Yggdrasil: Fighting Back Ragnarok

Yggdrasil: Fighting Back Ragnarok

This game has the frustrating distinction of being difficult to acquire. Apparently, while the first edition had a tiny print run, the second edition had a print run that had some sort of distribution deal fall through, meaning not a lot of copies ever made it into the hands of gamers.  We don’t know the specifics of this, but what we do know is this:

XKCD Google Search
Source: https://xkcd.com/1334/

 

It took until the 11th page of Google search results to find a copy of the 2nd edition of Yggdrasil for sale, in about two hours of checking dead links and online storefronts with the item listed but a stock of 0.  In the end it came from a game store (or possibly board game cafe) in Canada liquidating extra stock.  Maybe the web has organized this better since or my Google-fu was weak.  As of this writing, BoardGameGeek doesn’t know of any copies up for sale in North America and only two in Europe with the price amped up to 150 euros.  So if there’s a point where this review makes you want to go out and find this game… write in to Ludonaute asking about any plans for a reprint, because right now you’ll sooner find a NM/M Beta Black Lotus, an IBM 5100, the secret ingredient of the secret ingredient soup, or a fist full of hens’ teeth gathered under a blue moon than a copy of Yggdrasil.

With that said, it’s on our top favorite games, so if you do find a chance to play it somewhere (or should the stars align and you actually find a copy for sale), seriously consider it. Part of it is the sheer beauty of the visuals. The board, cards, and rulebook all have very high-quality art, and it’s just enjoyable to look at (which is good, because you’ll probably be there for a while). It’s a cooperative game, which raises it several ranks due to Steffanie favoring it, but it’s a much-remembered and much-enjoyed game even beyond the two of us.

Yggdrasil

In this game, you are playing as the Norse gods at Ragnarok, trying to hold back the evils threatening to overwhelm your world. The victory/loss of the game centers around the six “enemies”: Loki, Hel, Surt, Fenrir, Nidhogg, and Jormungandr. The game board has nine “worlds” (expanded on later) and the enemies are in Asgard. Asgard is divided into four zones, each with two spaces. If five enemies get into the second zone, three into the third, or one into the fourth, the players lose. Enemies move based on the enemy deck (which has a set number of each enemy’s card in it); the enemy cards will also cause the enemies to do something bad to the board or players, often worse if the enemy has progressed to a later zone.  Spending one of your own actions in Asgard lets you commit tokens and roll the game’s custom die (with faces 0-0-1-1-2-3) to attempt to defeat one of the enemies. This is more difficult the more zones the enemy has advanced, and success will only push the enemy back a single space. Victory is a war of attrition; you win if you haven’t lost at the end of the turn when the enemy deck runs empty, no matter how progressed the enemies are, but simply staying alive that long can be easier said than done.

The other eight worlds (and the actions you take by playing on them) are Alfheim, or the World of the Elves (take one Elf token), Vanaheim, the World of the Vanir (move a token along a special track), Midgard (have the Valkyries search bags for Viking tokens), Svartalfheim, or the World of the Dwarves/Dwarven Forge (acquire or upgrade weapons to help fight the enemies), Jotunheim, or the World of Giants (kill Frost Giants), Muspelheim, or the World of Fire (clean the Midgard bags of Fire Giants), Niflheim (trade any number of tokens with another player), and Helheim, or the World of the Dead (put 5 Viking tokens into the Midgard bag of your choice). You get three actions a turn, which can be spent on any of the nine worlds, but you can only play on each world once in a turn.

Vikings are the mainstay of the game; a Viking can be spent to add +1 to a combat before you roll the die. The target numbers for defeating an enemy are 5/6/7/8 depending on which zone they’re in—which sounds easy until you look at the die and realize its faces aren’t standard; they’re 0/0/1/1/2/3, giving an average result of barely over 1. Elves are more powerful—they can be spent after a die roll instead of before—but they’re slower to acquire and the number in the game is only players+1.

