Before I begin, I was sent a prototype of the game, and may receive a production copy in exchange for an honest preview. This is not a paid preview. If you would prefer to watch a video of this review you can find it below. Get your own copy here.
It is no secret that I am a big fan of fantasy themed games. Considering I have a podcast called Boards & Brews, it is also no secret I enjoy an occasional beer. Sooooo when a company creates a game about fantasy races competing to create the dominant brewing company of the land I am immediately interested. I was even more excited when a friend promised me that if I enjoyed Theurgy I would like this as well.
At its core Rise of the Gnomes is a worker placement game with a healthy dose of area control. Each round you will place your brewers onto one of the communal spots (6 of these are always the same, and 8 change slightly each round), these spots will either activate immediately, or activate at the end of the round in a specific order allowing for some programming and push your luck elements as well.
Sounds simple enough right? WRONG! You see in this fantasy world the bulk of the labor has always been done by the gnomes. Those tiny, cute, pointy hatted, vicious little underwear stealing monsters. They have risen up, unionized, and formed their own brewery. Now they are out for a suds-y revenge. Every turn they will be converting your customers to theirs, buying out your breweries and rebranding them their own, oh yeah and bribing the dragon to make a mess of things…did I forget to mention the dragon? Yeah there is a dragon. It roams the land burning down breweries and eating customers if you do not bribe him with cold hard cash.
After 5 rounds the game ends and if you are playing solo/coop if everyone has a higher score than the gnomes you win, in a competitive game the player with the highest score wins…though you do still have to defeat the gnomes.
So what do I think?
I adore the theme on this one. There is something just delightful about taking the usual area control war theme, and turning it in to one about making the best brews. I also appreciate the 3rd party that you have to battle against, it keeps the game moving and keeps the tension high.
However, the best part about the game is the combination of area control/worker placement/programming. This game manages to combine these mechanics into a delightful combination that works quite well. What works particularly well is the way some of the worker placement locations change their order of activation.
I like the solo mode quite a bit, but it is PUNISHINGLY HARD. If you are not playing on the two easiest levels (there are 5 or so) it is brutal. Because of this the game is most fun, as a solo player, when playing with more than one faction vs the gnomes. This may or may not be your jam.
While I like the art on the box, and the ally/judge cards, I wish that the faction boards had more art on them, currently they all look exactly the same, just with different abilities to them.
Competitive play promises to be EXTREMELY cut throat.
There are so many bits and pieces to this game. Set up takes a long time, and during game play it is quite fiddly to manage your player board as you take cubes on and off. There is going to be the option to purchase an overlay to help keep things in place, and I pretty strongly feel it is a must purchase to make the game play smoothly.
Bringing it all together
Rise of the Gnomes is a fun game that has a fresh theme, and combines worker placement with area control mechanics, with just a sprinkle of programming. The mechanics mesh together very well, and the AI for the gnomes creates a tense game every time. The variety of factions makes the game feel different every time you play. I am a particular fan of the coop mode, though solo is punishingly hard. The biggest drawback is it takes a very long time to set up, and to truly get the most enjoyment out of the game you will probably need to purchase the player board overlays to help keep the 35 bazillion pieces in their respective places.
Keep it short…like a gnome.
* Clever combo of area control, worker placement, and programming mechanics
* Fun theme
* Good faction variety
* Fun art, but wish it showed up on the player boards
* Coop/solo is delightfully tense, though solo is punishingly challenging
* Tons of pieces in this game, which makes set up quite lengthy
* You will likely need to purchase the player board overlays
* Competitive will most certainly be brutally cut throat