Updated: Oct 12, 2020
In fantasy fiction and board games, dwarves have become synonymous with mining and metallurgy. From Alberich in Die Nibelungenlied (most familiar now in Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen cycle of operas) through to Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and the many fantasy books and games that has influenced, we've come to see dwarves as technically skilled but greedily grasping. We've also doomed them to exist pretty much exclusively in a Medieval environment.
Dwarves pop up regularly in the games published by Dragon Dawn Productions (memorably of course in Dwarf, which we featured on Board's Eye View earlier this year). In Factory 42, designer Ren Multamaki hasn't broken with the dwarves' occupational archetype but he has brought them forward into the 20th if not the 21st Century...
Factory 42 sees the dwarves in a steampunk setting employed in what appears to be a Soviet-style command economy. The game incorporates a semi-cooperative element, in that players will be negotiating with each other and they collectively control the steam that drives their shared industry. However, this is no collectivist utopia. Factory 42 is very much a competitive game where it's every dwarf for themselves as they strive to achieve better than their rivals in meeting the production targets and seemingly arbitrary bureaucratic regulations handed down to them.
Factory 42 is a worker placement game where 2–4 players will be competing to meet the government's work orders. Workers will be able to claim some of the resources (cubes) requisitioned by the government but these don't always come through as expected... To simulate the corruption and/or incompetence of the administration, resources are dropped through a cube tower that's likely to randomly hold some cubes back; similar to games like Wallenstein (Queen Games) and, more recently, Age of Dirt (WizKids). The cubes vary in size, depending on the specific resource, so you can expect some resources to make their way more readily than others through the bureaucracy tower to your dwarves. Workers need to load resources onto rail carts and transport them to their individual production lines. They can trade resources, and they'll be using combustible resources to generate steam to convert other resources into the manufactured goods to match demand. Oh, and you can choose to place your pieces out at locations either as workers or as commissars - each with different effects. Where there's a commissar at a location, workers there may find they have to offer a bribe in order to use that location. We found the creative tension over the use of commissars was stronger in a four-player game than when playing with just two, especially as there is more competition for resources with a higher player count.
Running your factory is initially a daunting prospect, not least because of the plethora of different resources (there are no fewer than 11 different cube types, not to mention other tokens), so there's a lot to keep track of. Happily, things soon fall into place - even if the cubes don't always fall through the bureaucracy tower as freely as you might have been banking on - and you'll appreciate that this game represents a satisfyingly elegant design as you strive to make the best of life in a less-than-perfect steampunk world. A market card always shows the relative trading values of each resource type and you'll almost certainly have to trade to get the precise resources you need, especially when the common pool of resources is looking lean. The design eases players into Factory 42 by offering a choice between the 'standard' and 'advanced' game. The main board and player boards are double sided so you just choose the version you are playing. As you'd expect, the 'standard' game is best for learning the basics and for introducing the game to new players but once you've grasped the mechanics you'll certainly want to move on to the 'advanced' game which introduces additional actions.
Shown here on Board's Eye View is a pre-production prototype of the game ahead of Factory 42's arrival on Kickstarter on 10 October. We're assured that the finished game will better distinguish the different colours and sizes of cube; for example, the cubes representing metals will be metallic. In the finalised design, we'll also be hoping to see more of Lars Munck's art coming through. That's assuming the commissars haven't consigned him to a gulag! Click here to go to the KS campaign page.