Wade and Marc look at Champions of Midgard with all the expansions while going off on various tangents about expansion compression, Blood Rage, and… American football?
Wade: So, I kind of pressured Marc into getting Champions of Midgard with all of the expansions. I told him it definitely wasn’t just another worker placement game. Like many before him (go check the threads on BGG), he picked up the Jarl Edition under the assumption it actually comes with the Base Champions of Midgard. It doesn’t. I kind of take a bit of blame (Ha! COM jokes!) for this for not being more specific in the reviews of Dark Mountains and Valhalla.
Marc: Yeah, whatever. It had been on my “want in trade” list forever and I wasn’t making any progress, so now I have it. I’ll regret it later when I can’t get it off the shelf like everything else…
Wade: I will say that I have never had a problem getting this off the shelf. Some other games might require a specific group dynamic or have a level of brain burn that will put others off on some nights, Champions comes off my shelf with ease. I hope you’ll find it the same way,.
Marc: At first glance, I think Grey Fox got the balance basically right between adventure game and Euro worker placement. There's enough Norse lore and style (including the designer’s name!) attached to things that it doesn't feel dry like Agricola, even though they're both based on the same mechanic. The thing that elevates Blood Rage over many other WP games is that the placement often involves a direct challenge to people also placed in the same territory. This doesn't have that, but finding the balance between resources (food, wood, coins), journeying, fighting, and then spending Valhalla tokens creates a lot of mechanical and story interplay. The social interplay comes not only from stealing spaces before others get there, but also from figuring out who deals with the Trolls in each round for everyone’s benefit. Well, everyone but the one person who does get the Blame token.
The mild downside to the Trolls is that they feel like a restraint play in American football. If you don't know, a restraint play is something the offense uses to "keep the defense honest", as the saying goes. It's put in to make sure that the defense can't simply tee off in their preferred method, like blitzing or man coverage. If they do, the restraint play can catch them in a bad spot. The Trolls are like a constant annoyance, because not only do they assign Blame if not removed, unlike the Draugr or the Bergrisar, but the reward they provide is the least useful of the three. Wood is just kind of along for the ride, unless you're really interested in getting as many Runes as possible or you get the market stall that lets you trade it for Spearmen. You can always trade it for the more useful stuff (coins, food) at the trading post, but otherwise it’s kind of a placeholder, except in combination with other things to build ships. So, the Trolls are the restraint play that keeps you from narrowing your focus so much that you ignore other parts of the game, in addition to the social interaction based on solving the communal problem.
Wade: Now I have visions of Trolls lining up in a ‘prevent’ defense, Marc. Thanks for that visual. Trolls are one of those things about COM that helps shape each individual game. If I get a card that is going to reward me for killing the most trolls with VP, I’m more than likely going to keep hitting up the Runes every round because I know that I’m going to have a surplus of wood. It is that openness and multiple pathways to victory that I enjoy. Deciding how important it is to grab that extra worker early at the risk of crippling your economy is another tasty decision. Also, the addition of Troll Lords in the expansions means that they aren’t all simple walk-in-the-park battles. They can actually put a hurt on you.
Marc: And the Blame economy is one of the more fascinating aspects of the overall picture. Figuring out how important it is to different players based on the table is interesting. The other aspect that really sells it is the Valhalla token acquisition. Weighing when you really want your warriors to die is a really interesting choice. I like that they included the note about making Shields optional in the Valhalla rulebook. Plus, with Leaders taking a space and a food allowance on ships, it brings into question whether you want the Leader along on a journey to "just" give you an economic/resource benefit 1/3 of the time when you really want hits so you can kill a monster. The activation of your leader’s special ability might contribute to that fight, though; like Hemming with a good Rune, Asmundr’s free Favor, and especially Ullr’s free Berzerker, Svanhildr’s choice of Sword facing, and Ragnhild’s addition of another die for a blank result.
Wade: Do you have that “Friend” (like I do) who always attempts to break a game? He decided that he would completely ignore “Blame” the entire game. Once you have six Blame, you have “maxed” it out, saddling yourself with -21 points. Any Blame you acquire beyond that is meaningless. I will admit I have done this myself after an ill-fated attempt to take out a monster that, instead of killing your vikings, gives you Blame every round. If I recall, I think I ended up with five Blame from that one encounter. At that point, it was “Well, screw it, I’m going all in.”
