Reviewed by Herb Levy
DWELLINGS OF ELDERVALE (Breaking Games, 1 to 5 players, ages 14 and up, 60-150 minutes; Standard edition $99.99, Deluxe edition $149.99, Legendary edition $199.99)
While the title may make you think of a brochure touting a retirement community, you’d better think again. The world of this Luke Laurie design is not as serene as that. Instead, it is one of magical realms, powerful elements, fantasy factions, roaming monsters… AND dwellings (hence the title) Dwellings of Eldervale.
Eldervale is comprised of up to eight elements (air, earth, fire, water, light, darkness, order and chaos) with factions aligned with each of them. Players choose their faction with two additional elements added. These are the elements for this session of Elderdale. The faction that amasses the most Victory Points will win.
Not every element will appear in each game but each element has three corresponding tiles (as well as an aligned monster) that will if it does. Elements also have a set of Adventure cards associated with them. These cards are placed in the accompanying Dungeon Trays with a “doorway” card placed on top of each stack. There is also room for treasure tokens (color-coded to match the element).
The board of the game has a score track on the perimeter. In the center is a hub from which “powertracks” for all 8 elements flow with a “glory track” and “underworld” at the bottom.
Eldervale itself is built through tile placement. Tiles belonging to the game’s elements are mixed. A number of them, from 5 to 8 (based upon the number of players), are dealt out, face down. “Ruins” (tiles with specific abilities) are added to those tiles, mixed again, and then spread out in a specific configuration (again based on the number of players) creating a different modular realm each time. Remaining elemental tiles are placed in a draw stack.
One (or two) stacks of 3 tokens are placed on each tile, face up. One tile in each set shows a “lair”. When a lair is revealed, the appropriate elemental monster (a standee or miniature, depending on game edition) is placed there. Ruins allow for special actions. More on them later.
Players receive color-coordinated pieces (a Dragon, a wizard, a warrior and 6 workers) fitted into a nicely molded tray and a matching “Starter Card”. Three workers begin the game “active” in the “ready area”, prepared to be deployed. All also receive 1 each of the basic resources of the game (gems, potions, scrolls, tools and swords) as well as a hand of 5 randomly dealt “magic” cards which are also considered a resource. Magic cards can be “spells” (played at a cost of a resource or an “elemental power” requirement), “quests” (worth Victory Points for meeting a specified objective) or “prophecies” (end game scoring bonuses). Gold is “wild” and may be used in place of any of the basic resources.
On a turn, a player may place a unit or regroup. If a player has no units in Eldervale, a worker may be placed anywhere. Otherwise, a new worker must be placed adjacent to a player’s already placed unit (and NOT on the same tile). But there are exceptions. A Dragon may be placed up to 2 tiles away from one of your units; the wizard can teleport and be placed ANYWHERE! On entering a tile, a treasure token is collected and either cashed in immediately or added to your tray for later use. (Up to 4 tiles may be held at a time.) Ruins allow players to tap into special abilities and operate a little differently.
The Mage Tower is an exchange: hand in two resources and draw 3 magic cards, keeping 2. (The card you discard need not be any of the ones you just drew.)
Summoning Portal – Summon one of your units, paying the required cost in resources. (This operates just like the Summoning ability of your Starter card.)
Fortress – Pay any 2 resources for 2 gold.
Dungeon – Draw a tile to add to the growing realm of Everdell and buy up to two Adventure cards. Players may spend the noted resources to add these cards to their display. Adventure cards will earn you additional resources, provide a “slot” for you to place a treasure token so that, when the card is activated, grant more resources and even, in some cases, Victory Points. They also figure in end game scoring.
Mill – Construct a Dwelling. Dwellings are a key consideration of the game and a significant source of VPs. By taking this action, resources specified on a tile a worker occupies may be turned in to transform that worker into a “dwelling”, complete with a roof affixed to the worker. For each ruin and dwelling (no matter who built it) adjacent to the newly built dwelling, 2 VPs are scored. In addition, players move up the elemental track based on the element where the new dwelling is located and may receive extra dice in battle!
As players move into the various elemental realms, they will enter tiles already occupied. Once the action of the tile is completed, a battle will break out!
Workers and wizards roll 1 die in combat, warriors 2 and Dragons 3. More dice join the fray for each dwelling owned by a player either in that tile where the battle is happening or in adjacent tiles. Factions are asymmetrical and some will also grant additional dice if a particular unit is involved in combat. Swords may be spent to add dice to their action: 1 sword for 1 die. Finally, units in adjacent tiles may move into the battle, adding their dice to the battle.
