For the first time, Gaming Respawn is delving into the realm of Board & Card games whether that be of past, present or future. To kick our reviews off, we will take a look at Ole Steiness’s 2015 Viking strategy, 2-4 player table top game, Champions of Midgard.
Players will take on the role of Viking Champions ready to defend a prosperous port town from Troll, Draugr, and Monster attacks whilst gaining enough Glory for one to be crowned Jarl. The game offers worker placement, dice rolling, resource management, and card collection, as well as a touch of cooperative play to finish off.
So, sharpen your axes, board those Longships, and let’s see if Champions of Midgard will be welcomed at the gates of Valhalla or doomed to the ice of Nifelheim.
I may as well tell you from the offset, from the moment I saw pre-production material from the publisher Grey Fox Games, I was interested in this game. The first reason for my interest was the theme, put simply: Vikings are cool! I mean, who wouldn’t want to be a Viking Champion?
Although the theme is more fantasy than historical, the game still feels pretty accurate allowing the players to relate to what their own perception of how the Viking world would look and feel. This also brings me to the second reason of interest: The artwork is absolutely outstanding. Credited to Victor Perez Corbella, the art fits perfectly with the part fantasy Viking feel whilst being easily identifiable to the theme of the game.
We will talk more about the art later but in short: Theme fits art, art fits theme.
So, having waited for what felt like an eternity to finally get my hands on Champions of Midgard, release day came and so did my copy of the game. Everything was peachy; box art looks immense with battling Monsters, Trolls, and Champions all condensed onto one cover. There is literally so much going on just on the box that you will constantly find new characters or scenes that were previously hidden. After opening the box, I immediately unfolded the board which again looks amazing. The board portrays the port town that the Champions must defend, featuring all the usual buildings that you might expect to find such as a Shipwright, Blacksmith, Longhouse, Market, and so on.
To the north of the town is where the Trolls and Draugr pour down from the mountains bringing ‘chaos and destruction before them’ (I quote from the rulebook). To the south lies the vast sea that the Champions must cross using their famous longships in order to fight bigger, more challenging Monsters such as the Lindwurm or the Dreki, earning much-needed Glory along the way.
The board layout has been well considered and shows you exactly where each set of cards need to be placed. It features a Round Track at the top, a Glory (points) Track around the outside, and even has a handy Turn Order guide, making it not only exquisite to look at but also extremely user-friendly. Fantastic, box is good, game board is good; I literally love life right now.
Until I hit the first of only two gripes that I have with this game, the second of which we will discuss later. Gripe number one: I pick up the Monsters cards and begin to shuffle through them only to find Corbella’s outrageously good artwork printed on the thinnest card stock imaginable, as is every other type of card in the game, the number of which is considerable. Massive let down for a game that I’ve hyped to my friends so much over the past few months. I immediately knew that the card stock would be commented on when we got together to play, and it was within about 3 minutes of introducing the game to them (insert sad face emoji).
Unperturbed, I then look at some of the other components such as the resources players collect throughout the game. Two of these are wood and food represented by small brown and red cubes. Why? Why give us a visual masterpiece of a game then let it down with the components, the pieces that players will come into contact with most whilst playing? You can now buy an upgrade kit for the game that gives you actual wood and food meeples, but this is, in my opinion, an extra cost that should not have to be incurred for this type of game. Grey Fox Games should have included these with the base game which would have complemented perfectly to the aesthetics and overall finish. Opportunity missed, I think.
The rest of the components are pretty good, to be fair to Grey Fox Games. The Rule Book is well designed and easy to read, giving players diagrams to help understand and learn the rules of the game. You get various tokens such as Gold, Blame, Favour, and Damage which are all of good card stock.
The three sets of custom Warrior Dice are my favourite components in the game and offer a brilliant battling mechanic that keeps things simple, as well as maintaining a tidy game board. The Military, Economic, and Longship tiles are good, thick quality board, as are the Viking Leader Boards which each player will choose one of at the start of the game.
Each Viking Leader has their own unique Special Ability which will help that player throughout the eight rounds of play. These abilities can gain extra Glory or hit points along with others; this leads me onto my second and final gripe.
Out of the five Champions that a player can choose, there are two that have a Special Ability head and shoulders above the other three, and this imbalance is felt throughout gameplay. I am not saying that if you are either of the two stronger Champions, then you will definitely win the game as that would be far from the mark, but they will certainly have an advantage from the start.
