Dwellings of Eldervale
- Designer: Luke Laurie
- Publisher: Breaking Games
- Players: 1-5
- Age: 14+
- Time: 60-150 minutes
The first thing you’ll notice about the game is the size of the game box. It’s on the large side and you’d be right in assuming that it contains miniatures, (mainly monsters) as is de rigueur for many Kickstarter projects these days. The number depends on what version you acquired, but either way you will see a bunch of miniatures and then a huge number of other elements in the game.
Once you’ve unpacked the game everything just fits into the enormous box and that’s because the game has many game trays to hold each aspect of the game. There are eight individual faction sets each with their own double side faction card, loads of game tray storage areas for cards and chits and you feel almost satisfied being able to put the different pieces back together to fit in the box! Although this is fun, this of course is not the game.
The game introduction is shown in the well produced appendix where you find out about what is going on. Each player controls a faction of mythical beings to settle in Eldervale. The board is a series of hexagonal tiles of different terrain (element types) with some preset and others randomised that form the initial board. There’s always a set of leftover tiles which are the tiles that will be added to the board as you expand it. Each colour of faction played is included in the tile mix as well as some other random colours so you will not play with all eight colours in a game. This provides a significant variation in the game each time you play. Once all the board has been set up the coloured tiles need to be seed with resources, which come from the appropriate coloured element.
Each faction includes the same mix of dice, and your team of characters of workers, dragon, wizard and warrior. Each faction is distinguished from another by a special power on two of these characters. You only begin with 3 workers, but will recruit the others as you see fit. In addition players place a marker on the elements score track, which lets you know how strong you are in the elements being played in that game. As this game includes magic, there’s a set of cards that include spells, quests and prophecies. You are dealt a hand of these to begin with which will help identify some short term and longer term goals for your play.
There’s a significant setup required but gameplay is fairly straightforward once you’ve taken the trouble to do so.
Players either place a unit or regroup. Placement is only adjacent to your character on the board, though obviously not to begin with. Where you place tells you what type of action you take which you do immediately. Generally, you will gather one of the resource tokens from the hex you landed on and add it to your storage area. If there is a monster adjacent to you then the monster will attack and you want to avoid this as at the beginning of the game they will probably defeat you. Combat is dice based, with the number of dice dictated to by the strength of your unit, adjacent dwellings and a few other factors. The highest die rolled wins, so it is possible for a single die to defeat multiple ones, but unlikely. Ties drip down to the next die until a winner is determined. Lost units go into the underworld, but can be gathered back later on.
There are several special hexes that are included in all games. Landing here is how you could construct a dwelling, expand the map or gain better resources. Dwellings are added to locations where one of your workers is already in place, so once you spend the resources your worker becomes a house by crowning him with a roof. It looks very good when the worker is changed this way and is a nice design touch. You also move your score marker up the relevant element track for the type of dwelling built, and this is key for the scoring so building dwellings is extremely important, as you might deduce from the title of the game. The game end can also be triggered when someone builds their sixth dwelling.
Once you have placed all your units on the board, you have no option but to retrieve them, but this is far better than many other games where you just bring them back to stock. Each worker who has not returned via the underworld can carry out an action which is similar to any of the special actions on the board. But when you add another hex to the board through that action you also get to draw an adventure card or two, that provide more action possibilities when you reclaim your troops. The resource tiles that you acquired earlier can be stored on these cards and when you reclaim your units these resources are also added. So when you reclaim it is important not only because you can start a new campaign on the board but also how you gather more resources that will help you build dwellings. There’s also a race element to some degree as there will only be one dwelling per hex so you might want to build a specific dwelling because of its location (some can give extra victory points) or for better support in combat. When you score at the end of the game the dwelling type is scored according to your position in the relevant element track.
This mix of resource acquisition, constructing dwellings, fighting other players and monsters and reclaiming your units climaxes when the end of the game occurs. Besides the dwelling end game condition, if the board cannot be expanded further the game concludes. Both of these are obvious to all players so it is possible to work out how fast the game will run and what options you have.
The element scoring is so important because it scores for itself, dwelling value the tableau of adventure cards you played and prophecy cards that may be scored if the conditions are met.
And when you’ve scored the game you can pack everything back into those wonderful gametrayz.
I backed the game on Kickstarter, so I pretty much knew when I was getting into. The presentation is excellent and there is very little to fault. The interaction of acquiring resources and moving up the element tracks is good and I particularly liked the way in which the reclaim action worked. I almost always like games that expand the map or change it (like Vindication) so I knew that aspect would work. I’ve not played enough to know how many adventure cards to add to my tableau (another game aspect I enjoy), or what the payback is like but there is plenty more to explore.
The rules are well written and I could easily find what I wanted to do and just like the storage decisions, they were well presented with good illustrations and examples. The appendix is helpful by providing a complete list of all the cards and creatures as well as a few questions that might be raised. There is so much more to explore (I’ve not played all 16 factions yet, nor played the solitaire version) so it is difficult to include all these things in my thoughts. Suffice to say there is a huge amount of variation and I’m sure there are things in the gameplay that I have missed on my playthroughs so far.
I think the battle system works well and you can modify your situation through playing cards, and even capture monsters so that they can become part of your units rather than killing them. The monster miniatures are good and coloured according to the room they represent and so far I’m very pleased with my acquisition. I did not pursue the legendary version which has another set of monsters but also includes sound effects bases, which I thought was over the top even for me!
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers:
Dale Y: (solo play only on copy provided by Breaking Games) – well due to the ever-changing Coronavirus situation, I have only been able to play the game solo so far, but it’s entertained me for most of a weekend… It works pretty well – the rules as outlined by Alan above are mostly unchanged. The solo game essentially simulates a 2-player game where you play against the Ghosts, which are programmed in how they will react – which leads to a varying amount of predictability in their actions, which actually simulates a human opponent fairly well! For example, you know that the Ghosts will place their units near the spots that you placed your units on the turn before. Also, you can see the action cards of the Ghosts, so you know what sorts of things they could do… and this allows you to plan for it.
I like the way that this is a worker placement game that doesn’t lock you out of any particular space. You are welcome to place your workers where you like, but you just have to be prepared for the combat afterwards to see who stays on a space. Admittedly, there are times when you might even want to lose combat to trigger or certain effect. Sure, the game has a bit more fighting/conflict than my fragile Eurogamer sensitivities are used to, but it wasn’t overwhelming nor did it feel too targeted/backstabbing. Though I haven’t played it with other real humans yet, I think that I’d be able to handle the intrusion of Ameritrash tactics and dice rolling into my game night! For now, it’s a interesting 90-minutes-or-so puzzle of figuring out how to beat the Ghosts…
You should know that there are a number of different levels of production here: standard, deluxe and Legendary. There also appears to be a special grey “Croc” box art. I received a copy of the standard version with the standard cover art, and I was pretty impressed with the pieces. As I’m not a miniatures guy, this was plenty awesome enough for me as the Legendary set doesn’t really change gameplay much, though it does have nicer and much more expensive bits. I think that there are a few Legendary Monsters that only come in that box – but I’ve long stopped being a completists. There is already boatloads of variety in the box that I have…. probably more than I’ll ever play with over the lifetime of the game in my collection!
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Alan How
- I like it. Dale Y (solo only)
- Not for me…