I shall go on a solitary hunting mission for Orc as soon as I’ve sorted the box out. Completely forgot about the end of the last game…oh complete and utter arse!
I tried, honestly, I tried my very ‘bestest’! But could I grow a beard worthy of Dwarven song? Could I buggery!…I suppose I could always tape a badger, or even better, a Highland cow to my face…but then the black and white badger option would hint at old age and senility…as for the Highland cow option…hmmm…well that would be a weighty option and are ginger beards shunned in Dwarven society? I’m also alcohol intolerant so risk being shunned from Dwarven society for an inability to quaff beer increases greatly too. I’d substitute alco-free beer at the risk of being discovered but it’s not something that can be quaffed in any great volume.
(Press play for a Dwarven ambience to accompany your read)
What has all this beard like waffle got to do with the price of acrobatic Orcs? Well, I shall tell you. I ventured on an extended solo walking expedition to Girdlegard… And met a number or Dwarven chaps tasked with saving the land from Orcs and Trolls who were mercilessly invading the world region by region. “Poppycock!” You utter under your very own stick-on beard. Neither Orc nor Troll have the brain power to orchestrate such an endeavour. I agree with you wholeheartedly. But in this case the cunning masterminds behind this devilishly cunning act of cunning are the Alfar…which to all intents and purposes are…shall we say Dark Elves?
What is all the fuss about?
I’m not sure there has been such a fuss made about Dwarves:The Saga expansion. Apart from Rahdo doing a play-through pre-Kickstarter, and Undead Viking, I haven’t seen all that much on t’interweb (as Yorkshire folks are disposed to say).
That said, it is a board game based on a series of novels by Markus Heitz, particularly popular in Germany…which is fortunate because they were written initially in German and only recently find themselves subject to English translation. The same is true about the game. The Saga expansion adds some significant changes to the original base game, not least an English version. Fundamentally a cooperative venture, this game can obviously be played solo with the simple requirement that soloist controls 4 protagonists in order to thwart evil advances, solve challenges, avert detrimental world events and keep the Dwarven Council happy (as they, the Council, languish in some great hall, sat around on their fat arses not lifting a finger to help the frontline troops)
Immersion or Subversion?
It would be foolish for me to say this little chap isn’t laced with theme, isn’t immersive, or has nothing to do with the books from which it has been derived. The graphics on the board, card illustration, flavour text all build a marvelous ambience but this isn’t simply a tacky veneer subtlety layered over some dull game to make it feel “Dwarvy”.
There are a number of nice touches throughout the various game mechanics that make you feel you are part of this group of altitudinally challenged chaps working together to thwart evil. It really feels like a snapshot taken from the novels, helped further more by the saga expansion’s scenario cards.
There are two options of play allowing us either to just wander aimlessly through numerous encounters and events or, and probably the aspect I like most, offer us the ability to, in effect, play one’s way through the first four books of the series. Each book has its own set of adventure cards to work through (highlighting poignant elements of each original novel) and associated goals, tokens and other bits and pieces relevant to the objective. This launches the game into a campaign mode…a gigantic road movie over hills, through tunnels and mis-adventure after mis-adventure.
There are a number of elements that are quite special to this game that caught my attention…
- Introduction/spawning of new creatures.
This is achieved firstly by the advancement of the turn marker indicating which region new creatures will appear (also something to look for planning future turns as this knowledge can be invaluable) and secondly by the rolling of creature appearance dice-very heavily luck orientated
- Saga Deck.
Each book within the saga has its own set of Stage A , B and C cards to overcome (often with rewards for completing tasks) and associated tokens connected to the book.
- Dwarf Actions
Each Dwarf can take two action each turn which involved the throwing of more dice. Very much luck orientated but if you choose wisely special abilities and pure volume of dice can reduce the luck element.
- Encounter deck
There is a large deck for the generic game but a specialist deck (and tweaks to the rules for playing them) for the Saga game
- Perished Land
Probably the most notably interesting/unique mechanism is the perished land tile. As the nasties build up in a hex, reaching certain limits (depending on difficulty level) force the land to become perished. A tile is laid and, following coloured arrows the ensuing mass of beasties is relocated to adjacent hexes. The perished land tiles continue to be added until the central location is reached. At this point bad guys simply bypass the board and trigger the doom token to move perilously close to the round marker.
- The Doom Token
As the turn marker advances one way up the Doom Track before each dwarf takes its turn, rapidly approaching it in the opposite direction the Doom Token moves its nasty little way (under certain card, board effects) Never the twain shall meet…because if the do it is game over.
