[Ragnar Brothers consists of three friends who share a passion for board games and board game designs: Steve and Phil Kendall and Gary Dicken. Starting in the 1980s by recreating American Civil War and World War II battles, the Ragnar Brothers have published their own original designs for decades, gathering a lot of favorable press along the way. One follower of their line is our own contributor Pevans who has reviewed The Romans, their final release, in this issue. Since this is the final Ragnar Brothers release, Pevans takes a retrospective look at the company and their games over the years.]
Ave atque Vale (Hail and Farewell)
The ‘Vale’ in the title of this piece reflects the Ragnars’ announcement that this will be the last game they publish – though they will continue designing, for others to publish. So I thought I’d add my retrospective of the Ragnars’ games over the years.
Top of the list has to be History of the World. It keeps getting published, by different companies, with different tweaks, but it remains one of my top ten games. [This Ragnar Brothers edition was reviewed in the Winter 1994 issue of Gamers Alliance Report while the Avalon Hill version appeared in the Fall 2001 issue.] It brilliantly reflects the rise and fall of empires across the world through history – and provides a challenging game with some knotty decisions to make. I still like the original, though where the wonders were individual counters and you could build the Eiffel Tower in China or Stonehenge in Africa.
Second is the captivating Backpacks & Blisters (and its sequel, More Backpacks & Blisters, and the 2017 second edition), which enlivened the second half of the 1990s for me. It’s about hiking around the Lake District, but without “any of those unpleasant side-effects – like actually doing it.” Playing with my old friend Mike Dommett is particularly fun: he insists whoever’s carrying “The Heavy Rucksack” must actually do so. And he puts bricks in it. This makes players really keen to get rid of it.
Third on my list is Viking Fury (featured in the Fall 2004 GA Report, aka Fire & Axe, – Summer 2007 GAR – though I haven’t played this version). This is a neat game of achieving the goals of Viking sagas while trading, raiding and settling all over western Europe – and a bit further afield. The game’s board cleverly emphasizes that navigating seas and rivers is the easy way to get around in this era. Well, relatively easy.
I’ve always wanted to see a game about canals that can stand up against all these railway games and Canal Mania (Fall 2006 GA Report) is a good stab at this. It was also the first Ragnar game to have a mounted cardboard board. It’s specifically about building Britain’s network of canals and delivering goods (cubes) around them – though that’s the only similarity with Age of Steam. It’s been a while since I played this, so I must dig it out again.
Let me see, what else is there…
I have soft spot for Kings & Castles, about the wars of the Plantagenet kings, but it’s rather long for what it is. Their game about the Industrial Revolution, Workshop of the World, didn’t work for me. Monastery (Fall 2008 GAR) is interesting, but I find this game of monastery development rather dry. Promised Land has a fascinating premise (Israel versus its enemies through the centuries), but it’s a bit too complicated. The same could be said of DRCongo (Fall 2015 GAR) but I enjoyed it rather more. Most recently, we have Niña and Pinta and Darien Apocalypse, both featuring the exploration of the New World in parallel realities.
I haven’t mentioned the Ragnars’ card games as I haven’t really got on with them, though Barking up the Wrong Tree is fun and Steam Donkey is a real challenge. And that goes in spades for Anyways, their word game from 2012. This leaves the oddball 1500 Gold, a game about training for and running the Olympic 1,500 metres race. I know I’ve played it, but I can remember nothing about it
Over the years, the Ragnars have given me a lot of fun through their games: at their best, these are challenging, entertaining and (often) full of history. Of course, they don’t always hit the mark but even their misses are well worth playing. I look forward to seeing what the threesome come up with in the future. – – – – – – – – – Pevans
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Other Fall 2019 GA Report articles