Champions of Midgard Review – For Glory and Valhalla!
Every year, before we go to the UK Games Expo, the core members of my gaming group create a list of games each they are considering buying at the event. Between us, we then cross reference those games, and any games we have in common we put up for vote. What are we voting on? Well now…
We have a lot of gaming evenings/days throughout the year, as well as regular sessions for specific games like Gloomhaven and Star Wars: Destiny. We also get together to do events like Escape Rooms, CluedUpp, and movie days. What this means is we get through a lot of takeaways.
What we tend to do, whenever we order food or pay for an event, is round up each person’s share. The change then goes into a tin that we call (wait for it) “the gaming fund”. Each year at the UK Games Expo we then use that money to buy collective games for the group.
You know what, this is a really long way of explaining that last year we bought Champions of Midgard.
Champions of Midgard Review
So, what is Champions of Midgard?
Champions of Midgard is a Viking themed worker placement game designed by Ole Steiness and published by Grey Fox games. In it, you play as one of the village leaders of a Viking Clan competing to become Jarl. Each player is out for personal glory, whilst also trying to not to let the village be attacked by too many external forces. It is a game with worker placement at its core, but that also has aspects of dice rolling and set collection.
Champions of Midgard has been described as a midweight worker placement game and there are several comparisons that can be drawn between it and Lords of Waterdeep, something we will discuss in detail later.
So how is Champions of Midgard actually played?
Well, in Champions each player starts with four meeples, with the ability to buy a fifth later on in the game. These you take in turns placing around the board at key locations, as is the tradition with worker placement games, putting them down to gather resource. This may be money, food, wood, or favour of the gods. Alternatively, it may be to collect dice – swordsmen, spearmen, and axemen. Each one of these has different sides, some hitting more than others, some defending, and some doing double damage. These are the core combat mechanic in the game.
Yes, Champions of Midgard is a worker placement game with combat. This is because, in Champions,it is possible to send your warriors on epic adventures. These may be across the sea, searching riches and favour, or they may be protecting the village. Finally, each turn one player must fight a troll, or else everyone gets blamed for the troll running rampant at the end of each turn. Blame is negative points. If someone fights the troll then they get to attribute the blame elsewhere.
Each enemy has an attack and defence value. Each combat, players attribute dice to fighting each monster they dedicated a worker to. At the end of each round, there is a battle resolution round, in which those dice are rolled out. For each monster, the dice need to total a certain value to do damage. The monster then retaliates, before the players roll again, causing the players to lose dice they haven’t managed to protect with blocking.
The game is augmented by being asymmetrical. Each player has their own character, and game goals can be picked up with Destiny cards, giving you more points at the end of the game.
There are a lot of small and intricate rules in Champions of Midgard that make it incredibly difficult to explain within an article; however, those are the core concepts. If you want to read the rules in full then you can read more about them here.
Instead of getting bogged down in detail of how to play, let’s talk about what it is like to play.
What is it like playing Champions of Midgard?
Champions of Midgard is an unusual game. On one side of things, it is a very typical worker placement game. You have meeples, you put them into play, and they collect resources whilst on the board; however, on the other side of things, it is also very different. Instead of being just a worker placement game, it is a worker placement game that adds large amounts of luck and direct aggression in the form of combat or blame dealing. It is a game that encourages cooperative play with one hand, whilst beating it bloody with the other. It is a game of resource management, with no compelling need to actually manage resources. Champions of Midgard is actually something of a paradox.
This is one of the things that, for me, makes Champions of Midgard so difficult to review. It is a complex game that tries to do a lot of things, things that sometimes work seamlessly, and other times feel clunky. It does things no other game does in making worker placement a mechanism for epic adventures, whilst also constraining itself by its own rules. It is really difficult to lay out in a coherent way what this game is like, and that is arguably saying something.
So, let’s break this down very simply, with two basic questions –
Do we enjoy the game?
I think if I am completely honest, the response to the question as to whether we enjoy Champions of Midgard or not is a bit of a redundant one. Yes, of course, we enjoy Champions of Midgard. When it gets suggested we don’t roll our eyes and sigh. Instead, we collect dice and roll those instead. It is a fun game.
How Strategic is Champions of Midgard? (And also a bit of Champions of Midgard vs Lords of Waterdeep)
Champions of Midgard is, at its very core, a fun game. It ticks entertainment boxes. That being said, and I think this is why Champions is so difficult to define, there is surprisingly little strategy. That’s not saying there isn’t any – just that (arguably) there isn’t as much direct worker placement strategy as you may first expect.
From a personal perspective as a gamer, I like having strategic grit in my games. I like having something I can sink my teeth into, and for all intents and purposes, Champions of Midgard looks like one of those games. It looks like Stone Age, or Lords of Waterdeep, or even something like Agricola.
That being said, when you dive deeper into the game, when you uncover what is hidden beneath the surface, you realise that Champions of Midgard is almost nothing like any of those because it sports a much larger luck-based element.
