If you’ve ever played a roleplaying game – be it video or tabletop – you’ll likely have encountered that one dwarven player or character who is totally disinterested in everything the fantasy world has to offer except honing their trade, and improving their craft so that they can make better gear, resulting in feeling both tougher and richer than the other players.
If you are that player, then congratulations! You’ve just stumbled upon the tabletop game that allows you to live out that fantasy to its fullest potential!
The second, far more ambitious entry from Australian indie developers Table Tyrant, Smiths of Winterforge, is a 2-5 player resource management game that sees players take on the role of one of the legendary smithing guilds of Winterforge. The time has come for the guilds to compete for the Royal Centenary Contract, an agreement of unrivaled value, which guarantees work from the royal family for the next one hundred years. Throughout the game, the guilds compete by completing contracts and improving their skills to increase their Reputation. Whichever guild possesses the highest Reputation score by the end of the game wins.
Thanks to its uncommonly clear, well laid-out rules Smiths of Winterforge is a layered, strategic game that can be taught in just a few minutes. I tend to find that the length of a tabletop game will mirror how long it takes to explain the games rules. A sixty to ninety minute game, such as Catan or Stone Age, will likely take upwards of ten minutes to explain to new players, while a 15 minute game, such Love Letter or Sushi Go, will only take a few minutes. Smiths of Winterforge is a rare example of a game that can easily last over an hour, but takes only 2-3 minutes to explain to a new player – a feature which serves as testament to the high level of quality and refinement this preview is graced with.
Speaking of quality and refinement, I can’t even begin to describe the gameplay without first taking a moment to rave about the art. Let me just say again: this game is a preview. And yet it is easily as beautiful – if not more beautiful! – than commercial releases I’ve bought in the past. Perhaps my favourite aspect of Smiths of Winterforge’s visuals is the guild boards. The character portraits, colour theming and practical layout make them a pleasure to use during play – not to mention my delight in the fact that half the dwarven guild representatives shown on the guild boards are female! The high level of quality communicated by the guild boards is echoed in each game component – from the many decks of cards, to the tokens, to the box and central board; every part of this game is gorgeous.
Gameplay contains a satisfying level of strategy, with each turn containing plenty of meaningful decisions. The player’s main goal is to earn the most Reputation. The primary way to gain Reputation is through completing contracts. Each player begins the game with 3 coins, one ordinary contract, and one royal contract – the royal contract being far more difficult to complete.
During a turn, players can choose 3 actions, with repetitive actions allowed. Certain actions can only be performed while in a certain precinct (the precincts being Guildhall, Forge, Tavern, Market and Bank). The actions are as follows:
- Move between precincts
- Take up to 2 new contracts (Guildhall)
- Request funds (Guildhall)
- Initiate trade with another player (Market)
- Take loan (Bank)
- Pay back loan (Bank)
- Purchase up to 2 components (Market)
- Forge a contract (Forge)
- Train (Forge)
- Hire crew (Tavern)
Although this may seem like an intimidating array of choices to begin with, actions are swift and logical, and turns tend to move quickly. In order to complete a contract, players first need to purchase the necessary components. As players begin with only 3 coins each, taking out a loan at the beginning of the game is often a useful starting move. Once the correct combination of components has been secured, the player must move to the Forge in order to attempt to forge the contract. Each component committed towards forging a contract contains a dice value in the bottom right-hand corner, with more expensive components contributing larger dice to the pool.
In order to successfully forge a contract, the player must roll above the target number (or ‘forge number’) indicated in the bottom right-hand corner of the contract card. Once the dice have been rolled, the player adds relevant modifiers to their roll. Modifiers include the relevant guild skill level (weapon, armor or jewelry), component bonuses, crew bonuses and work tokens. If the result beats the forge number, the contract is complete! The player keeps the contract under their guild board, gains one level in the relevant guild skill and gains coin equal to the number in the bottom left-hand corner of the contract card.
Everything revolves around completing contracts, and (ideally) building up your skills and resources so that you can take a stab at completing your royal contract. Each player is dealt a choice of two royal contracts at the beginning of the game, of which they choose one to keep. Royal contracts have a very high forge number, so players need to work up their skills and purchase quality components to have a chance at completing them.
The final round of the game is triggered when either a player completes their royal contract, or there are no contracts left in the contract deck. Once all players have finished their final turn, Reputation is tallied and the winner is declared!
Playing the preview copy of Smiths of Winterforge was a delight. Although the game contains quite a few strategic options and mechanics, you are easily reminded of all of them thanks to the engaging, highly visual design of the game’s components. Turns were almost always quick, and although the game is competitive, it does not contain that vicious or bitter edge of rivalry that some Euro-style strategy games (*cough* CATAN *cough*) possess. The central dice rolling mechanic makes for a game which is peppered with lots of small, satisfying victories, which keeps a friendly competitive spirit alive throughout the game.
There were only a handful of small improvements which this preview copy could benefit from. The first is that an action cheat sheet could come in handy, especially when playing in a family or casual setting. The second is that none of the groups I played with tended to take advantage of the crew cards. It’s hard to say whether this was just the strategic preference of the people I played with, or whether this indicates that the crew deck itself is superfluous. Generally, we seemed to find that investing in crew was just not as worthy as the other options on the table. The crew cards don’t detract from the fun of the game, but in my time with Smiths they didn’t seem to add anything to it either. However, this may just have been a player preference phenomenon.
From the moment I took it out of the box, right up until my last moments with it, Smiths of Winterforge was an excellent experience. Both the rulebook and components were well laid-out, and every surface of the game featured gorgeous art which strengthened the game’s theme. Smiths is likely best enjoyed by players unafraid of deeper strategy, however with the necessary patience I can also see it earning a place at family game night.
Smiths of Winterforge creators Table Tyrant have recently signed with Australian tabletop publisher Rule & Make, and will be running and distributing the Smiths of Winterforge Kickstarter campaign in partnership with their shiny new publisher. Rule & Make are responsible for many excellent titles (my favourite amongst them probably being Entropy), making Table Tyrant’s games a logical fit for the publisher.
The Smiths of Winterforge Kickstarter runs for a month, starting October 18, 2016, so be sure to check out their campaign if you like what you see here. Alternately, if you are planning on being in Melbourne for PAX Australia (November 4-6), there will be a feature table for Smiths of Winterforge at the Rule & Make booth – there, you can play the game yourself, and experience the fun first-hand!