WBG Score: 8.5
Player Count: 2-5
You’ll like this if you like: Furnace
Published by: GRRRE Games
Designed by: Serge Laget
This is the reviewer's copy. See our review policy here
By Steve Godfrey
Some of you are probably wondering how to pronounce the title (you're definitely not alone in this). Some of you may be here because you recognise the name from Avengers Infinity War as the place with the giant dwarf that Thor got Stormbreaker from. Sadly anyone hoping to stare at cards with Chris Hemsworth on them will be disappointed, although there is a card that looks a lot like Robert Downey Jr so that's something. It is about dwarves though, just not giant ones, and even though it’s not the most thematic, it’s well worth your time checking it out.
How to recruit a dwarf.
First thing you’ll need to do is build the coin holder. It’s not that difficult and will easily fit into the box assembled. It’s not the sturdiest though, so my recommendation would be to grab a bit of PVA and glue it together.
Give everyone a player board and their five starting coins. Shuffle the gems and give one to each player. Add or remove cards from each of the age decks according to player count. Place out the three taverns and place a number of age one cards under each one, one per player.
Simultaneously each player will now secretly place one of their coins on each tavern space on their board face down. The two unused ones will go at the bottom face down. Once everyone has picked, everyone will flip over the first coin. The player who bid the higher value coin will get first pick of the dwarves at that tavern. They’ll take the card and put it in front of them and so on in bidding order until everyone has a card. You’ll do the same for the remaining two taverns, then set up and go again.
If there is ever a tie for a tavern then the player with the highest gem will break the tie. Then the tied players will swap their gems. There’s protocol in the rule book for when multiple people tie and how the gem swap happens.
There are five types of dwarves each with different coloured “ranks” (these are the coloured arrows on the card. I’ll go though how each type scores at the end. If you play a dwarf down and it completes a set (one of each dwarf) then you get to choose a hero to add to your army. These come in all different flavours, too many to go through here, but they add a lot of different ways to score. Every time you complete a new set you can pick another hero, even if playing a hero makes you complete another set.
If a player/s bid their zero coin then, in turn order, that player flips over the two coins they didn’t bid, totals up their value and takes a coin of that value from the coin holder, then discards the higher of the two leftover coins. If the coin of the value you gained isn’t available then you simply take one of the next highest available. Some cards will also let you upgrade a coin by a certain value, usually 3 or 5.
Once all the age one cards are gone you’ll have a “troop evaluation” phase where the player with the most ranks of each dwarf will take a special bonus. After that, age two will play out the same as age one. When that’s done, score up.
Score for the total values of all your coins, then your dwarves, including your heroes. Green (Hunters) and Purple (blacksmiths) will score based on the handy chart on your board depending on how many you have. Blue (explorers) and red (warriors) will score the points on them, however, whoever has the most red will score their highest value coin again. The orange (miners) will score for the total values on times the number of ranks.
Nobody outbids a dwarf!
Nidavellir solves a problem for me that I have with some auction/bidding games, which is, If you can’t win what you want, then it’s easy to find yourself constantly on the back foot and it can get increasingly hard to claw your way back. Nidavellir doesn’t have that. Regardless of where you end up after each bid you’ll end up getting something that will net you points. Every card is useful in one way or another. Granted it may not be part of your well thought out plan and won’t be worth the max amount of points you were hoping for, but I’d take something over nothing anyday. It’s a strange attitude to have, I know, no one likes to “just settle”. We’d all rather have that card that scores us the big points. But somewhere down the road, that card that we “settled for” may just help us complete a set of dwarves. Even better, having that bit extra may set off a chain that will help us nab two heroes in one turn, which in turn may rack up more points than that 11 card ever could have gotten us. Don’t get me wrong being lumbered with a zero orange card a few times can still feel disheartening. But all it takes is a two orange card to wind up in your army and before you know it those seemingly dud cards are worth a lot of points!
What’s fun is seeing that tableau of dwarves building up in front of you. But the real question is, how do you build it up? How does it look? Because it may not seem like it but this game has multiple paths to victory, and that’s just in your choice of regular dwarves alone! Going heavy on one or two types, with a smattering of others isn’t necessarily a bad option, neither is trying to get an equal balance to try and get as many heroes as you can. Whichever of the routes you decide to go for though, be prepared for your opponents to try and stop you. Since everything scores it may not be as much of a hindrance to nab cards you wouldn’t normally have gone for as it would be in other games.
The heroes bring their own brand of chaos to the party. Each one will give their own way of scoring and could quite easily change up how you play the rest of your game, or enhance the plans you’ve already got in place. There are a lot of them though, which brings a huge amount of replayability as each game you can try out different combinations. The downside to this is that, whilst a lot of them are fairly self explanatory, be prepared to be doing a lot of rule book diving everytime someone gains a hero. The rule book does a great job of explaining them in their own section. But generally new players will end up going for the easier to explain ones rather than listen to what each one does…..or maybe they’re just sick of the sound of my voice!
You have my axe……and my upgradeable coin.
Although the bidding mechanism isn’t one I’m always drawn to, the game's bidding system, along with the coin upgrades is what really makes it shine. Everytime you lay a coin down is a gamble. Now normally that's because you don’t want to use your best coin only to find out that no one else really cared about that tavern and went low, so you could’ve used it elsewhere. In Nidavellir though, realising you used a high coin like that meant that you missed a potential opportunity to upgrade it for a better coin. Just knowing that you could have used your zero coin there causes that “argh” moment that is oh so prevalent in games but is weirdly something I love. But the bidding and drafting element creates all of this game's tension and moments of relief. Relief as you realise the card you want is still available, even though you didn’t go first. But tension as you watch people’s hands hover near the cards you want in what can only be described as a slow motion that Zac Snyder would be proud of (don’t worry, it won’t drag the game out to four hours)
The system offers at least half, potentially even more of the game's strategy. There’s always a temptation to bid as high as possible to try and get as best a card as you can, but you also don’t want to neglect upgrading your coins. Not only because you can keep as competitive as possible in the later stages of bidding, but because those points are just as important as the ones you claim from everything else in the game.
Nidavellir takes a mechanic that I try to avoid and turns it into a game that’s quick, has a ton of replayability and is one that I want to play again as soon as it’s over.