I have a sneaking suspicion that 2020’s Nidavellir is a cash cow for publisher GRRRE Games.
That suspicion has been validated by the fact that many of the people in my gaming groups absolutely adore Nidavellir. Whether you like the game or not, let’s give Nidavellir this much: this might be one of the fastest set collection games ever made. Games clock in at around 30 minutes at the max player count of five, and even less time if you are playing on Board Game Arena (I played a three-player game there recently in just 17 minutes).
Nidavellir is so easy to teach; it’s a family-weight bidding game that has some of the best dwarf artwork ever. (If, you know, dwarf art is your thing.) While I was chatting with the marketing team at GRRRE at SPIEL ‘22, I had the chance to pick up the newest expansion, Nidavellir: Idavoll. Like all good expansions, Idavoll is easy to integrate into the base game and gives veterans a little more to think about as they build up their army.
Whip Out the Manual!
If you have never played the base game, feel free to freshen up on the rules of Nidavellir by watching the recent video review posted by my colleague Tyler Williams. Also, note that my overview of Idavoll only takes into account this expansion; I have not played Nidavellir: Thingvellir, the previous expansion, so I don’t know how well Idavoll integrates with the Thingvellir content.
The only rules change when implementing Idavoll occurs when new cards are dealt. For the first three rounds of “The Dwarves Enter” phase (when cards are added to each of the three Taverns), the second Tavern—The Dancing Dragon—will have Mythology cards, the name of the Idavoll deck.
That means that each player will have the chance to recruit three Mythology cards in total. Explaining the abilities of those Mythology cards each round? That’s my only issue with Idavoll.
You’re going to need to keep the manual handy, because the 20 new cards are each unique. It wouldn’t make sense to produce small mini manuals to serve as player aids, so you’re just going to have to commit to passing around the small instruction booklet for your first few games with the new cards.
But once you have the new rules down, the cards are fantastic. The 20 cards are broken into suits. Five of the cards are Mythical Animals, which slot into your army like other cards (and there’s one Mythical Animal for each of the base game’s five suits, like Hunters or Warriors). A couple of these make the end-game scoring math a little harder, but nothing that makes the game too heavy.
Norse god cards are one-time-use, somewhat game-breaking power cards that add some very cool variety. The Odin card is worth zero points on its own, but at the end of any turn, you can swap out one of your Neutral Heroes for any other available card and trigger its effect, effectively providing a solid ball fake for a card drafted earlier in the game.
Valkyries offer in-game goal resolution effects for points. I had Hildr in my first play of Idavoll, and I was given 16 points for achieving two of the Distinctions during the break between the two ages. Had I received a third Distinction, though? Hildr scores zero endgame points! These five cards give you something else to aim for while hunting down other sets.
The Giants comprise the final five cards in Idavoll. Once recruited, Giants require a player to make a choice with the next dwarf they recruit if that dwarf matches a Giant’s desired capture target. For example, if you add Skymir to your Command Zone, you’ll have to make a choice the next time you recruit a Hunter into your army: place that Hunter as normal, or tuck that card under Skymir to draw five Mythology cards, keeping two.
The amount of text in the Giants section of the manual is heavy. Again, my only issue with this expansion is that every single card requires its own small player aid. Hrungnir and Thrivaldi are hard enough to say, let alone explain the half page of text that comes with explaining their abilities!
Love Equals Love
If you love Nidavellir and need a little more juice to add to the overall package, I feel pretty good that you’ll enjoy the new content in Idavoll.
If you’re a casual Nidavellir player who whips out the box as a light filler between other activities, I think the new rules overhead might slow this down, especially given the amount of variety in the 20 new Mythology cards. Explaining what five new cards do over three different rounds in a five-player game will slow your roll a decent amount.
The cards are beautiful, by the way. This isn’t a surprise given the love I have for the base game’s artwork. But still, the use of color is excellent here and continues to provide a very bright table presence for this game.
Idavoll is for serious Nidavellir fans only, but those fans will leave satisfied!