Have you ever wanted to command an army of ancient dwarves and lead them to battle against a fire-breathing dragon? Well, have I got the game for you.
Nidavellir is a new recruitment-based board game where players are tasked with one simple goal: visiting the local taverns of Nidavellir, recruiting a vast array of drunkard dwarves and sending them on their merry way to battle Fafnir the cursed dragon.
As you might guess, it’s a game deeply rooted in Norse mythology, and that’s reflected in the game’s visual style as well as its dwarf-filled adventure. It’s a bunch of fun to play through with mates and it’s fairly easy to teach, making it one of the more accessible recruitment games around. While it does rely on fairly generic gameplay, the fun characters and artwork mean it’s more engaging than other recruitment-style games.
It all comes together in one fun little package that’ll set you and your mates on your path to dragon-gold glory.
Nidavellir requires a fair amount of set-up and a relatively large space for playing because the gameplay tiles are quite big, and you’ll need every dwarf hero on display.
To kick off, each player requires a special gem (which determines the outcome of bidding wars), several coins and a recruitment tracker.
Then you’ll need to place the three taverns in the centre of the board and populate them with a couple of rabble-rousing dwarves (the set-up changes based on how many players are involved.) You’ll also need to unfold and set-up the Royal Treasury and prop up hero dwarves in the provided stands.
Throughout two distinct ages, players will then bid on dwarves via silent auctions and attempt to create the most powerful dwarf army of them all.
The game ends once there are no dwarves left to recruit and players tally their final bravery scores. This determines the winning army and the one that will theoretically go on to face Fafnir in a battle to the bitter end (sadly Nidavellir ends before you’re able to actually tackle the dragon, which is a mild disappointment.)
While there is some faffing around with individual pieces and setting up the Royal Treasury, the basic mechanics of Nidavellir are fairly easy to understand. The instruction booklet is also well laid out and not too overwhelming for new players. If you’re looking to introduce the game to friends, you’ll have no trouble spelling out the basic mechanics and getting started.
In each round, 2-5 players take turns placing a hidden coin on each of the three taverns found in Nidavellir. When they’re revealed, the highest bidder is able to nab their chosen dwarf from each winning tavern with the ultimate goal of grabbing dwarves from each specialty skill and placing them in a row (a special ‘hero’ dwarf is earned for this act).
Players may also choose to increase the value of their coins via ‘trading’ instead as a means to guarantee they’ll be able to go first every turn and nab their chosen dwarf.
The ultimate goal of each round is to recruit dwarves that’ll aid your goal of building a ‘hero’ dwarf army until every dwarf has been claimed by players. Certain characters will allow players to gain more coins or ‘transform’ their coins, but you’ll learn more about these strategies as you progress in the game (it’s better to start with the basics).
There’s two major “ages” in the game (determined by when each dwarf deck is depleted) and when dwarf cards are depleted, scores are totalled and the winner is determined.There are “other” rules for Nidavellir, and some dwarves will net you bigger rewards according to your recruitment strategy — but start with the basics and there won’t be any of this business going on.
Bid on dwarves, build your army and profit. That’s Nidavellir.
Nidavellir is a great example of how classic board game mechanics can be reused and freshened up by modern interpretations. The recruitment mechanic is simple, but it’s paired with great artwork and a strong theme that makes building your dwarf army more engaging. While the lack of a proper conclusion means ending rounds is anti-climactic, the gameplay itself is fun and competitive for its entire 40-60 minute span.
Its ease of access is also an important feature, particularly when sharing the game with friends. While there are some small rules and complications in the dwarf recruitment process, nothing is too complex, making it easy to learn the basics without needing to understand absolutely everything.
Fans of Norse mythology will be delighted by the art and myths backing the game but anyone will be able to appreciate the excellent theming and story, making it a great time all around. If you’re looking for something that leans a bit more into story, you may be disappointed — but as far as recruitment games go, this one’s a winner.