Marc: We call that “daring experimentation” where I come from. It’s true that the overall impact may be less than expected. If you’re playing with other capable players, however, they’ll be able to change their moves in later rounds of a close game, giving them more options because they know they have a cushion.
Wade: Ignoring Blame wasn’t a huge concern in the base game, but with all the additional VP opportunities provided with the expansions, that “daring experimentation” borders on ruining the experience for everyone, since the logical thing to do once someone has maxed out Blame is to move on to the next closest threat/player. I’m tempted to house rule that each blame past the -21 limit is an additional -6 VP. But it really hasn’t become a real concern, other than the one game where it was tried and the one game where I was sort of backed into giving it a shot, unlike Blood Rage’s “Loki Strategy” which I detest.
Marc: The Loki strategy is a thing, but only if you let it be. A lot of people miss the fact that the card draft is where those strategies emerge in Blood Rage. If you see someone come out of the first age with a Loki angle, then people have to be aware in the next couple drafts that it’s a thing and draft appropriately. Same thing happens in Magic drafts. You watch the cards go by and can figure out what’s happening elsewhere on the table. Similarly, in Champions, if you see someone going all in on the Troll approach, sometimes you have to bite the bullet and drop one of your guys on the Trolls or Draugr to keep one player from racking up all the Glory and getting full sets of enemies. As with most (good) games with multiple paths to victory, just because you’ve decided that one is the best doesn’t mean you can completely ignore the rest.
Wade: I just have a problem with any game where one player can dictate the flow of the game with a specific strategy. Being “required” to hate draft to counter someone else’s strategy isn’t something I enjoy. I’ll freely admit my experience is tainted with Blood Rage: every time I have played, someone would go with “Loki Strategy” and be all smug like they were the person who conceived it. These are probably the same people who hole up in Australia during Risk.
Marc: Back on CoM: All things considered, I don't think the Jarl box is particularly needed for what it initially represents: space to hold everything. It does that, nicely, but so will the main game box if you just take the insert out (Almost all inserts instantly die in my house. I've found very few that serve any purpose whatsoever. The most outstanding exception is Tyrants of the Underdark, which holds everything perfectly, including the expansion.)
Wade: Hold on, let me try. *Yells from the other room* Yes, I still have the insert and haven’t been able to fit the base game and the expansions into one box. *gathers up baggies and rubberbands (gasp!) to secure the various cards and pieces* Hmm, well, I’ll be damned, it all does fit in the base box once you toss the insert. And the lid doesn’t even “float.” But what about THIS! *shakes Seasons of Inis Expansion Box at Marc* This box is a work of freaking art! You expect me to toss this, too?
Marc: Yes. Yes, I do. You don’t have to “toss it”. Mine resides in the basement storage area for the unlikely event that I ever end up trading/selling Inis and/or the expansion. But everything in the Holy Trinity should use the original boxes. Take out the stylish inserts (it’s the only way to make it work with both Kemet and Cyclades if you have everything) and just pile it in. Expansion boxes are as superfluous as inserts, unless you simply can’t fit everything, as with Tiny Epic Kingdoms, Tiny Epic Galaxies (because tiny), and Villainous (because full kit for every villain from base and two expansions.) I even have all six expansions for Cosmic Encounter fitting in the main box. I’ve had to reinforce it with tape twice to keep the bottom from tearing off, but they fit.
Wade: Honestly Marc, I’m a married man and while my wife is extremely supportive of my board game “hobby,” what I don’t need is a cluster of empty boxes making it look like it takes up more room than it actually does. When I do combine expansions into the base box, I put the expansion boxes into the recycle pile… then I go back to them a half dozen times, open them up, and make sure I didn’t leave anything in them.
