In the Nidavellir board game, published by GRRRE Games and Hachette Boardgames, players assume the role of Elvalands recruiting soldiers to protect the land against the dragon Fafnir. Of course, if you’ve played any tabletop roleplaying games in the past century you know that the best warriors and heroes can be found in the local taverns! There’s a plentiful stable of dwarves just waiting for the recruitment call.
Nidavellir is designed by Serge Laget, with art by Jean-Marie Minguez. Players will be flashing tempting gold coins to woo and wow the dwarves to join them in their quest. Even though there’s a world-ending threat on the horizon, everybody wants those riches in case everything turns out okay. Plus, it can never hurt to have the King’s favor, right?
You’ll be able to check out Nidavellir at Gen Con as well! Details on all the happenings are listed at the bottom of this article.
What do we think about Nidavellir? Grease those palms and let’s dive right in!
Nidavellir plays over the course of two Ages, in which players will be bidding their gold coins on heroes in three taverns: the Laughing Goblin, the Dancing Dragon, and the Shining Horse. Say what you want about the service at the Laughing Goblin, but their cheese curds are most succulent.
Before each round, players will secretly place their gold coins face-down on their Kingdom boards, leaving two leftover in their Pouch. Then, each player reveals their coin values starting at the top. Whoever has the highest value gets first pick from the Dwarves at the tavern, taking one and placing the card into their Army.
The second-highest coin value picks next, and so on, until every player has taken a card from the current Tavern. Then, the second coin is revealed for each player, and card-picking occurs the same as the first tavern. Once all of the taverns have been picked over, new Dwarves arrive and players rebid until all the cards in the first Age are claimed.
In between the Ages, the King awards Distinctions to whoever has the most ranks in Dwarves of each Class: Miners, Blacksmiths, Hunters, Warriors, and Explorers. Each of these Classes score in different ways at the end of the game. For example, the Hunters score is based on the number of Hunters squared, whereas the Blacksmiths score based on an increasing mathematical sequence.
The second Age plays the same as the first, although no distinctions are awarded at the end of it. Instead, the game ends.
When players complete a line featuring of one rank in each Class, they also get to immediately recruit a hero. These are Dwarves with powerful effects like counting as multiple ranks in a Class or granting an extra bonus. You want to get these heroes into your Army!
The other really interesting piece of the game is that your golden coins are constantly being upgraded to higher values. Everybody has a 0-value coin. Obviously this isn’t likely to win you any bidding wars, but it allows you to combine the values of the two coins in your Pouch, take a coin of that value from the coffers, and then discard the higher of the two coins in your Pouch. Coins go as high as 25 and count as points at the end of the game, so they are a premium that you want to be collecting on.
Staking Our C.L.A.I.M. on Nidavellir!
The pride and joy of Nidavellir is the big cardboard Royal Treasure chest that houses all of those tempting golden coins. Of course, the golden coins are just a nice, thick cardboard and not actual gold, but a boy can dream. The Royal Treasure seems like it might be flimsy, but it actually holds up surprisingly well. I’m also impressed with the functionality of the design, as the different coin slots are varying depths to account for the number of coins that go in each spot. It could have just been a standard depth, so that extra care is noticed and appreciated.
All of the cardboard pieces – Tavern signs, coins, gems, and player boards – are super solid and are conducive to the game play. Again, GRRRE Games could have went with a standard rectangular game board with spots for the cards. Instead, we have a more flexible setup that allows us to customize the positioning of the common components to fit the space that we’re playing in. Love it.
The final components I want to highlight are the plastic card holders where you place the Heroes and Distinction Cards. I didn’t think that I would actually like this at first, but I’ve completely changed my tune; these are amazing. The card holders make the cards portable and passable across the table so people can have a closer look, and the cards stay upright without much trouble at all.
Overall, Nidavellir’s components give the game a prominent table presence worthy of the King’s favor.
Secret bidding games require a different strategy depending on the people you’re playing with. Everybody puts different values on certain cards, utilizing a personal justification for the timing of their big bids. Some people are more prone to throwaway bids when there aren’t any cards that they really want, while other people will focus on always using their top-valued coins.
By adding in the coin transformation mechanic, the game actually incentivizes you to play your 0-value coin during each bidding round to get the most benefit out of it. You can sacrifice a late-game advantage by avoiding your 0-value coin early, but is that going to be the right strategy in the long-run?
Of course, there’s also the set collection mechanic that requires careful consideration. If you want to get a bunch of points, you can go for those Heroic Brothers, although you won’t be able to recruit as many Heroes if you go that route. I love weighing the advantage of taking those neutral Heroes, or even the Heroes that require you to discard other Heroes.
And then you have the mid-game Distinctions! They’re a great way to falsely goad your opponents into thinking you’re focusing on a specific Class or two before pivoting directions completely. There’s so much fun and tension with every flip of the coins that keeps the table engaged in the hand-over-fist gameplay.
Everything in Nidavellir is a bit…grey. I completely understand that the artistic choice was made to keep the Dwarves in grayscale to allow easy color recognition on the Class banners. Makes perfect sense. It also communicates an overwhelming feeling of dread. I assume that dread is supposed to be directed at Fafnir, but for me it’s more like dreading that I’m going to lose all my bids.
