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Subject: The Dwarf King - Not your usual court - down to the basics review rss

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Tiago Perretto
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Thinking about my next move.
So, if my only options are these, then I shall...

About The Dwarf King:

1) What is it?
The Dwarf King is a trick-taking game, in which players score points accordingly to goals, that are different each round. Some cards have special powers when played (like giving extra points, or taking cards from someone's hand in exchange of others from yours, and even allowing players to change the hand of cards one have with someone else).

Trick-taking, by nature, are a genre with games that range from ok to little control, even when the cards don't have special abilities that change the play course. When those are added, is possible to: a) increase control; b) increase chaos. Almost all trick-taking games I know that have cards with special powers went to the B route (more chaos). The Dwarf King is no exception.

The cards that allow players to exchange hands (one is always present and other is an special card) simply almost destroy the chances someone to plan ahead, as there is no way to know if you are going to keep the cards you are seeing for one, two, three tricks. You can lose the cards at anytime and receive a completely new hand. Yes, the player that has the card that make the players exchange hands do have more saying, and can use the early tricks in order to make her hand trashier as possible before giving them away. Still, being a trick-taking in which players must follow suit, this isn't always possible: if the suit is pulled, you might just need to play the card without being able to really prepare.

The Dwarf King is similar to Chronicle, as in both there are cards with special powers and the goal of the round changing each rounds.

2) How do you play?
One special card is draw and showed to everyone, entering in the deck. After dealing the cards, a tile with two goals for the round is revealed - these are the ways to score in that round. The player with the 5 of knights (blue) picks one of the two to be the one valid for the round - the other is ignored. Than, the player with the 5 of goblins (red) start the first trick.

Players must follow suit, if able. Regardless if following suit or not, cards with special powers are activated when played (either with an immediated effect or a latent one). There is no trump: highest card of the suit of the trick takes the cards played.

Once the round ends and points are tallied, the score tile and the special card are put in the box, and new ones, for both, are revealed.

The game lasts for 7 rounds after which the player with the most points, wins!

3) Which are the decisions made during play?
Which card to play. This isn't always true, as following the trick can take this decision away sometimes. But, for most of the time, you will get to decide which card to play and which to save for later (remembering that, later you might not have the same hand of cards).

The exchange of hands of cards makes the whole play have a different way to see what to play - in several trick-taking games players try to set up plays for later, by playing and holding certain cards. While this is also possible in The Dwarf King, when you consider that there is no way to truly know who will have the cards you are holding, specially early on, before the card that allow the trade of hands is played, the usual is to play fast the best cards and only set up bad plays for later - and, even still, you can end up with this bad hand yourself - put you can play the odds with more chances on your side when there are more persons playing (4 or 5).

It is truly hard to make decisions that aren't for immediate gain in The Dwarf King.

4) What are the good things in the game?
- Good production value: the box hold the cards sleeved, the tiles for scoring are sturdy, and the art on the cards are well done;
- Different ways to score in each round makes the game fresh and players thinking in different ways.

5) Which are the bad news?
- Trick-taking games usually have a lot of luck built in. When you add chaos and take a bite of the small amount of control players have, you aren't doing the game a service;
- Scores vary a lot, and I'm not only saying positive or negative (there are ways to score only negative points in a round), but also in range;
- Seven rounds makes the game run a little too long - the proposed 40 minutes is in a very low end of playing time, as rounds usually won't be over in around 5 minutes each when you have to play 13 cards (in a 3 players game) every round, or have more people (4 or 5) making tatical decisions - around 60 minutes is more likely.

6) How do you feel while playing?
Like in an unfair game show. Due to the way scoring works, even doing well in one round can be widely different than doing the same in other. One round can give around 2-10 points, while another can give from 4-24, or more, considering one special card can double the amount of points earned in a round. This is bound to make players feel cheated, as if participating in a bad TV game show, in which for several rounds you are there, pressing quickly the buzzer, answering well, doing neatly the tasks demanded, and getting your points, putting you in the lead, with 250 points. Then comes the Final Question, worth 1000 points! The crowd goes wild, as now everyone is all in. The ones behind cheer, as they have a chance to win. The ones ahead ask why do they even bothered?

The Dwarf King has some neat ideas, serving as a less confrontational version of Chronicle, as this one has lots of stealing and affecting the cards of other players, while in The Dwarf King the tricks you have taken are yours, for better or for worst.

In the end, The Dwarf King is a serviceable trick-taking - it isn't broken nor offends those that like this type of games, however, and can even provide some interactions not usual to the genre, as the changes in ways to score, the addition of special cards and their powers, make the hands feel like different games combined into one, and even inside the rounds, the guaranteed exchange of hands involving two players (a bigger thing in a 3p game than in a 5p), make the usual flow playing need some hard adjustments each time, which can be a big appeal. But The Dwarf King doesn't really shine and I can't recommend it to others, except big fans of trick-taking that want to constantly challenge themselves with the caveat that one rounds will simply be more valuable than others. Therefore, The Dwarf King gets only a restricted recommendation.


Image credit: W Eric Martin

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Jerrod Warr
United States
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Very helpful - thank you!
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