situations, and all in an aim to be wealthy and become the most opulent Dwarf in Dwarven history. The mechanics do lend themselves to a mining environment, events and foes are realistic for said environment and game-play totally engages us in the pursuit of fame and riches.
Probably the most notable mechanic is the ever changing random mine environment. The playing area consists of a 3×3 grid of regular cards. At the start of each round a couple of cards are drawn from the mining deck and are played in line with a small placement graphic on each card. In this way, every round will present us with a constantly (and unpredictably) changing environment. Some card locations offer us opportunity to acquire resources, some allow the crafting or exchange of resources into other resources and far too many turn out to be raiding Orks or angry Dragons or catastrophic events… but always, we are left with very difficult decisions to make every single turn. The card placement also has a big impact on our opponent…our rival, the AI Bot. Our actions, in some small way, influence where the AI workers are told to go. This can occasionally be manipulated by us, for our own advantage but, when the sh#t hits the fan, we can be faced with no other choice but to make nothing more than damage limitation actions. This is a nice feature in both the multiplayer and the solo games, where we have to play semi-cooperatively, whilst secretly we plot and scheme to otherwise undermine our opponent. The environmental or enemy cards/locations universally impact all players, be it restricting mining actions, stealing resources ect. Which is why we sometimes have to join forces to block the negative effects.
Wood Chits And Cardboard Bits:
The game is compactly packaged into a small box but within this box lives so many components. The meeple workers/miners are small, as are many of the cube resource markers, but they are very well made with a high quality finish. The cards are of a good quality too, and withstand the regular handling. The art style is dark but well executed and has a distinct game feel that adds to the immersion of play.
Meeples and Standees:
- Game design: Lee Broderick
- Artist: Lars Munck
- Publisher: Dragon dawn Productions
- Playtime: 30-60 minutes
- Gangs of One: 1-3
- Age of Consent: 9+
- DOB: 2019
This can be both competitive or solo and has been designed with both in mind. The solo game is pretty much an identical experience to the multiplayer only we have an Artificial intelligence that takes actions and earns points just as we do. This is not a bolt on solo experience by any means. It is a fundamental part of the game and this is evident during play. Admittedly on the easy mode, we are able to influence where the AI places its workers (explained below) but this only occasionally helps us against the myriad obstacles before us. Harder modes see the AI making more intelligent placement moves, and subsequently challenges us and punish us severely especially if we approach the game in a lackadaisical manner. The end result is that we have the same tactical game as the multiplayer does, and one that is just as competitive.
Bots and Wotnots:
Dwarf most certainly has a dastardly Bot and Whatnot, for sure. The AI plays as we do, placing a worker and activating the location, be it a resource gathering, dealing with an Orc raiding party or a Dragon. What is particularly clever about the AI control is the fashion in which it places worker meeples. Dweeples, if you like (as they are Dwarf meeples). Each location has a 3×3 matrix icon towards the top corner depicting a what and black meeple at one of 9 rectangles. These relate to the 3×3 grid of the playing surface and as we place a meeple, that location dictates where the following AI meeple is placed (in the basic level game). Similarly second placement follows a similar method. There is, within the rule book, a hierarchy of simple needs for situations where a location is occupied and the AI is unable to legally place a meeple. For more competitive advanced AI opponents there are slight amendments to the AI’s thought process but fundamentally the game is the same, only more challenging. It is a simple and elegant system and no matter how much we try to influence the AI by playing our workers in areas we do not necessarily want to be in but will force the AI to go where we do want it,. However, we have so much to contend with that the AI may still prevail and finish victorious. Like a real opponent it collects resources, crafts new resources and scores points as we do which, in my mind, is so much closer to playing a real opponent than against an AI that merely blocks us or scores automatic points. The system is simple, effective and easy to manage. Other than collecting resources from the supply on behalf of the AI, we have no book keeping to be concerned with. I do believe this system provides a most satisfactory AI Bot, making the game far more enjoyable.
The Real Nitty Gritty
- Winners and Losers: It has to be said that after a few plays, and becoming familiar with the selection of locations and events generated by the locations, we are able to manipulate the AI to help us… but even so, this is no guarantee of victory. This is only the basic level AI. There are higher levels of challenge offering more intelligent AI opponents and consequently more challenge. This can be a difficult game to win but not impossible. Which ever outcome, we still wish to replay, having learned valuable lessons during catastrophic defeat
- Rules is Rules is Rules: The rule book is simply written, clearly laid out and leaves little ambiguity when explaining and exemplifying game situations. The game is fairly simple to learn and after a game or two, the rules need not need be further referred to.
- Lucky Bugger Buggers: Luck of the draw always plays its part. We never know what will happen in the shifting caves, and as such, the random drawing of new locations each round is highly thematic. Events can bog us down and sometimes we do not have the appropriate resources to deal with situations, but random luck of dice rolling plays no par in this game and any negative effects usually affect all players.
- Lows and Highs: I don’t recall a negative moment other than the sheer terror when I realise neither I nor the AI can deal with all the negative effects during a round, and consequently we both lose gold, fail to mine or lose other commodities. It is light and always leaves me wanting to re-challenge the AI
- Footprints All Over My Table: The game can effectively occupy only a 50cm x 50cm space or less, making it particularly versatile
- Set It Up Just To tear It All Down Again: Assuming we are wise enough to bag up all the resources separately and keep the starting 9 cards separate from the main location deck, set up is literally a matter of moments to lay out a grid of 9 cards…and away we go
- In For A Penny: I have to say I have no idea what the game currently retails for, but the amount of game play that can be extracted from the small box is considerable and worth every penny of a big box heavy euro game
Me, Myself and I:
I was won over with my first play of the prototype multiplayer game, so when I received a copy to try solo, I was made up. I now have the pleasure of owning a published copy and regularly crack it open. Once familiar with the game, it plays pretty quickly… the game can be a real pain in the Dwarven posterior at times, as carefully crafted strategies are crushed to thin slivers as newly added locations turn out to have too many nasty circumstances, and no matter how much we manipulate the placement of the AI, gold or other valuable resources get pinched. It proves that this mining lark is far more difficult than a walk in the park. Every corner is fraught with danger and no two games ever play the same. Me, myself and I have won a couple of games against the easiest level of AI, but the solo rules scale up the intelligence of the Bot for the harder levels. This means we are less able to manipulate where the AI plays, and consequently have to think and plan so much harder.
Yay or Nay?
For such a small box, there really is a lot of game within its confines. So many decisions, so much damage limitations, so many resource cubes and such a small footprint, it makes for a perfect solo game. By hammer and pick, Dwarf mines the BSoMT 1d8 die to a special 7.9
Now where did I put my trusty pick ax? This is the very same axe I first started my mining career with over 20 years ago. Admittedly over the years, wear and tear have forced me to replace the pick 4 times and it has had 3 new handles, but it is still fundamentally the same axe I began with
Something For The Weekend Sir?