I’ve been a fan of Bruno Faidutti since I first played Citadels, so this small boxed Whist variant intrigued me. Bringing a mix of familiar trick taking and Bruno’s patented style of chaos to the table in a fast, pocket-sized package, but is it any good? Let’s find out!
Dwarves, Goblins and Knights, all the elements you need for a great fantasy story game, which is exactly what Dwarf King isn’t. Dwarf King is a simple trick taking game with a fantastic artistic style but no narrative to speak of.
Now, before we open the box, let’s discuss the box itself. ILLEO have done a superb job here, it’s small but it holds everything nicely and securely, the box is sturdy and the artwork is brilliant, but my favourite bit? The magnet that keeps the lid closed. Genus!
39 basic cards
14 special cards
20 goal tiles
Again I can’t stress enough how much I like the artwork on these cards, it’s well done, it’s fun and it’s super cute! I’m a sucker for great artwork and I’m not afraid to admit that the box art plus Faidutti name is exactly why I picked this up!
Playing the Game
Dwarf King plays like most variants of Whist with a couple of exceptions. Firstly there are only 3 suits and there are no “Trumps” meaning that the colour that lead the trick will always beat any other colour and the highest card of the lead colour will win the trick.
Secondly 1 random special card is always shuffled into the deck each round (there are 7 rounds per game) The special card is always revealed before shuffling so the players know what it is and how it should be played.
These special cards add a layer of mystery and chaos and usually score bonus points, however some of them cause all players to swap hands and other chaos!
Thirdly, the points for each round are determined by a quest card. Traditionally players would score points for taking (or not taking) tricks, but in Dwarf King you only score points based on the current quest. A single quest is used each round. The quests are quite varied, such as scoring points for each Knight (blue card) taken, scoring points for taking an exact number of tricks or scoring points for not taking a specific card.
The game is played over seven rounds and the player with the most points at the end wins.
Dwarf King plays very very well with three and four players and the mechanics of the game are familiar enough to most players to get everyone started straight away.
The game plays quickly, even over seven hands and it doesn’t outstay its welcome. The special cards and quests keep the game fresh and interesting, allowing for different strategies with each hand. Because Dwarf King is not necessarily about winning tricks, the tactics become about how best to play your cards and a skilled player will shine through, despite the randomness inherent in Bruno’s design.
One negative point now, some of the quests allow for a large number of points to be scored (one player in a game we played went up 42 points in round one) while other quests are capped at 5 points. This can lead to a runaway leader who simply cannot be caught, making the other rounds less fun to play out. This is a minor gripe though and it’s mostly because I’m not very good at the game!
I like it! I like the artwork most of all, but I also like the small twists on a familiar concept. I like the randomness because it keeps the game fun without stripping it of meaningful, tactical decisions. Also I like the small box and the fast set up and play time, an excellent game you could easily play on a train or during a lunch hour. If trick taking card games are up your street you really owe it to yourself to check this one out.