So apparently I know less about dwarves than your average gamer. Struggling to come up with an interesting introduction to this review, the helpful writers in the BGQ Discord offered up lots of suggestions.
“Make an ‘And my axe,’ reference!”
“Talk about the Avengers.”
Turns out, I had no idea about what “And my axe,” meant (for those not in the know, its from Lord of the Rings) and even less of an idea that there is a Nidavellir in the MCU—despite seeing all those movies.
So while I know very little about dwarves, I know a moderate amount about games. And this is a game. With drafting and auctions and fun. So let’s just talk about that.
The basics of Nidavellir are simple. There are three taverns and you’ll go around recruiting one dwarf from each tavern to assemble your bravest team to fight off the dragon threatening your city. Recruiting the best and bravest takes a bit of convincing—in the form of gold.
You’ll always have five gold coins and at the start of the game they are valued 0, 2, 3, 4, and 5. After dwarves are added to the tavern (one per player) you’ll secretly choose which gold coin to assign to which tavern. The highest value gets first dibs. Obviously, two coins won’t get used and stay in your bag.
Bidding your 0 coin seems silly, right? But it’s got an added benefit. When you play it you take the two coins that were left in the bag and turn them into a new shiny gold coin whose value equals the sum of your unplayed coins. The higher value of the unplayed coin goes back to the supply. So, for example, if you leave your 4 and 5 in the bag, you’ll get a 9 and lose the 5. Think of all the dwarves you can recruit with that!
The dwarves themselves come in a few different suits which each score differently. I won’t go into he full detail (rulebook is available here) but generally they are all, unsurprisingly, worth more points when you get more of them.
But getting a variety of dwarves can be useful too. Once you have one of each of the five different types you can recruit a hero for free. Some of the heroes work like normal dwarf cards but are just more powerful. Others have completely unique abilities. Of course, you can always try to get the Dwarg brothers who just give you another set to try to collect for maximum points.
After three rounds you’ll have recruited nine dwarves and the first age will come to an end. There are bonuses for having the majority of each suit at the end of the age. After giving those out you’ll jump right back into three more rounds for age two. Then the game ends and whoever has recruited the best group of dwarves wins and is off to defeat the dragon.
Auction. Drafting. Mix ‘em up and you have… a heck of a great game.
There are three things that make Nidavellir really click. First, without a doubt, the best part about Nidavellir is the coin mechanism where you upgrade them throughout the game. Getting a better coin obviously requires you to bid 0 at one of the taverns so you have to determine which tavern you are ok with getting the dregs of the dwarven heroes.
This leads to the second key feature. You’ll always get something. Bid the lowest and you could still maybe get exactly what you want. Or you’ll just get a card with a few points on it that doesn’t really work with your set collecting. But even if it isn’t what you were hoping for it might help you get a hero that can give you a game-breaking ability. There are rewards for both going deep in a single suit and going wide and getting a bit of everything.
And those strategies feel pretty well balanced. I’ve seen games won by a player who only gained a single hero. Other times the winner completed three or four sets and had a boatload of heroes to take off to fight the dragon. However, the game badly needs a player aid to explain all of the hero powers or you’ll be passing the rulebook around quite a bit. (There are good ones on BGG).
Like any good set collecting game, you have to keep an eye on your opponents. The interaction comes purely from trying to take the cards you need while also strategically hate drafting when it’s most advantageous. I am looking forward to mixing in expansions here and there to get more variety. It does seem like most strategies are pretty viable in the base game but there are only a handful of them to explore.
But that brings us to the third thing. Nidavellir is lightning quick. Six rounds. When you know the game it’s less than 30 minutes, easily. Even if you need to teach new players you can knock it out in 45 without breaking a sweat. For the amount of depth and fun it provides I’m not sure you can complain.
I told myself I wasn’t going to do this… but… Nidavellir is almost as good as Ra. Now Ra is a classic and likely in my top 5 games ever at this point. It’s missing the push your luck element that makes Ra have some tense and exciting moments.
But that omission makes Nidavellir work significantly better for groups that maybe want a bit lighter experience. There is still a lot of depth here but regardless of how you bid or when you upgrade your coins you are still going to get 18 picks, just like everyone else. The trick is really managing when to sluff off at a tavern to upgrade you bidding power in future rounds.
Final Score: 4.5 Stars – A great auction and drafting game that is nice enough to play with non-gamers and deep enough your gaming group can enjoy it.
• I mean, I compared it favorably to Ra, what else do you want?
• Easy to teach, quick to play
• Payoffs for all different types of strategies.
• Players will always get something every round, making it feel fairly friendly.
• Wish there was a bit more variety but there are expansions available.
• Badly needs a player aid for all the hero powers.