Gnomes of Zavandor is a combination of a snowball income economic engine-builder, and a market trading game. Basically, you are a gnome buying and selling gems, in order to swap those gems for treasures and mining rights to get more income.
COMPONENTS IN BRIEF
Chipboard: Small board, thick mining rights tiles, money, area gnome, preposterous over-sized first player marker, gem price tracker. Also, cards for gems, treasures, and artifacts.
GAMEPLAY IN BRIEF
Players start with some money, and each player gets 3 actions per turn. An action is:
*Buying up to 4 of the same gem for market price (raises price at end of round)
*Selling up to 4 of the same gem for market price (lowers price at end of round)
*Take a gem trader (returning any previously taken trader)
*Use a gem trader up to twice (trading one gem for another of the specified type)
*Buy a mining rights tile on the current area by paying appropriate gems (raises gem prices at end of round).
*Buy an available artifact (infrastructure) or treasure (VP) card by paying appropriate gems (raises gem prices at end of round)
*Take 4 dollars
After all players have taken 3 actions, check and see if someone has enough VP to win. If so, they win. Otherwise, the game continues. If any mining rights tiles were bought, the gnome moves to the next area. Then income is awarded for mining rights tiles, 1 gem for the first tile of each type, 2 gems for each additional tile of that type. (this lowers gem prices.)
*Somewhat amusing theme. While I wouldn't call the game "heavily thematic" by any means (it is basically an economic game), the whole theme of gnomish accountants with odd gnomish contraptions is pretty charming. Much as my reaction to the preposterously large first-player marker was "WHY?!?", it's also pretty funny. And the artifact cards are all drawn up to look like bizarre inventions that feel properly gnomish. There's something enjoyable about it.
*Various ways to go about your acquisitions. Your first gems should probably be spent on something to boost your income, but that might be mining tiles to increase gem income, or artifacts to boost your cash income, offer gem discounts, or even grant extra actions each round. Also, the first few Treasure cards are worth the most points, so players must choose between grabbing them early for the big score, or focusing on building up a better income engine first, while risking that someone else will take the best jewels.
*Market manipulations are interesting. Gems start relatively inexpensive, rising when people buy and especially spend them, and then falling when people sell and especially produce them. This not only provides some opportunities to take advantage of the market, but also gives the game a nice feel of an arc -- gems start low, rise high, and by the time the market bottoms out the game is probably ending. Which is another good point:
*Game ends when the gems flow. Although the end of the game is determined by a Victory Point goal, rather than a set number of rounds, it is pretty much the case that as soon as incomes become ridiculous and a player has tons of gems coming in, the game is about to end. This is handy because it's not the case that one player has infinite income and the other players have to sit through a lost game for many rounds. If someone is getting many gems, the gems will also be cheaper for other players. And more importantly, a big income quickly is translated into points, which hastens the end of the game. This is a game that speeds up as it goes along, so it rarely overstays its welcome.
*Not an overly interactive game. While you do want to be aware of the other players insofar as you need to avoid spending out to get gems for a mining tile that will disappear before you can buy it, most of your game is going to be about optimizing your own board and buying whatever you can to boost your income and points. The other players, while minor obstacles, serve mainly as a clock for your own race to 20 points. (The one exception is an artifact that forces other players to pay you 1-2 gold for each gem of their income they wish to receive. Some players have complained this is overpowered in a 2p game, but a variant suggested to have the bank pay half of the fee seems to solve this issue if there even is an issue to begin with.)
*No player aids. Gnomes of Zavandor has many beautiful components, which I praised above under theme. But one thing it does not have is basic player aids. These should be standard. Another thing it does not have is a way to track how many actions you've taken each turn, which if playing with 3 players and some of them possess extra actions, is easy to forget. Neither of these flaws are game-breaking, but in a game that comes with a preposterous giant gnome first player counter, you'd think they could have spent the extra few cents for player aids and maybe an action tracker.
Gnomes of Zavandor follows the Zavandor tradition of accumulating income in the form of sapphires, emeralds, diamonds, and rubies. Although it (like Mines) cannot live up to the glory that is Scepter of Zavandor, it is another entertaining game where you slowly grow your income from gems and acquire infrastructure. It works as well with 2 as it does with 4, and while it won't be a frequent play, is fun and quick enough that I imagine it will continue to see the table.
IS IT FOR YOU?
If you dislike games that involve much calculation because you are prone to analysis paralysis, or thirst for ways to thwart your opponents, Gnomes of Zavandor may not be what you're looking for.
But if you want an income snowball game with a silly fantasy theme that plays at a good clip while offering some interesting choices, then Gnomes may well be worth a try.