Lords of Ragnarok: Corebox

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In this 1-4 player strategic board game, you will lead a unique, asymmetric hero and their army, trying to be the ultimate victor in a war that unfolds over approximately 120 minutes. Players will choose from various actions, such as building monuments, hunting monsters, ravaging the lands, gathering armies and artifacts. Gods will grant you blessings that will heavily impact the ga…
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Awards

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You Might Like

  • Great Presentation
  • Tight and coherent rule set
  • Moments of high drama when monster hunting

Might Not Like

  • Long Play time
  • Rulebook is dense
  • Inexperienced players can lead to anti-climatic end game
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Description

In this 1-4 player strategic board game, you will lead a unique, asymmetric hero and their army, trying to be the ultimate victor in a war that unfolds over approximately 120 minutes. Players will choose from various actions, such as building monuments, hunting monsters, ravaging the lands, gathering armies and artifacts.
Gods will grant you blessings that will heavily impact the game and create a unique combo for each player. On top of all that, special runes will play a significant role in leveling up your armies or earning other bonuses that include control of deadly monsters.

While the game is spiritual successor of Lords of Hellas and implements a lot of core gameplay aspects, there will be a lot of new mechanics and twists, so prepare yourself for fresh, new thematic experience!

Multiple victory conditions will keep players at the edge of their seats until the end of the game, making room for some stunning, carefully planned last-minute reversals!

lords of ragnarok review

Introduction  To Lords Of Ragnarok

The first thing that will strike you about Lords of Ragnarok is the visuals- the box is stunning, and suggests a turned-up-to-11 gaming experience: heavy metal for gamers. The massive miniatures and colourful map split into zones suggests epic combat and WARRRR!!
But that’s not quite the game you get. Lords of Ragnarok is excellent, but it’s not what you might expect from its surface appearance.

How is the game structured?

Don’t get me wrong. Lords of Ragnarok is a ‘dudes on a map’ game to its bones. There are, effectively, 4 ways of winning, three involve controlling territory and one slaying monsters with your increasingly powerful hero.
The best way to explain the game is to think of it as occurring at three levels, each layered on the map and interacting with each other in specific, limited ways.
The first layer is that of territories and armies. The board is divided into Lands, each of which consists of 3-4 Regions. Each region in turn may contain settlements, temples and shrines, each of which have their own uses and advantages. Players will build up armies (cleverly represented in miniatures who have a power dial embedded in their base) to conquer neutral territories and, once space runs out, launch assaults against each other with an elegant card-based battle system.
The second layer is the domain of monuments and priests. This mainly exists as an engine to upgrade each faction’s hero, and as the game progresses and the monuments to the gods are slowly built up, these upgrades become more powerful and wide-ranging. The priests, gained by building shrines across the board, are sent to the monuments to gain the upgrades, but you need to contribute to the building of monuments to keep using them!
The final layer is that of heroes and monsters. Heroes will roam the land, making alliances with mystical realms, gaining magical runes and, once sufficiently powerful, fighting fearsome monsters. The monsters can be activated by various game effects, and unleash area attacks or just stomp around the countryside whittling down the strength of armies.
These layers are not isolated from each other- heroes can influence battles, armies can be impacted by monsters, and priests exist as upgraders for your whole ‘engine’. But if you just look at the board and expect everything to just be a mess of interactions and exceptions, you would be wrong. This is a game honed to a sharp point, with a rules summary that fits on 3 small cards. Warhammer 40k this ain’t.

How do you take a turn?

Turns in Lords of Ragnarok follow a clear, unwavering sequence. In order, you will:

1) Pray: Send a priest to a god’s monument, if one is hanging out on your personal board. Pick up a rune if your hero is in a region with one.
2) Hero: move or heal your hero, or move your ship (essentially a mobile bridge, handy for rapid invasion of your opponents’ rear)
3) Rune: a set of actions of varying power, interacting with various elements of the game, requiring different numbers of rune tokens.
4) Maneuver: a limited movement action for armies- one army can move a single region or gain power in a settlement.
5) Special action: this is the juicy bit.
There are 7 actions you can take. 6 are depicted on a circular roundel (thematically rendered as Ygdrassil) and these actions are taken by placing a marker on one of the spaces. There are wrinkles to the choice of action- depending on the game state, where you place your counter is likely to benefit another player. But these are the really fun, powerful things you can do in this game:
A) Reinforce: recruit an army (OK, not very fun but pretty powerful)
B) Mobilize: move/ powerup ALL your armies. Invasion time!!
C) Prepare: get yourself buffed. Take a card, gain a rune, heal a wound.
D) Build temple: get a priest. Quite possibly gain a permanent special power (Blessing).
E) Monsters: fight a monster, or, if you don’t feel brave enough, activate them on the board.
F) Usurp: use the Might of your hero to take control of a territory, potentially routing whole armies!
What about the 7th action? This is ‘build monument’, which is both visually and ludologically cool- you get to put an epic model together, while resetting the whole roundel and getting some priests back ready to benefit from a newly powerful monument! You will also stir the land’s monsters to action, and potentially trigger Ragnarok!
As you can see, there’s plenty to think about, as you edge towards the three main win conditions: controlling every Region in 3 lands, controlling 5 Regions with Shrines, or slaying 2 monsters and the Boss monster on the board. But didn’t I say there were 4 ways to win? That’s where Ragnarok comes in: if 3 of the 5 Ragnarok requisites are fulfilled, the endgame is triggered, and a one-round scramble for the territories around Yggdrasil completes the game.

