Rest in Peace Serge Laget. May a part of you live on within the joy your games bring to the table.
To challenge the dragon Fafnir, the dwarves must assemble the bravest armies made up of people and heroes from a variety of vocations. In Nidavellir, players compete for these recruits by bidding coins for the right to choose ahead of the other players.
You can find a video version of this review on my YouTube Channel.
Different army compositions can grant varying amounts of bravery points, and the sheer value of gold can also be a factor. The player with the most bravery points at the end of the game wins.
|Gideon’s Bias||Nidavellir Information|
|Review Copy Used: Yes||Publisher: Hachette Games, GRRRE Games|
|Number of Plays: 7+||Designers: Serge Laget|
|Player Counts Played: 2, 4 & 5||Player Count: 2-5|
|Fan of Genre: Partially||Genre: Bidding, Set Collection, Combo Building|
|Fan of Weight: No||Weight: Light|
|Gaming Groups Thoughts: Enjoyed It||Price: $39.99|
Nidavellir features a bunch of cards that make up the various dwarves, heroes, and distinctions. The artwork is great, but I’m personally not a fan of the black-and-white aesthetic. However, it serves a purpose by working together with the small splashes of color on each card to help identify which class a dwarf belongs to.
There are some nice tavern boards, and crystal tokens as well as some nifty player boards. The player boards help keep everyone’s bids in place and feature a cheat sheet for some of the game’s more complex math, which I appreciate.
Most notable are the cardholders and the coin bank. The cardholders are used to display heroes and distinctions, while the coin bank displays the gold coins vertically with three rows. In addition to adding a nice table presence, the bank also helps players identify which coins are available, as they are limited in quantity. The coin bank is quick to put together and fits back in the box fully assembled, which is fantastic.
The rulebook is pretty straightforward, and although the game is simple, it can be tough to grasp the first time you play it due to the game’s focus on math. However, once you know how to play, the game flows very quickly, even with five players. The quick playtime pairs nicely with how quick and easy the game is to set up and put away. That makes Nidavellir a great choice to play when time is short, but you want something with more strategy than most filler games.
Dwarven Number Crunching
Nidavellir is a pretty simple game but difficult to master. It’s all about combo building, but the ability to obtain those combos is centered within the game’s bidding system. Player Interaction carries Nidavellir on its shoulders and makes it a far deeper and more strategic experience than it appears to be at first glance.
Nidavellir is all about numbers. Each dwarf or hero has a number of ranks, and bravery points and belongs to one of five classes. Each class scores their bravery points at the end of the game in different ways. The simple explorers simply add up the total amount of bravery points they have. Warriors do the same thing, however, if you have more warrior ranks than the other players, you also add your highest coin to their bravery.
Miners total their bravery points, but they multiply them by the number of miners ranks. Blacksmiths and Hunters are more complicated, one follows a sequence of numbers, while the other squares them. Thankfully you never need to calculate this as your player board features a table doing it for you. You simply count the number of ranks and look at the matching spot on your player board.
Whenever you obtain a row of one rank in each class, you get to pick a hero. Heroes do all sorts of things. Some of the simpler ones simply add points and ranks, while others such as the Dwerg Brothers give points based on how many Dwerg Brothers you end with.
There’s a catch, however. Each round features three sets of cards that players have to bid on to determine who picks the cards in what order. During the bid phase, players select three of their coins and place one on each tavern, then each tavern is resolved one at a time. The player with the highest bid picks first. If there is a tie, the player with the higher crystal picks first, but then they swap crystals. Coins are never discarded, you get them back each round.
However, the thing that really blows the doors open is the 0 coin. Its value is zero for the sake of a bid, but when you use it you reveal the two coins you didn’t bid, combine their value, and replace the higher one with a new gold coin from the bank that’s equal to that value. In the first round, players have access to the same exact valued coins, but as the game continues, each player has very different valued coins, which makes the bidding process much more intense.
In spite of its simplicity, there are a great many layers to Nidavellir. There are many paths to obtaining the most points. For example, there is value in focusing on just a couple of dwarven classes, but pursuing full rows leads to more heroes. At the same time, midway through the game, players are awarded special distinctions if they have the most ranks of any given class at that point.
