Thursday, February 16, 2017

Champions of Midgard (Grey Fox Games)

Vikings and Norse mythology are some of my favorite fiction to read. Their mythology is more interesting to me than Greek/Roman, because it just feels so fresh and new to me. These weren't the myths we learned about in school, and that's a shame. Due to my love for vikings and Norse mythology, I tend to gravitate toward games that provide this theme, assuming it is done right and not cheesy. Ole Steiness and Grey Fox Games produced just such a game - Champions of MidgardChampions of Midgard is a worker placement game for 2-4 vikings, ages 10+. It takes approximately 60 to 90 minutes to play and retails for $60. In this game you are seeking to gain the most glory by defeating trolls, fighting draugr, and slaying mythical beasts. If you do, you will become the new Jarl.
Initial Game Setup
1. Lay out the game board, placing the Round Marker on the space for Round 1.
2. Shuffle the Market Stall tiles and add them to their spot on the board, depending on number of players.
3. Place the Public Longships on the board and the appropriate number of Private Longships near the board.
4. Shuffle the seven different decks of cards independently. (Rune, Destiny, Merchant Ship, Troll, Draugr, Monster, and Journey). Then, place them face down on their corresponding board spots.
5. Place the Food, Wood, Warrior Dice, Coins, Favor tokens, and Blame tokens near the board.
6. Pick a starting player. Then have the person to the right of the first player (and proceeding counter-clockwise) pick their Viking Leader Board.
7. Give each player their Worker Meeples, and one of each of the following -  Food, Coin, Favor token, Swordsman Die, and a random Destiny Card. One Worker is then returned to the Worker Huts location on the board, for a player to buy in the game.
Round Setup - The following steps are performed before every round.
1. Place the top card from the Troll deck face-up in the Troll space on the board.
2. Place the top two cards from the Draugr deck face-up in the Draugr spaces on the board.
3. Place one Journey card face-down in each empty Journey space on the board.
4. Place one Monster card face-up in each empty Monster space on the board.
5. Place the top card from the Merchant Ship deck face up in the Merchant Ship space on the board.
6. Add one appropriate Warrior Dice to each of the Swordsmith, Hafter, and Blacksmith locations.
7. Add one Food to the Smokehouse location.

Game Play - The game takes place over eight rounds with the players using their Worker Meeples to claim spots on the board and take the action either immediately or after all workers have been placed. Some actions are as follows: Take first player, take a Warrior Dice, go hunting, visit the Merchant Ship, or fight a Troll/Draugr/Monster. After everyone has assigned their workers, those fighting assign as many Warrior Dice as they want to each action they took. (Note: If you are going to fight a Monster, you will need a ship and food to make it there and will also have to resolve any Journey penalties if so.

Round Cleanup
1. Take back all your Worker Meeples.
2. Discard Troll card if he wasn't defeated and give each player one Blame token.
3. Discard any undefeated Draugr cards.
4. Discard any revealed Journey cards.
5. Add one Coin to each undefeated Monster card.

This game takes two things that I love in games, placing workers and rolling dice, and combines them in a way that gives you controlled chaos. A lot of people compare this game to Stone Age, and that's fair. Both are worker placement games that use dice, but Stone Age is a game where experienced players can crush newer players. Champions of Midgard, though a bit more random in nature, feels like everyone (no matter their experience level) has a fighting chance at winning. So let me briefly summarize what I like, dislike, and what I'm of a mixed opinion on.

1. Strong theme - The theme in this game really comes through. I like all the references to Norse mythology in it, the proper Norse vocabulary, etc. It would have been really easy to just call the undead in this game zombies, but they call them Draugr. You also see cubs of Fenrir (the wolf child of Loki). Everything Norse in this game feels right and is really top-notch.
2. Gender equality - I play a lot of games and both my gaming groups have two women in them. It's no fun for them when there is only one female character, or worse none. In this game, there are five viking leader boards, and two of them are women.
3. Easy to learn - The game falls in the light to medium weight category, making it easy to teach to your family and new gamers.

1. Variability - It can be considered both high and low. It is high in that there are many monsters to fight and many end game goals. However, there are only five different viking leader boards.
2. Game components - The artwork on the board and cards is great. The meeples are unfortunately generic and the food and wood are just plain colored cubes. (Note: You can remedy the cube problem with an upgrade of actual meat and wood shaped pieces.)
3. Combat is unpredictable - The dice in this game have a lot of blank sides making your combat very luck dependent. I like the unpredictable nature of combat, because it's very real to life. If we knew in advance who was going to win a battle, why would we even bother fighting?

1. It only play four players. I have two game groups, one of four and one of five, so that means I can play this amazing game with one group, but never with another.
2. If you fail in combat one or two times, it's near impossible to come back. You have to commit dice (and sometimes resources) to combat. If you spend a whole turn or two building up these resources, only to fail, then it's hard to come back from that.

As it is, Champions of Midgard is a very good game, whose positives outweigh the neutrals/negatives of the game. However, they currently are running a Kickstarter campaign with two expansions.

The first expansion is called The Dark Mountains and adds the following:
1. A fifth player is added to the game!
2. A new board to fight monsters known as Bergrisar (mountain giants).
3. Archer dice!
4. A new leader board - Jorunn
5. More trolls, draugr, runes, ships, etc.

The second expansion is called Valhalla and adds the following:
1. Valhalla board
2. A new leader board - Thyra
3. Leader board abilities
4. Epic monsters
5. Valkyrie blessings
6. New dice - Leaders, Berzerkers, and Shieldwarriors
7. Sacrfice tokens for all types of warriors

With the first expansion, you mainly get an increased player count, a new challenge, and more variability/replay value. With the second expansion, you get new mechanics and resources. Your fallen warriors also serve a purpose of gaining you honor now and not just causing frustration. With this Kickstarter campaign, you can buy either or both expansions, but if you love this game, why wouldn't you buy both?!