This article was contributed by Randy Ray.
The Dwarf King is a fantasy-themed, trick-taking card game designed by Bruno Faidutti and published by Iello, a French game company. The game has similarities to Bardu, a trick-taking game played with a regular deck of cards. Both The Dwarf King and Bardu feature multiple rounds with different goals (or “contracts,” as card-playing enthusiasts call them.) And Bardu can be translated from the French as “the bearded one.”
A trick-taking game is a game where each player plays a single card, and the person who played the highest card of that suit “takes the trick.” If you’ve ever played Spades or Hearts, then you’ll have no trouble understanding how to play The Dwarf King. You will find the constantly changing rules and goals a challenge though.
The Dwarf King can be played by 3 to 5 players, and the manufacturer recommends that players be ten years or older. I played with my nine year old, and she seemed to have no trouble following along, although the subtleties of strategy were beyond her. She might have just been acting silly though. An entire game takes 30 minutes to play, but you should allow yourself a little extra time for the first game, especially if you’re playing with youngster. You and the other players will need to acclimate yourself to The Dwarf King’s unique rules.
The Dwarf King deck has 53 cards in it. 39 of those cards belong to one of three suits:
The other 13 cards are special cards with special powers, and that’s where one of the major differences between Barbu and The Dwarf King emerges. An example of one of these special cards is the Dragon, which acts as a trump card…unless someone plays a champion, which is the ace. Another example is the Mummy, which becomes the suit and rank of the card that won the previous trick. Only one special card is shuffled into the deck during each round. Other than special cards, there are no trump cards, and the highest card of the suit led always takes the trick.
The Dwarf King also comes with 20 quest tiles. These tiles each feature two different rules on them. The player who is dealt the 5 of knights gets to select the quest card and choose which of the two rules applies to that round of play. For example, a quest card might indicate that either all tricks are worth +1 point, or all tricks are worth -1 point.
Some of the quests are so specific that once they’ve been fulfilled, there’s no real point to finishing a hand, so the players can just stop and deal another round. For example, if the quest card indicates that all 7’s and 8’s are worth +2 points each, then once all the 7’s and 8’s have been taken as part of someone’s tricks, play can stop and the next hand can be dealt.
The player with the 5 of goblins in his hand always leads the first trick, and players must follow suit if they can. The player who takes the trick with the 5 of dwarves is the dealer the next round. The game ends after 7 rounds have been played.
With 20 different quest cards and 13 “special” cards, The Dwarf King features a lot of randomness. Strategy plays a roll, but it’s not the major factor in determining the winner. (If you’re looking for a cerebral game like Bridge, look elsewhere.) This is great for a game with kids who are just old enough to understand the game, or for a night where you just want to drink beer, eat pretzels, and play cards, without having to do too much thinking.
The box, the cards, and the tiles are of exceptional quality, and the price for The Dwarf King is reasonable. Fantasy fans will enjoy the clever and beautiful artwork that adorns the playing cards and the box. In fact, these are some of the highest production values I’ve seen from a proprietary card game like this.
I also liked that the playing cards included with the game were larger. They’re a little larger than regular playing cards, in fact, which is unusual in this type of game. Often when you buy a proprietary card game, the cards are closer to the size of baseball cards. That’s fine for younger players, but older players like me prefer to be able to see the cards in their hand a little better.
Players who dislike a lot of randomness in their card games will probably not enjoy The Dwarf King as much as my family did, but if you think a wackier, zanier version of Spades with a fantasy element sounds fun, it’s worth the $15.