Battles are resolved via dice roll comparison, similar to Risk. Numbers rolled are compared with the higher number winning. If a tie, then the next highest dice are compared, right down the line until any tie is broken. Some magic cards may be played to modify or change the result too. Units on the losing side are consigned to the “underworld” but the player gets 1 sword per unit as consolation. Units in the underworld, however, may not be used when you decide to regroup. Winning a battle advances you on the Glory Track which will reward you with resources, Victory Points, movement up an elemental track and orbs (used to activate certain Adventure cards and, at the very least, add 1 VP each to your score). But other players are not the only thing to concern you when entering a tile. There are MONSTERS!
Monsters adjacent to a hex newly entered by a player will (generally) be aggressive, moving into that hex to attack. (Again, the player finishes his action before fighting.) Monsters roll four or five dice (depending on the monster) and have various attributes (specified on the monster card) that can modify battle conditions. Losing to a monster means the underworld for the vanquished. Defeating a monster earns you a step up on a specific elemental track or advancement on the Glory Track. In some cases, a monster can be “dominated”, becoming part of your force and under your control. This domination may last for a round or the entire game!
Once all active units have been deployed (or if you’ve done all you want to do with the forces at your command), you may regroup. This means taking off your units, one by one, and assigning them to spaces in your display. Your Starter card allows you to summon additional units (by paying stipulated resources), collect a specified resource and build a dwelling. Units may also be placed on previously bought Adventure cards to capitalize on any advantages they offer. (Some Adventure cards just need a worker to be assigned to it but others require units “higher up the food chain” in order to be activated.) Once done, played units (now joined by those from the underworld) are ready to be sent back into Eldervale.
Once all six of a faction’s dwellings are built OR all tiles forming Eldervale are in play, the endgame is triggered. At that point, every player takes one more turn (including the player triggering the end game) and then we score.
To VPs already gotten from Glory Track rewards, completed “quests” etc., points pour in from a variety of sources. Each unused orb is worth 1 VP, the position of each elemental power marker is totalled and added to each player’s score. Dwellings get a second scoring with each worth the position of your power marker in that color. (So, for example, if your position on the Fire track is at 4 and you have 2 dwellings in red, fire, tiles, you would score 8 VPs.) Similarly, Adventure cards from each element are multiplied by your standing on its corresponding elemental track. (So, again using Fire, three Fire Adventure cards would be worth 12 VPs.) But there is a limit. You may only score up to 3 Adventure cards for any element for EACH dwelling you have built. Some Adventure cards also provide possible VPs as do Prophecy magic cards which are revealed and scored. The player amassing the highest VP total is now the ruler of Eldervale! (Tie? Then the highest number of resources held breaks the tie! Still tied, then the win is shared!)
If size matters, then Dwellings has got to win a prize. The box is HUGE (measuring approximately 16″ x 13″ x 6″) and HEAVY, holding the tons of quality components. Especially appreciated are the trays (with lids!) to hold cards and resources and the very clever use of faction cards as covers for each tray of colored pieces (reducing set up time considerably). The game comes with a fine rulebook, an appendix (which details faction abilities and the power of the Adventure cards) and a variety of additions to change game parameters (including a 2 versus 2 mode, a satisfactory solo mode, the presence of Mercenaries and more). Graphic excellence is slightly marred by the difficulty in discerning the differences between light blue/dark blue/black, particularly as it pertains to Adventure cards. Hopefully, a second printing will address that. Standard edition game play is the same as that found in the Deluxe and Legendary editions. The only significant difference is monster miniatures. The standees provided with the Standard edition are satisfactory. Whether a desire for minis is worth the additional cost is a decision only you can make.
The game offers a fluid mix of Euro (worker placement for example) and American style game mechanisms (with an emphasis on combat). There are luck factors involved (dice rolling combat results and magic card draws) and the asymmetric abilities for each faction which, as is typical with many asymmetrical games, are not all perfectly balanced. But there is tremendous variety in so many ways – each faction card has TWO sides to it so you can pick your preference, different assortments of elements can appear in each game, tile layout changes with every play etc. And the interweaving of position of the elemental track with scoring values for Adventure cards and dwellings is very clever and allows for multiple viable strategies. Dwellings of Eldervale is an ambitious and solid design housing hours of fantasy adventure. – – – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy
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