When it comes to knowledge of Scandinavia, I sadly glean most facts from my Ikea cookbook, the Thor franchise, and occasional episodes of The Amazing Race. Oh, and my friend Diana. She’s from Sweden.
Nevertheless, one thing I definitely do know about Northern Europe is that Vikings used to sail its shores, paving the way for a cultural legacy that includes the Bjursta extendable table, the Nobel prize, and now The Champions of Midgard, a brand new board game from Grey Fox Games.
What glories lie in this game’s cardboard box? Answers after the jump…
In Champions of Midgard, players all control Viking leaders vying to be the JARL OF TRONDHEIM (not to be confused with the norse R&B singer, Jarl Anderson).
Earning the title of “Jarl” is not just for any old aspirational Viking. It takes bravery, courage, and also a few dice. Over the course of the game, players will accumulate resources such as food and wood, recruit a ragtag team of warriors (in the form of the aforementioned dice), and go about battling foes such as Draugrs and Trolls and perhaps even a Kraken or two. There are longboats to be purchased, destinies to be fulfilled, and favors of the Gods to be won.
In other words, adventure!
First things first, players must unfurl the board, which is big, colorful, and rather scenic. The artwork in Champions of Midgard is excellent through and through — from the monsters to the meticulously conceived port of Trondheim. It’s the sort of game that immediately gets the imagination working, inspiring all sorts of ridiculous storytelling over the next hour and a half. Simply put, this is one beautiful board game. Or should I say… fjord game.
After setting up this Nordic enclave, players select a specific Viking superstar to control and begin the pursuit of glory. This spans over eight rounds (a.k.a. “years”), with each round consisting of three major phases. First, players place meeples across the board, selecting various actions in town. Want food for a long journey? Visit the smokehouse. Need some axe-wielding Vikings? Go to the blacksmith. Yearning for some favors of the gods? Head over to the Stave Church. Almost all the locations can only accommodate one meeple; so prioritizing your actions is essential. After all, if you wait too long to recruit some swordsmen, someone else might beat you to the punch — as is wont to happen in life.
Aside from collecting meat and warriors, players may also decided to engage in battle. There’s a troll who ambles into Trondheim every year, and if no one kills him, then all players receive a “blame” penalty. Defeating the troll allows players to remove blame and assign it to others. Alternatively, players may opt to attack the undead Draugr and receive a pretty penny for their troubles. At a certain point, once someone has accumulated enough resources and perhaps even a boat, a Viking party may be sent across the sea to slay one of the mythological baddies in a distant land. These monsters are harder to beat — mostly because you’ll often lose warriors in the journey across the sea due to whirlpools, bad weather, or that damn Kraken. However, victory abroad leads to a huge influx of glory (a.k.a. points), which is what you’ll need to win.
You can fight monsters for money, points, or the removal of blame penalties.
Hey, remember those dice? To beat a monster, you roll the dice, and your success will hinge on what shows up (an axe, a shield, nothing at all, e.g.). It’s theatrical, exciting, silly, and fun. If only more perils in life could be destroyed in such an entertaining way.
After eight rounds of this madness, whoever has the most glory is named the new Jarl of Trondheim, and celebrations are had across the land. Think of it as the origin story for Frozen.
The game board in all its beautiful glory. The glare obscures the charming coastal town, but the erupting volcano still shines through. More games should have volcanoes.
Here’s the game after the initial set-up. Wine does not come with the game, but it is highly recommended.
The Vikings we get to choose at the beginning of the game.
I select ULLR THE BERSERKER. He’s a natural extension of my personality.
Drew struggles to find his Viking spirit animal.
Ultimately, he opts for ASMUNDR.
The game moves along pleasantly as we gather resources and fight piddling trolls and such. The adventure truly begins, however, when I send my men across the sea to fight the DREKI!
The blue meeple represents ULLR THE BERSERKER giving his best William Wallace rallying cry to his men — or whatever the Old Norse equivalent is.
This may look like nothing more than a few dice, a meeple, and some cubes on a card, but I can assure you that the excitement around the table was palpable.
