Dwarves Inc. Game Review

The Basics:

  • For ages 8 and up
  • For 3 to 6 players
  • Approximately 60 minutes to complete

Geek Skills:

  • Active Listening & Communication
  • Counting & Math
  • Logical & Critical Decision Making
  • Reading
  • Pattern/Color Matching
  • Strategy & Tactics
  • Risk vs. Reward
  • Visuospatial Skills
  • Hand/Resource Management

Learning Curve:

  • Child – Easy
  • Adult – Easy

Theme & Narrative:

  • Help uncover a lost dwarven city using shrewd economic strategies


  • Gamer Geek approved!
  • Parent Geek approved!
  • Child Geek approved!


Chinese Confucian philosopher and writer Xun Kuang said, “A person is born with a liking for profit.” And if that is true, the fantasy dwarven race is perhaps the epitome of this ideal. Driven by the desire to acquire wealth and maximize their riches, the dwarves dig deep into the earth to find rare jewels and metals. In this game, players will be helping, hindering, and manipulating both the economy of the dwarves and each other. But, do it right, and you’ll walk away with a jingle in your pocket and a smug look of satisfaction on your face. Just don’t be greedy, or your greed will limit your share of the wealth.

Dwarves Inc. (short for “Incorporated”), designed by Andrei Burago and published by Assa Games, is comprised of nine Map tiles, six Player mats, 96 tokens (that represent dwarves, overtime work, and various currency denominations), 13 Chance cards, and 400 gemstone pieces. The cardboard pieces (Map tiles, Player mats, and tokens) are thick and durable. The cards are as thick and as durable as your standard playing card. The gemstones are roughly cut little pieces of plastic that certainly look “stone-like.” Illustrations by Wayne O Connor are colorful and entertaining, providing the game with humor.

While all the component bits are of great value, the gemstones are unfortunately too close together in color to easily make them out. For example, trying to figure out if you are looking at a “pink,” “red,” or “purple” requires you to either have excellent eyesight or direct light. Too many times, our players had to hold the gemstone pieces close or hold them up to the light to inspect the color. Altogether unnecessary, in my opinion, and an unfortunate stain on an otherwise well-crafted game.

In addition, there are not enough tokens to cover the financial needs of the players. The denominations are one, three, ten, and 25. It became very tedious midway through the game, constantly asking players to “make change” to award players their properly earned points. More coins would have certainly made for a faster game.

Getting Ready to Dig

To set up the game, regardless of the number of players, complete the following steps.

First, find and place the “center” Map tile in the middle of the playing area. Then take the remaining eight Map tiles, shuffle, and place them around the “center” Map tile. When completed, you will have a 9×9 gride comprised of all nine Map tiles. Orientation of the Map tiles is not essential or relevant to the game setup.

Second, place one gemstone piece on each flag found on the “center” Map tile. Match the gemstone to the flag color. Place the remaining gemstones off to one side and within easy reach of all the players. Next to the gemstones, place the remaining tokens into piles for easy selection. We suggest you assign one player to the be “banker” who will manage the supply of all the tokens. The supply piles of the tokens are referred to as the “treasury.”

Third, give each player one Player mat placed in front of them. Place any not used back in the game box. Shuffle the Chance cards at this time and put them face-down by the banker.

That’s it for game set up! Determine who will go first and begin!

Minning for Fun and Profit

Dwarves Inc. is played in turns with no set number per game. A player’s turn is summarized here.

Step One: Dig

The player takes three gemstones of the same color from the treasury. The player then places these gemstones to the Map tiles in free squares. There are, of course, a few rules to follow when placing the gemstones.

  • Only one gemstone per square.
  • Gemstones must be placed adjacent to a previously placed gemstone of the same color.
  • Gemstones cannot be placed on red “danger” square spaces.
  • Gemstones placed on a “tunnel” square must be immediately followed by a second gemstone placed to any open “tunnel” square. If the player is unable to place a second gemstone immediately (thus connecting the two tunnels), they cannot place the gemstone on the “tunnel” square at all. Put another way; both gemstones must be placed in the same turn.

