Champions of Midgard Review

Champions of Midgard, from Ole Stieness and Grey Fox Games (Conquest of Speros), is a worker placement game that combines absolutely fantastic artwork, set collection, and dice-based combat to keep 2-4 would-be Jarls entertained for around 60 minutes.  With favorable comparisons being made to Lords of Waterdeep (the poster child of ‘America Euro’ games) and Stone Age (another fantastic WP game with dice), how does Champions of Midgard hold up?

Pretty damn well, I’d say.

The old Jarl of Trondheim has died, and in his absence, some serious badness has moved into town...
The old Jarl of Trondheim has died, and in his absence, some serious badness has moved into town…
Not your typical day at the Worker Placement farm...
Not your typical day at the Worker Placement farm…

Champions of Midgard is a contest between the great heroes of Trondheim, each competing to earn the most Glory and therefore step into the role of the now-deceased Jarl.  These champions will battle terrifying monsters and defend their hometown for the greater glory of the gods and the favor of their people!  Because only one can truly call themselves the Champion of Midgard!

andysmAndrew:  The theme is what first attracted me to Champions of Midgard.  Every component, from the monsters attacking your town, to the characters to the board itself is bright, colorful, and awesome, benefitting tremendously from Victor Corbella’s amazing art.  Games can be beautiful in many different ways, and the bold, well-illustrated aesthetic of Champions is one of my favorites.

jessmJess:  I think the art is great, too, and I love that each of the different characters has a different power.  They’re just unique enough to inform your strategy, but not so niche that you can’t make your own choices.

Of course, even the most attractive Viking can’t just skate by on looks (sorry Ullr).  What matters most is the gameplay and, fortunately, Champions of Midgard delivers there, too.

Really, he's such a pretty-boy
Really, he’s such a pretty-boy

Played out over the course of a quick 8 rounds, players will assign their workers to spaces throughout the village, gathering resources and committing themselves to slay the monsters which threaten the peace.  Several of the placement spots on the board let players amass armies of Viking warriors, represented by dice and coming in 3 flavors; swords, spears, and axes.  Other spaces let you grab up Food, Lumber, Coin, Destiny cards (that give end-game bonus points) or Runes, 1-time-use powers that can be really handy under the right circumstances.

Destiny cards give you bonus Glory at the end of the game, but only if you meet their requirements
Destiny cards give you bonus Glory at the end of the game, but only if you meet their requirements

Champions of Midgard does a good job of rewarding you for your choices – there is rarely a ‘wasted’ placement, and that’s doubly-important once you remember how darn short this game actually is.  Those 8 turns fly by, and a group with some experience will be able to, even at 4 players, whip through the game in under an hour.  I love a game that respects my time; +1 more for Champions.

The Runesmith lets you carve wood into totems, while the Sage gives you foresight into sea voyages to come, as well as the destiny of your character
The Runesmith lets you carve wood into totems, while the Sage gives you foresight into sea voyages to come, as well as the destiny of your character

Once all your workers are in place, the combat phase is triggered.  Players send their Viking dice to go face down monsters, be they the Trolls who come to destroy the town, the Draugr that menace the countryside, or they can pack their warriors into longships and send them against the monsters of the far shores.  Many monsters are particularly strong against a certain type of warrior, affecting your choice which type of Vikings you should amass.  Also, monsters come in 3 colors, and each set of 3 that you successfully slay will provide bonus Glory at the end of the game.

Each Champion has a unique ability as well as awesome artwork
Each Champion has a unique ability as well as awesome artwork

Each monster group has slightly different consequences for being defeated/ignored.  If no one addresses the Troll problem, every player gets a blame token, worth negative Glory at the end of the game.  But for the player who defeats the beast, not only do they discard a blame token, but they get to assign one to an opponent, making defeating these brutes a priority.  Draugr apparently carry a lot of cash on them – defeating one nets you not only Glory but coin as well.

