For ages, the Dwarf Kingdom of Nidavellir has stood proud, stern, and strong against all who would oppose it. But now, the shadow of the dreaded dragon Fafnir hangs over the Kingdom. It's time for a battalion of the most skilled, strongest dwarves to band together to face this threat, and it's up to you, as appointed by the King, to recruit them! This is the story of Nidavellir, an auction-style board game released in 2020 by GRRRE Games and Distributed by Hachette Boardgames USA. Designed by Serge Laget with artwork by Jean-Marie Minguez, the game has quickly taken its place among some of the best in its genre. But how does it play, and does it live up to the hype? Hachette Boardgames USA provided us with a review copy to find out for ourselves. So let's go looking for some dwarves in taverns!
For more of our recent board game reviews here on TechRaptor, check out our review of games like the Skyrim Adventure Game, the new Edifice expansion to the classic 7 Wonders, and the Star Wars Deckbuilding Game. Now let's dive into Nidavellir!
Nidavellir Review - How To Play
Nidavellir is a competitive auction game for 2-5 players, with each player trying to recruit the best band of dwarfs to their side before the end of the game. Players gain points by bidding on dwarfs who each have their own ways of scoring (more on that below), and once the game ends (after two rounds), the player with the most points in their dwarven tableau wins.
That bidding mechanic I mentioned above is really the cornerstone of Nidavellir. Each player starts with the same five coins, valued at 2, 3, 4, 5, and a special coin valued at zero. Each turn, Dwarf cards will be laid out on each of the three taverns, and you'll secretly assign a coin value to each tavern on your little player board. The player who bid the highest coin gets to choose the first dwarf from that location, and then each other player in descending coin order chooses another dwarf from the location until all players have chosen a dwarf. That dwarf gets added to your board, and players move on to the second tavern.
But here's where things get very interesting. If you choose to play your "Zero" coin on any of the three tavern locations, you'll obviously go last in choosing a dwarf there, but you then get to immediately take the sum of the two coins you didn't assign to a tavern, add them up, and trade one of them in for a coin worth the combined total of those two set aside coins.
For instance, if you place a 2, 4, and Zero coin at the three taverns on your board, you'll have left over your 3 and 5 coin. So once you reveal your Zero coin, you'll trade in that 5 value coin for an 8 value coin, thus upping your bidding power in future rounds.
There are five different kinds of dwarves you can recruit, all of whom are color-coded. Each color dwarf scores differently - some score based on numbers printed right there on their card, others are scored based on the amount of cards you've collected. And there are special heroes you can recruit once you collect a set of 5 dwarves - one of each color. So you'll bid on dwarves, upgrade your coins along the way, and score points through two distinct rounds.
Nidavellir Review - Our Thoughts
There's a concept in board games called "point salad," which is a moniker a game gets when what you're mostly doing is throwing together a bunch of different sources of points to determine a winner.
Some people hate games like this, I find them really intriguing, but where you fall on that spectrum will definitely determine how much Nidavellir will resonate with you.
But what about the overall theme of the game? The flavor of drafting dwarves to help fight a dragon is really just an excuse for cool artwork on the cards, you won't really feel the theme of this game shining through much deeper than that. Now, I've got a rogue statement to make here - that's totally fine! This is a game that absolutely has perfected the push and pull of in-depth decision trees.
From knowing when to push for a card vs. knowing when to hang back and upgrade your coins, to knowing whether to go deep in one color of dwarves or try to get a spread so you can recruit heroes, Nidavellir is constantly challenging me to reconsider an approach I'm taking and adapt on the fly to what my opponents are doing.
It's also a fairly quick game, as you can play through it all - even with a teach - within around 45 minutes. And with an MSRP of $40, it definitely holds its value. Once you get this to the table, even with its semi-painted-on theme, your play group will want to play again, and again, and again.
Nidavellir Review - Should I Buy Nidavellir?
If you're looking for an approachable auction/bidding game that rewards multiple styles of play, you should absolutely check out Nidavellir. If you're hoping for a more narrative adventure with heavier implementation of theme throughout, you may find Nidavellir a little lacking. This game is perfect for fans of games like 7 Wonders, Splendor, and Biblios, to name a few.
The copy of Nidavellir used in this review was provided by Hachette Board Games USA. The authorplaytested this game over five play sessions with varying player counts (2, 3, and 4), for a total of around four hours of playtesting. All images (save the header image) are by the author.