With all the Viking “rage” happening in and out of the hobby, I thought it’d be a good time to look at a simple Euro that revels in the glory of dice-combat. Champions of Midgard is a fairly straightforward worker placement game where the goal is to earn glory in combat against the mythical monsters that plagued ancient Scandinavia while heaping shame (*blame) on your opponents in hopes to rise in power as the next jarl of Midgard. It’s a action drafting, dice chunking, cube pushing affair fit for the halls of the Odin, and the next Euro/Americana hybrid to turn some heads here at the Pub.
THEME AND ART
Iconography is very important in games like this. In Champions, everything is rendered beautifully if somewhat busy, much like Stone Age (graphically, not mechanically). Getting over the fullness of the board tends to give an impression of complicated gameplay, but don’t let the details scare you away. I suppose my only reservation is the way the defensive stat is marked for the monster cards. The shield icon is universally considered a defense value in games that roll dice and take hit points. In this case, the shield acts more like the health of the monster, where meeting or exceeding the value with hits over the course of a series of combat rounds results in the defeat of the monster. Shield results on your warriors’ dice act more like you would expect them and limit the amount of damage the monster inflicts to your warriors that round. It’s not confusing once you get it, but it’s one of those things that seemed counter-intuitive.
Worker placement is a funny category where theme can be a thin veil on an awesome game (i.e. Lords of Waterdeep) or integral to the experience necessary to capture the logic of play (i.e. Agricola or Stone Age). Champions is very much designed around its theme and while much of it feels like any other action drafter, there is more than the addition of dice that plays into the theme.
The main thrust of the game is gaining glory found in combat. It’s the part where you throw the dice to battle the monster to earn the glory that inspires the songs. But if that were all there was to make this a Viking game then it would be small fair indeed. There’s an added element that really becomes the focus of the second half of the game and really brings the theme to bear: sailing to far-off lands to do the whole conquering foes thing. Where in early game you tend to find yourself busy vying for spots to outfit and prepare for these journeys, the late game is a race to fight – and survive – as many of these unearthly beasts as possible. No endgame bonus for leftover warriors, so send them all to Valhalla!
MECHANISMS AND COMPONENTS
In a game of dice-combat there’s very few resources needed to complicate the playing field. This is good as it streamlines the decisions for players as we min/max our way to victory. Three of the resources come in the three types of dice, nicely grooved and easily distinguished for their role. The rest is standard fare: cubes, tokens, cards and boards are of high quality and lay nicely on the game surface. The game takes a very standard approach to worker placement. Each round ends with everyone taking turns dedicating warriors and rolling dice for the combat phase.
But while the dice steal the spotlight, the real game centers around winning the cards. Every round has some tight decisions and often you find yourself throwing warriors into the fray for a coveted card without knowing if the entire round will be a success or failure. I’ve noticed this is a huge turn-off for some who don’t like the consequences of their efforts determined by the toss of the dice. There’s also the risk that someone grabs a goal you’ve been setting up for before you’re able to commit a worker to it. But, like the Vikings we are, the tension of time and risk really play well into the experience. And while there are a couple of spaces that do not impress an urgency on players, there is not a spot on the board I’ve thought of as useless.
What does tend to influence players in their strategy is the asymmetric powers that are printed on each player board. Each one gives a specific bonus in relation to a game mechanic and often determine a player’s priority in drafting actions. While there is a discussion as to the abilities’ effectiveness (or lack thereof), as a whole they make up the part I like least in the game, which is not my normal inclination for asymmetry in games. But in this case they feel a bit contrived, as if an afterthought to the game design rather than something organic.
Try this game if you like:
- Lords of Waterdeep
- Asking for Trobils
- Stone Age
I’ll admit my favorite part in playing the game is journeying to far away lands on a boat laden with warrior-dice and food cubes for the trip. I love seeing what happens on the way to their respective destinations as players flip over the journey card that lies between their ships and their goal. Whether it’s “All Quiet” or an unexpected fight with a Kraken, it’s really what adds the right flavor and variation for me. Beyond that, there is very little variation from round to round and game to game. The given monster stats and bonus cards are drawn randomly and there is very little arc to the game or increase of tension. The setup does attempt a kind of variate with a random shop selection for four of the spaces, but the gameplay is fairly the same from beginning to end. In other words, this is not a worker placement game that builds an engine or rewards a clever combo built over several rounds.
The fact that there is a definite number of rounds (only 8) drives the progress of the game and determines your priorities throughout play – and it keeps the time at just the right length. This is one game where knowing the end and throwing all your resources toward endgame rewards on the last round is very thematic and not the least bit unsatisfying. Where endgame scoring is the bane of thematic play in most cases, it feels good to throw everything you have as a last ditch for more glory.
Despite some of my reservations, this is my favorite worker placement game to date. It’s simple, it’s different, and it’s very thematic. While I do enjoy the crunchy Euros, this Euro/Americana hybrid makes for some great meeple rage.