Smiths of Winterforge – Preview

The Dwarven City of Winterforge is a town with very talented guilds, all skilled in the production of armaments and ornaments. But in a town with so many talented Dwarves there is a fierce competition for jobs, but no competition is more relentless than the century renewal of the royal contract. This prestigious contract can only be awarded to one guild, and this means wealth and honour for the Dwarves that acquire it. To win the contract each guild will compete to finish one royal contract and end the game with the best reputation.

Smiths of Winterforge by Table Tyrant Games and Rule & Make Australia - Preview by gameapalooza australiaSmiths of Winterforge by Table Tyrant Games and Rule & Make Australia

At the recent Brisbane Oz Comic Con I had the pleasure of playing an advanced copy of Smiths of Winterforge by Aaron Sparke, Dylan Shearer, and Jennah Grimsey. Publishers Table Tyrant Games (Tavern Fame) and Rule & Make (Rise to Power, Entropy, and Burger Up) have teamed up to bring this game to Kickstarter in October this year.

Smiths of Winterforge is best described as a Euro gateway game. With worker placement and set collection mechanics mixed with a healthy dose of dice rolling, Smiths of Winterforge is a wonderfully rich game that plays in a respectable 45-60 minutes.

Smiths of Winterforge Set Up / Components
Each player will receive their player boards with three upgradable fields. Your character will have some level of proficiency in one or more fields. The Character proficiency advantage may influence the style of play you employ, but certainly does not lock you into one strategy.

Smiths of Winterforge - PreviewSmiths of Winterforge contents

After the board is laid out a number of working contracts will be provided to each player, including one royal (purple) contract. The rest are shuffled and placed next to the board with four flipped over ready for collection. Around the board the same will be done for the market selling minerals and metals, tavern where you can hire assistants, and the bank loans you can borrow for a quick injection of funds. Each set corresponds directly to the space on the board where you can place workers to receive their actions. Although this may seem like a lot of cards it is not an onerous set up or pack down. Cards are not really mixed together and so are sorted relatively quickly. This took us a few moments to get ready for play.

The components are harder to be clear on. I played an advance copy so not everything was final, but it was very close to what it will look like. I do not think anyone would be disappointed with the quality of the components in this game. The cards have a nice feel and are a resilient material which will look good after many plays. The board is thoughtfully designed accommodating the meeples and having room for all the cards set up on each side. Money is nice and large token looking coins made of a thick cardboard like Small World. The dice were not ready for the play, but the publishers were optimistic players will be happy with their designs and feel.

I want to take a moment to give some praise to Jamie Noble Frier who did the art for this game. It captures the fantasy elements in a way that is fun and enjoyable without being silly and cartoony. I actually enjoyed looking at the art on each card and the player boards. The artwork provided a lovely aesthetic appeal that made setting up the game a visual pleasure.

Smiths of Winterforge - Preview game boardSmiths of Winterforge – The game board is a beautiful thing.

Smiths of Winterforge Game Play
I just mentioned the board and it is worth discussing as its design is a crucial, though not overstated, component of game play. The board itself is simple yet cleverly utilised. I stated that this is a worker placement game but that may be misleading. On your turn you will need to use your available actions to move your worker around the board as opposed to just ‘assigning’ him or her to a task or resource. You may be able to get to the resource you require on your turn or it may be one move too far for your worker to get to. This means that you must plan how you travel around the board taking care to consider the best way to utilise resources on the way. Thematically this works well with generating the feeling of moving around a small city engaging in the life of the town. Mechanically this limit is a wonderful way to add richness to decision making, as you must be aware of what movement is available to you and what resources you can achieve on any given turn. Additionally this will mean thinking ahead so that you do not end your turn too far from the next resource or task you need to be at next turn. I had to plan trips aware that the direction I traveled mattered to how quickly I could earn money or score points.

The cards all seem well balanced. They are certainly well designed with the symbols making sense in context of the game and fit together in a way that adds to the gaming experience. When you begin a contract it will state what materials you will need to complete the contract. A gauntlet might require steel. At the market you would try and acquire some steel, but there are different varieties. Each resource required for the contract corresponds to what dice you roll to complete the task. The contract might require a roll of 24 to complete. Each resource will provide a type of die that will go into your dice pool to complete the task. If I buy a cheap steel it might only provide me a d4 to add to my pool. If I add an expensive metal I might get a D8. But be warned. Getting a metal that has a better die costs more. If you do not consider your resources properly you may be purchasing metals that cost you more than the income for completing the contract. You can buy cheap metals and risk a few attempts failing at roles for completing the contract. What really sets this game apart for me is how this dice rolling mechanic works.

smiths of winterforge by table tyrant games and rule & make australiaThe beautiful art on the cards in Smiths of Winterforge

When you do role for a contract you roll what dice your resources allow. If you fail the attempt that is not the end; with each attempt comes experience. Instead of missing the chance to forge anything you receive an experience token. This counts as an addition skill point for checks when completing your contract. Even if you rolled one a single pip, these failed attempts will net you experience points until you eventually cannot fail. This works again well both thematically and mechanically. Thematically it makes sense because when you work at any project each attempt makes the next easier due to the knowledge and insights gained through doing a task. Mechanically it keeps the game progressing. Everyone will eventually complete their contract and no one can rush ahead based on lucky dice rolls. In fact I like the mechanic for that very reason. It is a wonderful way of allowing the luck of the roll to impact the play, but mitigates the problem of stagnating in the game due to bad rolls. I really enjoyed how I could keep cost down by buying cheaper metals, but still know that I would eventually get that item forged if I kept attempting the task. It is a reward for effort that keeps me motivated to try again, as well as ensuring I do not get left behind.

Naturally Completing contracts earns the player reputation. Being the first to complete a royal contract earns bonus reputation points, as well as triggering the end game. All players will have one more turn to complete their contracts before scoring.

Smiths of Winterforge preview by Gameapalooza Australian tabletop game news and reviewsSmiths of Winterforge, where the dwarves and stocky and dwarven.

For a first time playing the game the three of us took only 50 minutes to learn and play. This felt like a good amount of time. If anything I was hoping for a few more turns to keep developing my strategy. The most restrictive element of this game is the finances. I initially wanted to avoid using bank loans, but as it turned out getting a loan was the only viable way to get myself up and running effectively early in the game. Managing the cost and reward of production is hard, but the resources around the board all help. It was mid game before I went to the tavern to recruit helpers and I regretted not doing so earlier. They are genuinely helpful, but again, the cost of their upkeep became a significant factor in the contracts I fulfilled and the cost of metals I was purchasing. This game may be lighter on the Euro scale, but the resource management will keep you thinking with each and every turn.

I really enjoyed how the theme and mechanics worked simpatico in this game. I really felt like every action and every consequence was meaningful and made sense. The game provided enough challenge at every level of play that kept my mind working even while others were taking their turn. How I move, what resources I chose, the order I did things, the contracts I am working on, all decisions had an impact and carried consequences. Like any good Euro there was not just one linear pathway to success. One of my problems with Euro games is that I have to really be prepared for a heavy game. Smiths of Winterforge has all the hallmarks of a good Euro in a time frame that is reasonable, without sacrificing richness of play. I thoroughly enjoyed this game and encourage everyone to keep an eye out for it on Kickstarter in the coming weeks.