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Subject: The end of the world is nigh... twice! rss

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Wulf Corbett
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This is a combination of two reviews and a comparison. I own two games on an identical subject, with very very similar methods of presentation & play, so I think it’s fair to directly compare them thusly. The two games are Viking Gods and Ragnarok – both hex-and-counter wargames on the final battle of the Viking Gods, named Ragnarok… This does go on a bit, but remember it’s two reviews combined.

For those not in the know, here’s a short summary of the subject. The Viking Gods were not very mystical or aloof from mortals – in fact they were pretty human in everything but power. More like modern Superheroes than the Gods of many religions, each with his or her own power, their own friends and enemies, living in the city of Asgard, accessible from the mortal realm by Bifrost, the rainbow bridge, but generally just like the Norsemen & women who worshipped them.

Amongst the myths of these Gods is that of Ragnarok. Eventually, the Jotun (Giants), traditional enemies of the Aesir (the Gods of Valhalla, the good guys) would rise up, and, under the leadership of Loki (trickster God, half Jotun himself, thanks to his father Odin, chief of the Aesir, a God with a diverse taste in women…), would lead an assault on the Aesir. Marching over Bifrost, which cracked & broke under their weight, the Frost & Fire Giants, the monsters of Chaos, and Loki himself would challenge the Gods for supremacy. With the Valkyrie and those mortal warriors they had brought here for this moment beside them (the Valkyrie warrior-women rode winged horses over battlefields, carrying off worthy warriors at the moment of their death to recover in the halls of Valhalla, to spend each day battling and warring, each night miraculously healing, feasting and carousing – each to his own, I guess…) the Gods charged into battle, knowing they would die this day… The final result of Ragnarok is known, and every detail foretold, the Gods would die, almost every one, the Jotun and forces of chaos likewise, but the result was to be the end of the world. But the world would recover, regrown from the seed of Yggdrasil, the Tree of Life.

OK, that paragraph is a bit over-condensed, and too full of info (and my spell-checker hates me), but hopefully you’ll get the idea. One lot of Gods & mortals against another lot of giants and monsters…

OK, so, on to the games. Both games have the same categories of components, so I’ll compare & contrast in turn.

General presentation


Viking Gods is a TSR Minigame. As such, it comes in a rigid plastic resealable blister pack, complete with a little compartment for a couple of dice. Nice presentation for a little game. Since it also acts as the game cover, I’ll mention the rulebook cover here. 4” x 7” in size, it depicts a comic-book style Valkyrie. I’m not sure the Norsemen thought of the Valkyrie as scantily-clad supermodels in armoured corsets, but I doubt they’d object too much…

Ragnarok is a magazine game, included with Ares #8. As such, it has no cover of it’s own. I bet it wishes it had. The cover of Ares #8 is an atrocity. The 70’s disco version of Ragnarok – in fact, I’m not sure if those are gods, warriors, or the Bee Gees… Just awful. Which is a shame, as the magazine itself includes some excellent and informative articles on the Norse Gods, the Vikings, their myths, and Ragnarok in particular. Highly recommended and very readable.

Maps
The maps of the two games are stunningly similar – not in detail, but in the terrain they represent. Of course, Ragnarok is pretty well detailed in the myths, but still, you’d know at a glance these both represented the same battlefield, despite differences in detail. OK, the Rainbow bridge in one corner is a good clue... From the bridge, a great open plain (named the Plain of Vigrid in Ragnarok, unnamed in Viking Gods) stretches out, with occasional patches of forest, and a curved stretch of river (called the Nordkapp River in Viking Gods, but the Vimir River in Ragnarok) cutting across at one end. It’s from behind that river the Aesir appear. One other thing is the same on both maps. Heimdall, the sentinel of the Aesir, stands guard at the end of Bifrost.

The Viking Gods map is 11.5” x 14”, with the CRT at the bottom. Interestingly, the results are colour-coded, but the colours don’t match the printed result every time – two results seem to be on the wrong colour. From the BGG gallery, I see that in the Polish version all the results do match the colours, which is odd!. The map itself is pretty colourful and clear, with ½” hexes. Unlike Ragnarok, it does not show Asgard behind the river, but DOES depict a glaciated area at the north, opposite Bifrost (which is depicted as part of the hexgrid, but in a disappointing mix of only reds & yellow). In the middle of the plain is Hela’s starting hex. Lots more on her later…

The Ragnarok map is both better and worse. 16” x 22” or thereabouts, a quarter of it is taken up by various tables & charts, and even then not everything needed. The hexes are a bit bigger, but the colours are very dreary. Blue, green, yellow and black, none of the colours are bright, in fact I think they all match WW2 Luftwaffe camouflage colours… The rainbow bridge, here depicted as a short track off the main map, is decidedly dull. Asgard is depicted as a walled area off the opposite end of the map to the bridge, behind the river, and a road joins the bridge to gates in the wall, and a bridge over the river. There’s more forest here, but mostly off to one side where I can’t see it getting much use.

