Nidavellir (Game Review by Brandon Kempf)

  • Designer: Serge Laget
  • Artist: Jean-Marie Minguez
  • Publisher: 
  • Players: 2-5 Players
  • Time: 45 Minutes
  • Times Played: 5

Dwarves and taverns go together like peanut butter and chocolate, like T-Pain and autotune. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Dwarven kingdom of Nidavellir, where the dwarves gather and regale each other with stories and await their recruitment to battle the great dragon, Fafnir who is wreaking havoc over all of the Dwarven kingdom. 

In Nidavellir, you are doing the aforementioned recruiting. You are trying to bring together the best group of Dwarves in order to take down the dragon. How do we know you have the best group of Dwarves? Well, in the end, Bravery points are the tell-tale sign of a successful dragon killing party. 

A game of Nidavellir lasts two ages, with the players taking either three or four turns per age, depending on the player count. On a turn you are going to draft Dwarves, or other cards, from three different taverns. At the end of the first age a majority check will happen, and at the end of the second age you will calculate your final Bravery points. You gain Bravery points based on the five different Dwarf classes, plus your bidding coins and any extra leader Dwarves that you have acquired. Each Dwarf class has a fairly unique way of scoring, the warriors will score points just based on their “power”, plus a bonus if you have the most of them at the end of the game. The Miners will score points based on their power multiplied by the number of Miner banners you have. Hunters and Blacksmiths just score based on the number of them you have, there is a chart on your player board and Explorers score simply based on the Bravery points on their card. 

That’s all well and good, but the most interesting part of Nidavellir is how you are getting those Dwarves recruited. At the beginning of the game, players receive their player board, a gem with a number that will denote initiative and their coins that they will be using in order to bid on Dwarves. At the start of the game, your coins will be of value 0, 2, 3, 4 & 5. There are three taverns (4 with the expansion) setup in the middle of the table and each round there are Dwarves placed in each of them equal to the player count. Now, there are a handful of cards that can be placed out there that are not Dwarves, but for the most part, they will be Dwarve cards. 

On your player board, there are circular spots that have the same artwork as each of the taverns; on a turn each player will place one of their coins, face down, on each of those tavern spots on their board. This denotes your bid for picking in that tavern. The two coins you do not use will go at the bottom of your player board face down. Starting with the first tavern, players will reveal their bid coin. The highest value coin will pick first, second highest second and so on, until that tavern has been emptied. Any ties are broken by the gem token that you have, the higher value gem goes first, then you will swap with the person you tied with, if more than one player ties, the high and low gems will swap. 

The coins that you use can be improved throughout the game. There is a display that will have more coins from value five to twenty-five that are available. When you use the zero coin in a bid, this allows you to swap for a new coin. The coin you receive is the value of the two left over coins summed. So if you have a two and a four left over, you would exchange the higher value coin, the four, for a six. You always will have five coins. 

When you complete a set of five different dwarves, you then may choose to take a Hero Dwarf. These heroes will allow you to do different things, some may just simply give you points at the end of the game, or some may break a rule like being able to see what others bid before choosing (that’s a huge one). They are important, and they definitely will encourage players to draft accordingly and try to complete those sets to gain a Hero. 

At the end of the first age, there will be a majority check for each of the classes of Dwarves. The person who has the most banners in each class will gain a benefit. If there is a tie, no one receives the benefit. These can be game changing and will push you to pay attention to what others are doing. 

After the second age, you will do a final scoring. Scoring each class of Dwarf according to their scoring rules, score any heroes that you acquired according to their rules and add the total sum of your five coins in hand and the player with the most points is the winner, winner, dragon dinner!

I love drafting games like this, it’s super simple to explain how you are going to be playing. The difficulty comes down to explaining every little scoring detail, because you want everyone to have a fair chance. How the heroes score and what they can do can be a bit of a pain, especially for first timers who haven’t seen the game in action, but all that said, this is a basic set collection, drafting game. It has all but completely fired 7 Wonders for me. 

Main reason being that bidding mechanism for gaining the Dwarves. It’s a super simple method for doing things, but really clever in this setting. A bit of an homage to Ra I have a feeling. With the exchanging of the tiles for more valuable ones, you have an incentive to use that zero token quite a bit: coin value at the end can be a huge difference maker, although not a game breaking one. One thing I didn’t mention is that the coins are limited, so timing of your exchanges can be pretty important, because if you exchange for a value of coin that is not available, you get to take the next highest available token. It’s a clever way to get more bang for your buck so to speak. 

All in all the components are good, fun artwork, if a bit repetitive and the cardboard is all good, with the exception of the coin holder, which falls apart easily just after a couple plays and is starting to sag and look droopy. If I were the kind of person who liked to upgrade games all the time, this would definitely be one to try to recreate for a 3d printer, or even laser cut wood. It takes nothing away from the gameplay though, it’s simply something that was included that doesn’t really live up to the rest of the game, which is marvelous. 