Wood Chits and Cardboard Bits:
The Saga expansion brings with it a vast array of improved components to facilitate a more aesthetically pleasing and smoother gameplay …but there was a significant “niggle” for me, particularly over the new character miniatures. I shall touch upon this in due course.
The most noticeable change is with a significantly larger game board, an additional player dashboard (to locate adventure cards and to keep track of the favour with the Council) and much larger Perished Land hex tokens (with improved art work).
There is also a change in the deck of events and how they are used when playing the saga variation which means that you are playing essentially the same game but in a slightly different style to the generic version. A nice touch I thought. These all come together to make for a pretty large footprint but do open up the play area to accommodate the placeholder standees and…the most significant change from the original…the wooden meeples….or should that be Orples, Troples and Alfles?
The original coloured cubes representing Orc, Troll and Alfar have been replaced by custom shaped wooden meeples which do look pretty decent, it has to be said, especially the acrobatic Orcs (see photo at end of article) I have to point out that, although I do really like these meeples, when the latter stages of a game are reached, the board becomes rather congested and, if like me you are predisposed to clumsiness, the slightest knock can instigate catastrophic domino effects throughout the land.
The components all feel well made and look/feel to have an excellent, cohesive theme, especially the custom dwarf dice and the coloured creature dice…BUT…and here is the fly in the Dwarven ointment…the bloody minis that came with the saga expansion…aaaaahhhhhhhhhh!
Ok the human characters I could understand being tall and thin and arrogantly looking down on dwarves…but in comparison to the base game dwarves, the new dwarf character minis are…… hmmmmm ….Ye Ghads, what a disaster. The photo illustrates my point. The old dwarf models were dumpy, but pleasant figures closely resembling their character card illustration. The new dwarfs, however, have been sculpted in a completely different proportion and style…yes, they are in-fitting with the new human characters but if some dwarves were to receive a new style of sculpt, then why not re-sculpt all dwarves?
At the end of the day they are only placeholder models and this isn’t first and foremost a miniature game so it doesn’t bother me too much (and has absolutely no bearing on actual gameplay) but I just felt a big company should have got their act together on this point and unified the sculpting one way or another. The redeeming feature of the models/characters is that there is an attempt at gender balancing. There are a number of female human and dwarf characters to choose from, each with their own unique abilities/stats. This for me is a nice touch in that rather than choosing a character with male/female art but essentially the same, the female characters have their own special, unique abilities not available in the male characters. Studying and making an informed selection of a multi-gender party before setup is crucial if we, as discerning adventurers, really do seek to achieve success in our mission.
Meeples and Standees:
- Designer: Michael Palm & Lukas Zach
- Illustrator: Jarek Nocoń
- Graphics: Hans-Georg Schneider
- Published: Pegasus Spiel
- Playtime (or recess for those of the US persuasion): Oddly their box doesn’t indicate time but it is at least an hour or more for each book on the sage…at least!
- Gangs of One: Cooperatively aimed at four players, any less will still be required to operate four heroes
- Age of consent: Again there is no indication on the box other than over 36 months choking hazard. I would say, due to the dark fantasy nature of many events it should be in the 14+ region.
- DOB: 2016
Obviously as a co-operative game one would expect this title to be soloable. But is it a good solo game? I have to say that there is so much going on and so few actions/resources, it really does make for an entertaining solitaire game. 2 action points per hero (and only a limited number of actions available to each Dwarf) make it a simple task to manage all 4 characters. The fun and tension come with not only having to hold back the steady flow of evil creatures spilling out onto the landscape, cluttering the place up and making it look untidy, but to complete tasks within the Saga whilst simultaneously juggling ever-growing threat/event cards.
It is possible to improve a characters stats during a game and to be able to acquire equipment but this is perhaps not as forthcoming as in some adventure-level-up-your-character games. I would have liked to have seen more opportunity to acquire the all important Dwarf Axe or Tupperware lunch box or thermal drawers but I suspect this game is, in essence, more about using what you have to solve the holistic conundrum rather than a Character level up dungeon adventure…and on reflection, perhaps, rightly so!
The Real Nitty Gritty:
- Winners and Losers: This is a seriously trixy customer. The trolls and orcs and dark elves are relentless with their advance. The perished earth tiles start monopolizing the landscape making life hazardous for us to navigate the lands. Time is always ticking away and all this before event cards begin throwing their gigantic troll sized spanner’s into the works. It is a complex, plate spinning puzzle of a game that really is difficult to win…and there are four books to work through! It is doable but don’t look for success early on. Repeated play is good to apply lessons learnt in previous games but as there is plenty of variety within each saga and randomness of the event deck, repeating a book is never going to be the exact same game. So we can learn from mistakes but have a fresh game each time to blunder-a-new in
- Rules is Rules is Rules: The rule book although only ten pages in length is quite a lavish production with well laid out rules interspersed with numerous illustrations. The expansion has a four page additional rule book. On the whole the explanation of what is what suffices but there are, on occasion, certain aspects that feel vague or requiring more substantial explanation or clarification. It is not a real game breaker as most situations, with a little thought, can be worked out but this can lengthen games when getting used to the rule set. And a big company like Pegasus Spiel should have made a better attempt, in my view.
