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February 2023

Dwellings of Eldervale 2nd Edition

Platform(s): Board Game
Genre: Role-Playing
Developer: Breaking Games
Release Date: 2022


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Board Game Review - 'Dwellings of Eldervale Second Edition'

by Cody Medellin on Dec. 26, 2022 @ 1:00 a.m. PST

Fight the beasts, dwell the land, and claim the magic! A long-lost world of magical power awaits! Giant monsters roam while dragons, wizards and warriors battle in eight elemental realms.

Buy Dwellings of Eldervale

We don't normally review board games on WorthPlaying. Look through the site's history, and the closest we've gotten are reviews of video game adaptations of board games. It would feel silly to turn down the chance to review a game that easily commands north of $100, and that brings us to the second printing of Dwellings of Eldervale.

Before getting into the game, we should note that Dwellings of Eldervale is comprised of a ton of pieces. There's a large cardboard scoreboard with plastic stones and wooden scoring tokens, numerous hexagonal tiles, an armada of cardboard resource items, wooden meeples along with some accessories, at least two premium figures for some of the monsters (others are made of high-grade cardboard), loads of cards of two different sizes, and at least nine different sets of dice. There are loads of components you'll need to set up the game, and the presence of several books means that this is also a heavy game in terms of rule sets.

The best thing about the set is the Game Trayz. Just about everything is stored in one tray or another that keeps things expertly organized, and the trays have covers. Provided you secure every lid, it's quite difficult to mess things up in the box to the point that you need to rearrange things. Other games have also featured trays for their components, but this goes a step beyond by having those trays be functional in gameplay. For example, your own tray displays unit costs, resource organization, and informs you of your hard limits per item. It's forward-thinking stuff, and the organization helps greatly in setting up the game and stashing it quickly when it's over.

One of the things to keep in mind is that we were given the standard edition of the game which, as previously mentioned, commands well over $100. Like a number of board games that started on Kickstarter, there are deluxe versions that replace the cardboard items with more premium stuff. Resources are made of wood with glossy paint, the gold coins are metallic, and every monster is a fully detailed figure. What places these editions into over-the-top territory is the inclusion of plastic stands for the monster figures that emit a sound whenever the figure moves. It's way too much for most people, but we're a little disappointed we didn't receive the deluxe version. That said, the standard version is no slouch, since you still get some premium-feeling cardboard and sturdy trays and compartments.

You start off by selecting one of 16 different factions, with every two representing one of eight different elements. The board configuration is determined by how many players are participating, and the number of elements available are determined by which factions are picked plus two randomly chosen ones. Ruin tiles are then chosen and mixed in before gameplay can begin.

In the first round, you take a worker and place them on any given tile. You're more apt to choose an elemental tile, which gives you the chance to get a resource tile that can be cashed in for a resource or saved for later. You can decide to place your unit in a ruin tile, and the effects depend on the tile in question. Provided you have the resources to pull off the actions, you can summon a new unit right away, draw cards from a magic deck, unlock a new tile and adventure card for your set, get two wild resources, or transform your worker into a settlement by placing a literal roof over their head.

At any turn after placing your first unit on the field, you can choose to recall them all at once. Units that come back alive can be used to trigger things, like creating more units or dwellings or gathering a resource as dictated by your card or the resource tile. They can also be used on other adventure cards to trigger actions. Unlike unit placement, though, all of the actions with your living units can be done in one go.

Once everyone has recalled their units, Dwellings of Eldervale really cuts loose. New units can range from dragons to warriors to wizards, and each can have a unique power depending on the selected faction. Collecting orbs unlocks different abilities in the adventure cards. Fights can also break out between different factions, and while winning is ideal, losing still gives you a consolation prize in the form of daggers that can be used as a resource or spent as extra dice in the next battle.

The real highlight are the monsters, as you can take them on directly or move next to their space and have them rush after you. Monster fights mean that you can pull in allies to help by providing extra dice. Unlike most other games, though, fights are simple; the people involved roll their dice, and whoever has the highest singular die wins. Most of the time, you gain loads of benefits from killing a monster, but if you get lucky, you can also convert the creature into your own unit to grant abilities.

Finally, there's the endgame, which can only be triggered in one of two ways. The first is to uncover all of the land tiles in the game, which is variable depending on the number of players. The second method is to build six settlements before anyone else does. Completing either method takes players to the scoring section after one more round, and while it sounds like something that can be done quickly, it is anything but fast in execution. It takes several turns to try to drain all of the land tiles, and you'll still need plenty of resources to pay for the adventure cards needed for the dungeon. You might be able to hit the tile that lets you build settlements, but you'll still need plenty of resources and workers to get the job done. Unless you get lucky, there's no way to speed-run to the end point.

There is a large set of options and rules to deal with, and if this is your first time dealing with a big board game like this, you'll undoubtedly be intimidated. It doesn't take long to realize that the game is only complicated if you start the first game as one of the more complicated factions with ideas of sacrifice or actions from cards that are faction-specific. For the most part, unit placement is simple, as are the fights since you can figure out the winner at a glance. The recall phase can feel complicated because you can plan things out, so you'll have plenty to do in one turn; even then, the complexity pales in comparison to some of the bigger board games. As such, the game flows smoothly from one phase to another and does so in a way that helps newcomers get quickly acclimated. At the same time, the various methods of winning and faction abilities and action cards give the game tremendous legs, ensuring that routes to victory are never repeatable, even if you draw the same factions with the same land tiles.

One of the more interesting things that's described on the box is that the game is long. A two-player game is predicted to take roughly an hour to complete, and each new player tacks on an additional 30 minutes of playtime. For the most part, this seems accurate, as it'll take time to get the fastest-ending scenario, even if everything works in your favor, from dice rolls to monster avoidance. If you plan on playing this, prepare for it to take up a huge chunk of the afternoon or night.

While most board games are predominantly multiplayer affairs, Dwellings of Eldervale does offer a solo mode. Titled Ghosts of Eldervale, it is a two-player game where it's you versus another faction controlled by the board. Your movements and actions don't differ from the main game, so you don't have to spend time re-learning new rules. After playing your move, you place a Watcher figure on the board, roll a die on the Ghosts' side to determine which unit goes where and what action needs to be performed according to the action cards in play.

Aside from the Ghosts being governed by dice rolls and card draws, the main difference is that they can't take and use resources. They can use magic cards to do things, and they can gain dice from having their units be defeated and sent to the Underworld, but they ignore all other resource types. This works brilliantly. If you're truly playing this as a solo outing, the controlled randomization keeps things fresh even if you only play as one faction multiple times. If you're using this as practice, the mode helps you prepare for multiple scenarios in terms of battles and movement. You can expect most other human opponents to do the same thing in most situations.

If you can get past the seemingly dense set of rules, you'll find Dwellings of Eldervale to be a fascinating title. The disparate mechanics and gameplay ideologies work well with one another, and the faction variety alone ensures that there's no true quick way to end the game. Solo play is just as good as traditional multiplayer, while the inclusion of trays and other items makes the storage clean and the setup fast, something you'll appreciate more due to the game length. It is pricey, but if you want a premium board game that effortlessly provides variety, Dwellings of Eldervale is a very strong candidate for your library.

Score: 8.5/10

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