Step Two: Resolve Squares

If the player placed a gemstone on any square (other than the “tunnel” square or blank square), they now resolve the square in any order they like.

If a gemstone is placed on a “dwarf” square, the player is given one Dwarf token and adds it to their Player mat. Each player starts the game with four dwarves (noted on the player’s mat). Any additional dwarves added are in token form and should be placed to the “Dwarf” token space.

If a gemstone is placed on a “treasure chest” square, the player is given one Chance card and immediately reads it aloud. If required, the card is immediately resolved. Note that some Chance cards need the player to resolve an action immediately and then open additional opportunities for a unique action on the player’s future turns. These cards can be used anytime during the player’s turn where the action is applicable.

If a gemstone is placed on a “safe deposit box” square, the player selects one gemstone from the supply in the color of their choice. Then, they add this gemstone to their Player mat, placing it in the “Investment Gems” area.

If the gemstone is placed on a “pile of gold,” the player triggers a payout. All players now determine who has the majority of gemstones in their “Investment Gems” area of their Player mat that match the gemstone’s color that triggered this action. Payment is determined as follows:

  • The player with the most uncontested number of identical colored gemstones receives two gold per Dwarf token.
  • If two or more players are tied with the most (contested), each is awarded one gold per Dwarf token. There is no second place.
  • The player with the second most uncontested number of the identical colored gemstones receives one gold per Dwarf token.
  • If two or more players are tied with the most (contested), each is awarded one gold for every two Dwarf tokens.

Finally, if the player who triggered the payout did not receive at least one coin per Dwarf token, they get what is referred to as the “finder’s bonus,” which allows the player to take one gold coin per Dwarf. For example, if the player is tied for second (contested), their opponent would still get one gold per two Dwarf tokens, but the player would receive one gold per Dwarf token. The player would also receive the bonus if the first place was contested and they did not receive any gold tokens or if they didn’t have any gemstones of the color used to trigger the payout.

Step Three: Change Investment

If this is the player’s first turn in the game, they will select four gemstones of different colors from the treasury, adding them to their Player mat. These gemstones represent the player’s starting investment in the eight available dwarf companies (each represented by a different colored gemstone).

During subsequent turns, the player may evaluate the gemstones they have in their “Investment Gems” area and optionally swap out any single gemstone for another gemstone from the treasury for any color they like. For example, they could swap one red for one purple. This allows the player to adjust their holdings in the dwarf companies, maximizing their profit and dominance. It also informs the player’s opponents exactly what gemstones they are looking to play in future turns.

This completes the player’s turn. The next player in turn order sequence now takes their turn starting with step one noted above.

Leaving the Mine and Counting Profits

The game continues until the last “pile of gold” squares is occupied by a gemstone. After that, the player completes their turn, as usual, ensuring that all players enjoy a final payout. The game then concludes at the end of the player’s turn.

All players now count the number of gold tokens they have collected. The player with the greatest amount of accumulated wealth is the winner!

To learn more about Dwarves Inc., visit the game’s webpage.

Final Word

The Child Geeks enjoyed the game, finding it quick to learn and easy to play. The depth to which they understood the subtleties of each turn and the importance of managing their gemstones wasn’t a factor in their level of amusement. According to one Child Geek, “What I like about the game is how you are trying to solve a puzzle to get all the squares you want before the other players.” According to Child Geeks, Dwarves Inc. was very much a puzzle of connecting the dots, which is both correct and insightful. Another Child Geek said, “I don’t do very well with guessing which gems are the best, but I know I always need to have enough to score points.” And here we see that the Child Geeks, despite not understanding the deeper market manipulation and value of their gemstones, understood the most basic economic principles: incentive. At least to a point wherein the Child Geeks understood that to score points, they needed to have, at minimum, enough to score second place or get their finder bonus. I’m not suggesting they grasped the complexity of economics, but they did very quickly understand how to score. The result is the Child Geeks finding Dwarves Inc. to be of great value.

