The Dwarves – Combined Might: expansion review

The Dwarves is a co-operative fantasy board game based on the popular novels of Markus Heitz, released in German in 2012 and then finally English in 2016 (and reviewed by me in 2015).

Solid for one to five players the game is suitable for families and gamers alike, having a well designed difficulty curve from novice to expert. It centred on the first book, with players battling monsters and overcoming hurdles before forging Keenfire and facing one final challenge.

While I’m a big fan of the game, the one worry I had was replayability. You had to complete a random set of ‘A’ encounters, the one ‘B’ encounter, then one of three random ‘C’ finales. While this kept you on track with the book’s trajectory it meant after your first few games you knew how the end game would likely play out, which removed a bit of the enjoyment. If only there was an expansion available…

What does Combined Might bring to the party?

When the box says ‘includes 38 new cards’, it actually means ‘this expansion consists of 38 new cards. Fin. That’s all she wrote’. However, it can be surprising what just a few cards can bring to the party.

‘Combined Might’ adds 29 of these cards; the other nine comprising the earlier ‘Älfar’ expansion (in English for the first time). Both expansions are designed to be added as you see fit, with very little effort, rather than replacing cards from the base game (you just shuffle them into their respective stacks). And both sets of cards are clearly marked, so can easily be removed if/when required.

You get a bit of everything with Combined Might, including a new item (the crossbow lets you add a dice to a battle on an adjacent square); but the key extras are the scenario and adventure/threat cards.

The six ‘A’, two ‘B’ and six ‘C’ scenario cards especially add much needed variety, especially to the early and mid game, while the new adventure cards bring an interesting extra dimension to the game (more on which below).

Älfar adds just nine cards: a single ‘C’ scenario, 1 adventure, 2 equipment cards and five threat cards. This mini expansion is aimed at experienced players who have completed the game on its toughest difficulty level and are looking for a fresh challenge.

How much does it change the game?

While the new Combined Might scenario cards don’t change the game, as such, the added variety is a breath of fresh air – in fact, if anything, the two new ‘B’ scenario cards are the most welcomed change of all. As the base game had just one, you knew what you’d need to do later – and not knowing that is a big deal.

Six of Combined Might’s new adventure cards, when completed, can be put next to the game board as a permanent bonus for the rest of the game (much like the council bonuses). Especially at higher difficulty levels, this makes the adventures much more tempting again – as often you only do them if they’re necessary, or there’s nothing else a particular character can do on a particular turn. But of course, there is also an ‘immediate’ threat card that makes you discard any permanent bonuses you might have…

Älfar is best played by adding it to the base game alone, as the adventure, scenario and threat cards all work specifically together – you don’t want those decks watered down too much, to get the full experience (although as with the Combined Might cards, you can just add the equipment cards into the pot as they’re not scenario specific).

The cards are based on the third ‘Legends of the Alfar’ novel, Dark Paths, and introduce ‘the portal’. This is represented by the extra tunnel card you get in the base game, and has a specific starting space on the board (but may move later). It acts as a normal tunnel, but also acts as a beacon for all kinds of bad stuff that arrives there via all the new cards. You need to play on a high difficulty level to really see it work (as you need to see quite a few of the cards to make it come to life), but it certainly adds a challenge.

Is The Dwarves: Combined Might value for money?

Purely on component value, it’s hard to look at a tiny pack of 29 playing cards and think £7 or so is value for money, but that isn’t the whole story.

If this is your first expansion to The Dwarves it brings a lot of new options to the game in all the places you want them. The print quality is good and they all have original new art.

Is Combined Might essential?

Anyone who has five or more plays of the original base game will be a little bored of seeing that one ‘B’ scenario card come up again and again, however important that moment is in the novel. If you’re not, fine; otherwise, yes, this is essential in terms of relatively cheaply adding to the longevity of the game.

Adding just two more ‘B’ cards with Combined Might is huge – and the six new ‘A’ cards add more welcome variety. They’re not harder, particularly, but they do test you in different ways than the original set. I’m also very taken with what the new adventures bring to the thought processes, while a couple of the threat cards are really nasty.

Similarly, if you’ve run out of challenge in the base game, the Älfar expansion adds another notch. Fancy a threat card where, if you fail to complete it, a player dies – thus ending the game? Then this will be up your street. On its own, non-essential – but together with Combined Might it makes for a highly compelling small purchase.

Finally, the Älfar expansion equipment card ‘Skull of the Infamous’ is worth a mention. It allows its owner to, at any time and as many times as they like, lose one health to roll one recruitment dice and remove that many troops from the map: a fun and risky choice that may save your bacon in a tough game on a hard difficulty level – or equally may achieve absolutely nothing.

… and does it fit in the original Dwarves box?

Very easily – even if you’ve already added the rather larger ‘Saga’ and ‘New Heroes’ expansions into the original box. It is such a breath of fresh air to have an expansion in a perfectly sized package!

* I would like to thank Pegasus Spiel for providing a copy of the expansion for review.

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