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MIDGARD

Reviewed by Herb Levy

(Z-Man Games, 3-5 players, ages 10 and up, 45-60 minutes; $39.99)

 

You could make a convincing argument that the Vikings were the premier plunderers and pillagers of history. With a culture lauding battle and bravery, Viking warriors certainly impacted greatly on the shores of Europe. Those days of lusty combat are back as players become chiefs of various Viking clans vying to conquer territory and gain glory on the road to Valhalla in Midgard.

Midgard, designed by Eric M. Lang, is a nicely packed presentation. There are three decks of cards (50 bronze, 35 silver and 15 gold), sets of Viking pawns (1 Leader and 11 Vikings in five colors), 10 “doom” tokens, 120 kingdom tokens (40 each for Alfheim, Mannheim and Jotunheim, the three kingdoms of the game), a mounted board showing the three kingdoms further subdivided into three or four provinces plus other important areas (Asgard, Vanaheim and Valhalla) as well as color-coded Viking ships (off to the side) and a scoring track along the perimeter.midgardbox

Each player chooses a set of Viking markers placing his Leader and five of his Vikings onto the ship of the matching color. Remaining warriors remain off the board, poised to participate in the action. Kingdom tokens are sorted by type (tokens bearing an A, M or J). Each doom token bears the name of one province. These are mixed and five of them are randomly chosen and placed in their respective provinces. The three card decks are shuffled separately and all players dealt cards: 3 bronze, 2 silver and 1 gold. But the starting hand of cards is not the hand you will play as the first order of business is conducting a card draft.

Upon examining his initial hand of cards, each player chooses ONE of them to keep and passes the rest of the cards to the player on his left. Again, each player will choose ONE card and pass the remainder to the left. This continues until all players have a “drafted” hand of six cards. Now, all gold cards are revealed. The player with the highest numbered gold card becomes the start player for this round.

Cards played determine the actions that are possible each turn. On a turn, a player plays ONE card from his hand in order to, basically, move your Vikings off your ship, into areas on the board and in so doing, exert influence and control. Control is defined as having more Vikings in an area than any of your opponents.

Bronze cards basically allow you to move or add Vikings to different provinces or Asgard or Vanaheim. Silver cards enable you to attack your enemies (replace one of his Vikings with one of your own, sending his Viking to Valhalla) and move your tokens in greater numbers. Gold cards offer specialized abilities such as allowing you to draw extra cards, take additional province tokens (more on that later), do a premature score of a kingdom, add more warriors to a kingdom and even destroy a province (sending all Vikings there to Valhalla, particularly devastating to an enemy if they have seemingly wrapped up control of an area). Generally speaking, gold cards are more powerful than silver which are more powerful than bronze. In reality, however, the power of the cards can change depending on what you need to have done. During the first round, players take turns playing cards until FOUR cards are played and then we score.midgardboard

Players score for each province in which they have a higher value of Vikings (a Leader counts as 1 1/2), scoring 3 points for control of one province, 7 if two provinces are controlled, 12 for control of 3 and 20 if you manage to control all four provinces of Jontunheim). In addition, EVERY player who has a presence in a province (NOT necessarily control) receives a Kingdom token for each of those provinces, a J, A or M depending on which Kingdom you have a presence. In addition, the player with the most Vikings in Asgard gets 5 VPs while the player with the most Vikings in Vanaheim can take two Kingdom tokens of his choice. Finally, we enter what is termed the “Ragnorak Phase”.

All Vikings in provinces marked with doom tokens score 2 points each and are removed to Valhalla. But they score again as ALL Vikings in Valhalla score 1 point. Vikings still on the board remain in place while all Vikings in Valhalla return to their original positions on their ships. Doom tokens are collected, mixed and five are again placed on the board.

As in Round 1, players are dealt six more cards (bronze, silver and a gold) and again conduct a card draft. When they have finished, their new hand of six cards are added to any cards remaining from the previous round. Play continues but this time, FIVE actions are taken. After the five, we score again. Round 3 is similar (again a draft, again a re-seeding of doom tokens) but now SIX actions are taken. At the end of this round, we score again and here is where those Kingdom flex some muscle.

After scoring for control, Asgard, Vanaheim and Valhalla, players reveal accumulated Kingdom tokens. Each set of tokens (ONE from Jotunheim, Altheim and Mannheim – a “JAM”) is worth 5 Victory Points. The player with the highest accumulated total of VPs wins!

Although not complex, Midgard manages to present an interesting mix of game design elements. Drafting a hand of cards is a familiar mechanic but is used here to good effect. Because card types and abilities are limited, you are not overwhelmed by myriad possibilities so constructing varied and viable tactics for exerting influence and control over regions is possible. But it’s tactics we’re talking about. The game does not lend itself to larger, more grandiose, plans of strategy for one significant reason. Viking placement is fluid as Vikings occupying doomed provinces are removed from the board at the end of a round. This shifting presence makes holding onto a particular province or kingdom extremely difficult.

It is to your advantage to control or at least have a presence in “doomed” regions as Vikings there score TWICE – 2 points for being in a doomed province and 1 point in Valhalla. And if those extra points weren’t enough, you don’t lose these pieces; they become available once again to swarm over contested regions. The device of “recycling” Vikings is unusual and works well, giving the game a different feel. Asgard control gives you 5 points but warriors committed to Asgard cannot exert influence in provinces and control of provinces can result in bushels of points (up to 20) so you need to be cognizant of where you are placing your forces. As in some other games of this type, Victory Points seem to come from everywhere, in this case, provinces, Kingdom tokens, Asgard, Valhalla, so the game keeps you busy. In fact, there is so much to do and so much you want to do, the final play can sneak up on you. The game seems to end too fast. (We’ve been tempted to add another card play action to rounds 2 and 3!) Graphically, while I’m partial to dark blue, the board seems a bit dark but that is purely a matter of taste. Production values are very high, even down to the plastic insert which seems to actually have been molded to conform to the necessities of the game, making the most of box space.

Midgard is a middle level game of conflict and resource management that stands pretty close to the top. On to Valhalla! – – – Herb Levy


 

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