The coin-swapping mechanism really adds another dimension to the game. Using the zero coin means you’re likely going to lose a bid and pick last. Yet, swapping coins for higher-value ones gives you stronger bidding power in the future. Plus all of your coins are added to your final score. I particularly enjoy the player interaction. It’s central to the game because while you might have a plan in mind, you have to constantly adapt to the other players.
You have to try and guess what combos they are building so you can predict what cards they want because that can help you guess how high or low they are going to bid. You have to keep an eye on what coins they swap, so you know when they can top your bids. Additionally, there is constant contention for specific heroes and distinctions.
The whole system makes Nidavellir a fast but very intensive game with a bidding system that really shines. You have to play mind games to some degree and try to read your opponents just as much as you need to play big bids. Timing matters, and sometimes you have to sacrifice smaller wins for bigger combos. It works incredibly well.
Player Count and Theme
I played Nidavellir at a few player counts. To me, two players was most certainly the weakest experience. There is a nice head-to-head quality to it since you only have to think about one other person.
However, two players is the only player count where a card is left over to be discarded after every bid. This meant that were plenty of bids where I didn’t care about winning the bid because I still had two cards to choose from and was happy with either one. That simple fact makes the game a lot less strategic and lowers the intensity of the bidding system.
It played great at four and five players. While I didn’t personally play with three players, I suspect it would work equally as well since it uses the same card count as two players, but there is no extra card, the third card goes to the player with the lowest bid.
The lowest point of Nidavellir is its tacked-on theme. I’m a pretty big mythology buff, and reducing Nidavellir and the Norse Mythology it carries to a mere paint job bums me out. The reality is, you’re just bidding for cards with colors and numbers on them. Just pure mathematical equations. There’s no real relation between the dwarves, classes, or heroes to the mechanisms of the game.
That thin veneer of the theme has ruined other games for me in the past. I’ve commented on how some games make me feel like I’m playing with spreadsheets rather than a game, and Nidavellir comes close. I don’t at all feel like I’m recruiting dwarves for an army. I feel like I’m drafting numbers.
However, the intensity and strategic nature of the bidding and coin swap system salvage it for me. While neither system is attached to the theme, it makes the game feel “gamey” enough for me to enjoy playing it.
I do have to note something embarrassing. I’m bad at Nidavellir, profoundly so. It bears mentioning for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I think it can further highlight the game’s strategic nature. I couldn’t find any surefire paths to victory. Anytime I thought a certain hero or combo was too strong, I’d lose to something else that was seemingly overpowered. When I attempted the same strategy I had previously lost against, I would get beaten by something else, and badly.
At the same time, I like to be transparent with my biases. As much as I love digging into a game’s nuts and bolts I have to acknowledge that I may be out of element on this one. This means there is a possibility that I’m either overstating or understating certain strategic qualities. I’ve still done my best to showcase the game’s strengths and weaknesses. Just know that I presented these talking points while being straight garbage at the game.
That said. The game’s lack of cohesion to its theme disappoints me, and I don’t think it holds up with just two players. However, I do think Nidavellir is a great game full of strategic decision-making and intense bidding at other player counts
The fact that so much of the game hinges on player interaction via its bidding system makes me favor it far more than if it was just another multiplayer solitaire, engine-building, and point salad game. The irony is that if it was, I’d probably be much better at it.
Nidavellir packs a lot of depth into its fast playtime and quick setup. Far more than most games of a similar weight and complexity. It’s certainly more of an abstract game than I would like, but the excellent way its bidding system and coin swap mechanism paired with its focus on numbers makes it an enjoyable and highly interactive experience all the same.
More reviews you might enjoy
- The coin bank is a nifty component
- Nidavellir is fast to set up, quick to play, and easy to put away
- A simple game with a lot of depth
- A great bidding system pairs nicely with the coin swap mechanism
- Tons of strategies with player interaction at the center of it all
- The game feels less strategic with just two players
- The black-and-white art style feels bland
- The game’s theme has no connection to its gameplay