The gameplay ends up being a delicate dance. Squandering resources to try to beat back the enemies at the beginning means losing the staying power for the endgame; hoarding them early can result in an enemy getting too far ahead to handle. Since the game goes until the enemy deck is depleted, it doesn’t change length much based on player count, and while it can get exhausting, it’s very satisfying to flip the last card and see that you’ve successfully held back the end of the world.

For those looking for advice on how to beat the game, here’s what we’ve learned from our personal experience.

  1. Don’t gamble (when you can avoid it). The die is your enemy; it has a 1/3 chance of giving you nothing and only a 1/3 chance of giving better     than a 1. We tend to treat the die as “the number of elves we save” and pay enough Vikings that Vikings+elves+bonuses gives us the needed number, no matter the die roll. Remember that actions are a resource as well, and that wasting Vikings not only wastes the time gathering them but wastes the turns restocking and cleaning out bags as well. On that note…
  2. Don’t panic. The further an enemy is on the board, the fewer cards they have left in the deck. That isn’t to say you should ignore the enemies, but the first few turns it’s better to play long-term: build up to level 3 weapons, accumulate tokens, clean out the bags, and maybe throw a few die rolls at the third point…
  3. Kill the giants. Don’t wait for them to get flipped up; burn through the giants’ deck as fast as possible, killing them off the top before they have a chance to be a problem. Not only does this make Loki useless, but the runes formed by killing a full set of giants are incredibly powerful. We’ve never had a game where we finished all four runes and still lost the game.
Seventh Hero: Why Would You Change The Name?!

Seventh Hero: Why Would You Change The Name?!

A quick rant first off: This was originally released in Japan with an anime inspired art and theme, then released in other territories by AEG as Seventh Hero, which is the version we have, and has now been re-released by AEG and Iello as…Rent-A-Hero. Why?! Why would they change the name?! Sure, it’s a light game, but that doesn’t mean it has to be silly, and the Japanese Edition art and AEG Seventh Hero art are at least pretty to look at while the art for Rent-A-Hero is rather…bad, to be blunt. If you decide to pick up this game, we recommend going with the Seventh Hero printing if you can.

Seventh Hero

With that done, let’s talk about the game. Seventh Hero is, at its core, very simple. The deck has “hero” cards number 1 through 7. The first player to get 6 out of 7 down in front of them wins. However, the rules make that more challenging than it sounds; you don’t simply play cards in front of you. A player starts by flipping over the top card of the deck, which will have a rule—for example, “Any odd-numbered card.” The player then chooses a card from their hand that matches that rule and places it face-down. Each other player, in order, has a chance to take that card or pass on it before it returns to the first player, and if it returns to the person who played it, that player has to take it. This creates a strong bluffing element, as if you accidentally take a copy of a card you already have, you lose both of the cards. Because of this, it’s surprisingly easy to come back from behind and win; the closer to victory you get, the greater the odds are that a random card is one that will hurt you instead of help you.

The game isn’t purely luck and bluffing. There are two ways to mitigate the randomness. The first is that you can “buy” hints about the identity of a card being passed around. You show a card from your hand to the player passing a card, and they confirm or deny whether the card shown matches the face-down one. This is best saved for late-game when you have to be cautious, since every card out of your hand is fewer cards to send around the table later. The second way to mitigate randomness is that each card has a different ability, ranging from “draw two cards” to “look at the wandering hero.” You can only use each card ability once, so make sure you save those uses for when they count!

Overall, we find Seventh Hero a good light game. It plays quickly once everyone gets the hang of it, with most of the delays being when someone is trying to calculate the odds of a card hurting or helping them. Its mechanics leave it less “left in the dust” than many other games we’ve played, it has a good balance of luck and skill, and the difficulty curve is low enough that even a new player can easily win.