Marc: Well, then, you’ll just have to suffer those works of art getting recycled into a park bench or something like that. Meanwhile, we have space in the basement that we’re not using, which is where a lot of those empties are going; at least in part because I get so few games on the table that I’m always on the verge of throwing up my hands and starting to sell stuff. Not least because I end up buying more things that don’t get enough play… /tangent
Wade: Meanwhile, although I don’t have the Jarl edition, I did splurge for a Mjolnir keychain that we use as the round marker.
Marc: And that’s fine. In addition to the box not being a big deal, the couple extra cards are OK, but not thrilling. The possible exception there are the Mercenaries for Land Journeys, as that deck can be completely brutal if you don’t have coins. The Mercs alleviate that a bit... although you still need coins. The only real standout element of the Jarl box are the viking meeples and score trackers. They are a very cool touch and really should have been included in the main game, since the visual effect is significant, as opposed to using bog standard meeples and discs. Conversely, one of the highlights of Blood Rage is the detailed models. But there are so many of them, you will eventually start to glaze over their visual impact on the board. In this case, moving little stereotypical vikings around the board completes the image that Champions probably wanted to present.
Wade: Well, I think I have the Mercenary cards from buying the Dark Mountain expansion. According to the Grey Fox website, the Jarl Edition comes with 1 promo ship, 2 Merchant Ships, 2 Land Journey Cards, and 2 Journey cards that don’t come with buying everything separately. Actually, I am surprised they didn’t add throw in new Leaderboards with the Jarl Edition: Grey Fox treats new Leaders like Frank’s RedHot: They put that shit on everything. Back to the Mercenary cards: The real bitch with the Dark Mountains board is when you get Mercenaries and don’t have the coin to capitalize on it.
Marc: The two Land Journey cards are the Mercs. (I’m looking at the special rules insert right now.) But that’s one of the interesting aspects of the game: stockpiling resources so that you can properly execute your actions in a subsequent round. I think they hit it out of the park with the Sea Journeys, since you need to take up equal space in your boat with warriors and food. Otherwise, you’re running a real risk, which could pay off, pending dice and journey card, but is still a risk. That’s a real tactical choice. I think some of the leaders and their two abilities (with the Leader die) can lessen that impact, which promotes more risk-taking on the part of those players.
Wade: I just had a surreal moment where I Googled “List of cards found in Dark Mountain expansion” and my own review came up. The card I was thinking of is Lone Warrior, which is the only real positive travel card in Dark Mountains. Speaking of cards in the expansions, one of my favorite cards from the Valhalla expansion is the item thats lets you ignore any travel cards. If this comes out, it is first on my list to grab.
Marc: Loki’s Compass. Gotta take Blame, though. And you said you didn’t like Loki… Incidentally, the special ship (a giant rooster, Gullinkambi) from the Jarl edition also has that bonus. It’s a 6-space longship that lets you ignore both the journey card and the food cost of the journey, but it costs 2 Food and 1 Favor to hire for the round. So, you’re basically paying the food cost up front in exchange for not having to risk the journey effect or balance your ship spaces. In other words, you’re paying a Favor to send 6 warriors to fight a monster. That’s the one piece that I haven’t tossed right into the game because I think it’s a little too good and takes away both the risk and the planning of a major part of the game.
Wade: Oh, I like the sound of that. I almost always purchase a ship along the way, simply to get the VP that comes with it. But that would tempt me to simply rent a ship. I like that one additional card could make me reconsider my most basic strategy in this game.
Marc: That sounds more like you need someone else to challenge you on your basic strategy. In my limited experience, I’ve not found the private ships to be that great of a deal, since the point addition is very low (unless you get the two best ships) and their usefulness on the journey is fairly low (unless you get the two best ships.) So, if you get the two best ships, they’re great! Otherwise, it’s basically just a way to toss away wood and not have to worry about being first to one of the rentals which is, without a doubt, still an advantage.
Wade: Good point about the ships, I was referring to the two best ships when talking about buying one. How about Character selection? Who do you choose? Now, my go-to is Asmundr the Pious (get VP every time you use a re-roll). My wife always takes Svanhildr the Swordmaiden (+hits on the swordsman dice). I used to use Gylfir the Seaworthy but, with him, you always want to go first so you can take advantage of his power to take the Merchant Ship for free. One of the real keys of the expansion is that the Leader dice were added but, more importantly, the gameplay balance that came with additional leader actions.
