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This is a well-designed compact worker placement game from Dragon Dawn Productions that can be played in around 20 minutes.

Dwarf is played on a constantly changing 3 x 3 card grid. Each round you'll be drawing two cards from the mountain (draw deck) and placing them out at assigned positions on the grid, covering up the cards already there. You'll then take turns to place out your two workers to the open locations so that you can take the actions indicated on the cards. Cards with a Mine symbol allow you to mine iron and gold or to smelt iron to create steel. Forge cards allow you to use gold and steel to create items. Get Help cards give you the opportunity to make two extra worker placements that round. The game ends when the draw deck is exhausted and the win goes to the player with the most items, gold and steel (ie: majority in each), with special rules for breaking ties.

Several cards bring monsters into your mine. While they are in place they will have a negative impact on all players - for example, dragons steal gold from all players - but the effect can be negated in a round by sending a worker to defend against the monster. Every time you send a worker to take a defence action, you are awarded a medal. These are an end-game tie breaker but, alternatively, four medals can be cashed in to enable you to use a solitary worker to take a special action. These can, for example, alter the cards at each location so you can use the actions to help you or to disadvantage an opponent. If you don't use medals, you have to commit both your workers in order to take a special action. We found that we were primarily using special actions for their 'take that' effect in screwing over opponents, but maybe that's just down to us :-)

In Dwarf, designer Lee G Broderick and artist Lars Munck have created a game with straightforward rules, clear iconography and play that is commendably intuitive. There's a strong push-your-luck element over where and when it's best to place your workers. Do you risk not going to a desirable location in the hope of being able to use it on a future turn? An opponent may take it ahead of you (and so block you from using that card) or the card may get covered up at the start of the next round...

Dwarf incorporates an excellent solitaire option, offering a choice of three automata (ie: scaleable levels of difficulty). The game can be quite cutthroat as a three-player game; less so with just two as there's often less direct competition for locations. The rules incorporate the option of expanding the player count to five but playing with more than three requires the purchase of a second copy.

We've been impressed with how quickly and smoothly this game plays. You always have meaningful choices to make each round yet Dwarf doesn't engender any Analysis Paralysis. Tho' Dwarf is a game where your avatars are mining for iron and gold, if you get this game you'll be unearthing a real gem!

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