by Mrs. Saint
Trondheim is a port town in Norway, led by their beloved Jarl. His strength and fierceness protect the town and surrounding villages and his shrewd mind helps grow a thriving merchant trade business. But then he dies. His death is felt in every house in Trondheim and in every neighboring village. Suddenly, there is no leader. There is a power vacuum. Trondheim is vulnerable. The scent of fear and disarray bring trolls and draugrs all too happy to take advantage of the lack of leadership and terrorize Trondheim. Merchant ships in port become fewer and the ones who reach the shore tell tales of mythical monsters besieging their voyages and making the journey more difficult. There must be a new leader. Rise up Viking Leaders, bring glory to your clan and claim the title of Jarl!
This is the story of Champions of Midgard by Grey Fox Games, a worker placement game where players choose a Viking Leader and compete to earn the most glory and the title of Jarl. For Mr. Saint and I, the theme of the game is one of the key selling points. In 2018, we attended Pax Unplugged. Going into the convention, we weren’t sure we were going to be spending too much money, after all we had just found out a few months prior that we were going to be parents. We sat down at the Grey Fox Games table to demo the base game with two other convention attendees. I was not sure what to expect. Mr. Saint had his eye on the game because at that point in time, we did not have any worker placement games in our collection. We enjoyed the demo but the biggest surprise was for my husband when we walked up to the counter and I told him, “buy it, buy them all (expansions), buy that mat we just played on, and buy the upgrades to all the pieces.”
This review will talk about the base game from a 2-player perspective.
Note: when you see the images we use in this review, you will see the upgraded component pieces we purchased, not the ones that come with the game.
One aspect I really like about this as a competitive game is how balanced it feels. Regardless of which of the Viking Leaders you pick and whether or not you’re the first player to go each round, I really feel you have an equal chance of winning against your opponent.
Let’s talk about the Viking Leaders. The base game comes with five leaders. Each Viking Leader has a special ability. For example if you choose to be Gylfir the Seaworthy then you do not pay when taking goods from the Merchant Ship (a placement spot that, just as its name suggests, is a ship which brings goods to Trondheim, with the goods/ship changing each round). The special abilities are different enough for each leader and give each of them their own unique feeling to play. These abilities can help you on your quest for the most glory, but at the same time, you do not have to rely on your leader’s special ability as part of your strategy to win because of all the options for scoring glory. Adding to the balance of the game, each Viking Leader has the same number of warriors (dice) slots available so no matter if you play with Asmundr the Pious or Svanhildr the Swordmaiden, you’re still going to have the same number of warriors to throw at hunting, killing a troll, fighting the draugrs, or even venturing across the sea to battle a mythical monster.
The mythical monsters are often one of the most sought after spots for placement. After each turn, any monster that was not defeated has a coin token put on them, so between the glory awarded for defeating one and the coins that the monster is hoarding, these placement spots are always a solid strategy to pursue for – not to mention most of the mythical monsters also award a Favor of the God token (a token used for rerolling dice during a combat encounter or used for end game scoring) . But in keeping with the immersive feel of the game’s theme, you cannot simply jump on a boat and go fight these mythical beasts.
First you need to collect warriors and enough food for the number of warriors you’re going to send. The good news about food gathering is the placement spot for hunting is able to have multiple players on it per round so there is no need to worry about being the first to place a worker on the spot. After you have gathered food and warriors, you will need a boat. You have the option to have the shipwright build you your own private boat or you can rent or use one of the public longships. The venture across the ocean to fight the monsters is not without risk, as each trip requires drawing a journey card and resolve its effect. There are many different journey cards and they range from things like whirlpools, to becoming lost, or even to encountering the Kraken. If you take a chance and don’t have extra food or warriors you can always cross your fingers and hope for a smooth journey with an All Quiet card.
In the base game, there are three types of warrior dice. Swordsmen (white dice), Spearmen (red dice), and Axemen (black dice). Each player starts the game with one Swordsmen and there are always at least four opportunities on the board each round to gain warriors, sometimes five or six depending on what the Merchant Ship and Market tiles have to offer that round. There are also strengths and weaknesses to each type of warrior. The Swordsmen are the easiest dice to get but they are strictly the worst since they have three blank sides instead of two like the Spearmen and Axemen. The Axemen are best for attack, and Spearmen are the balance between both defense and offense when attacking. Also, since some of the trolls/draugr/monsters have certain dice that will not work against them, you’re not necessarily handicapped if the other player takes all the black dice that turn because there may be a space where black dice will not work so you’re better equipped with your red or white dice.