The Tavern signs also seem to be a bit generic, which lends me to the conclusion that the aesthetics are supposed to feel comfortable for players. If you’re coming in with the Lord of the Rings being your primary Dwarven touchstone, you’ll feel familiar with the fantasy setting placed before you.
On the plus side, I do think that the gems are exceptionally well-done. The gems are frequently changing hands as bids are tied, and I do find myself eyeing that 5-value gem if it isn’t in front of me.
Also, please don’t get me wrong: the art for the characters is incredible and overall the game feels almost neighborly. Besides, the grey tones also make those golden coins pop that much more.
Nidavellir is an excellent game for people who are already fans of secret bidding games. At the same time, I’d encourage people who typically don’t gravitate towards secret bidding to give Nidavellir a second glance. By having the ability to manipulate your own bidding chips, it feels like you actually have more agency over the outcome of the bids instead of feeling ‘random’. For example, if you have a 24-value coin and the 25-coin isn’t taken yet, you know that you have a coin that will give you a guaranteed winning bid.
In terms of set collection, the scoring is astronomical. I can’t think of another game where scores get so outrageously high, and I really enjoy that. To say that you finished with 300 points appeals to that tiny part of our brains that assumes bigger is better. The first time I played Nidavellir, I didn’t expect the score to keep going up, which was a pleasant surprise.
Nidavellir includes two mechanics and it does them very well. The gamestate is constantly changing while giving the players plenty of flexibility towards the strategy they wish to employ.
Although I would have enjoyed more color, I do appreciate the typical Dwarven aesthetics that ooze across the game. From the font, to the amazing character designs, to the large box of treasure, Nidavellir really capitalizes on creating a thematic atmosphere with subliminal nods to what players would expect from a game about Dwarves.
As with most bidding games, you’ll be creating your own little cloud of doubt, wonder, and anxiety as you plan out your bids each round. Will this coin be high enough? What if I don’t get the one Miner out in the Taverns? Would anybody confuse this with real gold?
For a game about building an army, there sure is a lot of fighting. Except that it’s all fighting and squabbling over the Dwarves in the Taverns! I love it when I make a low bid and still get the card I ultimately wanted, or when I outbid somebody by a single coin. With so many coin reveals throughout the game, Nidavellir keeps the excitement high with its micro-injections of dopamine and suspense.
Thingvellir Expansion for Nidavellir
The Thingvellir expansion opens up the game in exciting new ways. The main addition is a fourth recruitment location: the Camp. When resolving Taverns, whoever has the highest bid can choose to recruit a card from the Camp instead of taking one from the Tavern.
These Camp cards include Dwarves, as usual, but there are also powerful artifacts that offer incredible bonuses. For example, you might get the mighty hammer Mjöllnir which gives you an extra 2 points per rank in the class of your choice. Or perhaps you will set your sights on the mythical bracelet Draupnir, which gives you 6 points per coin of value 15 or more. Artifacts are designed to be desired, and you can almost feel the players’ greed influence their bidding decisions!
Thingvellir also gives a new card type: Mercenaries. These cards are split across two Classes, and you don’t decide which class they identify as until the end of Age 1 and Age 2. These will also trigger Hero recruitment as normal, meaning that the Distinctions can swing drastically as the Mercenaries are placed at the end of Age 1. Even more reason to keep a high-value gem on-hand!
I really love what the Thingvellir expansion brings to the table, because it doesn’t add much in terms of complexity even though there are new concepts being introduced. In future teaches of Nidavellir, I’ll likely incorporate Thingvellir from the get-go. Plus, it adds even more points to scores that are already in the hundreds; who wouldn’t like that?!
Nidavellir at Gen Con!
You’ll be able to check out Nidavellir at Gen Con 2022 at the Hachette Boardgames booth #2109. It’s in the Family Fun Pavillion, and I’ve marked it with a gold coin on the map below.
If you want to sign up for some free events, checkout the list of Nidavellir events here. Or, just search for Nidavellir in the Gen Con Events catalog.
The 2nd expansion for Nidavellir, called Idavoll, is releasing in November. If this has sparked your Dwarven interest, go ahead and sign-up for a reminder notification for preorders by clicking here!
Nidavellir: Go for the Gold!
Nidavellir wasn’t quite what I expected when looking at the box, but my surprise is a pleasant one. The game has an attractive presentation and executes on the secret bidding mechanic in a marvelous way. Don’t mind me, I’ll just be slowly amassing wealth in my little corner of the world!
I also appreciate how you can remove some of the more complex Heroes from the game until you’re ready for them. Or, you can hit the ground running with everything all at once and use the Thingvellir expansion too! Nidavellir is easily my top-played game of the month, and it’s with great pomp that I award Nidavellir and Thingvellir with our Nerds on Earth Seal of Awesomeness award! The hype is real, and this game of cutthroat bidding will turn your eyes green as you hoard your wealth and win the King’s favor with your happy troupe of Dwarves.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some coins to stack.
Disclaimer: Nerds on Earth was provided a copy of Nidavellir and Thingvellir from Hachette Boardgames/GRRRE Games in exchange for an honest review.