The following is part of a guest series by contributor Mark Hengst.
The game in this week’s edition of the Favorite Game Friday series has been a big hit, not only amongst my gaming groups, but also with my wife. Read on to see just what makes this game so special, as well as why it has earned a place on the list of my favorite games.
Champions of Midgard was designed by Ole Steiness, published by Grey Fox Games and and was originally released via Kickstarter. It plays 2-4 players and has a running time around 90 minutes to 2 hours based on player count and which expansions are being played. I have played this game at 2-, 3-, and 4-players and find that it scales fairly well at all player counts.
Champions of Midgard is a worker placement, dice combat game, in which players fight off trolls and other monsters in order to gain glory and compete to become the next Jarl of Trondheim.
Champions of Midgard speaks to anyone who may enjoy the Viking theme, the act of chucking dice, or the worker placement mechanic. For me, it was the first Viking themed game that I had the opportunity to play once I returned to the hobby, a theme that has continued to entrance me as my affinity for the hobby has grown.
The game has had a decent amount of promotional content released during its various Kickstarter campaigns. Fortunately, Grey Fox Games eventually made all of this content available for purchase, a commendable act for a publisher and one that has helped satisfy my inner-completionist. I personally missed out on the Kickstarter campaign but was able to acquire the game (and all of the Kickstarter content) via the Grey Fox Games web store.
As mentioned, Champions of Midgard is a worker placement game. Each round, players will place a worker and take an action. This may be something as simple as placing a worker and gaining a warrior or two, hunting to gain food, purchasing a long ship, purchasing some runes, visiting the sage’s hut, or fighting monsters.
The primary form of player interaction in Champions of Midgard is the tension of worker placement. As in other worker placement games, only one worker may be placed at each spot, so paying attention to your opponents and blocking them is a viable tactic (with the exception of hunting which all players may take advantage of). Also common to worker placement games, is a worker location on the board that will grant you the first player marker. It’s rather important element throughout your play since the first player receives a placement advantage.
After all workers have been placed, we come to the phase in which players must assign Viking warriors to the combat or hunting spots they have selected. First, any players hunting will roll their dice, and each hit will grant them a piece of food. After this we come to the Troll fight. Each round, a troll card is turned over and the threat must be addressed. If a player doesn’t fight and defeat the troll, all players will receive 1 blame token (explained below). Next if any player placed a worker to fight the Draugr they will fight them now. Finally, players who have chosen to pilot long boards overseas will take their actions (more below).
I mentioned the “blame” mechanic above and wanted to take the time to dive deeper into it. Each round, the troll must be confronted, or blame tokens will be assigned. The person who defeats the troll can remove one of their blame tokens, as well as choose another player to take the blame token. At the end of the game, these blame tokens can be worth up to -21 points. As such, it is never wise to just ignore the troll. If you do not, then you have to commit to defeating them and this obviously may affect your overall strategy. Not to mention, if your opponents see you facing the troll, then they can better focus their energies on gaining more victory (called glory) points.
Combat is by far one of the most fun/harrowing aspects of Champions of Midgard. All enemies have an attack value and a defense value. Once you resolve combat, you will lose one warrior (die) for each point of damage you take that you have no defense to cover. For instance, if the troll you are facing deals 2 damage, and you roll 0 defense, you will lose 2 of your warriors. Combat will continue until either the enemy, or your forces have been defeated. Each type of warrior die has a different number of faces, containing hits, shields for defense or symbols indicating a “double hit”.
So in combat, you will take the number of warriors that you chose to face the monster, roll them and then evaluate. You can use a “favor token” in order to re-roll your dice, but also keep in mind that these tokens are worth victory points at the end of the game. Learning how to estimate how many and what type of warriors you need to win your combat, could be the difference between winning, or losing miserably. Since dice are involved, you are subject to the whim of chance. You’re only source of control are the “favor tokens” which help mitigate the randomness.
The last aspect to discuss is the fighting of monsters across the ocean. This is a little more involved than the previous monster fights that I discussed. For starters, these monsters tend to be more powerful, often doing 2-3 attack damage, while sometimes having at least 3 defense. When you place a worker on a longship, you also have to figure out how you are going to feed your warriors that will be making the journey. When you assign your warriors, you will need at least 1 food per warrior, with the farthest spot across the sea requiring 2 food per warrior.
