Design by Andrei Burago
Published by Assa Games
2 – 6 Players, 45 minutes – 1 hour
Review by Greg J. Schloesser
Over 10 years ago, Andrei Burago released Conquest of the Fallen Lands, a tile-based game set in a fantasy world of wizards, warriors and fantastic creatures. The game featured some clever mechanisms and allowed players to exercise considerable creativity in assembling their moves and actions. The game did not enjoy widespread distribution, but still proved popular in gaming circles.
Burago is back with Dwarves, Inc., a less ambitious and more abstract game than his previous effort. Players represent greedy dwarf prospectors eager to uncover and gather the fabulous riches lying in the fabled “City Under the Mountain” that has been buried for centuries. The enterprising dwarves are also pseudo-entrepreneurs, investing in various mining companies in hopes to increase their wealth via (hopefully) rising values of their favored companies.
The action is set deep beneath a mountain, so it is not surprising that the board is rather dark in appearance, as it shows the caves and tunnels in which the dwarves are burrowing. The board is actually assembled from nine 6×6 boards, so there is a considerable variety in possible arrangements. Most spaces are empty, but many depict a variety of symbols, including dwarves, treasure chests, gold, tunnel entrances, safe deposit boxes and even monsters. One gemstone of each of the eight different colors is placed on the indicated spaces on the center tile.
The main component in the game is a basketful of plastic gemstones in eight colors. These gemstones represent the eight mining companies, and will be used for moving through the tunnels, as well as tracking a player’s investments in the companies. There is a small deck of “Chance” cards that provide special benefits or abilities when acquired.
Each player receives a mat whereupon they will place newly acquired dwarves and their investment gems. The mat also provides a handy scoring chart, indicating the rewards a player receives when gold is discovered. Players begin with four dwarves (pre-printed on their mat), but can acquire more during the game.
A player’s turn consists of digging (placing gemstones into the mountain) and changing investments in the mining companies.
Digging. The player takes three identical gems from the ample supply and places them onto the board. Gems must be placed adjacent to gems of the same color, with the starting point beginning at the matching gem that is present on the center board. From there, the player is free to meander the path of the gems through the mountain. The goal is to cover the pre-printed symbols on the board in order to gain the rewards they grant. Since only one gem can occupy a space, there is a race to these various symbols. It is important to know what the benefits the symbols grant
Dwarf. The player receives a dwarf token, which is placed on his mat. More dwarves yield more gold when gold symbols are reached.
Safe Deposit Box. The player selects one gem from the supply. This increases a player’s investment in that company.
Treasure Chest. The player takes the top card from the Chance deck and either uses it immediately or saves it for an opportune time.
Gold. These are the payoff squares. When one of these squared is covered, all players add the number of gems they possess of that color. The player with the largest investment receives 2 coins for each dwarf token he possesses, while the player with the second most gets 1 coin for each of his dwarf tokens. Thus, a player should seek to increase both the gems and dwarves he possesses.
Tunnel Entrance. These spaces are useful in jumping to another area of the board. When placing a gem on a tunnel entrance, the player may place the next gem on a different tunnel entrance. This can be a very handy move when one mining company’s options are restricted, or when a player wants to reach a symbol located on a different area of the board.
Changing Investments. After a player’s turn, he trades one of his gemstones for another one from supply. At the end of a player’s very first turn, he does not trade (since he may not possess any gems); rather, he simply takes four gemstones of his choice.
This trading is mandatory, so a player will need to collect gems that he is willing to trade. In military parlance, a player must have some gems that will serve as “cannon fodder”.
Play continues in the fashion until the final “gold” space on the board is covered, at which point the game ends immediately. Players tally the amount of gold they possess to determine the winner. Remaining gems are worthless, as they serve solely to represent ownership in the various mining companies.
For a very simple and straightforward game, the challenges in Dwarves, Inc. are many. A player wants to have majority or secondary status in as many companies as possible, which is difficult as players will rarely possess more than 6 – 8 gems at any one point. Further, having majority or secondary status is worthless unless that mining company reaches one of the gold payoff spaces. So, proper timing is critical.
Diversity is important, as the payoff spaces are usually scattered across the board, making it likely that several difference companies will reach them as opposed to just one or two. Thus it is usually advantageous for players to shift their holdings regularly and rapidly. This can be difficult when playing with 5 or 6 players as there usually isn’t enough time to make these alterations in holdings. This makes the Safe Deposit Box spaces important as the player takes a new gem from the supply.
Acquiring new dwarves is also important, as the payout is based on this number. This makes reaching the dwarf spaces critically important.
Players must also keep an eye on how the board develops, as strings of gems can cutoff movement options for one or more companies. This makes tunnel entrances important, as they allow a company to jump to another area of the board…provided, of course, that company can actually reach a tunnel entrance.
In spite of all of these decisions and facets, the game simply isn’t that exciting. Turns are quick and almost feel automatic. Place three gems, collect benefits, change a gem and you’re done. While decisions must be made as to where to place gemstones, these decisions are usually easy as the best path is fairly obvious. The forced changing of a gem can be problematic, especially since it is difficult to assemble a large amount of gems. This is admittedly easier when playing with just three or four players, but even then gem holdings feel too constrained. Perhaps it would be better if players began the game with 6 or more gemstones as opposed to four.
The Treasure Chest cards do add some spice to what otherwise is a fairly abstract and rather mundane game. Sadly, there are only seven different types. A larger variety would have added more options and flavor.
Don’t get me wrong: Dwarves, Inc. is not a bad game. It seems well suited for families or folks new to the gaming scene. Experienced gamers, however, will likely feel the game is rather bland and pedestrian. It is best advised to enter these caves only with the appropriate group.
4 (Love it!):
3 (Like it):
2 (Neutral): Greg J. Schloesser
1 (Not for me):
Just to correct an inaccuracy: trading a gem at the end of your turn is not mandatory. The rulebook says this: “during this phase you can exchange one investment gem for a gem of a different kind” which does not mean that you must exchange.
Yes, that is the way we played it. I just described it incorrectly. Thanks for pointing this out!