21st Nov2018

‘Champions of Midgard’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail


In Champions of Midgard (Champions) the players will draft warrior dice by placing workers, in order to then gain Glory by fighting various monsters including trolls, draugr and much more exotic fauna. Theme is everything in some games and it masks a huge difference to the way a game can make you feel about playing it. Champions is fast paced, occasionally frustratingly random, but ultimately so filled with bloodthirsty Viking adventure that it’s hard not to be completely enthralled by it. I’m reviewing the base game here, but there are already two expansions available (The Dark Mountains and Valhalla) which I haven’t played, so please consider the features they add (such as a fifth player) to be outside of everything I say here.

Each game of Champions of Midgard lasts for about an hour, except perhaps at four players when it can stretch on for another fifteen or twenty minutes. The game takes place over a series of eight rounds, each of which will comprise of a brief setup phase where cards and other features are prepared, then a worker placement round and finally combat. Each of these rounds will be scored individually, then at the end of the eighth round, a further end game scoring will take place in which the players can gain bonuses for collecting sets of monsters and runes, or by fulfilling destiny cards.

Champions is overwhelmingly straightforward, despite offering players a reasonable number of decisions to make in each round, most of which have a real feeling of importance to them. When it comes to worker placement, the players will take turns to place each of their three starting workers. There is an element of randomness to the worker placement locations which is determined during setup and the game scales the number of placement locations based on how many people are playing the game.

The actual choices themselves are very simple, but the timing of which action to take and when can be critical, since only one worker can occupy each action space (with the exception of hunting.) Most of the spaces involve the player taking something – one or more Viking die, some food, some wood or a Rune or Destiny Card. Each of the other spaces available to players will relate to a fight action, which will be resolved in the next round. Players can choose between fighting a troll, one of two draugr or one of the mythical beats that reside across the sea.

What makes these choices a bit more interesting is the fact that each of them offers different rewards (and potentially penalties, should no one defeat the troll.) Draugr, typically, offer some Glory and some gold when defeated, but are often fairly low risk. Distant monsters are much tougher, but offer large rewards in Glory and often gold. Trolls tend to provide little glory and wood when defeated, but they also allow the player to return one of their Blame tokens (if they have any) and will hand out a Blame token to one other player. Blame tokens reduce Glory at the end of the game, so there’s a fine balance to be struck between chasing high risk, high glory rewards and managing your Blame tokens.

Once worker placement is done, the actual combat begins. Players resolve combat in a specific order that begins with the troll, then the draugr and then any overseas monsters, but before the battles are decided, players must determine how many Viking warriors to commit to each fight. Warriors are represented by white, black and red dice in the base game and each of them has different chances to hit. White die are swordsmen who have a two in six chance of scoring a hit and a one in six chance of scoring either a double hit or a shield. Black die are berserkers, who are more likely to hit, but have no shield ability, whilst the red spearmen die have the best defensive chance, but no chance of a double hit.

Every enemy monster has both an attack and a defense rating and once all Viking warriors (dice) are committed to fights, the players roll them to see how many hits and shields they score. Each shield negates one of the monsters hits, whilst each hit deals one wound. If the monster suffers enough hits to kill it, then it is defeated – but even then, it still kills as many Viking’s as it has hits. If the monster is not killed in the first round of combat, then a second round (and so on) will follow, but each round the player will have fewer dice because the monster has effectively killed them. Assuming the player is victorious, then they will be able to claim the monster card and score Glory and any other rewards shown.

For trolls, as I mentioned before this will result in a Blame token being removed from the victorious player and given to one other player. For draugr, there are no special rules, so combat is straightforward. Fighting distant monsters is the most complex and dangerous of the combat options. Firstly, the player must load their Vikings onto a boat based on its capacity, which may also involve paying a fee to hire the ship. The player will also need to include food to feed their Vikings (which takes up space) and then send them off through unknown waters. When this happens, prior to combat against the chosen monster being resolved, the player must flip a face down journey card to see what their journey holds – the sea can be clear, or there can be negative situations like lost food or Vikings. Assuming the force survives, then they must still face down their chosen monster.

Champions features a number of different characters for players to choose from, each of which has a different power. One, for example, makes Swordsmen more powerful, whilst another allows the player to draw two rune cards instead of one. These abilities allow the players to mitigate some of the randomness that is inherent in Champions, as does the use of Favor tokens, which allow rerolls. The fact that much of Champions is determined by die rolls or card turns can result in some tough breaks, but there’s no favouritism at least – what is random for one player is also random for the others and the theme masks it fairly well in any case.

The speed and lightness of the worker placement round in Champions of Midgard helps to make the game feel fast paced, but it doesn’t detract from the weight of decision making. For example in typical round, the players will each want to add one or two dice to their pool (as a minimum) and they’ll probably need food and to then pick a fight with someone. The order in which these things are chosen is critical, since the other players will be out to fill the same slots. It’s also possible for players to add another worker to their team, though it’s a relatively costly thing to do.

When the fights break out, the game moves just as quickly and with a real sense of excitement. Dice rolling is always inherently random, but because there’s a large focus on putting together the right kind of force for the right kind of foe, players do feel more invested in the combat of Champions than they might in another game where army composition was forced upon them. The use of the Blame tokens to force players to consider the much lower value Trolls is interesting, as is the added risk and reward of fighting the distant monsters. Overall this approach allows for many different strategies to win, all of which need the right balance of luck and judgement.

On balance, Champions is a fairly lightweight and very fast playing game that mixes its theme very nicely with the dice drafting and worker placement elements. It’s a simple, clever game with lots of nice decisions and a fair bit of tension, since all of the strategies I tried (different combat focuses, set collection and focus on Destiny cards which all score points for different things) worked out fairly evenly. The game can often come down to the difference between one blame token or a single set of different coloured monsters. Making a game with this much randomness both competitive and fun with every play isn’t easy and as such, I think Champions of Midgard is an excellent game to play with friends of all experience ranges. A really nice addition to my gaming shelf and one which I think I’ll hope to expand upon with the additional content that is already out there.

**** 4/5

Reavers of Midgard (the sequel to Champions of Midgard) is now on Kickstarter and can be found here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/152730994/reavers-of-midgard-the-sequel-to-champions-of-midg

A copy of Champions of Midgard was supplied by Grey Fox Games for review.

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