The Parent Geeks also found Dwarves Inc. to be of value, both in spending their time and a puzzle to be solved. They also quickly spotted that the game’s economic approach to economics – which can be summed up as “waste not, want not”. According to one Parent Geek, “Oh, I liked this game. You have to carefully select your gems to make certain you are guiding, knowingly or not, the market interest in certain gemstone colors. I appreciated that.” Another Parent Geek said, “A great game that was quick to play and felt very satisfying from start to finish. I didn’t win, but I felt terrific about my experience and would gladly play this game again.” All the Parent Geeks found the economic and market subtitles in the game that dwell right below the surface to pair well with the puzzle-solving and path creation that is the game’s face. They all agreed to give Dwarves Inc. their full endorsement.

The Gamer Geeks were amused by this game, finding it deep enough to keep them interested and engaged, with just the right level of complexity and casual engagement to make the game a great filler. One Gamer Geek said, “This was a fun and visually pleasing game. I liked the fast-paced movement and how quickly the game went. I didn’t catch on to the strategy until the end, so lost horribly, but would like to play again now that I have a better sense of what I’m doing. I really especially enjoyed the gems, and see the potential for these to be played with outside of the game by my daughters.” Oh, yes, never discount the bonus value of the bits when it comes to entertaining the Child Geeks. Another Gamer Geek said, “I didn’t understand the importance of the gemstones until a full round was completed. Then it was really obvious, but no less interesting. Made me even more interested, in fact. I liked the game.” When the last dwarf returned from the mines, the Gamer Geeks all agreed this was a game well worth its time at their elitist table.

Dwarves Inc. is simple enough to teach to the Child Geeks and engaging enough to keep Gamer Geeks leaning in at the table. If I were forced to describe this game in one word, I would use “clever.” The ease in which the game is played makes the complex metagame below its surface (market manipulation and company investment) feel effortless. In other words, exciting stuff that is not necessary for the player to be aware of to have fun but provides those looking for a deeper game a colossal door to step through and explore.

A good example was one of our Child Geeks focusing only on collecting certain gemstones, which made them the clear winner in the market. At the same time, a Gamer Geek played the economy by diversifying and loading the Map tiles with specific gems to maximize profit. Both players played the same game, with the Gamer Geek playing a more challenging strategy, without the Child Geek ever-changing their approach. Both worked, and both players were satisfied with their game, if not the result.

I very much enjoyed Dwarves Inc. and was pleasantly surprised how much there was to think about and do if you wanted to “dig” (if you’ll pardon the pun) into it. I spent a good deal not only managing my investments but also going after my opponent’s opportunities. This is done by gemstone placement and taking over certain sections of the Map tiles. It’s a unique and satisfying way to influence the market, drive the economy, and influence outcomes. A great abstract market and economic game full of humor and fun that results in a substantial entertaining experience. Cool stuff.

Do play Dwarves Inc. when time allows. This game flew below my radar, and I am pleased to have not missed it. Excellent for casual players and more than enough to make the elitists smile with glee, as well. Try it with your family and friends to see if this is truly a gem of a game.

This game was given to Father Geek as a review copy. Father Geek was not paid, bribed, wined, dined, or threatened in vain hopes of influencing this review. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek.

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About Cyrus

Editor in Chief, Owner/Operator, Board Game Fanatic, Father of Three, and Nice Guy, Cyrus has always enjoyed board, card, miniature, role playing, and video games, but didn't get back into the hobby seriously until early 2000. Once he did, however, he was hooked. He now plays board games with anyone and everyone he can, but enjoys playing with his children the most. Video games continue to be of real interest, but not as much as dice and little miniatures. As he carefully navigates the ins and outs of parenting, he does his very best to bestow what wisdom he has and help nurture his children's young minds. It is his hope and ambition to raise three strong, honorable men who will one day go on to do great things and buy their Mom and Dad a lobster dinner. Cyrus goes by the handle fathergeek on Board Game Geek. You can also check him out on CyrusKirby.com. Yes, he has a URL that is his name. His ego knows no bounds, apparently....

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