Richard Denning is a very capable man. He is a professional and expert in his chosen field, he is the mastermind behind the UK's largest games convention and he is both an author of books and games. He is the man with the golden touch. He is also the brains and boss of the British games company MEDUSA GAMES, which, to my understanding, he set up to publish and promote his own brand of board and card games. The last game of Richard's that I played was TINKER TAILOR, a game that fell foul of the critics because of it's unusually quaint artwork, and yet those that saw past the "dodgy" drawings found a most enjoyable card game playable to different degrees by families and core gamers. I, as a reviewer had to comment on the artwork but as a games player I saw past that and still have great entertainment playing it. NINE WORLDS is the latest strategy boardgame from the imagination of Richard and Medusa, with art by Andree Schneider and graphic design by Matthew Comben.
Richard is one of the most promising games designers in the UK and each game he authors and publishes raises his profile. NINE WORLDS is his most ambitious game to date and its game play and visual appeal should put him on a par with the best Europe has to offer.
The graphic design is good as are the game's idea and mechanics. The artwork is a step up on TT and is representative of the game's theme but it is also a throwback to the early days of self-published RPG books.
NINE WORLDS is a 3-6 player game for players aged 12+. Games run over nine turns and can take up to 150 minutes but are generally concluded between 90 and 120 minutes. There are additional rules ideas to make this a 2-player game but personal experience has me warning you away from them as this really is a game that requires input from many players. Themed in the world (or Worlds) of Vikings, Nine Worlds is a celebration of the violent culture for which these Northern invaders were renown. They lived life hard in their lust for glory but they were more than just wild berserkers for they believed in the power of the gods and the valour of Valhalla; this is represented in NINE WORLDS by the pursuit of prestige through the gathering of VPs.
The idea of the game is to score Victory Points by controlling the Worlds (as the Nine Worlds of Norse and Anglo-Germanic Myth are known). These mythical worlds are shown on the board like planets circling the Sun. They are numbered 1, through 9 with 5 (Midgard) being the central hub. In order they are 1: Asgard; 2: Vanaheim; 3: Alfheim; 4: Jotunheim; 5: Midgard; 6: Nida vellir; 7: Muspelheim; 8: Svartalfheim and 9: Niflheim. They are deliberately not set in numerical order - from the 1 clockwise the run is 1, 3, 6, 8, 9, 7, 4, 2 with the 5 central as already noted. The Victory Point score track of 0-99 runs round the outer edge. The regions of Helheim and Valhalla can be found separate and opposite each other outside of the score track, not members of the Nine Worlds but definitely part of the game.
Players each have a tombstone shaped Avatar and 25 stones in their chosen colour to represent Heroes and their Armies and a Player card that describes the Heroes godly power(s). These can be randomly determined by drawing cards and then the pieces distributed accordingly so that the game begins in a non uniform manner as each card represents a World and is colour coded accordingly. Or within the rules there are suggestions for starting positions depending on the number of players which then gives the game a more balanced beginning. Either way the game plays well but it is possible that the random setup may favour one player over the others for a very short while. The rules book has a great shot of the game setup for four players which, as it happens, we here at GGO feel is the optimum number of players for balance and overall entertainment.
Richard and/or Matthew Comben have obviously spent a good amount of time deciding on the layout for the 12 page rules booklet because this is one of those games that you can open, sort and begin playing fairly quickly, which is excellent news for players who enjoy games of this genre and magnitude.
NINE WORLDS is a game of battles but it is not a game of die rolling or card drawing luck, it is instead a game of thought and clever manipulation of your Avatar and army. The Avatar isn't a member of your army per se, it is a tie-breaker when there is a draw over control of a World and as such it is important how and where you use it.
Played in Turns that consist of six phases, two of which are determining the start player and the end of the turn (next player takes over) there are scorings at the end of the third, sixth and ninth Turn.Throughout Action Phase the units of the player's armies are moved around the board from World to World. Once all players have used all their Action points (or as many as they wish to) the Worlds are checked for battles; those with 5 or more armies on them are in conflict; during this phase their World powers may also be activated. Knowing which Worlds to control at the right phase of the game should be an important factor in your planning. Armies lost in battle to the eventual victor of the fight are removed from play to Valhalla. This is a good thing as it means the gods and Valkyries have smiled sweetly on them and their bravery and they will be honoured by allowing them to be returned to the game not too long after dying.
Players get Action points according to the chart in the rules and there are nine different Actions these can be spent on, these Actions costing 1 point, 2 points or 3 points, according to a reference chart in the rules. Controlling Worlds means you get the advantage of the unique World Power bonus associated specifically to that World. There is a full description on page 7 of the rules book (facing page of the central pair), but for now the short versions are: Asgard = Protection, Vanaheim = Retrieval, Alfheim = Movement, Jotunheim = Stealing, Midgard = Exchanging, Nidarvellir = Adding, Muspelheim = Destroying, Svartalfheim = Spending and Niflheim = Banishing. There are Tokens for these Powers which are for use if you play the Advanced game which we figure most regular boardgame players will be doing from the start after reading the rules and deciding that the basic game really does benefit from them and the introduction of the Avatar Powers as found on the character cards.
Gaining control of the Worlds looks like an easy task but it takes a good amount of planning and thoughtful playing to arrange your army units into the necessary positions as you are always hampered by the number of Actions and what the opposing players are up to.
NINE WORLDS is a cleverly designed game that appears to have quite simple mechanics. It is easy to discard it as lightweight because there aren't hundreds of pieces, there are no miniatures and there are no dice or playing (event) cards, but in fact it is a strong contender for holding a regular spot in the play lists of core gamers across the UK and Europe where it sold in copious numbers during a very successful outing at Spiel in Essen last October.