Worker placement games, contrary to popular belief, do still have random elements in them. In Lords of Waterdeep, for instance, there are four ways randomness can play a role – these are the order of the buildings, the order of the quests, the order of the intrigue cards, and how the lords are dealt out at the beginning of the game. Stone Age also has three ways randomness plays a role in the game – the order of the buildings, the order of the cards, and the number of resources that are collected by each group of workers.
Champions of Midgard, on the other hand, has more elements where randomness, luck, and chance are really important to the game. These include:
- Precisely which Market and Military Tiles are put into the game.
- The order of the Journey cards.
- The order of the Monster cards.
- The order of the Draugar cards.
- The order of the Troll cards.
- The order of the Rune cards.
- The order of the Destiny cards (as well as which Destiny card you are dealt at the start of the game).
- The order of the Merchant ship cards.
- How the dice are used to determine combat.
There are a lot of decks in the game, of which I fully accept I haven’t explored each one in this review (now you can probably see why), and these each bring something different to the game.
Now, don’t get me wrong. It is easy to see why there are so many decks in the game. It adds a lot of replayability, as well as a whole host of variety to the game. That being said, it also means that the game is kind of like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It looks like one thing, whilst behaving like something else.
Yes, but is this a bad thing?
The question about whether this is a good or bad thing is an interesting one. In some ways, this is a bad thing because it means the game isn’t quite what you may expect upon getting it out of the box. If you like heavy strategy games and expect this to be a heavy strategy game then you may be disappointed with what you actually get. This is a worker placement game, but realistically it doesn’t incorporate a huge amount of resource management bar the die. Wood, gold, and food are definitely secondary resources within the game.
That being said, if you want to try something different then this is where Champions of Midgard shines. It is a game that mixes elements of worker placement with push-your-luck. It works well, with the additional and unusual mechanics adding a whole new dynamic to the game. It is a unique game in how it slots these mechanics together, and that has some appeal.
Another place where Champions of Midgard shines is by providing a fresh take on a mechanic that breathes new life into preconceived notions of worker placement. As far as worker placement goes within the gaming world, it has some gravitas to it. WP games (I’m tired of writing “worker placement” now) tend to get taken seriously – whether that is something like Stone Age or something like Tiny Epic Western. Much like the Tiny Epic series are currently trying to do with Tiny Epic Quests and Tiny Epic Zombies, there is some need to adapt old mechanics to try and relaunch them with a fresh face. This is part of the natural evolution of gaming. Both Tiny Epic Quests and Tiny Epic Zombies try to reinvent WP games by implementing RPG elements into them.
Champions of Midgard does it slightly differently. It uses dice and an almost obscene number of shuffled decks to flip the genre on its head. It provides a brand new take on something which could be considered quite old. It attempts to reinvent the genre. How well it does this as a game is open to debate, depending on your tastes, but it certainly deserves recognition for the effort.
So, What Is The Conclusion? Is This A Good Game?
There is, in my mind, no doubt that Champions of Midgard is a good game. As I said around midway through this article, we don’t ever end up regretting playing it – however, whether you enjoy it rests heavily on what you want from a game.
When Not To Go For Champions of Midgard
If you want a strategic, immersive, and, for want of a better word, heavy worker placement game (a more traditional game) then Champions of Midgard probably isn’t for you. If you are in the mood for a game that requires pondering over your every move and large amounts strategy then you are probably better off with a more traditional worker placement style game like Stone Age or Lords of Waterdeep.
If you like those sorts of games, then you run the risk of Champions of Midgard feeling like the lite version. If your usual gaming list comprises of games like Power Grid, Agricola, Terra Mystica, and Dominant Species then Champions of Midgard may not reach the same bar for a game competing in the same kind of category.
When To Go For Champions of Midgard
That being said, if you are in the mood for a lighter game that still involves a fair amount of strategic element then Champions of Midgard could fit perfectly into that category. Rather than sitting with traditional (for want of a better phrase, although this may generate a lot of hate in the comments) Eurogame it sits better with games like Elder Sign or King of Tokyo. These are games where there are still large amounts of strategy; however, it is a different kind of strategy. It is a kind of strategy that also has a fair amount of chance and luck.
Champions of Midgard, for us, is a wind-down game. It’s a game where we want to round off our evening with a bit of fun, as we have broken our brains playing games like Eldritch Horror or Scythe or Twilight Imperium. It is a game that sits happily between sorbet games (light and fluffy games) and heavier games. Although lots of games sit in this gap, few do it quite so succinctly as Champions of Midgard.
From what I hear, and as a final note, the expansions are incredible. I haven’t played them, but reading the breakdown of other reviews on BGG they seem to impress most people.
So, over 2,200 words into a review of a relatively simple game, I’m now going to hand it over to the comments section. What do you guys think of Champions of Midgard? Is this the kind of game you could see yourself liking, or would you rather give it a miss? Have you played it? Did you enjoy it if you have? Let me know in the comments below.