It’s Design Review Monday – and today we have a special guest post from Charlie Ecenbarger!
When you’re walking around the exhibitor hall at Origins, sometimes it feels like it is impossible to get to every booth you want to check out. There is so much going on and so many games to be played that, if it’s your first time (which it was for me), it can be a little overwhelming. The one booth that I kept wanting to get to but didn’t till the very last day was Rather Dashing’s. The guys had a really slick looking booth, were dressed up in some cool Steampunk outfits, and were very engaging to anyone who stopped by. To be completely honest, I wasn’t aware of them or their games until Origins. After taking some time and talking to Michael Richie (game designer and president), I was sold by his enthusiasm and quick demos of their games and ended up purchasing Dwarven Miner while Matt (my partner at sizzlemoth games) picked up Four Taverns. I haven’t had a chance to dive into Four Taverns just yet, but I have given Dwarven Miner plenty of play time during my game nights so it will be the focus of this review.
From Dwarven Miner’s successful Kickstarter Campaign:
Dwarven Miner is a duel-level crafting game. Roll six custom dice in a push-your-luck style to see what you can pull out of your mine. Craft those resources into all types of gear, from armor to magic wands to mithril swords. Use these items to fulfill the orders of your Patrons, great and powerful Dwarves who have entrusted you to outfit them for their adventurous occupations, be they Warriors, Rune-Singers, or Engineers. From the lowly Tale Smith to the mighty Chieftain, each will give you a special ability that affects the game and ensures that players will want to mine again and again.
To be clear, every time you fulfil an order you earn points and the first person to reach 30 points is declared the winner.
There is a nice sized game board that has spots for each resource, weapon, piece of armor, patron pile and discard pile – so as you can imagine, the game board itself is quite large. However, I do not think that it is overbearing or feels cluttered. Everything is clearly labeled so it is easy to tell what goes where. You do have to place each resource and item card onto the board in their respective spot, which is not a problem if you keep your cards in order. All of this is pretty basic setup that you would expect from this type of game.
What I was not expecting, and the main reason I wanted to include the set up in this review, was the dice. The game comes with stickers that you need to apply to the dice yourself. To be honest, I expected the dice to be custom printed dice and not DIY sticker dice. It does come with more stickers than you will need, so you have extra for the eventual wear and tear that will come to the stickers as the adhesive begins to lose its grip. There is a diagram in the book to follow when applying the stickers to the dice to ensure you get the right stickers on each dice – but this whole process does add a few minutes to the setup time of your first play of the game, so be ready for that.
The rules are simple to follow and get you into the game fairly quickly. Each item that can be crafted has a list of resources that must be collected through dice rolls – however, if you roll an orc you lose that dice for the remainder of your turn, and if you roll a burglar you may steal a resource from the other player. It is very straightforward. All the dice rolling is done yahtzee style, so you can set aside dice you want to save before rolling again (and as many times as the amount of orcs permits).
The easy to understand mechanics along with the strong theme allows for any group of players to get involved with the game. The pattern matching mixed with yahtzee style dice mechanics is easy to explain and engaging for those of us who may not be hardcore gamers – however, the level of strategy that comes from the Patron cards is enough to keep the more serious gamer entertained.
Each Patron card has its own ability which takes effect upon completion – these can range from crafting an item for free to adding bonus points every time someone else completes a card of the same type. Although the effects are more of a bonus for completing a card, I feel that they were completed in a way that even a novice tabletop player could look at their hand of cards and come up with a strategy they want to follow – and this theory was solidified each time I played with friends who aren’t as adept at advanced tabletop games or are maybe just starting out with the hobby.
The game itself can be played with 2-4 players. I have never played with any less than 4 and within those instances, I’ve always felt that the game may be best suited for 2. Perhaps it is my personal taste in games these days, but the time it takes to get from you through 3 other players seems like quite a while. When it isn’t your turn in Dwarven Miner, you are, literally, just sitting and waiting. With newer players this can take quite a while as they try to make sure their resources are right and that they are working towards the right strategy for their hand. Every time I played I found people looking at their cell phone or watching the TV while waiting for their turn – however, at the end everyone agreed that Dwarven Miner is a fine game. This type of feedback leads me to believe that the game works because it uses familiar mechanics, easy to understand, and has very good visual appeal.
Overall I enjoy the gameplay and have yet to receive any negative comments from others. The main concern is the downtime in a 4 player game. I plan on playing with 2 people to see if the game is a bit more intense. In a 4 player game, there seems to be very little tension or anticipation. The game just seems to end and no one really notices due to length of time between turns.
Every aspect of the design from the art to the layout of the board and box is masterfully done. Grant Wilson did a fantastic job of putting together a fantastic looking game. The high fantasy theme and art that goes along with it is pleasing to look at and brings the players into the world of Dwarven Miner.
I believe that the theme and design of the game work hand in hand with the simple and easy to follow mechanics. With the mechanics being, perhaps, too simple for the hardcore gamers out there, the theme plays right to them – while the mechanics are just right for a “gateway” game. The fantasy theme appeals to a certain audience and then presents a game that they can play with their friends who may not be as adept at tabletop gaming. Nothing is by accident when it comes to design and I believe that this is the approach that Rather Dashing was going for.
Speaking of nothing being by accident – I mentioned the dice had to be stickered before your first play earlier. I do wish that the dice were custom printed dice. Everything else is very high quality regarding the design of this game but the dice feel a bit out of place since they are stickered. I would assume this decision was made to keep the cost of the game down, as custom printed dice are very expensive. However, I can’t help but wish I had a sweet set of resource dice for this game. It’s a minor irk that I have and one that I have gotten over.
Dwarven Miner is a casual game that is wrapped up in a hardcore theme. Presenting the game in this manner could certainly open the doors for people who may not be “hardcore” tabletop gamers just yet. The highly stylized and high quality art is enough to draw the attention of anyone who likes things that look nice, the easy to understand rules can be explained in minutes, and the time it takes to play is just about right (roughly a half hour).
In a group of more experienced gamers, Dwarven Miner could be a hard sell but it’s well rounded, tried and true mechanics are undeniable. Everyone I’ve played with has admitted that it is a good game, with not too many drawbacks other than the time it may take between waiting for you turn and the game ending abruptly once someone reaches 30 points.
If you’re looking for a game to introduce some friends or family into the world of tabletop gaming, Dwarven Miner is certainly a game to consider. It’s a purchase I do not regret and a game I am happy to have in my collection.
Charlie Ecenbarger is one half of the design team known as sizzlemoth. Alongside Matt Dickens, the two are currently working on their first release called Double Up, a dice and card game geared towards family game nights. Charlie has BS in visual communication and is currently Master’s degree candidate in Ball State University’s Digital Storytelling program when he is not using his brain power to work on tabletop games. He can be found tweeting away on the twitter machine @sizzlemoth or updating the sizzlemoth design diaries on their tumblr.