If 2015 had a Marmite game (you’ll either love it or hate it), it would have to be Champions of Midgard. Early reviews heralded a worker placement game that gathered ferocious viking warriors to go and slay the Forgotten Realms game where you gather warriors to go and slay monsters. Later reviews launched boulders from the catapults of Waterdeep and scuttled the viking hordes about to disembark, possibly leaving many Midgardian orphans in warehouses, never to be shipped to distant shores. It was either triumphant battle cries of viking spear men or damning words from the white clerics and before I unboxed my copy and got my game group together I thought that this bloodshed would never end. I surveyed each city, every soldier and the tales of carnage that had spread via podcast pigeon and through blog letters sealed by the wax signature of nobles to arrive at this message to share with the world. What if I told you that the “war” never really existed…
Midgard is a beautiful village, framed in undead to the north and monsters scorss vast oceans to the south
The Jarl is dead, leaving the village vulnerable to the scourges that would whisk small children off in the night, devour your woodsmen whole in the forests or sink fishing vessels simply trying to sail home with the days toil to feed their families. A new leader is needed to ensure the safety of the village and there are only 5 Champions qualified to reign as Jarl and bring glory to the Viking clan. To gain glory, one must earn glory through the protection of your people from creatures that would invade the village at night, by slaughtering monsters who roam the hills and preying on all that would serve the Jarl and by journeying across the sea to kill mythical creatures which would bring blessings to the village and valuable plunder. You’ll need strong warriors, plenty of food, a sturdy boat, blessings from the gods and a little bit of luck to become the new ruler of Midgard.
Gylfir’s axe usually dissuades the merchants at the harbour from charging him gold for their services.
At the start of the game, each player will choose their own unique Champion, granting a benefit that will shape strategies in order for you to end the 8 rounds ahead of all your competitors for the crown. You’ll start with 3 workers, a single swordsman at your side, a modest storeroom supply of food, coin and wood, a destiny card to be fulfilled and some favour from the Gods that may turn the tides in battle. Each round consists of 3 action phases, where you’ll send out workers to gather resources, earn favour, pay for goods or volunteer your band of warriors to fight for the village.
In placing workers, players will need to make critical decisions as each action space only allows a single player action (barring the Hunting Grounds). You’ll need to balance the recruitment of warriors with axes, spears and swords to your cause, visiting the ships merchant to pay coin to benefit from great barter, gathering food from the smoke house to feed your warriors at sea, visiting the Sage’s hut to hear of your destinies you need fulfill for greater glory, giving offerings of wealth to the gods for more favour as well as using wood to carve powerful ruins that can change the tide in battle. But a Viking’s respect is earned through spilling blood, so you’ll need to volunteer your warriors to fight off the Troll who terrorizes the village each year, send other on raiding parties to defeat the Draugr (undead walkers) around the village, hunt to increase your food stores and commandeer longships to send your army across the seas to fight mythical creatures. After all Champions have committed their workers and collected resources where applicable, they’ll then commit their armies to the various battles that they have committed to for the year to offer safety and bring glory to the village.
You’ll need to choose whether to rally favour at the Jarl’s hut for first player, recruit warriors, carve runes gain and exchange goods or have your destiny revealed.
Preparation is only half the battle for the Champions and the perils they will face in Midgard, characterized by the choice mechanic of dice to represent the various warriors you’ll recruit for your viking horde. Each die has six sides, with a combination of dual hits, single hits, misses and shields. Swordsmen offer 3 blank sides, a double hit side, a single hit side and a shield. Spearmen and Axemen each have one 2 blank sides with Axemen being all damage (2×2 hit sides and 2×1 hit sides) and spearmen offering more balanced defense and attack options. When hunting for food, each hit symbol you roll on the warriors sent out to hunt will yield one slaughtered beast returned to the village to be slaughtered for food, however fighting monsters that roar in the dark offers a unique challenge. When rolling your warriors in battle against the beasts attacks occur simultaneously from your warriors and their prey. To be successful, your number of success hits must equal the defense of the beast and for each attack (shown on the creatures card) that you cannot negate through rolled shields, you will lose a warrior dice. If you cannot defeat the monster on a single roll, damage is applied to both sides (wound tokens added to monsters and dice removed from players active battle pool) and then another round of battle will start until either the monsters health drops to zero or the player runs out of dice with the monster still having at least a single health point. Defeating the monster means that all warriors still alive are returned to the players pool and the creature card is claimed for victory points as well as any other bonuses depicted on the card.
