Dwarf is a worker placement game, played on a changing grid of cards. Every turn you put two new mountain locations in play, covering up other location cards - you're going deeper in the mine drifts to see what you can find. It may be iron, it may be gold. Some locations are workshops, where you can alloy steel or even forge weapons, armour and jewelry. Sometimes you find a spot where you can call for help and get two extra workers for one turn.
Unfortunately, all is not safe in those mines. Sidhe will turn your gold into iron. Knockers may steal your iron, dragons may steal your gold. Orc Raiders are so annoying that you will have your hands full and not get any mining done. So when one or more enemies pop up, you may want to send one or two dwarves defending. They'll be rewarded with a medal.
To win the game you have to possess the most steel, gold and forged items (two out of three is good enough). First tie breaker is medals. Then there's a long list of other tie breakers, as dwarves are very competitive. There can only be one winner.
But who do we defeat when playing solo? We can pick one of three automated opponents. Eldhúsfifl, the village idiot, is easily manipulated and only useful for learning how to play the game. We have to take on Andvéttr. When you put down the new locations for a round, the cards will tell you where Andy will send his first dwarf. His second dwarf will be reacting to where you place your first. So you'll try to manipulate him in doing something stupid.
Alas. Like any good bot these days, Andy cheats. Whenever he's at a forge, he uses it twice if he's got enough resources. What's worse is he has an autowin condition that you don't have: he wins the game when he's got 12 medals. You can't let him do all defending. Also, when a "Get Help" location is available, he'll try to grab it to use two extra dwarves. This combination is lethal.
I won two out of the first ten games I played. The eight losses were all because of the autowin condition for the AI, never because of the normal game rules. It can make the losses feel a bit unsatisfactory. As most times there is nothing you can do about it. Once a few enemies are in play - a situation that's even worse when a "Get Help" card appears - often you can only choose between the bot getting one or two medals. There are Special Action cards that normally would help in changing a dangerous mines lay out. But they aren't going to help you, as Andy will just cheat again and take extra medals when you use these cards too.
With a beat-your-own-score game like Sunset Over Water "losing" to the randomness of the cards bothers me less than against an AI. I still get points and can feel I made the most of what came up. But a lot of people like competition and would rather win or lose. I get that. And 20% wins while I am just a beginner isn't bad. The feeling that there was nothing I could do to prevent it makes it bad for me. Also, it feels more "fair" when Andy has the majority in steel/iron/items. But we never got that far. Anyway, the designer said he's thinking about maybe adding difficulty settings for the autowin condition. I should definitely see what happens if I play until 15 medals.
That said, this is a very nice filler. It takes 20 minutes for a nailbiting finish - or sometimes 10 minutes to lose. You can play with a less random set up by shuffling the locations deck in stacks, like with the mythos deck in Eldritch Horror or the nemesis deck in Aeon's End. There's a "smarter bot", Andvéttr faðir: if you win too often, Andy's dad shows up to kick your ass. I like the handling of the cubes: mining them from the locations, turning them into steel, forging them into weapons. The illustrations add a lot to the immersion and everything feels very thematic. I'm glad so many good PnP games get a Kickstarter and retail release these days.
There's is however one thing missing, so hopefully we'll see a small expansion soon. There is no beer!