Smiths of Winterforge is a light worker placement game that was successfully Kickstarted last year. In it, you will be taking the mantle of a dwarven clan tasked with constructing weapons, armor, and jewelry. We received our Collector’s Edition in July, and this week, we take the game for a spin.
Stand Out Features
Interesting Crafting System: The crafting system isn’t flawless (we’ll get into that in the “What Could Be Improved” section below), but it’s fun and engaging. Players will need to get money either by crafting or taking out a loan. Once you have the money for a loan, you use the money to buy components. You take the components to the forge to build one of your blueprints. Then you roll dice until the item is complete. There’s a bit of luck here, but as long as you keep rolling, you’ll eventually complete an item (you gain a +1 each time you fail crafting an item, and failure doesn’t consume items.) This is overall a pretty unique and interesting implementation of crafting.
Less Competitive Worker Placement: Unlike most other worker placement games, there is no limit to the number of workers that can be in an area, but the first player to enter an occupied area, will receive a bonus. This is a great option for players looking for more sharing in their worker placement games, which in turn allows them to worry much less about what other players are doing. “Blocking” other players just means they’re going to get slightly less when they take an action on the space.
Simple Engine Development: Most games like this play out where you are building what is called an “engine” to power and increase your production. This game does have you building an engine, but the engine is very straightforward, there are three areas to improve your clans skill (weapons, armor, jewelry), and you won’t have time to develop all three. So, you focus on one or two and you get better at that as you play.
What We Liked
The most interesting part of this game is the crafting system. In fact, about half of the main actions are directly related to crafting (taking blueprints, buying components, and finally forging the items.) It plays out like a simplified version of Trickerion’s crafting system. There are definitely going to be gaming sessions where I can’t bring Trickerion to the table due to its complexity. This fills a niche of delivering fun “crafting” type gameplay, without extensive rules or confusing stages.
The game is very straightforward and teachable. I believe I could easily explain almost everything in the game in about 10 minutes.
In this game, you’re going to be counting a lot of money, so having the upgraded money tokens that comes with the Collector’s Edition is great and adds a nice tactile feel to the gameplay. It makes counting out your rewards, or buying components a lot more fun.
What Could Be Improved
Overall, outside of the crafting, the other actions you can take feel “tacked on” to the core gameplay. The bank loans are the worst offender here, they really fall flat and just don’t fit with the feel of the rest of the game. There seems little reason not to spend your first couple of turns grabbing bank loans, paying them back actually rewards you with VP, and it saves many actions in the end as you won’t need to be as tight with your money in the first few rounds of the game.
I would have preferred to just lose the bank and have the players start with a few more coins, and have extra coins give you a small amount of RP at the end of the game. It would have helped with the game’s pace, which is the next thing we need to talk about in this section...
The pace is turgid. Even in two-player, the game crawls along as each player’s turn takes a chunk of time, but is only allowing for a small increment of progress. I feel like we should be able to do more on each turn for the amount of time it takes to complete the game. This game says it’s about 20/minutes a player, I think it’s closer to 30/minutes a player.
There’s not much to do on other player’s turns so other player’s turns; you’re stuck making sure they’re not making a mistake with the many fiddly steps they have to go through with the forge action.
Here’s a real Example pre-roll: Am I adding this right? 2 bonus for glass + 2 from this worker + 1 from that worker + 6 from my clan’s skill, and now I have four components so I need to roll a D4 + a 2D8 + 1D12. That’s a lot of adding!.
In the end, this game has the pace of a heavy strategy game, but doesn’t have the strategic depth to go with that pace, and it feels off.
Overall, the components are nice. The cards, board, and game pieces are all well-crafted and designed. However, there are some pretty major oversights here. First, the board design is lackluster. The board is huge, with little going on it. There’s about an eighth of the board with nothing on it, so I guess you just put the forge dice on there? But crazily, there’s no discard pile for the crafting components. They could have had a board a quarter of the size and had you place the cards off the board.
Second, and this only concerns the Collector’s Edition, take a look at the “upgraded” first player marker above. We preferred the one that comes with the base game. Lastly, I really dislike it when there are noticeable parts of the board that are marked off only for certain player counts. Like Viticulture, each space has a (5+) space that only applies to 5-6 player games. I’d have preferred if we got a double-sided board with a side for 1-4 players.
Smiths of Winterforge works as a light worker placement game, and may be a great introduction for players new to the genre even before some of the current staples like Lords of Waterdeep. However, I don’t think this is going to stay in my collection, it takes too long to play for what you get out of it, and the gameplay feels like it needs more development and refinement. It’s not a bad game, but with so many great games in this genre, I don’t see coming back to it frequently.
Time To Learn: About 25 minutes reading the rules.
Price: This game is available in retail markets for $60 retail. ($42 at CSI).
Thom: (6/10) OK - will play if in the mood.
Jinko: (6.5/10) OK - will play if in the mood.
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