From now on, it’s all positive, so let’s talk about the most important aspect, the gameplay itself. Set-up will take you no longer than ten minutes; once all players have a Champion, each player will be given a set number of Warrior Dice, Tokens, and a Destiny card that will give the player an objective that if achieved could earn them Glory come the end of the game. These objectives could be: have the most Gold at the end of the game or have more blue Monster Cards etc. They also add a bit of randomness and negate a player’s ‘starting strategy’ which again provides more replay value.
We are now ready to begin. In turn order, players will place a worker in the form of a meeple on a building space such as the Market, Troll, or Monster space. If a building space is chosen, then that player immediately receives the benefits such as Warrior Dice, wood, food, or Rune Cards. Rune Cards will give the player a one-off ability and also provide Glory points at the end of the game.
There are also spaces to trade resources, hunt, build Longships, gain extra Destiny Cards, and change ‘player turn order’ for the next round. Once all players have assigned their workers, which in a four player game numbers three workers with the chance of gaining a fourth, players must then assign Warrior Dice if they are to be involved in a battle. To assign Warrior Dice, players simply place the number of dice they wish to use on the assigned Monster Card. Starting from the top left of the board, which is the Troll space and working through the Draugr and Monster spaces, players will roll their Warrior Dice against the attack and defence values on each Monster card. If the Monster is not defeated in the first round of combat and the player still has Warrior Dice assigned to the battle, then the process is repeated until one side has won.
Defeating Trolls, Draugr, and Monsters will give players an immediate reward such as Gold, Favours, or resources, as well as providing Glory points. Players will also receive extra Glory for sets of Monsters that they collect. Once all battles have been fought, then surviving Warrior Dice are taken back to the player’s Leader Board. The game board is cleaned up with new resources and Warrior Dice placed back in their respective spaces ready to be claimed in the next round. All Troll and Draugr cards are changed regardless of whether they were involved in the previous round or not, although surviving Monster Cards remain on the board and have gold added to them providing more of an incentive for players to battle them later in the game.
This signals the end of a round with the player holding the Start Player Marker ready to assign his first Worker at the beginning of the next. This process is repeated until the end of the eighth round when all Glory is counted and a new Jarl declared.
That pretty much takes you through the basic gameplay, but there are a few things that I wish to elaborate on before I give you my summary. At the beginning of this review, I mentioned that there is a touch of co-op play, and here it is. If a player battles the Troll and wins, then that player receives a Blame Token or takes one from their own stock and gives it to another player. Blame Tokens will have the player lose Glory at the end of the game, so the fewer tokens players have, the better. If the Troll is not defeated or no one has even tried, then all players receive Blame, so it is advisable for one player to at least try and beat him each round.
During the game, players can gain Favour Tokens by defeating Monsters or trading Gold at the Stave Church after assigning a Worker to that building. Favours can be used to re-roll Warrior Dice during combat or can count as Glory at the end of the game.
As I have said previously, the Warrior Dice are my favourite component in the game, and there are three types. The white dice are Swordsmen and are the standard mid-range dice; they have hit icons on them which deal damage to Monsters and have defensive shields on them which block Monster attacks. The red dice are Spearmen and have the best defence, offering the most shields per dice. The black dice are Axemen and are the heavy hitters, but these berserker style dice come at the cost of no shields, meaning using these on their own will guarantee casualties during battle.
When assigning dice for battle, you can use as many as you wish to a maximum of eight and mix types of dice depending on the requirement of the battle. Some Monsters are immune to certain Warrior Dice which cannot be used against them, so be careful when assigning dice, as once they are assigned they cannot be used until the next round.
The way to gain the most Glory is to battle the great Monsters across the sea such as the Kraken. For that you will need a Longship, and there are two ways to obtain one. The cheapest way, certainly at the beginning of the game, is to hire a Public Longship by spending Gold, although players will only be able to use the ship once. The other is to build your own Longship by spending Gold and Wood. The benefits of this method are that not only do players not have to pay to use a Longship in future rounds, but by owning your own it also earns the player Glory at the end of the game.
So, your Vikings are tooled up and aboard a Longship, time to fight the Monsters, right? Wrong. Firstly, you must feed your warriors by sending enough food to cover the amount of warriors and length of the journey making sure players do not exceed ship capacity. Now its Monster time! Nope, you must then turn over a journey card that is situated before the Monster Cards. Journey cards can throw up extra challenges such as fighting smaller Monsters first or using more food than budgeted for, possibly resulting in a loss of Warrior Dice. Only now are you able to do battle and gain Glory enough to become Jarl.
All Glory points are added at the end of the eighth round taking into account Monster sets, Longships, Favours, and much more.
Developer: Grey Fox Games
Publisher: Grey Fox Games
Release Date: 26th November 2015