Quick Look: The Dwarves: Big Box
Designers: Michael Palm, Lukas Zach
Publisher: Pegasus Spiele
Year Published: 2021
The Dwarves face the dark threat of Orcs, Trolls and Älfar. To defeat evil they have to join forces and coordinate their actions. Based on the series of novels by Markus Heitz, the cooperative game for 2 to 6 players aged 10 and up throws players into various scenarios, in which they have to spend their action points wisely each turn, to gather equipment, fulfill missions, use their special abilities, travel the country and fight back the ever-advancing menace before their land succumbs to darkness.
The Dwarves Big Box combines 2012’s award-winning base game, the large Saga Expansion, the New Heroes Expansion, the story expansions Combined Might and The Triumph of the Dwarves as well as the Älfar Expansion in one appealing, highly re-playable package.
It has been a very long time since I have played a board game that is based off an existing IP ; easily a good five years on my end I would think.
Recently, I was given the chance to take a gander at The Dwarves : Big Box from Pegasus Spiel, which would be my second game from them after covering the more infantile-directed Poo Poo Pets. However, while I am generally familiar with the more obvious big IPs these days, I was admittedly at a shortcoming when signing up to review this game, as it is based off of a series of 5 books that I had not heard of before.
Upon doing some digging , it seems these books by Markus Heitz would be something that are right up my alley, seemingly categorized at a roughly Lloyd Alexander to Terry Brooks-ish level of reading. Though I may be presumptuous in stating this, I would wager the series is geared primarily to adolescents, though again, I may be way off the mark in my pre assessment.
What remains to be said is that the game is set in the typical fantasy setting filled with dwarves, humans, magic and an inevitable cooperative fight against an oppressive onslaught of Orcs, Trolls, and surprisingly Elves (or more appropriately denoted as Elfar to retain consistency between the book’s official lore).
I will admit that I was initially a bit wary of setting my foot into this game for fear of spoiling the books for me on some level. Because inevitably, I would want to read them at some point in time.
But nevertheless, I had a game to review. As such, I have to take things as they are.
The game comes with a lot of cards, some meeples representing orcs, trolls and elfar, and some great minis. I will say that while the card stock and quality is all really fantastic, I did have some trouble sorting out the games’ adventure deck initially, as while they all sport the same back, you do have to eventually categorize them by their borders (white, yellow or black) when they are filled to the side that sports text, and sometimes even have to separate these cards further by the Book that they are associated with.
What do you mean by the book they are associated with, you ask?
Well, a standout feature that made the game intimidating a second time over was the fact that there are multiple setups for the game, each with its own cards, items and distinct features that seemingly pertain to each of the 5 books in the series. So there is a setup for Book 1, Book 2, etc, all the way up to the conclusion of Book 5.
Would each distinct setup be alluding to specific events pertaining to each book? Perhaps, and that is why I am for the moment sticking to Book 1 until I have a chance to read them!
With that being said, this appears to grant a large amount of replayability right off the bat.
Furthermore, there are an assortment of 12 characters for player to choose from. Each sport asymmetrical attributes such as hit points, crafting skills, speed, and strength, which can also be utilized for a variety of purposes.
In addition, each character garnishes one unique ability possessed by no other player, providing unique situational advantages that can be of great assistance in turning the tide of the war. Some characters are better at crafting items, others have great diplomacy skills (more on this later), and some are speedier or more battle adept or even have a unique deck of magic cards all to themself!
As this is a cooperative battle against hordes of enemies, there is, of course a timer that the game runs on. Characters take turns and with each character turn, a Hero marker is moved along a track. At the far end of the track is a Doom marker, that will also occasionally move towards the player marker—if it ever intersects with the player marker (or ANY player gets knocked down to zero Hit Points, it is instant game over!).
Additionally, something bad will usually happen every time the Hero marker moves—it will almost mean more enemies spawn, you add threat cards to an Adventure deck, or your favor with the Dwarven Council takes a fall on a separate side board that is adjacent to the main Map board. (This means that things will be more difficult for you the lower your favorability is within the Dwarven council, but you can also raise it to gain some significant advantages….).
Throughout the game, as players take their turns they may take two of the below actions :
Fight (if on an enemy space)
Petition the Dwarven Council
Make a Craft Attempt
Do a Quest
Moving, fighting/petitioning the council and crafting all have an associated stat on each character board. The higher the number your character has in a given attribute, the more dice they can roll when attempting to do something. For example, if you have a 2 in Speed, you can roll 2 dice when attempting to move and the higher number you roll is how many spaces you can move. Obviously in cases where good numbers are vital, more dice are better.
Fighting is relatively straightforward. Enemies will gradually begin to pile up and swarm the map and relocate and bolster their forces. Orcs require rolls of 4 to defeat, Trolls 5, and Elfar 6. If 5 enemy forces accumulate on one hex, the hex is tainted and becomes a perished land, meaning your character will take damage walking on it, and worse, sometimes you may lose access to valuable tiles such as tunnel systems that let you traverse the board quickly.
