The advance promotion of this ‘dungeon crawl’ game was bold … VERY bold: something along the lines of “the ultimate fantasy board game”. Hmmm. Such hype would be extremely difficult to live up to. What made the hype even more difficult to stomach was that the game was being released by an unknown company – Kenzer & Company – and was designed by two other “unknowns”: Japji Khalsa and Anthony Gallela. No marquis names here.
Still, I was tempted to take a chance on the game, but after discovering the price ($49.95), I came to my senses and passed. Fortunately, thanks to my good friend Rick Thornquist, I was able to secure his copy so I could give it a try without having to part with my money.
After receiving the game, I heard a few reports from some other trusted sources that found the game to be plodding and mediocre. Certainly, according to them, the game was a far cry from being the “ultimate” fantasy board game. So, my expectations were certainly not very high.
Dwarven Dig revolves around several clans of dwarves doing what dwarves do best: digging for treasure. The object for each player is to dig a passage through the mountain to the treasure located at the center. Reach the treasure, grab it and run for the exit before any of the rival clans.
Each player has a tribe of four dwarves, each with their own special abilities. For instance, the engineer and miner both make digging easier, the elder gains the party extra “grit” (which translates into increasing the party’s odds when making dice rolls), while the warrior can challenge rival dwarves to one-on-one duels, at which he excels. One of the game’s challenges is to put these dwarves into the right situations so as to increase the party’s chances of success.
The board is comprised of 40 hexagonal tiles, arranged in a semi-random pre-set pattern. The treasure tile (which houses 2 treasures when playing with four players) is at the center, while each dwarven clan begins at one of the four entrances. Some of the tiles are placed randomly, while most of the tiles are placed by the players. The idea is to attempt to make the path to the center relatively easy for your tribe, while making the journey difficult for your rivals.
The tiles themselves depict either passages or walls of either granite or basalt along the edges. The dwarves must dig through the walls of the two adjoining tiles in order to create a passage for them to proceed to the next tile. The more difficult the walls (basalt next to basalt, for example), the more difficult it is to dig through.
Although most of the components are of high quality, the tiles themselves are not. Although thick, they have already warped and would not lay flat on the table. I had the same problem with the tiles used in Duel of Ages, but those tiles were MUCH thinner than these. I learned that it isn’t the thickness of the tile that causes warping, but the material from which they are made. Obviously, the material used to make these tiles is conducive to warping.
Warping aside, the remainder of the components is of good quality, easy to use and appealing to the eye. The figures themselves are metal and highly detailed. It is very easy to distinguish between the four types of dwarves. Sadly, each tribe is painted in one solid color. It would certainly been nice if they were individually painted … but that’s just a personal preference.
Each turn is divided into four phases, with each of those phases further subdivided into rounds. All players complete a phase before moving onto the next phase.
1) Dig Phase. This is the busiest of the phases, with most of the action each turn taking place here.
a) Special Actions. Players may play up to 3 cards during a turn. This is the first opportunity to play cards. Cards cause a variety of things to occur, from making it easier to dig to causing a rival party to encounter a trap or monster. Care must be taken when playing cards, however, as the only way to acquire new cards is by expending “grit”. More on that later.
b) Dig! This is the heart of the game. In order to create passages through which to pass, dwarves must dig through the walls blocking their way. Digging is a matter of comparing the two types of walls to determine the difficulty, modifying this number based on the types of dwarves doing the digging (miners and engineers help) and rolling a die. Prior to rolling, the player may expend ‘grit’ to increase his chances of success.
c) Move. Each dwarf may normally move one hex, provided there is a clear passage. However, the engineer can “force march” and move two spaces. Any other dwarves with him can also move the additional space by expending a grit to do so.
d) Resolve tiles. Many tiles have hazards or creatures that the party must encounter. The tile lists the difficulty level of the encounter, as well as any dwarves who help with the encounter. If the roll succeeds, the party is unaffected. If they fail, however, a “luck” roll must be made to see if one hapless dwarf is incapacitated, swept away or even killed. Kind of like a “saving” throw … a mechanic that I’m not normally fond of.
e) Special actions. This is the second and final opportunity to play cards. Remember, only three cards may be played in a turn.
2) Battle Phase. This phase only occurs if two rival dwarves occupy the same hex and one of the two desires to fight. Also, a battle can occur if a dwarf occupies a hex that contains a monster, which is placed due to the play of a card.
