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DIE ZWERGE

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Authors:
Michael Palm & Lukas Zach

Publisher:
PEGASUS
2012

No. of Players:
2 - 5

EVALUATION

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Gamebox author Ralf Togler writes about the game:

Games based on trendy novels or movies were quite popular over the last years. You only have to look at the mass of publications based on the Lords of the Rings, currently followed by The Hobbit. A novel series that is quite successful in Germany in the last years are the books about Dwarves ("Die Zwerge") from Markus Heitz, the German answer to the literary success of Orcs from Stan Nicholls. Heitz's books adopt the theme of the Lord of the Rings insofar as an evil mage, called Nôd'onn, runs down and oppresses an old secure land of elves, dwarves, humans, and magicians with his mean and cruel horde of orcs, trolls and albae, the evil version of elves. The last hope lies in the hand of a few hand-picked dwarves whose task it is to forge a special Fire-Blade that is capable to kill the evil Nôd'onn, as old legends predict. Michael Palm and Lukas Zach have set themselves the task to create a game around the content of the first book of the saga, and with PEGASUS they have found one of the big publishers to produce the game. The title of the game is just the same as the first book, namely simply Die Zwerge.

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Each player takes the role of one of the main characters of the book, one of the dwarves of each of the five clans. Die Zwerge is a cooperative game and so we all can discuss our next moves and support each other. The aim is to go through a stack of scenario cards until the Fire-Blade can be forged and the game is won. In the meantime the evil forces spread out over the old land and one by one the hexagonal terrain spaces on the board are lost and turned to dead land which hinders us from moving as freely as we wish. Thus, we must find a balance between discharging the task of a scenario card and fighting the approaching enemies in order to prevent further destruction of the land. Only rarely these two aims are consistent with each other, and so it becomes clear soon that we cannot really stop the enemy but only impede his expansion. Thus, we are permanently confronted with a shortage of time. Only if we are quick enough we will be able to win the game.

Each dwarf has his own character sheet with individual values for fighting, crafting and moving as well as a track for the life-points (at the beginning it is up to 4) and some special abilities. The values given on these character sheets indicate how many dice we may roll when it comes to a skill check. For example a character with a movement ability of 3 may roll three dice and the highest value gives the number of spaces he may move on the board. A lot of mission cards demand standing a skill check at a given location on the map. So, one player must move his dwarf to this location and then do the skill check, for example 3 rolls of 5 or higher in the required skill. This means that we must roll three "5" in one turn, and as the individual values of each dwarf vary right from the beginning, it is wise to decide unanimously on whose character should set himself the task. The weapon fanatic Bo´ndil with a craft ability of 1 will have much more trouble dealing with 3 crafting probes of 5 than the smarter Balyndis Eisenfinger, the only dwarven woman in the group of heroes with an crafting skill of 3.

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The difficult level for the scenario cards increases with the time and so better equipment is needed for the dwarven heroes. This is no problem if we are able to complete some additional tasks. These can be found on an outlay of three adventure cards, and similar to the scenario cards we are asked to move from one to another location on the board and do some skill checks. As a reward we may be given equipment cards, may remove some enemy forces or heal one of our characters. A nuisance is that the deck of adventure cards is contaminated by threat cards over time. Basically these threats work as normal adventure cards, only that there is no reward when they are solved. To make it even worse, there is a negative effect if we are not able to fulfil them before we solve the task of the current scenario card, and this again requires us not to waste time and not to wait too long for the right equipment before we face up the task of the current scenario card.

The main reason for hurrying up however is that the enemies spread out over the land. At the beginning of each turn we must move a marker on a Doom track and whenever we find an army symbol we have to throw three recruiting dice. The result tells us how many new enemies (orcs, trolls and albae, one for each die) come into play. Advancing from four gates from the edge of the board, they spread out into to the land and follow predetermined paths on the map. New units of the enemy follow the track of dead land until they land on a terrain that has not yet been corrupted. But as soon as there are more than 5 enemy units on such a terrain hex, the land is turned to dead land and the enemy moves forward. All paths finally end in the Blacksaddle in the middle of the board. For our dwarven heroes there is no way to free dead land again. It is only possible to fight the enemy units on land that has not yet perished to prevent a gathering of five or more units. Especially the entrances to the tunnel system that allows us a quick travel should be defended. Although moving across the perished land is still possible, it is not very wise, because we will lose one health point for every step on dead land. But of course sometimes this may not be avoided if we want to fulfil a specific task.

Finally one more track should be kept in mind. A lot of the story in the book is about the dispute between the two dwarve rivals Bilsipur and Balendilín. In the game this is implemented by a Council track that is negatively influenced (in the direction of Bilsipur) by the Doom track and can be positively influenced (in the direction of Balendilín) by successful skill checks of our heroes. Again it is important to prevent that this track develops too far into the direction of Bilsipur, because the result would make our task significantly more difficult. The only problem is that the required skill checks take an action that cannot be used for something else...

The mechanics assembled in Die Zwerge ascertain a very challenging gameplay, confronting the players with tough choices all over the game while at the same time pressure is kept by the developments on the gameboard and on the Doom and Council tracks. Of high importance is the fact that these elements are well geared, and here Die Zwerge really can shine with a well-balanced set of mechanics. In fact, Die Zwerge remains a challenging game even for experienced players, because the difficult level can be adjusted to the players' strength. Of course, new players often loose time by trying out the one or other thing or by simply getting distracted, and this may well result in a defeat, but as the game duration is quite moderate (about 60-90 minutes) there is often enough time for another try.

Although the first impression of the gameboard is a little bit disappointing due to the somewhat uninspired graphics, Die Zwerge is definitely worth a second look. Compared with games like Legends of Andor, the simple brown illustration of the board appears antiquated and little attractive. However, when the board is overrun with enemy units and more and more land becomes corrupted, the functional design turns out to be well thought out. And, other than the design of the board, the nicely illustrated cards and character sheets and different miniatures of the dwarves can easily match up with other modern games.

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Important for a novel based game is how the theme is adopted in the game and how players with no knowledge of the books are introduced to the story. In this regards the two authors really made a great job. The theme of the game seems not in the least to be false, right to the contrary, the story of the book is very well-integrated into the game-play. And even players who do not know the book are well-informed by the Scenario cards and Adventure cards which describe events from the book. So you really feel to be part of the story and you can feel the growing threat of the army of the evil Nôd'onn.

In my opinion, Die Zwerge should absolutely be worth a try-out if you love cooperative games and are attracted by the fantasy story, regardless whether you know the book or not. The game scores considerably by the fact that all players are permanently involved, and so all decisions should be made collectively. Of course, like in almost every cooperative game, there is the risk of a dominating player who knows the rules and tells other players what to do. But as the rules are quite simple and the result of the decisions are easily understandable this risk is not too big. I at least made the experience that the game is very interactive and communicative.


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