Updated: Sep 16, 2019
Game Night is going on tour! That’s right for the next three installments of Game Night Reviews were are away from the comfort of home and out on the open waters, sailing the byways of England like scurvy ridden pirates.
The Game Night lads have hired a long boat, festooned with a wooden duck and two rag doll puppets and set sail on the canal from Silsden on a typical English summer day, yep, that means grey and overcast with some drizzle.
And so I was left to choose a theme for our game night games and I went with “Games you can feasibly play on a tiny table that might be moving due to us being on a boat” It was a good theme.
We set off from Silsden in the late afternoon with plans to moor up once we reached Skipton. We had barely left the dock before we managed to spin our vessel a full 90 degrees, blocking the entire canal and causing chaos.
Regardless, we eventually made it to Skipton, with only a few minor fracases with other canal-goers and one head-on collision with a tour group. After we had an agreeable dinner which included one of our number attempting to eat a 2 foot wide calzone, we settled down to some gaming on the water.
Our first game was a simple little card game from the master of chaos, Bruno Faidutti called Dwarf King.
A Quick Overview
Dwarf King is basically the old english game Whist. In Whist you are attempting to win the most tricks.
A trick consists of each player playing a card. The First Player “leads the trick”, they choose what suit the trick will be, in Dwarf King there are three suits. Then each player in turn order plays a card and they must “follow suit” if they can, which means playing a card of the same colour as the card that was led, if they cannot follow suit they can play any card but will generally be unable to win the trick.
After each player has played a card the player who played the highest card wins the trick and takes all the cards that were played and places them in a pile in front of them. Then that player starts the next trick. When all cards have been played the scores are tallied and the round is over. The player with the most points after 7 rounds is the winner.
Sounds pretty straight forward right? Well that’s where Bruno comes in. Every round of Dwarf King has a single special card added to the deck. The card is read aloud before it is shuffled in so that everyone knows what it does. There are 1’s, 11’s and a couple of other non-standard cards such as the Dragon or the Mummy.
However that’s not all. In addition the scoring for Dwarf King changes from round to round. The player who was dealt the blue 5 draws the top scoring card and choses one of two options for how the round might be scored.
Such as +4 for each Jack you take in a trick or +2 points for each blue card or royal (A, K, Q, J). Each scoring tile offers two, usually opposite, options i.e +5 if you have the Queen of Dwarves (green) or -5 points if you have the Queen of Dwarves. This allows the choosing player to make an informed decision on scoring based on the cards they are holding.
Why Choose It?
My reasons were twofold. Firstly, when we used to go on family holidays we had 2 games we would traditionally play in the evening. One was D&D and the other was Whist or Partner Whist. My second reason was that everyone knows how to play Whist and even if you don’t, the rules themselves are simple, play a card, follow suit if you can and try and win as many tricks as possible. Oh and thirdly, it takes up next to no room in my bag and on the table!
Did they like it?
Dwarf King is pretty hard to not like, if you like card games and don’t mind the constantly shifting goal posts then you’re going to enjoy this one.
I love Dwarf King, I love the simplicity of it and I love the randomness. It’s like playing 7 mini games that share the same mechanics. The artwork is fantastic and the small form packaging make this one you can easily slip in your bag for any games night.
The game does have it’s problems. It can become impossible to win if a player does particularly well in a high scoring round. Some rounds score 5 points or less for a single player, whereas other rounds can rack up twenty or thirty points. If all subsequent rounds are low scoring rounds it can mean that you mathematically can’t win.
Some of you may be put off by the randomness, but for me the randomness is what keeps the game fresh. There 14 special cards and 40 possible scoring rules, which makes 560 possible combinations. The special cards are all relatively simple to use and understand and each hand you have some control over what the scoring rule will be by choosing between two different rules.
Dwarf King, like Bruno Faidutti’s Knightmare Chess, takes a classic formula and adds a Faidutti twist. If you have ever played cards you can pick this one up in a matter of moments and each round will be a different experience requiring different tactical decisions but without the game ever becoming too taxing or outstaying its welcome.