Battles can either involve an entire party of dwarves or one-on-one duels if the warrior opts to utilize this special power. In either case, the battles are resolved in a fashion similar to tile encounters. Players tally the value of their dwarves present, add any grit to modify their roll, then roll away. High roll wins the battle. The losing party must surrender any treasure being carried and then make a “luck” roll to see if one of the dwarves perishes in the rumble. The chances of a dwarf dying increases with the number of dwarves present in the party.
3) Willpower Phase. Players may spend 2 grit to either take another Dig or Battle phase.
4) Grit Phase. Players earn 1 grit per turn. Further, if a player’s elder has not moved, he may roll to obtain extra grit. Grit may then be spent to purchase new quarry cards and/or saved for subsequent turns.
Obtaining grit and determining when to use it is really the strategic element of the game. There are numerous occasions during a turn that require a player to make a “skill” check or roll the dice for some reason. This can occur when digging, battling, encountering tiles, etc. Players can use grit to increase their chances of success when making these rolls. As mentioned, grit can also be used to acquire new cards. However, grit is scarce, so determining when and how to use it is a vital decision.
So how is grit acquired? In addition to the 1 grit acquired each turn and the grit acquired by the elder “communing” if alone in a space, a few hexes contain stout pudding which grant a grit stone to the first player to enter that hex. More grit is also earned when players fail in an encounter or are defeated in a battle. This is a clever “balancing” mechanism which helps prevent a player from falling too far behind.
When a dwarf reaches the center treasure tile, he grabs one of the two treasure counters on the space and heads for the exit. Once a treasure is grabbed, the focus of the game changes from digging to battles and encounters. The grabbing of a treasure usually results in an avalanche of problematic cards and hostile dwarves descending upon the treasure-bearing party. Since there are two treasures available, however, this does prevent the dreaded “everyone gang-up on the leader” problem present in many games. Players must decide which party to assault and make plans to stop both, if possible.
Victory is awarded to the player who is bearing a treasure and is able to reach an entrance first.
I have to admit: I’ve grown weary of dungeon-crawl games. There’s SO many on the market and most of them use very similar mechanics. It is simply a genre that I’ve had too much exposure to and I don’t relish playing more of the same. So, I wasn’t expecting too much from Dwarven Dig.
But, you know … I was pleasantly surprised. No, the game isn’t the “ultimate” fantasy board game, but it isn’t bad. It is actually quite good. Yes, I’ve only played once so far and it may well grow redundant with further playings, but so far, I like what I see. There are important decisions to be made, including the tough choices on how to allocate your grit on each turn. I’m not overly fond of the “luck” rolls, as they do result in a second die roll, which IS redundant, but I do see the necessity of it. Otherwise, it would be far too easy to lose party members and, with only four, that would be unduly harsh.
Michael, Willerd, Spouey and I led our dwarven clans into the dangerous mountains in search or riches. Shortly after beginning, Keith arrived, so he and I joined forces to control our tribe.
Willerd had constructed a straight, relatively easy path to the center, so we knew we had to somehow impede his progress. He was the first to reach the center, but some Banshee Moss caused him to drop his treasure, which Keith and I promptly scooped and headed for an exit.
Spouey managed to grab the second treasure, but Willerd’s warrior promptly challenged his warrior to a duel, dispatching him and confiscating the treasure. What’s worse is that Spouey failed the “luck” roll, which translated into the death of his warrior. He later sought revenge, however, and managed to kill Willerd’s warrior in a subsequent battle. After Doc’s defeat, Spouey re-claimed the treasure and headed for a different exit.
Keith and I were making good progress towards an exit, but my opponents began tossing cards in my way, causing the appearance of monsters and various other hindrances. Michael then used his miner’s special “shockwave” attack, which was quite effective and caused the death of my miner. Further digging would now be difficult for me. Michael later tried the shockwave several more times, but on two separate occasions it back-fired, killing two of his one party members!
Keith and I made it to the edge of the exit, but had to complete one more successful dig in order to create a path. We had conserved some grit to help in this effort, and all we had to do was roll a “2” or better on the die in order to clear the passage and claim the victory. Of course, we rolled a “1”. Arrghh! On the very next turn, Spouey survived three consecutive assaults from Michael (cards and a shock-wave) and successfully dug through to the exit, claiming the victory.
Ratings: All 6’s.