Marc: I can’t say that I have a particular favorite because I haven’t played enough, but I’m willing to look at them and either give my experience or speculate:
- Dagrun the Destined: Seemingly elected on BGG as the worst because of the random nature of the Sage’s Hut draw and their limited application until the endgame. Can’t say I disagree with this, although I have seen people put together remarkable winning margins by getting the right Destiny card (typically one of the +X Glory for each of a particular enemy), albeit without playing Dagrun.
- Thyra, Valkyrie Born: Again, limited application. You have to wait until warriors die to use either of her powers and then use your tokens to get regular warrior dice, rather than a bonus card or legendary monster. The Leader power is a bit of an advantage, but still seems limited.
- Ragnhild the Adviser: This one is solid. Getting an Axeman from Jarl’s Longhouse instead of a Swordsman is great and being able to replace a die that rolled a blank with a more powerful die that gets immediately rolled is excellent. He’s a top 3 pick for me.
- Asmundr the Pious: I agree that the extra Glory is good… but really, how often do you gain and spend Favor? You’ll get one on 1 of 3 rolls with your Leader die, but do you automatically want to spend them? His ability does compel you to use them, since you gain the same Glory for spending as you do for saving for the endgame.
- Jorunn the Traveler: She’s a sideshow character. If you do get the best result on a Journey, you get nothing. Her Leader power is much better, since you either gain Glory or a Favor if you get the right result on the Leader die. She’s in the middle for me.
- Gylfir the Seaworthy: This is a long-game leader. Yes, you often want to go first, but the free benefits from the Merchant Ship are often worth it. Plus, when you do fight with your leader, you can get those resources AGAIN, even if you or someone else has already taken them. You are almost required to adopt an economic strategy, though.
- Hemming the Changer: Similarly, Hemming is an economic character. Being able to swap out one of any resource can be key in many situations. Plus, activating a Rune for free or gaining a Wood that you can then replace with Coin or Food for next round is also useful.
- Svanhildr the Swordmaiden: Really among the best characters, since you can make Swordsmen worth more than their dice, as well as automatically do three damage with one (change to any side and +1 damage) if you get the right Leader roll. It means you can ignore more powerful dice in favor of Swordsmen, but you do have to juggle your forces a bit more, in case the enemies that show up aren’t affected by swords or you just really want the impact of a better die.
- Ullr the Berzerker: This is the most combat-oriented of the characters, since you get nothing if you aren’t rolling dice. That means focusing largely on journeys and picking up more dice. The Leader result is a nice bonus against a tough enemy, though.
Wade: I would think in the perfect Worker Placement game, every spot would be equally desirable. By the setup of CoM, the Hunting Ground is the least desirable (simply because it is the only spot that actually allows more than one player to place vikings there.) Probably the least used space in our games is either the Marketplace (swap resources for other resources) or Beggar, which allows you to take a resource for a Blame.
Marc: If every spot was equally desirable, there’s be less of a competition to go first, which can be an important strategy in this game and for particular characters (like Gylfir.) And, depending on how you shape your strategy, different spaces can be more desirable than first thought. Many people think the Troll is not a desirable spot, because you only get wood and often a fairly minor amount of Glory. But if you’re Ullr or Asmundr, the Troll is an excellent choice, in addition to letting you dump Blame on someone else. The Hunting Grounds can be key, depending on the board setup. If the Merchant Ship only brought warriors-for-hire and your economic Market stalls don’t present a good option, the best way to get food may be the Hunting Grounds, where you can get far more of it than you could with any other option in the game and the only thing you have to sacrifice is placement of a couple of warrior dice (unlike trading for it or spending coins.) I think the fact that many dudes can be placed there is part of a compulsion on the part of the designer for players to take the journeys overseas. With relatively easy access to a source of food, it’s one less impediment to go a’viking. Now you just have to make sure you have a big enough boat to make it worth it…
Wade: Well, I hope you find Champions of Midgard and the expansions as enjoyable as I have. I’m looking forward to playing Reavers of Midgard when it is released. Hopefully it is a satisfying and easy to get to the table as COM.