- Lucky Buggers: As dice feature heavily in this game for movement, skill checks and combat what we throw relies heavily on the dice daemons not interfering. Usually 5’s and 6’s are needed for success but careful selection of the appropriate Dwarf, skill or attribute will give more dice to the pool from which we roll…thus hopefully increasing the odds of success. It can be frustrating not getting the result we need but we could always view this as the hostile nature of the land working against us…and usually we get opportunities to retry rolls with other characters. As the enemy advance with alarming speeds, it is understandable that getting bogged down with poor rolls wastes precious time but without some tension the game would be a group of idiot Dwarves taking a leisurely stroll in the countryside on the way to a picnic.
- Highs and Lows: The game, which ever variant, be it a one-off or part of the ongoing sage, present a challenging puzzle with very tight time constraints. There is no depiction of violence or horror as such and the storylines, although frequently of dire circumstances, the game does have a positive feel to it. We can feel high emotion as the time runs out and the victory is within our grasp, but I have never felt a negative spin on things, even when I face utter doom.
- Footprints All Over Both Sides of My Table: The updated saga board with its extension takes up a larger table space than the original base game. Take in to consideration the four player cards and additional space for equipment or events, then we are looking at something approaching 1 metre x 1 metre space to fit everything in comfortably. For a solo game, this will occupy a hefty presence on the gaming table.
- Build It Up Just To Tear It All Down Again: There are many components to sort including randomizing the perished earth tiles, specific cards for individual books within the saga and the event deck…as well as rooting out the many orc, elf and troll Meeples. Actual board setup is pretty simple. Locating Hero figures to their respective start positions, revealing the saga cards and timer pieces so it is not a time-consuming heavy euro set up. Depending on how well the game was packed away previously, we are looking at ten minutes to, perhaps quarter of an hour, including the setting up of the spacific saga cards. dismantling It All is a much speedier affair but bag things up separately or future setup will be enormous.
Me, Myself and I:
I have had many entertaining jaunts into Dwarven territory but frustratingly have yet to get past Book 2 in the saga. It really is a challenge and it can be ridiculous how quickly the land becomes perished and over run with green, black and purple meeples. But, as there are numerous cards to randomly select for Act/Stage A, B and C of each saga, and as the perished land tiles come out in random order directing the evil in random directions, and as the event deck is random, no two games are going to play out the same. Dice rolling for hero abilities and for the spawning of creatures features heavily so can become frustrating for those of us that dice hate but careful selection of characters to roll for certain tasks (using personal special abilities) has helped me negate some of the luck element. Sadly rolling for the bad guys has no option but to roll an hope…but that is part of the tension/fun of the game
I did have to make myself some tokens to link a saga card objective to a map location just so I knew where my Dwarves should be heading. I also had to make a series of location nameplates because certain cards reference locations and once covered with a Perished land token, it was tricky to navigate my way around the unfamiliar board…but that was just because I couldn’t commit all the place names to memory.
Yay or Nay?
As a puzzle, problem solving game it really works as a solo game for me. Yes, as the only player, we have 4 Dwarfs to manage but as each is limited to 2 action before the turn marker is advanced and, as each character board has only health markers and the occasional attribute statistic upgrade to manage, little needs to be done from a bookkeeping point of view, before beasties galore spill out onto the board. Planning ahead is crucial. Being aware of specialist skills and proximity to target areas for task completion all melt the brain. The game is not like Legends of Andor in its nature of play but it does have a similar puzzle solving feel to it. Dice rolling and luck there within feature throughout this game so bear that in mind. If you hate the cubed little buggers this might be one not to rush into buying. Try before you buy.
I shall continue to grow my Dwarven beard and highly recommend you do the same (what ever your gender)
Something For The Weekend?
Rahdo”s runthrough video https://youtu.be/bDdK9zOE-9I
Undead Viking review https://youtu.be/wB00t7IW5hgb
One-Stop-co-op-shop play through post Kickstarter https://youtu.be/o0JiOE9Iv7A
Pegassus Twitter @pegasusspiele https://twitter.com/pegasusspiele?s=09
Pagasus Spiele http://www.pegasus.de
A game cant be all bad if it comes with acrobatic Orcs