Journey to Drachenbrodem
based on a novel by Markus Heitz
"The beings of the North had
left no stone unturned,
walls were torn down and towers had tumbled."
Markus Heitz, The Dwarves
"The Dwarves" (Pegasus Publishing) leads us into the seven kingdoms of Girdlegard. Two to five of the diminutive heroes, even including a dwarf lady (without a beard!), undergo an expedition to avert the destruction of their home world. As many people take on the appropriate roles (warriors, blacksmith and female blacksmith, stonemason) to master, after various tests, a final scenario.
The game board shows in a grid of hex-fields the Dwarves’ world known from the successful fantasy tetralogy written by Markus Heitz. (A fifth volume might still be published, however, no further information is available at the moment). In the upper (Northern) half of the map a track called the Doom Bar is depicted running along the edge of the board. The game ends immediately when the two markers thereupon meet (the Hero-Marker advances clockwise, the Doom-Marker anti-clockwise). The Hero-Marker acts also as a round counter, whereas the movement of the Doom-Marker is triggered by circumstances unfavorable for Girdlegard. The characters move on this highly schematized map to different places to survive various adventures there, thereby increasing their attributes’ strength or to gain helpful items and defeat thus the menacing evil. The pieces – five beautifully designed dwarf miniature plastic figures (already painted in the Collectors’ Edition) – show the current whereabouts of the characters, but have no apparent purpose beyond that. At the Southern edge of the game board eight text boxes ("Council of the Dwarves") name additional conditions, changing in the course of the game. They might render an attribute test easier or, on the other hand, turn a mild threat into a deadly danger. On the board, several dwarfs and fiend portraits are to be seen as well as a map key to locations of interest (in the game) and a summary of the actions possible during players’ turns. Moreover, on the board the wooden cubes symbolizing the different enemy armies may be stored (green: Orcs; black: Trolls; purple: Albae). Considering the sole purpose of the Character Sheets, that is, placing Wound markers and up to three Attribute markers (combat, crafts, running) on them, they are devised surprisingly large. If new equipment is purchased, the matching
Equipment cards are placed next to one’s Character Sheet.
Characters move through the realms of Girdlegard by rolling dice (according to your movement attribute). There are also one or two teleport spells and some fields show Tunnel Portals. Travel in itself is no magic here.
The heroine and the heroes have to confront two kinds of tasks: First, often hostile armies appear at the mountain passes (numbered I, II, IV, V). The player whose turn it is advances the Hero-Marker along the Doom Bar. When landing the marker on certain corresponding spaces, the player has to roll all monster dice to find out how many enemies will pop up and where they are to be placed. These fiendish armies should be defeated as soon as possible, because whenever five or more enemy units of any kind are assembled on a single hex-field, this space will become "Dead Land" (characters entering these spaces lose one life and movement points, tunnel entrances there cannot be used anymore). A hexagonal cardboard tile drawn at random from the corresponding stack is put onto the hex-field. Printed on it you will find instructions on how to move enemy units present on the map field. Ultimately, all these enemies move towards the central hex "Blacksaddle", where some decisive and some less decisive battles are to be fought.
The second type of tasks is printed onto Adventure Cards and Scenario Cards. In order to fulfill these quests, the characters usually have to travel to certain places – sometimes more than one location for the same adventure – and there either take a dice probe (roll against a specified attribute value; the attribute points shown on the Character sheets tell how many dice may be rolled) or defeat enemies. Battles are fought by throwing dice as well, according to a rather simple principle: Orcs are defeated with a score of four or more, Trolls by getting five or six eyes and Albae with sixes only. Some cards affect the result. For example, many equipment cards increase the attribute values of the characters, give bonus points or allow to re-roll, if something went wrong. To make for an easier game, some scenario cards "A" may be omitted (thus also shortening the time for playing). As soon as the task of scenario card "B" - "Forge Keenfire, Sword of Magic " – has been mastered, the characters have to take on one of three scenario cards "C" to end the game. For these three cards different conditions apply, depending on the state of the game. For example, when a certain number of enemies is present on the board, it becomes necessary to destroy the evil Nudin (Nôd'onn).
The rules booklet is clear and easy to understand and interpret, due to many (illustrated) examples. A register or index is not really needed this time (and, of course, missing; the rules are to be found as a PDF-file on the Pegasus homepage).
Clear and simple as the rules of the game are, "The Dwarves" requires no special tactical finesse. Moreover, it is expressly permitted that players consult and come to agreements among themselves. It is even recommended to get the jobs done by the dwarf most fit for the corresponding test (or the character closest to the target space). Therefore, a regular game does not take too long. Because of the high randomness factor – almost any adventure is decided by rolling dice – a victory of the characters is not always certain, though.
This nicely manufactured, beautifully illustrated tactical game will most likely give pleasure to enthusiastic readers of the Dwarves-Saga, but for game enthusiasts it probably might offer too little challenge. Names of places and persons, unknown and possibly even sounding droll to non-readers of the books, are to be read everywhere, quotations from the novels are added as flavor text to the cards and so on. Not to forget the character playing pieces (Tungdil, Balyndis, Bavragor, Boëndal and Boïndil) – they might deserve a place of honor in the showcases of Markus Heitz fans. Recently, an "Albae Expansion" (10 additional cards) has been published, already included in the Collectors’ edition.
Martina & Martin Lhotzky, Marcus Steinwender
Designer: Michael Palm, Lukas Zach
Artist: Jarek Nocoń
Price: ca. 40 Euro
Publisher: Pegasus 2012
Genre: Fantasy adventure
Users: With friends
In-game text: yes
Lots of references to the novels
Good comprehensive rules
Fantasy adventure games with tactical and cooperative elements
Die Zwerge Collector’s Edition, Pegasus 2012
My rating: 4
Martina, Martin & Marcus:
Being a cooperative game, "The Dwarves" brings a nice change to fantasy gaming, although it is rather simplistic and not multi-faceted. Suitable for beginners due to the clear, easy to understand rulebook, experts will probably turn relatively soon to a more complex game.
Chance (pink): 2
Tactic (turquoise): 3
Strategy (blue): 2
Creativity (dark blue): 0
Knowledge (yellow): 0
Memory (orange): 0
Communication (red): 3
Interaction (brown): 0
Dexterity (green): 0
Action (dark green): 0