Reviewed by Herb Levy
REAVERS OF MIDGARD (Grey Fox Games, 2-4 players, ages 14 and up, 90 minutes; $69.99)
The life of a Viking is not easy. You have to battle at sea, raid villages and keeps, subdue territories and fulfill prophecies. But it’s all worth it – IF you can amass the most Glory in your quests! That is the challenge facing players in the new JB Howell design: Reavers of Migard.
Reavers of Midgard is played on a large, thick, two-sided board (which accounts for the considerable heft when lifting the box!) showing areas for the various actions available to players on a turn. (One side of the board is for 2 players; the other is for 3 and 4.) Each player gets their own Longship playing board, 1 Longship piece and a scoring marker (in their chosen color), 1 Favor token and Food tokens (4 for the first player and then 1 more for each additional player). All also are dealt 2 Reaver cards as their starting crew. Reaver cards come in 3 “suits” (red, yellow and blue) and all display a number of colored dice in their upper left corner. Players will roll those dice and add them to their board. (The Longship board can hold up to 10 dice.) Then players must decide whether to Rally, Specialize or Promote each Reaver – but we’ll take about that later.
The first player (“who won the most Glory in battle” according to the rules but, in fact, randomly chosen) places his Longship on one of the six available action areas on the main board. This is an important decision because the action chosen can be taken by EVERY player in turn order (with bonuses given out to the first player to take the action but others, in a 3 or 4 player game at least, will get something extra as well.) Alternatively, if someone doesn’t or can’t do the action, they may rest and receive 2 food or a die of any color and face of their choice to add to their ship. Now let’s talk about those actions.
Recruit Reavers – Here players may take 2 Reavers from the face up display OR from the top of the Reaver deck. (There is no cost for this action.) As at the start, players will collect dice (the number and color depicted on the left hand top of each card), roll them and add them to their player board. Then they must decide how to use each card by either Rally, Specialize or Promote them.
Rally means taking the dice displayed on the top RIGHT corner of the card, adding them to your player board and then discarding the card to your Glory deck (discard pile).
Specialize – Instead, you may place a Reaver UNDERNEATH one of the four slots at the bottom of your player board. These slots correspond to the four actions available that have an associated cost. At the bottom of each card is a special ability (which may mean more dice or other valuable benefits) and these abilities go into effect EVERY TIME you OR another player uses the matching action! There is a maximum of 3 Reavers per slot allowed.
Promote – Promoting a Reaver makes him your leader and promotion has its rewards. If a blue Reaver is promoted, you earn a bonus of 4 food, a yellow Reaver lets you draw either 1 Keeps card or 1 Village card from the top of their respective decks while a red Reaver grants you 2 favor tokens. In addition, a Leader allows you to use dice displaying the clan icon (blue wings, yellow tree, red helmet) as a wild which may take the place of a shield, chest, single hammer or ship icon as needed.
Trade with Villages – This is another no cost action. Here players (starting with the player choosing the action) get a chance to pick up some needed dice or food or favor or a “legacy card” (used for end game scoring). The first player there gets multiple rewards (and may choose the same benefit more than once) while subsequent players, again in turn order, can pick up (fewer) rewards or rest.
The other four possible actions work the same way but cost something. They are:
Battle at Sea – For 4 food, a player may attempt to capture one of the two Battle cards in play (or a random draw from the top of the Battle deck). First, however, a Sea Journey card is drawn (which may cost a player some resources before the attempt is made). Battle cards may be won by giving up dice matching the symbols on the card OR through combat.
Combat involves handing in dice with a battle axe on them. (Some dice may show 2 battle axes and icons matching the current Leader may also serve as 1 battle axe.) The number of battle axes indicate how many black battle dice may be rolled. A number of axes on the rolled black dice, equal to or greater than the battle number on the card, means victory! Too few axes? Then you can hand in 1 favor token to re-roll any number of dice – and you can do that as many times as you want (provided that you spend a favor token each time). If successful, that card is taken and its Victory Points immediately added to that player’s score and the bonus (an additional card, more food etc.) on the card taken as well. (BTW, the player doing battle first, gets a bonus of 2 Glory Points right away!)