Defeating Trolls allows you to shift blame while Draugr will earn coin and glory. However some types of warriors are unable to battle certain creatures shown by the red cross through their symbol.
Trolls, while not lucrative in rewards or victory points, are a constant source of angst for the village and when heroes are unable to defeat them, or simply ignore them every round the villages grow discontent and blame players for their suffering. Should all players ignore the troll for a round, each will accrue a single blame token which acts as negative points at the end of the game, as your reputation is tarnished in the eyes of the people. Should you take up the people’s pleas and send warriors off to battle the troll, you’ll be granted some glory points as well as the favour of the people to cast a blame token you already have to another player of your choice for not aiding you in battle. Blame tokens at the end of the game count for more negative points the more of them you have, so a hero shamed in the eyes of the people with over five blame tokens may lose 21 points in the final scoring (I have no idea who could possibly be so cruel – Paul)!
Players can also hunt Draugr in the mountains around the village of Midgard. Draugr can be easily found and engaged but some will grant more glory than others, and their heads also will fetch a pretty penny form nobles in the village to mount on their walls when you return victorious.
Sailing to distant lands will yield greater glory, but runs the risk of trouble at sea as well as the cost of a longship and the food to feed your warriors.
True glory in battle for vikings is always found on distant shores. Either using a ship purchased from the shipwright or simply loaned from the village harbour master, heroes can charge their viking warriors to venture to far off lands to battle dragons and other elementals for vast amounts of glory, coin and tokens of blessings from the gods. However, on these journeys, players will need to feed their warriors by packing food for the journey as well as face an unknown peril as they sail across the seas. They could have a quiet journey…. or be blown off course and lose food which could cause starvation, have warriors fall overboard into into frantic whirlpools or have their ship grasped by the Kraken! After their journey, players will face tougher creatures bent on their destruction for greater glory and the chance to be crowned Jarl.
After 8 rounds, players who have fulfilled destiny cards will be granted additional points, left over blessing tokens and coin will be converted to glory and bonus points will be applied for powerful ruins. For each set of different creatures faced in battle players will be awarded additional glory by being seen as a true warrior capable of defeating any threat and once blame has been balanced against your glory, a new Jarl will be crowned.
Champions of Midgard allows me to do something that no other strict worker placement Euro in my collection allows me to do. I’m able to kiss my die, cast my fortunes and take a chance on what the fortune of battle holds for me. While the initial worker placement of resource gathering and recruiting warriors, powerful ruins, food and destiny options is a tight affair, the balance of sheer reckless thematic gaming is balanced in the battle phase. Do I send a single axemen to surely die in a battle against a frost drake with 2 hit points? He will definitely die in battle, however I have a 33% chance that he’ll land the double blow and earn me all the glory on his own, allowing me to allocate my other warriors to battle trolls and Draugr. Do you commit more warriors than necessary just to ensure you defeat the Troll to assign blame to the leader in order to cripple his end game scoring? Couple this with over committing food and warriors to venture to distant lands for greater glory in case they encounter trouble across the seas and you have a worker placement game with elements of luck and chance ensure the old words ring true, “nothing in battle is certain”.
A full set of red, yellow and blue monsters will grant you bonus glory and tougher creatures come with greater rewards.
While many have shunned this conversion of the traditional Euro mechanic, I find it absolutely refreshing. We loved watching someone ambushing a weaker Draugr with 6 warriors only to have all his warriors slain at the hands of the gods of misfortune even after cashing in his blessing tokens for rerolls. I cringed to see a last minute ploy of a hero sending just enough warriors to defeat an elemental across the ocean, only to be hit by starvation that rendered his fight a certain defeat. The elements of hidden destiny cards, the bonuses of rune cards and the crippling effects of the blame tokens made our games of Midgard not simply a mathematical experience but also one that dared us to take chances and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
The elements will not suit every gamer who is looking for a strict Euro style viking worker placement. It will also irk the player who calculated the odds only to find 2 poor rolls crippling his certain victory and seat on the Jarl’s Throne. However it offers something that you won’t find in the harbour tavern in Waterdeep, nor in the chapels of the Fresco or the vineyards of Tuscany. Champions of Midgard allows you to stare into the mouths of demonic monsters and charge them head on, no matter what the odds are. It allows you put faith in your dice and see them reward or curse you. It allows even those who seem only to be a boy puling a sword from the stone, to be King. You’ll plan, you’ll balance the odds and you’ll send your warriors to battle and then you’ll cheer, cry in anguish and pray for the odds to be forever in your favour.