Shadow Hunters: Mafia If It Wasn’t Boring and Didn’t Need Twenty People

Shadow Hunters: Mafia If It Wasn’t Boring and Didn’t Need Twenty People

Shadow Hunters

Steffanie isn’t fond of Mafia (as the title might suggest; also called Werewolf); the atmosphere the game tends to create is aggressive, unfriendly, and untrusting, at least in her opinion. So comparing a game to Mafia wasn’t a selling point for her, but when we tried out this game, we both found we liked it immensely.

Shadow Hunters has Mafia-like elements, but has many advantages over those kinds of games. For one, it runs from five to eight players (in our opinion, it’s best at seven), meaning you don’t have to gather a huge group. For another, it’s not a large group against a minority; there are two equally balanced sides, with the rest of the players filling out a Neutral faction.

Each player is assigned a secret Role card, which gives them a specific character that is part of one of three factions. The two opposing sides are the Shadows and the Hunters, hence the name. The Hunters win by eliminating the Shadows. The Shadows win by eliminating the Hunters (or, in the seven player game, either both Hunters or all three Neutrals). Each Neutral player has their own victory condition; some are “just survive” passive, while others are actively aggressive. Players’ roles are hidden from each other at all times, so even the teams don’t know who their allies are without extra information—it’s not uncommon for two people to spend a few rounds beating each other up, only to then learn that they were on the same side the whole time.  Each character also has a special power that can only be used when their identity is revealed.  Thanks to the game balance, becoming a known factor isn’t Game Over, and in fact might just be the beginning.  Play continues until someone has achieved victory, which often requires some good time spent damaging one another.

Barring a dramatic reveal, information about each other’s identities is gained through one of the three decks of cards, the green Hermit cards. Each card has a statement on it, for example, “I bet you’re a Shadow. If you are, take 1 damage.” This card will be handed face-down, in secret to another player, who will respond with action, not with word. For the above example, they would move their damage counter up by one if they were a Shadow, and say “Nothing happens” if they were not. Either way, the card is discarded, also face-down. The first player then knows something about the second player…but there are quite a lot of players, and you don’t get Hermit cards every turn.It takes some time to deduce who everyone is, and in the meantime you have to decide on whether or not you want to act on whatever incomplete information you have.

Some people compare Shadow Hunters to the venerable “BANG!”, and while they do seem to share some of their DNA, having played both we rather favor Shadow Hunters. So, how are they similar? Well, in both games the ‘sides’ are typically more even in number than they are in Mafia.  Both games feature some degree of randomness rather than being ‘pure’ deduction — very spotty draws in BANG! and some draws and some dice rolling in Shadow Hunters. But Shadow Hunters adds some significant meat to the bones in the form of the White and Black item cards — rather than everything being one of a few basic card types and drawn from a single communal deck, Shadow Hunters utilizes two decks (three, if you count the Hermit cards) that roughly segregate the many, many unique cards that you can come across. While deduction games naturally have a high replay value, Shadow Hunters extends its life further with the fact that you are highly unlikely to see all the White (Defensive and/or Hunter-favoring) and/or Black (Offensive and/or Shadow-favoring) cards in one, or even a few playthroughs, and they’re very distinct and impactful cards.

Another improvement, at least in our opinion, is the combat system.  Both games feature Range and Damage mechanics (as opposed to Mafia’s “you’re out” mechanic), but while BANG! features range determined by the order in which players sit at the table and a very punishing damage system, Shadow Hunters uses a game board to determine range (with the exact conditions of the board potentially changing each time you play) and a more D&D-esque “the only hit point that matters is the last” sort of life system… combined with variable and hidden values for the amount of damage you can take.  Lastly, while damage is fairly bounded (on a bell curve; technically 0-5 but hits of more than 2 are very rare) the fact that it is a random single roll makes, while perhaps not a better experience on its lonesome than BANG!’s cardplay and counter-cardplay, at least a more fulfilling game of cat and mouse where you feel like you can do something any given turn. BANG!’s fighting is more like Lunch Money (a game we’ll talk about later) where if you’re stuck with a bad hand you will often want to spend a lot of time attempting to sculpt it while being beaten (or gunned) to death by your rivals. In Shadow Hunters, you are never deliberately encouraged to waste a turn: even a late game trip to the Hermit’s Cabin, when everyone is revealed, can do something valuable by putting you in (or out) of another player’s range or the ‘telling’ effect of a Hermit card.