I mentioned that Nidavellir has pretty much fired 7 Wonders for me and that’s mostly due to the time, the table space and the ease of explaining things to new players. 7 Wonders was never the “Gateway” game that folks have made it out to be. Trying to explain it to new gamers was like trying to explain quantum physics to me, it just doesn’t work as intended. That being said, even with the scoring needing to be fully explained in Nidavellir, you can do the explaining in five minutes and be off and running, explaining heroes as you play. I also love it because there is nothing that we have found that is really like Science in 7 Wonders. You have to have to diversify in Nidavellir to gain those heroes, you can focus in one area, but you better be filling in elsewhere as well. 

Normally I don’t really enjoy games that give these huge bloated scores at the end. Our best scores have been in the 290s, ranging down to the 190s for someone who just wanted one type of Dwarf for some reason. It works for me here, and scoring at the end isn’t nearly as complicated as I make it out to be, it’s mostly just adding card values with a few extra things. The high scores help make it feel epic though, especially for such a short, smaller footprint (not really all that small on the table, but smaller than 7 Wonders) game. 

I own the expansion, Thingvellir, but I have not even thrown it in the box yet after five plays. I don’t know that it needs anything more on top of it. Kind of like the current For Sale nonsense, no one needs more For Sale, you just want For Sale. That being said, I am a sucker, and I bought the expansion, sight unseen and will eventually throw it in there just for the heck of it as I do want to experience the new Heroes and the Mercenaries. 

Should this have garnered more attention for the Spiel des Jahres, or even maybe the Kennerspiel? I think so, but I can kind of see why it didn’t. It’s unique, but only in the way it combines things that are already well established in the board game world. So yeah, it’s probably not going to win an award that wants some innovation involved I suppose, but that didn’t stop me from thinking that it should have. 

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers…. 

I love it…Brandon K., Eric M., Alan H., Steph Hodge

I like it… Patrick B., Simon Neale, Dan Blum, Larry

Neutral… Joe H., Lorna, Mark J., Tery

Not for me… 

Thoughts from the Opinionated Gamers

Patrick Brennan: Blind-bidding isn’t a favourite mechanism but this has quite the clever twist, providing the means to trade in a bidding tile for a more powerful bidding tile whenever you use your lowest bidding tile for advantage in future turns. There are 6/8 rounds of assigning a blind bid to 3 different sets of cards, meaning you’ll gain 18/24 cards in the game – this sounds like a lot of blind bids but it’s really only 6/8 sets of decisions depending on the number of players. It’s all about set collection and maxing on a suit as best you can for the multipliers. But generalising also brings benefits by earning hero cards with benefits, so it’s hard to go too wrong really. It feels a bit same-y after a few games because there’s not the card variety and as many scoring paths as you may find in 7 Wonders say, but it’s a nice system to play with, especially with the Thingvellir expansion which adds an extra decision for each bid-winner.

Steph Hodge: I love everything about this game, from the blind bidding to the coin advancements and set collection.I anticipate this being in my top favorite games that I learned this year.

Simon Neale: This game became one of my gaming group’s fillers of choice during the pandemic lockdown as the implementation on Boardgamearena was so good. Playing online meant that all the maths required to calculate scores was done automatically and you could easily pick which card you thought would benefit you the most. It’s a cracking game but some of the bonus cards can be a little swingy.

Mark Jackson: I have some questions about positive reviews of this one based solely on Boardgamearena plays. The fact that it does the math for you and allows you to track that is not possible in person – and that either makes the game much more subject to either (a) being able to estimate about what a particular card will do to help a player – thus reducing player control, or (b) creating some real issues with AP players who want to do all the calculations. It’s not a bad design – but I don’t feel any need to play again, particularly in person.

Dan Blum: I like it and am generally willing to play it. However, I tend to agree with Patrick that it can feel a bit too much the same from play to play, since there are only so many things to do and there are no resource considerations as there are in a game such as 7 Wonders. I’m not an enormous 7 Wonders fan but this definitely doesn’t fire it for me – they’re both drafting games but they feel quite different. 7 Wonders expansions are also more interesting than the one Nidavellir expansion so far, which I have played with a number of times and don’t think enhances the game much.

Tery Noseworthy: I liked it fine, but I think it is going to get boring very quickly. It’s really pretty, and the bits are all very cool, although the coin holder seems like it won’t hold up well. I was interested for the first round of the game, but by the end of the game I was kind of bored,  in part because of some of the analysis paralysis Dan mentions, I don’t love 7 Wonders either, so maybe this is just not the right type of game for me  I will add there is a free scoring app, at least in the Apple store, that made end-game scoring much easier.

Larry (2 plays):  Cute, well designed game.  It’s fairly light, but I like how Laget went the extra mile and kept adding details to it to make it less one dimensional.  I really don’t see the 7 Wonders comparison–they seem like two very different games to me.  This isn’t something I’ll seek out, but I’ll be happy to play it in the future.

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