For those of you still confused about what any of these photos mean, let me explain. The meeple represents your Viking leader (Ullr, in my case). By placing him on the card (which has a lovely image of a longboat on it — its sail is barely visible in the above photo), that’s my way of saying “I, Ullr The Berserker, plan to take this ship across the ocean to do battle.” I then choose a monster to attack and place Ullr and his boat in the corresponding slot (in the picture above, I’ve chosen the Dreki, which has three coins on its card as bonus reward for victory).
After everyone chooses which monsters they want to tussle with (and they may choose none at all), I then allot dice/warriors to my boat card as well as some red cubes, which represents food for the long journey. Eventually, that little blue rectangular card will be turned over, revealing the fate of the journey, which is generally terrible. Most times dice or food will be lost, and if you haven’t planned smartly, you’ll be ill-equipped to then go forth with your grand battle — in this case a Dreki!
So, how does one battle a nefarious mythological beast such as the Dreki? Well, it takes some good Berserker-ing, I’ll tell you that much. Basically, players roll all their warrior dice, and for every sword, axe, or spear that comes up, it counts as a hit against the monster. Of course, these dragons and trolls and LINDWURMS are no slouches. They dole out damage too, but for every shield that appears on the dice, that’s one less damage your Viking party incurs. There are some other aspects to battle including rerolls and things of that ilk, but the most important takeaway is that dice are rolled and drama ensues.
To some of you, this may sound absolutely ridiculous, but trust me that it’s very, very fun. I would be lying if I said the table didn’t frequently break out into chants (“FIGHT.THE.TROLL.” is a favorite, especially with some encouraging hand claps).
My friend Brendon photographs his Viking squad before it undertakes a sea voyage en route to a nasty FENRIR CUB encounter!
Meanwhile, Drew attempts to battle a troll by dropping his Viking warrior dice into Brendon’s homemade (and lovely!) dice tower.
Drew rolls a shield, which helps, but that black die is positively useless. The troll goes unscathed!
In the end, Brendon ekes out a two point victory over Drew (while I struggle far behind, thanks in part to a devastating loss at the hands of some creature called the Illvate. I’m still shaking my fist at that asshole.
Ultimately, the three of us enjoyed Midgard quite a bit. As the game ended, we immediately engaged in a chatty play-by-play of its most epic moments, and it occurred to me that while Champions of Midgard may not be the most strategically complex game, it did seem to tap into something deeply nostalgic. It was just… fun. Battling monsters, role playing as Vikings, pretending to go on dangerous journeys — I felt like a little boy again. That being said, I wanted to get a female perspective on this madness. Would the game appeal to the fairer sex?
Welp, time to find a lady!
Enter Julia! For game #2, we convene again on a Saturday afternoon, this time with the recently betrothed Julia joining the festivities.
For this second game, I select the ravishing SVANHILDR, if only for her fashionable half-stole.
Julia defeats a troll early on and must subsequently assign a blame token to one of us. Drew seems rather smug about his chances of going blame-free.
By the sixth round of the game, we’re engaging in heavy warfare. Here we see Drew going into battle against yet another Dreki.
At one particularly exciting impasse, all four of us head into battle overseas. We are oddly very thrilled about this.
An epic moment. Clearly.
And once again, I lost to the Illvatte!!! MY NEMESIS.
I never thought a small card could elicit such rage in me.
As for Brendon, he once again pulled off a decisive victory. He’s really proving himself to be a regular JARLY RAE JEPSEN.
(I’ll just let that one sink in for a moment).
My only notable complaint with the game is the card stock. Within seconds, they began to warp and bend. We actually watched them pop into little arcs, which admittedly added a dramatic flair to the proceedings.
Seriously, the warping was out of control. I would blame humidity, but I’m in LA. We have a dry heat, as they say.
As detractions go, this one is fairly minor, but an annoyance all the same. An annoyance, I tell you!
With four players around the table, Champions of Midgard definitely becomes a trickier experience. There are fewer options available, and many times my plans were stymied (mainly by Drew) as others took actions that I was angling for. That, however, is the best part of a worker-placement game. What fun is getting everything you want? Three players is solid, four is best.
I’m also happy to announce that Julia enjoyed Champions of Midgard quite a bit (or rather, as she’s Australian, I should say she was keen on it). Regardless of gender, this is a fun game for families and gaming groups alike. Check out Champions of Midgard at Cool Stuff Inc.
Review copy provided by Grey Fox Games.
Have you played? What do you think?