Reviewed by Herb Levy
NIDAVELLIR (GRRRE Games/Hatchette Boardgames, 2 to 5 players, ages 10 and up, 45 minutes; $39.99)
There’s always something. Here you are living in a peaceful and prosperous kingdom when suddenly, an ancient terror, Fafnir the Ruthless, has reappeared to pillage and plunder. Players, representing “Elvalands”, have been sent by the King to recruit an invincible army of dwarves to defeat this enemy. Recruit the best battalion of formidable fighters to defeat this evil and you will save the kingdom and win the game of Nidavellir.
In this Serge Laget design, recruitment is what it’s all about. But where can you find dwarves to recruit? As a venerable leader, you know the answer: the three local taverns. So, off you go to build your army.
All players begin with an individual board and 5 basic coins (0, 2, 3, 4, and 5). Tie-breaking “gems” are randomly distributed and placed in the cavity of each player’s board. The three taverns of the game represented by tavern signs (The Laughing Goblin, Dancing Dragon and Shining Horse) are placed in the center of the play area. A Royal Treasury filled with higher valued coins is placed nearby. Two decks of cards, representing dwarves available for recruitment, are used in the game: Age 1 and Age 2. The Age 1 cards are shuffled and a number of cards equal to the number of players dealt face up to each tavern. Now it’s time to bring these dwarves into the fold.
Players assign one of their five coins to the matching tavern location on their board. (The remaining two coins are placed below, in their “pouch”.) Now all reveal their coin assigned to the first tavern. High coin gets the first pick of the cards there, followed by the second highest and so on until all cards are claimed. If tied, the player with the highest valued gem wins the tie. (But then those gems are exchanged between those players, ready to be used on a future tie.)
Most cards show Dwarves. Dwarves come in five classes: Warriors (red), Hunters (green), Miners (orange), Blacksmiths (purple) and Explorers (blue). When choosing one, that card is placed in their own matching color column to the right of your board. The more you have of a particular class, the more Bravery Points it will score – and having the most Bravery Points will bring you victory! Some cards are “Royal Offerings” which allow you to upgrade one of your gold coins immediately (and then the card is discarded). But there is another consideration at play here too: recruiting “Heroes” to your army.
Whenever you have recruited a “set” (one each of all five classes), you IMMEDIATELY recruit a Hero. Heroes can greatly enhance the value of your army and are on display on racks so you can easily see what is available. Some Heroes are linked to specific classes (adding values and ranks to a particular suit); others are “neutral” with values not tied into a specific class. (For example, Dwerg, the Five Brothers. Recruit one brother and you will add 13 Bravery Points to your final army value; recruit all 5 and 135 BPs will be yours!) These neutral Heroes once claimed are placed on the other side of you player board.
Now what about those 2 coins you didn’t use? Whenever you have played your 0 coin at a tavern, you may “upgrade” (as compensation) one of the two coins stashed away in your pouch. You total the coins there. The highest valued coin is now discarded (or returned to its place in the Royal Treasury if it is not one of your original five) and, in its place, the coin of that higher value is claimed. (So, for example, if you had a 3 and a 5 in your pouch, you would discard the 5 and take an 8 in its place.) If the matching value coin is not available (someone else has already claimed it), you take the next HIGHER valued coin instead!
Play continues until the Age 1 deck runs out. At that point, there is an “assessment” as to just how well you are doing. There are five available “Distinctions” (one for each suit) awarded to the player who has the most recruits in each suit. (Total value does not matter here. It is simply having the most. If tied. no Distinction is handed out.) These Distinctions are:
The King’s Hand – Having the most Warriors allows you to immediately add 5 to the value of one of your coins.
Hunting Master – You may exchange your 0 coin for a special coin, valued at 3, that has the same ability to upgrade coins in your pouch.
Crown Jeweler – Have the most Miners and you receive the value 6 gem, allowing you to win ALL tie-breakers.
King’s Great Armorer – With the most Blacksmiths, you add the special Blacksmith card which adds 2 ranks to your holding.
Pioneer of the Kingdom – With the most Explorers, you draw 3 cards from the Age 2 deck and choose 1. Unchosen cards are reshuffled into the deck. (If a tie, the top card of the Age card 2 is simply discarded.)
Age 2 now proceeds in the same manner as Age 1. When that Age 2 deck runs out, Bravery Points are calculated. The Bravery of the Explorers (blue) and Warriors (red) are calculated by just adding all of their values. If you have the most ranks in Warriors, the highest value coin is added to that total! Hunters (green) score the BPs noted on the green track on your board (ranging from 1 to 225!). Similarly, ranks of Blacksmiths (purple) will earn you anywhere from 3 to 150 BPs. The orange Miners BP is the value of the cards MULTIPLIED by the number of ranks. Now add any BPs earned from Neutral Heroes and total the value of your gold coins. When all of these numbers are tallied, the player with the highest total has amassed the bravest army to defend the kingdom and wins the game!
All of those mathematical scoring gymnastics may put some gamers off but there is nothing that a grade schooler couldn’t handle. Card quality is good and the other components are certainly serviceable although the Royal Treasury (reminiscent of bleacher seats in a gymnasium) used to hold the higher valued gold coins is a bit flimsy. The use of the term “rank” to indicate how many of a dwarve type you have is a bit unsatisfying. We prefer to use the term “banner” as it indicates what the icon looks like. We would have liked to see more score sheets provided (although you can download more from the company’s website). An expansion is available: Thingvellir ($19.99) that adds Mercenaries and Artifacts to play.
Along the way, you tend to forget that all of this activity is to recruit the bravest army to fight the threat to the kingdom – but you never fight the threat! Unless you stipulate the the winning army cannot lose, it would have been nice to have a scenario included where a certain value of Bravery Points results in a rousing victory, a barely won victory or, heavens forbid, a thrashing and a defeat! But the game takes the position that getting there is what counts and you can’t argue with the result.
Nidavellir is deceptive in its simplicity. Placing five coins on your board to draft cards at 3 locations is easy. Yet, there are considerations here that elevate game play. Do you go for depth in particular suits (which will score lots of points) or go for breadth to add Heroes to your army (which will also score lots of points)? When should you play your 0 at a tavern in order to upgrade less powerful coins? And, of course, keeping your eye on what other players are collecting can impact on what coin you play and where you play it. Timing can be important here. And there is interaction on every play on every turn keeping everyone involved, making the game play surprisingly fast. For this reason, while the game works with two and three players, it excels with four or five due to the lack of down time. In this preparation for battle, Nidavellir comes out victorious and you would do well to join in this fight! – – – – – – – Herb Levy
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