Raid Villages – At the cost of 2 food and 2 dice showing chests, players may choose a pair of cards. Here you will find artifacts (that give you an extra space to hold a die that will give you something extra – like changing a die face etc.) and worth GPs at the end of the game, ship upgrades (tiles that act as an additional specific die on your ship that may be used once per round), Farms and Walls (worth GPs at the end) and, not so helpful, terror tokens that will DEDUCT GPs from your score during final scoring.
Raid Keeps – In a similar fashion, Raid Keeps (for the cost 2 food and 2 Shield dice) allow you to collect cards as you try to amass sets of tapestries, art and armor. But you may also be able to acquire Walls and Towers which will score at the end.
Subdue Territories – The final action space allows the first player there to try to capture 3 territories. Territories comes in values of 1, 2 and 3 and there are three types here: those requiring food, those requiring dice and those requiring favor. Territories of your choice may be gained by giving up the specified number of food, dice or favor. Alternatively, you may do combat and, if rolling a number of axes equal to or greater than the territory value, capture the tile that way. Captured tiles give an immediate benefit ranging from food to favor to more dice to a bonus card – and even additional VPs. But there’s more! At the end of the round, players will score 1 VP for EACH territory they have – and this happens EVERY round!
After each round, unchosen cards are removed and areas refilled. After six rounds, the game is over. With territories scored for the final round, totals are calculated. To running totals, points score for artifacts, sets of Keep cards, Glory gained from Farms, Walls and Towers and GPs scored from the endgame Legacy cards players have amassed. The value of any Terror tokens is DEDUCTED. The player with the most Glory wins! Tie? Then the player with the most favor is victorious!
One of the most interesting aspects of Reavers of Midgard is the nature of the different Glory Point “streams” available. Battle at Sea provides you with an immediate infusion of sizable amounts of Glory Points and can give you an impressive lead. Subduing Territories is a slow and steady way to gain Glory each round. Set collection of Keeps and Legacy cards will provide you with an avalanche of Glory at final scoring. The lesson to be learned here is that an apparently insurmountable lead is not a “runaway leader” problem; that kind of lead can evaporate in a flash when GPs are totalled at the end of the game.
The game scales well with 2, 3 or 4 players although there are a few differences. In a two player game, each player has 2 Longship tokens to command; in a 3 player game, the start player gets an “honor ship” that can be placed to trigger actions. (The start player shifts from round to round.) Admittedly there is a lot of iconography but it all makes sense helped by a rulebook with all you need to know presented in a logical order that makes learning the game easy.
In many games, where you sit can be an unintentional boon or bane to your play. Here, it is not unintentional.For example, with four players, the player going second gets a bonus for taking an action. While not as good as the first player, it is better than that available to subsequent players. However, if the second player decides to rest, the third player does NOT get the second player bonus. The third player IS the third player and gets only what he/she is entitled to if the second player had done the action. It might have been interesting to see what the second player would do when that player knows that by resting, he/she is giving a boon to his opponent. It might encourage players to spend more resources even if it means thinning their supplies just to keep a bonus out of someone else’s hands.
In Reavers of Midgard, there is just enough luck (with dice rolls and card draws) to make the game unpredictable tempered by the ability to modify chance outcomes. But there are enough meaningful decisions so you feel you have control over your destiny. This thematic and masterful design by J.B. Howell keeps you constantly involved since you can participate in actions triggered by OTHER players and/or benefit from “specialized” Reavers committed to that activity. Reavers of Midgard will have you excited to set sail and experience a “Glory-ous” adventure! Highly recommended! – – – – – – – – – – – — Herb Levy
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