Making all of this even more perilous are the journey cards. Each boat will be placed in front of a space with a journey card. Before facing your monster, you must first reveal you journey card and evaluate it. These can range from a new enemy to fight, nothing happening, losing a warrior, or even losing food. So not only do you have to figure out just how many and which type of warriors you may need, but you must also ensure that you have enough food to feed them, and account for the journey cards. The only way to assist with this is to visit the Sage’s House location, which will allow you to look at one face-down journey card. While there are still more rules and different aspects of Champions of Midgard, I have laid a solid foundation to help you understand how the game functions.
A game of Champions of Midgard lasts 8 rounds with each player having the same number of turns. Points are counted in a few different ways, first with each player adding up the points provided for killing each of their monsters. This is actually done throughout the game as you earn them. Additional points are handed out at the end of the game as well, and via several means. First, for each set of 3 different monster cards of the same color, you will gain points. Secondly, there are a number of destiny and Valhalla cards, which may provide end game bonuses if you meet the listed conditions. After this you will count up the “favor tokens”, coins and the subtract points based on your “blame tokens”. The player with the highest score wins the game.
There are two expansions available for Champions of Midgard (as well as the previously mentioned promo cards and characters). The first expansion is called the Dark Mountains and it adds more places to fight monsters, as well as more worker placement locations and a new type of worker die, the green hunter die.
The second expansion is the Valhalla expansion, the one that typically receives the most praise. I mentioned how debilitating losing a battle across the sea can be. Not only does it costs resources to journey there, but losing that many warriors can really hurt. The Valhalla has fixed this by making your warrior’s deaths more meaningful.
With Valhalla, each time a warrior dies, you get a small carboard chit of that warrior. You can then spend these chits for Valkyrie cards which provide benefits like possible end-game points or more warriors. You may even spend them to claim Epic Monsters. These Epic Monsters provide a large amount of victory points and may even provide end-game bonuses. Lastly, the Valhalla expansion also contains 2 new warrior types, the shield maiden and the berserker. Valhalla has managed to fix the one area that many folks viewed at the pitfall of the base game, while also adding a larger amount of variety to the game.
So why is Champions of Midgard one of my favorite games? First, I really enjoy the Viking theme and the associated aesthetic. There are a number of interesting characters, each with their own variable player power, each looking like a vicious Viking warrior. Having purchased the Jarl edition for Champions of Midgard, we even have nice wooden Viking meeples and resources, both enhancing what was already a solid table presence. I also purchased the game board playmat, which incorporates both expansions and further augments a beautiful game. I already love the gameplay, but I loved blinging out my version of the game just as much. I think the table presence here is pretty solid and I love the attention this game gets when it is being played.
The second thing that I really love about Champions of Midgard is the dice-based combat. Learning how to assess your threats and apply the correct number of warriors to each battle is very important and part of game’s strategy. I have had some epic battles, sending the bare minimum in food and warriors and still managed to get past the journey card and defeat the monsters. Although, I don’t recommend it. If you send a force across the sea and lose, it can be very hard to come back from. It takes time to build up your forces, and facing defeat can be a large setback. This is why my next favorite element of Champions of Midgard is the expansion combat. One of which both adds immensely to the fun of the game, solves for such a potential setback, and makes my favorite mechanic a real treat in this game.
As most of the games I really enjoy do, Champions of Midgard can tell a great story. The memories of the epic games that I played against my wife in Champions of Midgard is also something that I love and cherish. My wife beat me the first 2 games and I have won every game since, but my wife loves the game and keeps getting better over time. In the base game, if you gain a certain amount of lead in your scoring, the outcome can be known with 2-3 rounds remaining in play. Adding Valhalla adds some cards that assist with end game points, making the outcomes far less certain. In our last game, I thought I had crushed my wife, but only managed to beat her by a handful of points.
My wife and I love of Ameri-style games. Dice-based combat can produce wildly different results, and add flavor and variety to play. This combat mechanic has been what elevated Champions of Midgard in my game collection. It’s simply a lot of fun. Although, I also appreciate that those who abhor the randomness of dice rolling and the luck of the draw may find the game a little too unpredictable for their liking. For me, the worker placement and dice combat combination adds up to a solid game experience that keeps me coming back for more. As such, I am happy to count Champions of Midgard as one of my Favorite Games.