Counters
Viking Gods
has a frustrating counter sheet. The counters are good in theory, single sided, black line drawings on various bright colours, a unique drawing for each God, monster or unit type. But the counters are ½”, the drawings are very very small, and the text and numbers (just a single number per counter, the combat value) are miniscule! I just cannot read them at normal play distances, but luckily it’s all detailed in the rulebook. The counters are also too thin, and, worse of all, are ½” square… on ½” hexes. To give me any hope at all of picking these thin counters up from the middle of the map, I corner clipped them quite savagely.

Ragnarok’s counters are, as it the rule for this game, better & worse. Still ½” square (but thicker, and on bigger hexes), they are double sided (the reverse shows reduced stats for mortal units, Incapacitated stats for Gods & monsters), they have 3 or 4 numbers, in bigger, bolder text, but no fancy drawings. Mortals & giants just get standard SPI wargame symbols (the Valkyrie become wingless cavalry, Frost Giants have an axe symbol, etc.), and the Gods & monsters just get their name in text. The good guys are in blue, the bad guys are in red, make of that what you will. Functional and more readable, but less decorative.

The rules
Hoorah, at last! Viking Gods has, as mentioned, a 4” x 7” 16 page booklet. There is quite a bit of background material in here, but most of it is spread around where relevant to the rules. A good read though. All counters are called ‘pieces’ here, that’ll be important when you reach the Ragnarok rules. Also, the two sides are here called 'Asgard' and 'Chaos'.

This is a very standard wargame, no stacking, combat between adjacent hexes, and locking ZOCs (move next to an enemy counter and you have to stop, start next to one and you can’t move). The CRT allows for 1-hex retreats (the only way to get away from an enemy!), no result or elimination. Units with nowhere to retreat are eliminated too. Fast, but lacking in a feeling of divine power…

All counters move 2 hexes, with forest, hills or glaciated hexes halting movement. A counter can only more one hex in a turn when it crosses the river. Valkyries fly over terrain & ignore it, but are still affected by the ZOC rules, and can’t stack.

Combat is carried out by comparing combat factors (combining multiple attackers) and using the appropriate table of the CRT. So Jormungandr the World Serpent, with strength 5, attacks Odin, strength 4, on the ‘+1’ column.

Terrain effects on combat are peculiar – they reduce the attacker’s strength by 1 if the attack comes FROM Forest, Glacier or across the river! It’s the attacker’s hex that matters here, strangely, so it’s best to defend from clear ground behind terrain features.

Both games have a rule on the Rainbow Bridge breaking up. There’s a single hex entry to the main map here, and Heimdall is far enough away that he can’t block it on turn 1. At the end of each turn, two hexes of the bridge are covered by black counters as the bridge crumbles. That’s always proven plenty of time for the chaos army to get on the map. Heimdall is the only one who could possibly reach the entry hex, and he’ll not survive long enough to cause the chaos forces much trouble. In this game, the Frost Giants don’t cross the bridge, they appear from the glacier. Aesir forces start already on the map, behind the Nordkapp River, except loyal Heimdall, stuck out there in front of the bridge.

A word or two here on the special powers of the various units. All the units here have 1 special rule (except the Einheriar, the mortal warriors), for instance Thor gets +1 strength against Jormungandr, Frey can stop the movement of one enemy within 5 hexes, the Frost Giants ignore Glacier effects, Freke & Gere (one counter for Odin’s wolves) can teleport 5 hexes, etc. Since there are 16 different Aesir units (mostly unique barring 6 Einheriar – there’s only 1 Valkyrie unit), and 8 chaos types (unique apart from the Fire & Frost giants, 6 each), it’s as well that the powers are summarised, along with terrain effects & counter strengths, on the back 2 pages of the rulebook!

There’s one remaining rule to describe here, and it’s a big one! Hela, queen of the Norse underworld, Hel (one ‘l’) starts on a hex in the middle of the battleground (which is itself the entrance to Hel, and as such means instant elimination for any unit which enters it). She moves three hexes in a random direction, rolling 3 times, each turn, with the chaos player able to adjust one roll by one point each turn. Any unit of either side (except Loki or Yggdrasil) adjacent to her at any time is eliminated.

Victory is decided if the forces of chaos destroy Yggdrasil, or the Aesir kill Loki.

Ragnarok has a few more complications, as you might guess, in it’s 8-page magazine insert. Here, the Gods & monsters are called ‘Heroes’, while warriors, Valkyries and giants are called units. When talking about both types, they’re called counters. This is important for some of the rules in Ragnarok. The forces are called 'Aesir' and 'Jotun'.