Monsters from across the sea. Big points, sure, but big trouble too
Monsters from across the sea. Big points, sure, but big trouble too
Defeat the Troll for Glory and lumber!...ignore the troll and everyone suffers
Defeat the Troll for Glory and lumber!…ignore the troll and everyone suffers

Fighting monsters on the far shore, however, is where things get more interesting and strategic.  These monsters tend to be quite strong, but the Glory gained for their defeat is equally great.  However, instead of just throwing warriors against them, would-be slayers must first hire (or build) ships to transport their Vikings, as well as provide food for the long voyage.

Even still, to get to these foes, one must cross the ocean, facing whatever perils are to be found along the way.  A visit to the Sage’s hut can provide forewarning, though, letting you plan ahead.  So if you are lucky enough to survive the trip (and assuming you brought enough snacks to feed everyone), battle on the far shore is mechanically identical to that against the Trolls and the Draugr.

andysmAndrew:  I love the concept of traveling to hunt monsters.  It injects some really cool theme into the gameplay.  Mustering your forces, gathering supplies, braving the ocean to throw yourself at a monstrous foe…It makes me want to grab my felling axe and get to slaying!

jessmJess:  Heck yeah it does!

Green's boat encounters becalmed waters on the way to fight the Dreki. Fortunately, she packed extra food.
Green’s boat encounters becalmed waters on the way to fight the Dreki. Fortunately, she packed extra food.

Combat resolution is quick and simple.  Rolling all the dice you assigned to a monster, you will count up the number of successful attack symbols, subtract the monster’s defense (if any), and apply the result as damage.  If you have done enough harm, then the monster falls, Glory is yours, and any surviving Vikings live to fight another day.  If not, you will try again, having lost as many Vikings as the monster’s attack rating indicates).  This process continues until one side or the other wins, and rarely takes more than a few moments.

Some of the luck of rolling dice can be mitigated with Rune cards (those 1-time-use thingies), as well as with Favor of the Gods tokens, which let you reroll.  Some of the player powers relate to combat as well, such as getting bonus successes for swordsmen.  Overall, combat in Champions of Midgard is satisfyingly quick and appropriately chaotic.

andysmAndrew:  One of the things I love most about Champions of Midgard is that it allows for strategy despite the fact that a chunk of the game’s major scoring mechanism is dice-driven.  You can play a more cerebral game, balancing your attack party with the more defensively-minded swordsmen to counter the reckless abandon of the berserkers, carefully planning your journeys across the seas, and stocking your stores full of meat, wood, and coin…

jessmJess:  …Or you could just get a handful of axe-wielding maniacs and hurl yourself at every monster you see.  You probably won’t win that second way, but at least you’ll have some fun!

The endgame scoring is often pretty swingy, with players revealing the secret Destiny cards they’ve been working toward and scoring completed monster sets, but it adds a fun bit of drama.

That's enough axes to win, but no shields to protect the berserkers. But there is huge Glory to be won!
That’s enough axes to win, but no shields to protect the berserkers. But there is huge Glory to be won!

Champions of Midgard is an excellent game all around.  The production quality is awesome (once I crushed my shockingly warped cards back into a flat alignment, which thankfully took almost immediately), the gameplay is light and fast and well-tuned, and it plays as well with 2 players as it does with 4.  If anything, we wish it played one or even two more players; with gameplay this quick, it would have been easy to add more people to the table.

andysmAndrew:  And the theme is way more fun than many other worker placement games I’ve played.  There’s nothing wrong with farming or herb gathering or whatever, but Champions of Midgard delivers a solid light-to-middleweight worker placement experience with gorgeous art, cool theme, and one or two really clever mechanics.

jessmJess:  And it has nice, chunky custom dice.

andysmAndrew:  Well, I wasn’t going to say anything about that, but yes, it has very nice dice, too.

We highly recommend Champions of Midgard.  It’s fun, it’s fast, and it’s satisfyingly engaging.

(We’d like to thank Grey Fox Games for helping us get our hands on our copy of Champions of Midgard.  Our enthusiasm is entirely our own.)

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