And the perished land tiles carry with them a nifty mechanic to clearly denote which way troops move through them (according to their type) when flipped. Just make sure that the color of big arrow on the tile matches with the direction of the same colored arrow on the board space it occupies, and you can clearly see that the rules do not make things needlessly complex.
The conditions for victory usually involve the games’ Scenario cards. To win, you must simply complete just one of several “C” challenge cards in the scenario deck, but first you need to get through the A and B challenges. Moreover, there are also 3 adventure cards that are always available to do at any given time, with more adventures that offer rewards should you complete one of these quests. However, the Adventure card deck will also eventually become saturated with Threat cards that will make things more painful for you if left unchecked but offer no reward other than elimination of the threat. It is usually prudent to keep on eye on these cards, as while they may not always have an immediate consequence for you and your team mates, they can rear their ugly heads at the worst time if not careful!
You may also craft items at certain junctions to get equipment, and this can be anything from armor that offers more hit points and stat upgrades to cheese that heals.
That is pretty much the game in its simplest form and essence.
Now for our thoughts?
One of the first things that I personally noticed was that this game feels very much like an intro level version of Uprising: Curse of the Last Emperor & Expansion, which I recently reviewed. Note that Uprising is a full fledged cooperative 4x game that involves all of the traditional 4 X’s ; Explore, Exploit, Expand, Exterminate. Now despite The Dwarves not having any exploration or expanding involved…the game very much feels like a similar experience to Uprising.
In fact, even though I immediately noticed the similarity in feel between the two games , I deliberately kept quiet about my thoughts during our first play through to see what other players said and sure enough, my wife made a comment that mirrored my own thoughts. “This feels like Uprising!”
Now ordinarily I might not be so keen on pointing out the common ground between games and naming names, trying to give as much attention to the content matter that is in my hands rather than a 3rd party but in this case, I feel that the similarities bear mentioning.
The reason for this is that The Dwarves feels like it would make a great introduction to 4X games for players who are new to the genre, especially those preparing to enter adolescence.
While Uprising absolutely slays players with its difficulty in AI, The Dwarves slowly and gracefully introduces players to mechanics of the genre without butchering them. My wife made the comment that “If we ever saw this many enemies on the board at one time in Uprsing, we know we’d be dead”, an I must concur!
That is not to say that there is not a challenge to The Dwarves at all, but it is more more scaled back and less in-your-face. The challenges are mostly surmountable in the Dwarves but the possibility of defeat remains. We found ourselves winning much more frequently in our bouts with The Dwarves than with Uprising, and that personally is a great way to get people into the style of the game without being deterred from losing!
Another thing we found makes the game work well is that the game difficulty and experience does not radically differ with various player counts. Granted, with just 2 players you may have access to a dice pool that limits your strength and ability to roll well in one of the primary attributes, but overall, the game will take the same amount of time each and every time since the game timer is based on every turn that is taken (moving the Hero marker closer to the Doom marker on the track). The game remains remarkably consistent and predictable if you want to be sure of your experience.
The components are all very well designed and for the most part sturdy, though I do think that the main box is a tad on the thin and flimsy side, so I would take care with it. The internals are all good though.
The rules are really pretty straightforward , though it did take me a while to figure out how to organize all the the game cards by their appropriate chapter. We did love the very streamlined way that enemy forces multiply and are moved ; the fact that the gameplay moves in such an intuitive manner is another of the reasons we think this game would go well for newcomers to the strategy genre.
This is not a campaign, despite the allusion to being connected to a narrative series of books. While I am not going to delve into the other chapters just quite yet since I am not sure if the setups and cards for chapters 2-5 will allude directly to any events of those particular books, I get the feeling that this will essentially remain a series of one-offs with variations, and that is not a particularly bad thing.
I do also get the impression that the other chapters will beef up the difficulty more, as the game manual does highly recommend playing only chapter 1 until you get the hang of things.
All in all, we would recommend The Dwarves : Big Box, in particular to anyone with a penchant for 4x games and/or strategy games. The best part is the lack of intimidation and stress that can often accompany this type of game. While it may not offer the “deepest” choices when players take their turns, they are nevertheless satisfying, and again, part of the draw of this game is that you may be able to drag in other players who would otherwise be reluctant to try it based on their past experience with much heavier games.
All in all we give it an 8 / 10 for its ability to being an enjoyable tabletop experience without the stress!
is available for purchase for only $64.95. Check it out and get it HERE.
Find out more at BGG.
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Jazz Paladin- Reviewer
Jazz Paladin is an eccentric at heart — When he is not learning to make exotic new foods at home, such as Queso Fresco cheese and Oaxacan molé, he is busy collecting vintage saxophones, harps, and other music-related paraphernalia. An avid music enthusiast, when he is not pining over the latest board games that are yet-to-be-released, his is probably hard at work making jazzy renditions of classic/retro video game music tunes as Jazz Paladin on Spotify and other digital music services.