Quite a while ago, I interviewed interviewed Bruno Faidutti about Isla Dorada and other upcoming projects, one of which was the recently released trick-taking game The Dwarf King. Published in both the USA and Europe by IELLO, The Dwarf King is a very typical “chaotic fun” Faidutti game which has players enjoying some crazy twists on the classic trick-taking genre of Hearts, Spades, Euchre, et al. Here’s a reminder of my scoring categories:
Components – Does the game look nice? Are the bits worth the money? Do they add to the game?
Accessibility – How easy is the game to teach, or to feel like you know what you are doing?
Depth – Does the gameplay allow for deeper strategies, or does the game play itself?
Theme – Does the game give a sense of immersion? Can you imagine the setting described in the game?
Fun – Is the game actually enjoyable? Do you find yourself smiling, laughing, or having some sense of satisfaction when it’s over?
Components: This is one gorgeous game. The box is an extremely nice “book” style case with a magnetic seal, and the artwork on both the cover and the cards is fabulous. The cardstock seems strong, but the cards are easy to bend because they are very tall and thin – one of the strangest card sizes I’ve personally seen, but their large size means they are easy to read and leave a lot of room for illustrations without looking busy. Apart from the cards and the rulebook, the only other components are a stack of thick, square tiles that provide the scoring rules for each round. Although very nice, they could have easily been cards to bring the price down a little. $20 MSRP is a drop in the bucket compared to most games, but I’ve also seen games of similar weight and length that still look nice for as little as $10-12 MSRP (Famiglia comes to mind). In addition to the price being a little higher than I’d like, I have a few other complaints. The box lid doesn’t really “cover” the bottom of the box on the top and bottom – the seal only goes along the sides – so cards have slipped out of the box while shut. My other complaint is that one of the tiles and one of the cards both have typos on them, which is something I find infuriating, as it immediately destroys any sense of escapism or wonder. You also need pencil and paper to keep score, and some sort of scoring marker or just a pad of paper and a pencil would have been a nice gesture. These quibbles keep me from giving it perfect marks here, but you’ll still enjoy the art and design immensely – it’s bright, colorful, fantastical, and fun.
Accessibility: How simple this game is really depends on how familiar you are with trick-taking games. Where I live, everyone has played either Euchre or Hearts at least once. The Dwarf King is actually simpler than those – there’s no trump, and no strange rules about what can be played when. In fact, one of the best parts of the production is that the rules for the special cards are printed right on the card, which may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s wonderful to have (anyone know where I can find a Tichu deck like that?). The scoring rule changes in each round, but you will have the scoring tile right in front of you to remember the goals, and the lack of a trump suit makes things simpler as well. The only challenges are that a few of the special cards give the person who played them points even if they don’t win the trick, and remembering that a new special card is in the deck each round in lieu of the previous card – during early plays you may find yourself playing around a card that isn’t there anymore. Even if you’ve never played a trick-taking game, though, this one is arguably the easiest I’ve ever played.
Depth: In my interview, I called Faidutti’s trademark “chaotic fun” and he said that The Dwarf King was an example of that, and I agree. There are some tough decisions to make, but I feel like the decisions made in the game aren’t so much trying to outplay the other players as they are “betting” on who has which card. So the game gives a good sense of tension, but not a good sense of control. There are certainly small ways to bait other players by which card you play when you follow suit, but without a trump suit there are fewer opportunities to capitalize on that. In many trick-taking games, some sort of bidding system allows you to take advantage of a bad hand, but in The Dwarf King you are largely at the mercy of what you’re dealt. It’s not as bad as something like a game of Fluxx – you’ll understand where you stand during a round. The problem is that right from the beginning of a round, when you understand that by luck of the draw you’re already pretty far behind, there’s not much to be done about it.
Theme: By nature of the mechanic, trick-taking games have little room for thematic play, but I feel like The Dwarf King makes use of every little inch of space available. The character cards have funny abilities that match their names well, and the art is not only beautiful but also gives off an appropriate “silly” vibe that matches the chaotic gameplay. I also think something as simple as the names of the scoring rules add a lot, and play off the idea that the characters in each trick are fighting each other. It doesn’t transcend – you still feel like you’re sitting there throwing down some numbers, not fighting in front of a cartoon castle – but the goofiness of the theme really rises to the surface and makes you feel comfortable with the chaotic nature of the game.
Fun: When we sat down for our first play of The Dwarf King, I described the rules but didn’t really mention anything about the nature of the gameplay or how it would feel, because I didn’t know – all I knew was my experience with Faidutti’s other games. Opinions were quite split – some appreciated the game for its zaniness, and some were so frustrated by the randomness that they never wanted to play again. If you like to feel in control during a game and hate losing “to the game” instead of to the other players, this is not the game for you. But if you’re willing to loosen the reins and be a passenger while the game takes the wheel, it can be a wild, chaotic, enjoyable ride. The problem is that you might be the “backseat driver” kind of passenger.
Before you consider purchasing The Dwarf King, ask yourself why you would want to play it, or why you play games in general. If you want to play because you want to win (and I often do), or to have a challenging battle of skill against other players, look elsewhere. If you play games because you want to socialize, and can separate yourself from needing to feel in control of the game, The Dwarf King is a gorgeous, inexpensive game that could give you plenty of laughs and conversation.
Originally posted on http://meepletown.com
- Last edited Thu Aug 28, 2014 7:28 pm (Total Number of Edits: 2)
- Posted Thu Mar 29, 2012 3:51 am
There must have been a moment at the beginning, where we could have said no. Somehow we missed it. Well, we'll know better next time.
Re: Review: The Dwarf King
The box lid doesn’t really “cover” the bottom of the box on the top and bottom – the seal only goes along the sides – so cards have slipped out of the box while shut.
It doesn't help that the card well in the insert is a bit too shallow for all the cards. I ended up just tossing the insert.
You also need pencil and paper to keep score, and some sort of scoring marker or just a pad of paper and a pencil would have been a nice gesture.
I played with mini-poker chips (red for negative, white for 1 point, blue for 5 points), which worked really well. And there'd be room for those in the box too.
Great game though, and great review. Glad I bought the game, it's good for the casual game crowd as well as gamers in a light mood.
- Last edited Sat Jul 5, 2014 4:45 am (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Fri Jul 4, 2014 11:55 pm