Which brings us to the biggest difference between Shadow Hunters and most Social Deduction games… the deduction. It doesn’t seem like much, but the ability to assemble clues (as well as the continued ability to attempt to divine the tells of your friends from their gameplay or mannerisms) gives Shadow Hunters a new dimension, one of using logic and evidence to narrow down not just the possible alignment but potentially the exact role of your rival, rewarding diligent investigation even if someone has a really great poker face.

One of the big advantages this has over not just BANG! but most other Hidden Role games is the balanced sides and steady accumulation of evidence we mentioned earlier. There aren’t accusations of someone “acting like a traitor” or the table’s behavior devolving into witch hunts. It’s more purely deductive and ends in less bitterness around the table. In addition, the special powers that each character has give the game a fun edge, and the fact that the available characters are randomized means every game is different even with the same group.  Further, the individual roles make the endgame, where people basically know who is on what side, a fulfilling light tactical brawler on its own.  Indeed, in a genre of games where keeping yourself secret is typically paramount, It’s nice to be able to decide, fully strategically, to stomp out into the open in favor of having the power, but no secrecy. This brings Shadow Hunters to a unique and fulfilling conclusion where players are legitimately ‘in’ until they drop dead.  And as far as the player elimination aspect goes… the game seldom goes too long once the bodies start hitting the floor. If you like the thought of crossing Clue with Mafia to make a game better than either, then this is the game for you.

Fairy Tale: Do I Go for Dwarves Riding Dragons or Seven Faeries?

Fairy Tale: Do I Go for Dwarves Riding Dragons or Seven Faeries?

Fairy Tale

Fairy Tale is a fast-paced card game centered around “drafting.” For those unfamiliar, drafting is when you choose a card from your hand and pass the rest to the next player, and do so until all cards have been chosen.

In Fairy Tale, you get five cards for each of four rounds, and play three of those five; the goal is to combine your cards to get the most points. It has a slight sabotage element as black cards will force players to flip over cards, rendering them useless, but for the most part it’s just about trying to get the cards most beneficial to you while denying your opponent the ones most beneficial to them. It can get very competitive, but the games tend to be short enough that the competitiveness isn’t bothersome even to easily-stressed Steffanie.

Other than someone having difficulty with the concept of drafting, this game isn’t difficult to learn, either in gameplay or in strategy. There are only really three strategies for scoring (that can be combined): exponential (a card type that scales to X squared: 1 of the card is worth 1, 2 are worth 2 each so total 4, etc.), paired (one card type is worth 3, with a second being worth 3 times the number of cards of the first type), and high points (cards worth a flat 6 but that turn a member of their own faction, including themselves potentially, face-down). If that still sounds complicated, don’t worry–it’s very obvious once you’re reading the cards.

That is not to say, though, that Fairy Tale is too simple — there is enough strategic depth, in the very nature of drafting if nothing else, that the game actually has some staying power, and the Black cards complicate strategies. Similarly, while the best ways to score points are the geometric sets, cross-faction partners, or big-point cards, a combined arms strategy is often needed to win the game: you can’t rely on getting nothing but Baby Dragons so you have to make the best use of the cards you do get.

For those desiring even more layers, there are an extra few cards that are “Advanced” cards.  They allow the game to support up to five players instead of four, add a new mechanic called the Hunt (A pre-emptive offensive flip), and feature cards with alternate scoring opportunities such as having the most of a particular faction or card type, the latter of those features being marked but unused in the base game.

As is often the case, since the game is physically small (though I believe more recent editions have a larger box for shelf presence), it also tends to play quickly, and it’s not uncommon at our gaming table play Fairy Tale two or three times in a row.