Blegh. Sorry about the picture quality. Will fix that up.
Welp, 2013 has arrived without world ending catastrophe so, with the arrival of the new year, I figure that I should start the gaming slate clean. This January isn’t going to be a time for cuthroat competition and the utter humiliation of my opposition. No, it is going to be a time of love and togetherness as we all prepare to face the unknown horrors of 2013 together. It will be a time for gamers the world over to join hands and unite in an effort to stop any who would oppose them.
Yes, it is a time to play some cooperative games!
For the entirety of January I am going to be discussing games where the players (mostly) unite in an effort to defeat the challenges that the game presents them with. Games where the entirety of the table will put their heads together in an effort to unravel tricky puzzles and battle against the cruel mistress that is luck. I’ll also be capping the month off with a retrospective review of one of the games that really got me into board gaming.
So, with all the ado finished, let us move into the first game I’ll be talking about: Yggdrasil.
Keep in mind that this is simply a first impression review, as I’ve only had two plays of the game so far (1 with 2 players, 1 with 5 players).
Publisher: Z-Man GamesPlayers: 1-6
Time to Play: 90+ Minutes
My little metroid certainly seemed to like the game! No girl, don’t eat it!
So. Yggdrasil. In this game you play as some number of the Norse gods, attempting to prevent Ragnarok. And my, my, my, what a challenge that is going to be.
You see, since this whole Ragnarok thing is a pretty serious deal, and every single enemy the gods have ever made is knocking at their gates, trying to make their way to Odin’s house. Loki, Surt, Fenrir, Nidhogg, Jormungandur, Hel, the fire giants, and the ice giants are all arrayed against you. Victory and failure are clear cut: if too many of the enemies are past certain parts of the board at the end of a god’s turn (5 at the first threshold, 3 at the second, 1 at the third) you’ve lost and if you manage to deplete the whole enemy deck without losing, then you’ve won.
This is no small feat, though! Every turn, the active god will need to draw a card from the enemy deck and advance the enemy forward one space. Every. Single. Turn. It’ll be no time at all until every single enemy is knocking at the door, waiting for their invitation to crash Odin’s house. Oh, and did I mention that each enemy has a special ability that activates when they move? Or that, the further along the track they are, the more powerful they become?
So, how do the gods fight back? Well, they have the whole of the 9 realms to help them out! Each of the realms provides a unique benefit when used. After drawing their enemy card for the turn (and no doubt sending groans out all over the table), they can use three of these realms to help them out.
And that is the game, really. Draw your enemy card, visit three different realms, check if you’ve won/lost. Which was a bit shocking to me, since the rulebook is, like, 20 pages thick. Turns out that the vast majority of the rulebook is explaining the various god/enemy/realm powers (which totals out to about 21 separate entries) and then repeating that in approximately 100 languages.
Even the individual powers/enemies/realms are pretty simple though, and, if you have some experience with Euro symbols, committing the basic effects to memory should be pretty simple. I committed them to memory within the space of my first game and remembered them easily into the second. If you’re fairly new to board games, it might take a little more effort, but veterans should be fine.
The game features a somewhat strange form of scaling difficulty. In addition to the more standard style of harder enemy cards (angry enemy cards, allowing a given god to move forward two spaces) and Ragnarok cards (moves all enemies one space forward), the game also scales in difficulty two other ways. First, and perhaps most unintuitively, the game is harder with more players. In addition, how much you limit your access to viewing the discard pile and bags also makes the game more difficult.
So, with all that out of the way, what are my initial impressions after two plays (2 and 5 players respectively, both wins, none of the angry enemy cards/Ragnarok cards being used and full access to the discard)?
Well, the game certainly makes an excellent first impression. The board representing the nine realms is absolutely gorgeous and, while the remaining art isn’t anywhere near as attractive, it does an excellent job of conveying the the themes. I was a little disappointed with the god sheets, as they seem a bit flimsy, but what can you do? Z-Man was also nice enough to include their own ziplock baggies for tokens, allowing me to avoid enraging my girlfriend by sacrificing more of our sandwich baggies to the great board game gods.
Generally speaking, I prefer games that have useful inserts instead of forcing me to use bags, but hey, not going to fault a helpful gesture.
The game itself played pretty nicely in both games. Although the first few turns are a bit slow, the game felt like it ramped up fairly quickly. Both games, once they got rolling, were spent in tense discussion, looking over the possible outcomes of the next turn, debating the best course of action for each player, and praying that the dice did not turn against us. Seriously, from the midpoint forward, despite both of our wins, there was a very distinct sensation that we were always right on the verge of losing.
The randomness factor was nice. While it did add a fair amount of tension to each turn (especially when Fenrir popped up), we tended to always try and avoid relying on the die roll whenever possible (or making sure it was a die roll that could be mitigated by an Elf is necessary). The option was always there to try and trust our fate to the dice gods, but, in general, the game discourages it except when absolutely necessary. The fact that the game is all about action and threat management means that a failed die roll is tremendously damaging and a single whiff on an enemy could be the difference between a resounding victory and a crushing defeat.
Both games ended in positions where one slight change would have lost us the game. Despite the easier final turns, the actual margin of victory was very narrow.
The game did become a bit straightforward towards the end and it did seem like some obvious strategies were emerging as we got more familiar. As more of the enemies run out of movement cards, you can begin ignoring them and redirecting on other threats. The ability to (relatively easily) empty bags of fire giants also removes a lot of danger from that particular action, encouraging players to empty the white/blue bags early on. This plays on my general concern that the game may not have enough moving parts to avoid being “solvable” (that is to say have an optimum strategy that you simply repeat every game).
Of course, I could be mistaken about the strength of these strategies and things may also change significantly with additional cards/replacement cards and some other tweaks (disallowing counting the discard and/or randomly replace cards with Angry/Ragnarok cards).
There was also some trouble, at least in the larger game, with the game running particularly long due to the amount of mathing, checking movement counts, checking odds, etc. I don’t really consider this a mark against Yggdrasil (this is naturally a part of co-op gaming) but it did feel a bit more commonplace and lengthy here then it does in some other co-ops I’ve played. Depending on the group, that 90+ minute playtime might be a little optimistic.
Still, and most importantly though, I had a lot of fun. While I can’t quite assess how well the game will hold up under multiple plays (although I am relatively sure that the addition of the harder cards at random will solve most of my problems, a theory I will make a point to test out), these first couple of plays were, without a doubt, fun. As I’ve said multiple times, the game really felt like it was balancing on a razor’s edge for the vast majority of it and that a single misstep would herald the end of the world.
As much as I like co-ops that provide the definite threat that I’ll lose, I do worry that, sometimes, Yggdrasil will just throw up losses due to bad Fenrir rolls, but these should be rare enough that it isn’t a major concern.
So yeah. My final opinion, in a nutshell, is that the game was fun, adequately tense, and requires enough thought to be workable with a group. I do have some concerns about the game’s staying power, but I’m relatively confident that the addition of the harder cards and the limitation of some information (for example, what cards were added) might be sufficient to check that concern.