In a world where Gamers separate board games into Euro or Ameritrash, one worker placement game dares to wear the skin of an Ameritrash. Champions of Midgard enters the competition to be considered as your first worker placement game by basing its platform around a thematically exciting game about Vikings fighting monsters. It’s a great entry point for getting a different section of Gamers to try out worker placement mechanics but it will quickly fall out of the rotation if a gaming group wants to continue exploring more advanced worker placement games.
What do you do in Champions of Midgard? You get custom dice, you then send those dice to fight monsters, and then you roll the dice to see if you defeat said monsters. Victory points are had, spoils are awarded and you take your dice back to your player board to do it all again next turn. It’s a satisfying core game play loop that doesn’t outstay its welcome over 8 turns. Thematically it’s engaging with decent art and a Nordic theme that’s cemented itself in 21st century zeitgeist thanks to the games like Skyrim. Mechanically the unknown of the dice roll can be exhilarating at first, if not sometimes punishing with just the base game. As the game progresses, excitement might not maintain its initial level as players only engage in combat where they have stacked the dice odds so far in their favor that failure is incredibly unlikely.
The issues with Champions of Midgard’s base game are twofold. First, the options are all pretty vanilla. There is very little engine building other than getting dice, keeping them alive thereby having more dice for more fighting in the future. The resource generation is all very basic; place a worker and get X, or maybe you get Y, or maybe you pay A to get multiples of X and/or Y! Secondly, the dice rolls can be game deciding if the improbably happens.
An early roll of apocalyptically bad results will pretty much remove you from first place contention. Re-roll tokens help this but it is possible to just whiff your rolls. These are small issues though, and at the end of the game you will probably have had a few smiles on, reminisced about when someone got splattered by a troll and had the general feeling that the experience was “Alright”.
The Valhalla expansion takes the game from alright and makes it good. It offers two new types of warrior dice and a new board extension that lets you use tokens gained from your fallen warriors. Whenever a warrior dies you get a soul token that can be used in Valhalla for better dice, bonuses, or defeating new monsters. It evens out the randomness curve by offering a consolation currency for bad dice rolls; in fact you often WANT to have deaths to get some of those sweet sweet Valhalla benefits. It also adds much needed spice to the options available to you, it pushes the game just that tiny bit over the edge from slight banality the base game selection options to feel exciting. A new leader dice also helps kick-start the monster killing early and get people right into the action. Valhalla is the suspension system on a basic low tech car that would otherwise offer quite a bumpy ride.
Valhalla’s one drawback is that it might smooth the game out a bit too much. The leader die along with easy access to better warriors means that dice are not a hard commodity to come by. With the base game, a party wipe can feel devastating as you slowly claw back your warriors to get a large enough dice pool that evens out your probability curve.
With Valhalla, you almost always have as many dice as you need and the challenge becomes allocating them appropriately, or in some cases actually trying to kill them off to serve you in the afterlife. Whether this level of smoothness is a good or bad thing is up to personal preference.
I would even go so far as to say that Champions of Midgard should never be played without Valhalla, even on the first play through. It doesn’t offer so much that it would confuse new players and the base game was simple enough that there is easily room for the extra rules in Valhalla. I also can’t see the base game being anything but “OK” without it. Players playing only the base game might not end it excited enough to try out the game in its superior form.
The second expansion “The Dark Mountains” feels more like a normal expansion, something that you put in after playing the main game a few times. It adds another area with a new type of monster to fight, as well as a new warrior dice type. It adds some nice variety but I would only use it in games of 4 or 5 people.
Some of the excitement of Champions of Midgard is trying to fight a limited selection of monsters, with The Dark Mountains there is more than enough to go around thereby removing some of the already limited tension in the game. It’s very bite sized expansion that is thankfully matched by a reasonably low price.
Who is Champions of Midgard for? It’s a simple, easy to understand, worker placement game that offers a bit of the “zing” usually absent in games with this level of simplicity. It is a great way to get people started down the path to Euro enlightenment. For some people, Champions of Midgard is as far as they will want to go, and that’s fine. For those groups this game will be a jewel in their collection. Unfortunately for people that like what they’ve tasted and want more advanced worker placement games, they will find themselves reluctant to go back to Champions of Midgard’s simplicity. For any novice group that doesn’t need the theme to pull them in, or doesn’t like the randomness, Viticulture is just a much better game and just as easy for novices to understand.
Champions of Midgard has a niche, and it fills it very well for a reasonable price. For that, it should be applauded. It’s up too you to know whether that niche is something that needs filling in your gaming life. If so, this is a great game. If not, that’s OK too. Champions of Midgard still serves the hobby well with its existence.
Fills a Niche exceptionally well but may seem basic and boring to people who are not in need of that particular type of game. Definite must own if you are in its Niche. Still fun to play occasionally for anyone else.
Fantastic exciting theme that draws you in.
Shiny custom dice are fun to collect and roll.
Great way of bridging genres to open up worker placement to more people or get hem started.
Valhalla is mandatory for an above average experience.
For anyone that does not need the theme and dice rolling as an incentive, Viticulture is a far better game alternative as a simple beginner game.