I have played and reviewed many games since getting into the board game hobby. Many of them share similar mechanisms and themes so it is rare when I play a game that feels different from all the others. Dwarves Inc. is one of these games. The game is a fantasy themed stock market game that has elements of area control and route building, played on a modular board. Cthulhu might make an appearance as well. It has familiar mechanisms, but they are combined to create something new and unique.
Components / Set-Up
The components of Dwarves Inc. are outstanding. There eight different colored plastic gems, called investment gems, used to represent the eight different mining companies. These are kept organized and secure in a nice plastic container which is included in the game. During the game, these investment gems should be kept within reach of the players.
There are three types of tokens in the game: dwarf tokens representing new workers players may gain, overtime (hour glass) tokens used when a player receives the “overtime” chance card and money tokens in the following denominations: one, three, ten, and twenty-five. Chance cards give players special abilities and advantages. Place all of the tokens within reach of the players. Shuffle the Chance cards and place them within reach of the players.
The game board is made up of nine thick cardboard tiles that represent the underground mine. The center tile has flags for all eight companies and the dwarf camp. At the start of the game place one gem, of the corresponding color, on each of the eight flags. The rest of the tiles are randomly placed around the center tile to create a 3×3 board. Special symbols are scattered throughout the tiles. These symbols include dwarf symbols, gold symbols, the safe deposit box, the treasure chest, and a tunnel entrance. Each has a white boarder to distinguish it from the open squares. The danger fields have red borders and players cannot place gems on the danger symbols. All other spaces, including the special symbols, may have gems placed upon them.
Players are given a player mat during set-up. These are the same thick cardboard as the game board and help players organize their tokens, investment gems, and money. The mats have four dwarf tokens already pre-printed on the board and a player aide to help when money is distributed during the game. On the first turn of the game, players take four investment gems of different colors and put them on their player mat.
During a players turn there are two phases:
- Digging/taking profit and performing actions
- Changing investments
Digging / Taking Profit and Preforming Actions
For their first action, players take three gems of one color and place them on free fields. Free fields are any space without a red border. This action is to represent dwarfs digging mining tunnels as they work for the mining companies. The first person to dig uses only one gem; the second two, and then players continue with three.
To place a gem it must be orthogonally adjacent to a previously placed gem of the same color and gems cannot be placed on an occupied field. They also may not be placed on the red boarder “danger” fields. If a gem is placed on a tunnel entrance the player must place their next gem, on the same turn, on another free tunnel entrance. The second tunnel entrance can be anywhere on the board, it does not have to be on the same tile. A special action or profit occurs when a special, white border square, has a gem placed on it.
Dwarf – When a Dwarf is covered, the player takes a Dwarf token and places it on their mat.
Safe Deposit Box – When a safe deposit box is covered the player may take one investment gem, of their choice, and places it on their player mat.
Treasure Chest – When a treasure chest is covered the player takes a card from the “chance deck” and follows the instructions on the card. Most cards are played immediately, but some can be played later in the game. For example, the player may draw the “Summer Interns” card lets them add plus two to their number of dwarves if they would receive less than two coins per dwarf when a gold square is covered. Or they may get the “Cthulhu” card that allows them to take the dwarf token from a player when they cover a dwarf field.
Gold – When a gold field is covered, count each players’ investment gems for the color company that was used to cover the square. Players will receive money from the treasury according to their investment. The player with the largest investment (the most gems of that color) receives two gold for each dwarf token they have. The runner-up gets one gold for each of their dwarf tokens.
Ties result in split profits. When there is a tie for first place, each player is given one coin per dwarf token. No one else gets money when there is a tie for first place. When there are players tied for second place, players are given one coin per two dwarf tokens. The player who placed the gem is entitled to a “finder’s bonus,” and will always get at least one coin per dwarf token.
On a players first turn they take four investment tokens and place them on their mat. After this first turn, players can exchange one investment token for one of a different kind.
Players take turns placing investment gems until all the gold fields on the board are covered. The game ends once the last gold field is covered and the player with the most gold wins the game.
Dwarves Inc. combines many gaming elements I enjoy, with a few I rarely play. Its unique combination of mechanisms makes for a solid and fun game. However, there are some cautionary parts that keep it from being a great game.