Here, each Hero (including Gods & monsters, remember) has an Endurance stat. They’re marked on a track on the map, and have counters to mark them. Results against units (men, Valkyries & giants) give retreats, step losses or elimination. Against Heroes they give Endurance loss, with one result giving a grievous wound – the Hero loses 2 Endurance per turn thereafter. Combat is between adjacent units, except Valkyrie who fly over other units, and Heroes who enter enemy hexes. So a given hex could contain one ground unit, plus one Valkyrie, and any number of Heroes of both sides! I don’t like games with same-hex combat, but I suppose it makes sense here – the Gods are only human-sized single men (well, Jormungandr is supposed to surround the entire world, and Fenrir, the Fenris Wolf, is supposed to swallow the sun & plunge the world into the endless dark of the Fimbulwinter… but I digress…).
Heroes can ‘Engage’ one another in the same hex, while opposing units Engage one another from adjacent hexes (apart from Valkyrie, as usual). Units can’t Engage Heroes, or vice versa. Engaged units can’t move – it’s the equivalent of ZOC rules.

When Gods & monsters fight, they do so for 3 rounds during one game turn. So a game turn consists of:
Jotun move
Engaged Jotun Heroes fight 3 rounds
Unengaged Jotun Heroes fight units once
Jotun units fight any enemy (unit or Hero) once
Aesir move
Aesir Engaged…
Aesir Unengaged…
Aesir units…

This means the Gods can end up fighting 6 rounds of combat every game turn! They won’t last long… Faster ones can attempt escape, but it’s not easy.

The odds of success in combat are figured rather strangely – add up the attacker’s attack strength and the defender’s defence strength, and roll that or less on 3 dice. If you succeed, roll on the result table with 2 dice. High attack is therefore good, but high defence is bad. Lots of dice rolling.

There’s one type of combat here not in Viking Gods at all. Either by reducing a Hero to 1 Endurance exactly, or by various powers wielded by individual Heroes, Heroes can be Incapacitated. Basically, they’re helpless or unconscious for a game turn or two.

Terrain rules are, at least, more traditional here, affecting the defender IN the terrain. Each unit has it’s own movement stat, usually 2-4 hexes. No teleporting wolves here, but Odin & the Valkyries ignore terrain (but Valkyries can’t attack into forest).

The Rainbow Bridge rule here is also more complex. The bridge is a 3-space track off the map. The Jotun player must bring certain Heroes & units on before others (all Jotun units cross the bridge in this game, no glacier), but can have as many units as he likes in a single space. But there’s a table giving a chance the bridge will collapse depending on the maximum number of units (not Heroes) in any one space. 4 or less is safe, but the quicker you try to get units on to the map, the riskier it gets. Remember there’s no stacking on the map, so I figure you can’t physically get more than 8 off the last space of the bridge in one turn, so there’s not much point in queuing them up in greater numbers! As another Jotun problem, here Heimdall blocks the hex entry to the map, so he’ll have to be defeated first. While he won’t last more than a turn or two, it’ll slow up the Jotun, and put the bridge at risk. Poor Heimdall…

Aesir forces, except Heimdall, start off map for 1d6+2 full turns! That’ll give the Jotun a few turns on the map after Heimdall is dealt with. After that, the Aesir start trickling onto the field. But it’s just a trickle! Odin gets in straight away, but each other God has to roll a 1 on 1d6, while 1d6-1 Warriors and 1d6-2 Valkyrie enter per turn. They have to move from the end of the map opposite the bridge. Since the Gods & monsters move fastest (other than Valkyries), they’ll end up meeting first. Possibly not a great idea, as I discovered, the battle gets completely bogged down in Engaged Hero combat rounds, and they pretty much get taken out of the game! Better to wait for reinforcements…

There are fewer unique individuals here, only 6 on each side. There are, however, a LOT more mortal warriors, Valkyrie, and both flavours of giant. Each unique has more involved powers – Odin flies over terrain on Sleipnir, his 8-legged horse, can throw his spear Gungnir (the spell-checker just started sobbing) once a game, can incapacitate an enemy with thrown fetters, and makes all mortal warriors within 1 hex of him into berserkers (counters included in the game). Others get lesser abilities. The Fenris Wolf gets a Lunge attack – better chance to hit, poorer defence, but if it scores a Grievous Wound on a God, it swallows him whole! Great result, but way too hard to achieve. Apart from there, most unique pieces have modifiers against their traditional enemies. These are summarised on the map, but the special powers aren’t – but they have a small panel at the back of the rulebook.

