**This review was initially posted on BGG on April 3rd, 2017
Thank you for checking out my eighth review. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.
An Overview of Champions of Midgard
Champions of Midgard is a game designed by Ole Steiness and is published by Grey Fox Games. The box states that it can play 2-4 players and has a 60-90 minute play time.
In this game you are trying to gain the most glory over the course of eight rounds. You are a Viking Clan leader with unique powers depicted on your player board. During your turn you can assign your Vikings to complete a variety of tasks: from recruiting warriors, defending the village against troll or draugrs, carving runes, hunting for food, hiring out a ship sail and battle fierce monsters, and more. You have four workers available to begin, but can purchase a fifth over the course of the game. The warriors you purchase get assigned to battles where you have a worker present, and the dice are rolled to see if you are victorious.
Glory points are gained in several ways: rune cards, building a ship, securing first place on a destiny card, collecting coins and favor tokens, collecting colored sets of monsters, and defeating monsters/trolls/draugrs. Points can be lost through the accumulation of blame tokens, which everyone gains any round that the troll isn’t defeated; whoever defeats the troll for the round can discard a blame token and assign one to a different player.
Setup and gameplay for 2 Players
For two players not much is impacted. There are fewer ships to buy (2/4), fewer monsters to sail to fight (3/4), fewer new market tiles (2/4). This adds up to only three fewer places for your workers than you would see in a 4-player game, which really leaves the board open. I’ll discuss this more down below, but the fact that there are nearly the same number of places with half the workers makes it so that two players could really pursue different strategies and never really block each other. This is something that I do not envision the expansions helping in any way; quite the opposite! I expect that adding more things to do will make it even more possible to avoid each other in a 2-player game. If you are looking for a tight board where you are having to pick things one-step-ahead of your opponent, this game might leave you disappointed. If you like being able to feel a sense of accomplishment, getting to do most of the actions you planned in a round, then you will enjoy the experience.
I love the theme. I definitely feel like a Viking leader, sending my workers around to recruit new warriors to replace those already slain in glorious battle. This one was purchased to get a worker placement game with a theme I would enjoy, and it certainly succeeds at that. So much about the game makes sense in terms of the theme, which is a strong point for anyone who loves Viking themes.
There are a lot of things you can do. In a two-player game it might seem at first as though you’ll always be able to do what you want, but you’ll often find that the places you want to go are also those your opponent seeks to claim. Because resources are consumable and limited, those spaces to provide food and dice are vital…but so are the spaces for battle. The hard choice can become taking the warriors you need and risk not getting that battle you wanted, or locking in the battle first but watching as they snag that one spot that gives the most/best warriors.
The blame mechanic is great, and it really forces some interesting choices along the way. It might be tempting to completely ignore those trolls but the blame penalty can become staggering if you get too many tokens. So while that troll might only give you 3-4 glory to kill it, it could cost you an additional 5 glory to ignore it that round.
The five leaders are all very different because of their individual abilities. While one seems very overpowered, each one has a certain usefulness that will dictate some of your decisions in the game. Yet they also don’t force you to focus on a linear path. It strikes a nice balance there, giving you something unique while not being restricting.
The best monsters to fight are also the ones that will cost the most time and resources to attack. The journey cards are a nice touch, adding an extra element of randomness to your expedition and demonstrates the unknown variables that would have been encountered on sea voyages. Yet you can mitigate this random element through certain runes as well as through the Sage’s Hut.
With two players it can sometimes feel very open. If you are pursuing very different strategies and/or goals, there can be very little pressure from the other player. This is because there are only four workers (five max) per player, which means only 8-10 are going out instead of 12-15 or 16-20 on a three or four player game, respectively. Some people will think of this as a positive, because you can still work with what is available and feel like there is some forward progress. Others will dislike how open it can be when you aren’t both planning to take the same spots. However, not every game will feel this open because there will definitely be games where your strategies will clash and you’ll be fighting over who gets to take what, usually with your first 1-2 workers in a round.
The destiny cards are great because they give everyone different, secret scoring conditions. This can be a great way to make up for lost ground. The problem is that there isn’t much of a variety here, and they are all pretty much “have the most of X”. An easy change would have been to throw in a few “have the least of X” in there as a curveball. At least that would have provided a larger deck to go through and encouraged some daring late-game plays for those in the lead but needing to consume a lot of what they’ve been hording.
The sense of a runaway leader. There are a lot of points that can be scored at the end, but there have been a few games where it seemed unlikely that enough ground could be gained to catch up. And, of course, in all of those games the scores ended up closer than they started but that leader still managed to win. This scenario certainly doesn’t happen in every game, or even in most games, but it can and will happen. Usually when the above dice-unbalance scenario happens.
I really enjoy this game and feel it plays well with two players most of the time. In spite of its flaw with the dice and the lack of variety on destiny cards, this is a really fun worker placement game, and probably my favorite worker placement to date. It is a category of board games that we hadn’t started exploring until last year, and once it was clear my wife loved worker placement games I suddenly was very interested in what was out there. The interaction is really not much higher than a game like Agricola or Caverna, which can at times feel like solitaire with two, but the blame tokens add a nice touch for this as does the secret competition on the destiny cards. This game is never going to be my wife’s favorite because of the dice, but she still enjoys playing this one from time to time.
The coming expansions almost were my first kickstarter of the year, but they are definitely ones I plan on picking up. They will both work together to take a good game and elevate it into a great gaming experience. Which should help this one stick around in my Top Ten, or at least near it, for quite some time. It is definitely a game I am always willing to play, and I wish it would hit the table just a little more often for us. If you like worker placement, a Viking theme, and don’t mind the potential for unpredictable dice rolls, then I would definitely recommend that you pick this one up and add it to your collection.
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