Combat is pretty simple in this game. If you pick a slot requiring combat/hunting, you allocate a set number of your dice for that fight/hunt. You may not reuse dice multiple times during a single round. For example: if you have six dice going into the allocation phase and you have a worker on the troll space and one on a draugr space, you could select two for the troll and four for the draugr but once you’ve decided which warrior dice go with which fight, you’re locked in so even if both the warriors survive the troll, they cannot be used for the draugr fight. Each monster has their Enemy Attack Value (health/warriors you lose per attack) and Enemy Defense Value (amount of hits you need to kill the monster) stats listed on the front of their card, so you know what you’re up against when you’re allocating your dice. As with any dice related combat system, you are at the mercy of lady luck on your rolls but if she decides not to favor your cause, you can use a Favor of the Gods token to reroll your dice. Damage taken in this game results in the death of one of your warrior dice. Combat continues in rounds until either the monster is dead or all of your warrior dice have been defeated.
In addition to combat placement spots, the base map offers plenty of other options to place your workers, which opens up a lot of different strategies for gaining glory. Each player starts the game with 3 workers to place and you take turns with each placement. You have the option as one of your placements to buy one more worker at the Worker Huts to bring your total available workers to 4 (note if you do this, it gives your opponent the option to buy their extra worker for less on a subsequent turn). You can choose between gathering resources, recruiting warriors, building a boat, exchanging money for Favor of the God tokens, visiting the Sage House and drawing a Destiny Card which let you select one of the Journey Cards to take a sneak peak at, or picking up a Rune Card which has a single use that helps you on your quest to gain the most glory.
When playing with only two people, you’re guaranteed to get at least your second pick for placement so you don’t necessarily have to give up one of your worker placements to get the first player token and its accompanying Swordsmen die. The amount of options means there’s not one strategy to gain glory and even if you start out with a plan for how you want to win, if that is thwarted by your opponent, you will be able to quickly come up with a second path to victory.
To build upon the gaining of glory, there is a really rich point scoring system providing plenty of ways to gain glory and even a way to lose points known as blame (we will come back to blame). Glory during the game is achieved through battling monsters. Glory during scoring is achieved through completed Destiny Cards, amount of money, number of Favor of the Gods tokens, Runes Cards, for collecting color sets of monsters, and for your private longship.
As previously mentioned, blame is a way to lose Glory. Blame happens when one player beats the troll threatening the village and gives blame to the other player(s) because they were ‘blamed’ for not helping defend the village. Or, if no one fights the troll, all players are bad leaders and the village blames them all for failing to defend them. At first, blame may not seem like a big deal. How bad can it get? But the blame can really add up for negative points during scoring so it’s important to make sure you balance the amount of blame you’re getting if you want to be the new Jarl.
Was the investment worth it? That’s always the question after you’ve spent a decent amount of money on any purchase. The answer in this case is most definitely yes. In fact, Mr. Saint and I have enjoyed the game so much that even though the play mat was not available at Pax Unplugged, we kept it on our watch list and purchased it after the fact. We even purchased a special container just to keep the mat in great condition because I know this is a game we will be playing for many years to come.
I’m incredibly competitive and hate to lose, so it speaks volumes to how fun this game is that I don’t mind when Mr. Saint walks away from the table as the reigning Jarl.
The game setup does not take a long time, and since there are only eight turns, Champions of Midgard is a great game for weeknights after our little one is asleep.
For some, the rich scoring system may be a negative because there is a lot to keep track of and it can be difficult to gauge where your opponent will net out in glory at the end of the game. In a two player game, we have found the amount of options for scoring to mean most of our games are close, so the winner typically does not win by more than a few points.
We definitely recommend Champions of Midgard for anyone wanting to give worker placement games a try. Because the game play and mechanisms are not difficult to understand, it’s also a great entry level game to introduce your friends and family to hobby board gaming.
Check out more Champions of Midgard reviews and information at the below links:
Board Game Atlas -see what everyone is saying and get the latest price information.
Actualol -fun fact: this review inspired a promo character.
Grey Fox Games -World of Midgard page for all of their games and items related to the Champions of Midgard world.