No Hela here, the chaos is provided by the standard rules! To win, the Jotun forces have to get one unit or Hero (with no grievous wound) off the map within the walls of Asgard, but if it's a Hero it has to be only AFTER all the Aesir have been eliminated. So... kill all the enemy and you win. Not hard to explain, but it does drag out the game a lot!

Actual Play
I played 3 games of Viking Gods. It’s fast, simple, small, and FUN! But one thing very nearly ruins it, and that’s Hela. Her chaotic ramblings dominate the entire game, eliminating more counters than any combats, and dictating the movement of both sides. In all 3 games, the forces of chaos won, but the most successful game saw the Aesir forces forced into very un-Viking tactics, hanging back defensively out of the way of Hela (who eventually meandered their way anyway). Good Aesir force combinations include Odin (who increases 1 adjacent friendly unit’s strength by +1), Uller (attack at 2 hex range) and anyone else who can get there. For the chaos forces, make sure the Fire Giants attack the woods (they ignore them – well, they ignore the smoke…), and the Frost Giants attack over the river (the FROZEN river), preferably with their respective chiefs (who add +1 to one adjacent unit of the right type). I’d really like to try out some houserules on this, reducing Hela’s wanderings to 2 hexes a turn (same as every other unit) or even 1. She is a vital part of the chaos lineup though, and shouldn’t be eliminated altogether. Great game, each play lasted an hour or less.

Ragnarok takes longer, and more work, to play, so I managed 2 games. In both, I’m sure I got mixed up while Hero battled Hero. Was that Engaged Hero combat round 2 or 3? Did I remember to reduce Loki for his grievous wound? Furthermore, in both games, the Valkyrie seemed rather reluctant to join the battle, none at all appearing for the first 3 turns they were eligible (although when they did, they tore the giants a few new ones…) Final score was 1 each, but in both cases the Heroes got bogged down in combat, and slowed the game right down, being locked in combat for 4-5 game turns. Rolling 2 or 3 dice seemingly incessantly doesn’t give me the feeling of the War of the Gods… If I play this again, I’ll spread the Heroes out, and have them hang back & wait for their supporting units to catch up. Units rarely decide battles against Heroes, but they help speed things up. It is a fun game, but it’s more complex than Viking Gods, and has some tricky rules and a lengthy sequence of play. Oh, and only one ‘Incapacitated’ counter, with no differentiation between those at Endurance 1, those Fettered by Odin, or those incapacitated by Blinding Lights from Heimdall or Freyr… I used the extra blank counters from Viking Gods! I don’t like combat within a hex, but I see why it is used here. Oh, and Fenrir swallowed Thor in the second game, but got eliminated by a combined Warrior-Valkyrie force.

So, overall, I found Viking Gods the most fun, the fastest, the easiest, and the one I’m most likely to replay. But Hela needs curbing. Ragnarok is a good game, more meaty and giving a far better feel of tactics and war (Viking Gods always feels more of a game than a wargame), but it’s just too fiddly for me. Both are fun, though!
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Brian Hansen
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Viking Gods & Hela
I am a huge fan of Viking Gods. Indeed I have noticed that Hela can ruin a game, but she is also essential too - essentially she is moving terrain that keeps the game fresh and mobile. I have experimented with house rules for Hela. It has been awhile, I believe these are the house rules I have used most.

1. The Tree of Life is immune to Hela, being rooted in the ground at all, the normal rule. The Tree of life has the power to bring back one Viking God per game from Helas grasp. Obviously the god starts adjacent to the tree. This makes the placement of the Tree much more interesting.

2. The last move of Hela (of the 3 hexes each turn) can be shifted one by the Norse god player. The Loki player may only shift it only the first move. This can keep the Hela aspect of the game more tense. (Note: Loki can also steer Hela by blocking her way - as he is immune and stacking is not allowed.)

Fine tuning Hela makes this game an absolute stunner! In my top 10 and I have played or studied hundreds of games.

Other house rules experimented with.
- Instead of rule #2 above the Tree of Life can shift Hela based on its proximity to Hela, This rule is to taste. Push Hela back one, or change the random die roll direction by one on random roll #1, freeze Hela once per game, etc. Just don't go overboard, Hela needs to be a factor.

- Any hero adj to the Tree of life is immune to Hela.


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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
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I bet you'd also enjoy Saga, Wulf.

The related game that I would truly love to see updated is The Hammer of Thor: The Game of Norse Mythology. It went in the opposite direction of the minis, with an incredible amount of depth and detail on the world of Norse Mythology.
 
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Wulf Corbett
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I tried to get hold of both of those, but no result. I might try again now...
 
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Richard Jones
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Wulf Corbett wrote:
I tried to get hold of both of those, but no result. I might try again now...


If you'd like me to make a copy of Viking Gods, like the version in the images, just let me know.
 
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