The components for Dwarves Inc. are solid. The game board is beautiful and sparkling when the multicolored gems are added. The tiles are nice and thick and don’t warp. This is important because of the modular aspect of the board. I love modular boards because they add variety and replay value to a game. I’m not sure about the blueish color of the board because blue is one of the colors for a mining company. A grey color would have been the better choice to help add contrast. I also wish the tiles were double-sided. I know this adds to the cost, but it would be great to have even more options and variety in the game. Still, the included tiles can be moved and placed in so many different ways that the board will offer a new challenge with each play. The cards are good quality and add some nice spice to game play. They are easy to read and offer some nice special abilities. The cards are surprisingly valuable and worth a players time to obtain. The “Stock Market” card helped me when I was behind in a game. All the safe deposit spaces were covered, but I gained three extra investment gems. I still didn’t win, but those extra gems helped my score be a bit more respectable.
I enjoy the humorous artwork of the game and the references on the cards. It adds to the light-hearted nature of the game. I like the investment gems and the fact that a plastic bin was included to keep them in order. Color-blind players may not be able to tell the gems apart which will make game play difficult. The red, purple, and pink gems are close in color, and some players may have trouble telling these apart. I know I picked up the wrong color a few times. Even with these issues I really love the gems and how beautiful they look on the board.
The rule book does a good job of explaining the gameplay and has a summary of the chance cards at the end. The rule book is easy to read, short, and has section headings to help players find the section they need. The card summary doesn’t explain the cards but repeats the text of the cards. The rule book shows pictures of each of the components but doesn’t tell you the number that should come with the game, there is also no set-up photo. The game sets up easily, but a picture of set-up is helpful when you are learning a game. There is also no player aide on the back of the book, something I always look for in a rule book. The player mat has a summary of gold distribution when a gold field is covered, which is very helpful.
Dwarves Inc., despite the theme and box cover, is an abstract strategy game. The rules are simple, and the complexity comes from the gameplay and decisions you make on your turn. This is a game trait I enjoy. Players can learn the rules and start playing in a short amount of time; it takes time to learn the deeper strategy and nuances of Dwarves Inc. When the game starts, your choices seem endless. As the game progress, the more valuable spaces have been covered and making the right choice is even more critical. You don’t want to leave something for your opponent to exploit, but at the same time you need to set yourself up for a good move.
Players also need to be aware of the investments and moves of their opponents. I don’t always enjoy stock market games, and the ever-changing stock market of Dwarves Inc. had my head spinning. The stock market aspect of the game is simple, but you need to be engaged and aware of your opponents investment. It is easy to cover a gold square, thinking you have the biggest investment, only to realize your opponent changed one of their gems last turn and now has the biggest investment. It’s also unusual because you aren’t playing a certain color in the game, rather you are investing in different colors of mining companies. I know this is an element of many stock market games. Being unfamiliar with these types of games this aspect took a bit of time get into.
These many choices of where to place your gem and changing stock market can lead to analysis paralysis. In Drawves Inc., downtime isn’t a bad thing as it gives you time to look over the board, check out what the other players have and contemplate and plan your next move. Still it can slow down the game, and I’m not sure how well it will work with a high number of players.
The Chance cards add a bit of fun to the game and can be very powerful, though this can turn off some players. You can plan out the perfect strategy but then your opponent gains the labor union card that lets them add +3 to the dwarves in their calculations. Or you finally gain a dwarf and your opponent plays the Cthulhu card and takes your token from you. I enjoy when a bit of luck is added to a game so I liked the cards. It doesn’t hurt that I have always benefited from the cards. I think they add to humor and theme of the game.
My favorite part of the game was the route-building, trying to be optimal in placing my gems and watching as the tunnels covered the board. There was an amazing amount of strategy involved in this part of the game. Setting your self up for good moves, trying to block your opponents, and covering those special spaces to gain rewards took a lot of planning and smart play. I also liked how the board looked as the routes grew and expanded around the board. The tunnels were a lot of fun and could help when you were blocked or needed to be closer to a particular space.
I really wish the game could accommodate two players since I usually only play with two. Anyone looking for a game that does well with three to five players should take a look at this one. Even though you could play a six player game, I’m not sure I would ever want to play with that many, especially when some of them are prone to analysis paralysis.
Overall Dwarves Inc. is a humorous abstract strategy game that will appeal to people who enjoy simple stock market and route building games. Learning the rules is easy, but learning the strategy will take time. The gem colors may be a problem for some players, but they add to the aesthetics of the game.
Designers: Andrei Burago
Artists: Wayne O’Connor
Publishers: Assa Games
Players: 3-6 Players
Game Length: 60 minutes
Ages: 6 and up
I received a review copy of this game.