How good is it?

It’s very, very good; but you need to be aware of what the game actually feels like. Once you get your head round the structures, it stops being about sweeping all before your glorious legions. It becomes more about plotting an incremental strategy towards having a tilt at one of the win conditions, while paying enough attention to the rest of the game to resist other players’ strategies. But it’s also dynamic- you might think you are on one track, but then an opportunity presents itself to switch your resources- do you take it?
All of this takes place with the ticking clock of Ragnarok in the background, a clever device which imposes a sense of urgency and prevents stalemate.
This is a game with only one dice, and an unimportant one at that. But I don’t want to give the impression of an abstract puzzle with perfect information. There is chaos here, mainly in the form of the combat cards.
These are dual-purpose: you can use them to fight battles, adding to the strength of your armies and triggering bonuses. Or, you can hoard them for a monster hunt- this is a deliciously tricky decision when you are under attack on the ground, but have an eye on finishing off a wounded troll!
Hunts are perhaps the most random, and simultaneously the most exhilarating part of Lords of Ragnarok you will inevitably commit yourself with inadequate resources to kill the fiend, but the longer you stay in the fight, the more chance you have of drawing the right cards to wear them down. But the longer the fight goes on, the more bloodied your hero is likely to become. Meanwhile, if you leave a wounded but undefeated monster for your opponent to finish off, you can grant them a quick kill. These are the moments when the game is at its most exciting.
But the excitement of a hunt relies for its framing on the structure of the preparation- the whole design hangs together in a way that reflects careful playtesting, but also the fact that this is an iteration on a previous design- the flawed gem that was Lords of Hellas.

Comparison with Lords of Hellas

Different people have different problems with the original- for me the main problems were: the heroes going on quests that felt like day trips, a 3 player dynamic that heavily favoured a player who chose the strategy that the other two players did not, and an overly sexualised depiction of female characters. For other people, the tendency to get bogged down in a near-stalemate made games drag.
The designers seem to have taken all of these criticisms on board, and from my plays so far, no major problems have emerged in Lords of Ragnarok– the game engages from the very beginning, everything is in place, and the whole experience feels cohesive in a way that Hellas didn’t always manage.

Should you buy it?

As you may have gathered from my thoughts so far, I think this is an excellent game. It is beautifully presented, highly polished, and has an absorbing flow to it.
However, I cannot be sure at this point (12+ hours played) whether it is going to be something I still play in 5 years, and where it will land relative to alternatives like Blood Rage, or Cyclades. The reason for this isn’t to do with the design itself but our experience as players.
Because LoR is elegant, strategic and deep. And this depth means the game requires repeated plays to understand the ploys and counter-ploys. At a 4-player playtime of near 3 hours, this game therefore requires significant time investment to get the most out of it.
With inexperienced players, the game tends to end by Ragnarok, which is definitely a less satisfying way to win than completing a masterful conquest, or besting Loki.
But with more experienced people at the wheel, and more efficient game plans, the other outcomes come into focus, and you are in a real cerebral tussle. And if gaining that mastery sounds appealing, then yes, this could be worth the investment.
And that’s before you factor in the happy hours you’re going to spend painting those glorious miniatures!

Conclusion

Surprisingly elegant for such a big, meaty game, but atmospheric and thematic throughout, this is a significant improvement on its predecessor, and is likely to be in the very first rank of ‘dudes on the map’ games going forward.

An excellent epic experience. There is a lot to take in with this beast. Very similar to it’s predecessor Lords of Hellas, Lords of Ragnarok tweaks the rules to enhance gameplay, but overall, it is still pretty much a similar if not slightly improved experience.

The Basic Premise

The game is played on map reflecting Norse mythology, with Yggdrasil at its heart. Players represent different factions each with a distinct hero and a couple of armies to begin with and each player choosing a region to start in; and typically, one in which you can immediately take over.

Each turn, following a turn path, each player takes several actions, some of which may not be possible depending on circumstances, but typically players train or maneuver their armies and their hero to conquer regions, build temples, hunt the various monsters and then at the end of the turn each player chooses one of the special actions, one of the key features to this game; more on this key feature later.

How To Win

One of my favourite aspects to this game are the win conditions. Essentially you have several conditions, which if you meet, you immediately win, that’s it, you’ve done it. These include being in control of all regions in a specified number of lands, controlling enough temples or killing a set target with monsters (two-player games have modified win conditions).

However, there is an endgame scenario. Once a set number of conditions are achieved, this triggers Ragnarok, the last turn. At the end of this turn, the winner is the player controlling the most regions adjacent to Yggdrasil.

Gameplay

The game is quite easy to learn and play. Like many games, it is better to play and learn as you go as to get a better feel to the turns and the various options for actions. It is mostly straightforward, play a priest, move a hero etc. Hunting is a little more involved though and there is a chance element in battling monsters. Will you be able to defend against the monster attack? Will you have good cards to strike back?

Seeing a monster attack play out and how combat cards are collected and used helps with the learning curve and this is important as well as combat cards have a dual purpose as they are used for battles between armies too. Ultimately, if not before, battles between armies become expected as players vie for control over the regions adjacent to Yggdrasil.

As the game progresses, heroes can be quite mobile chasing monsters, usurping regions and gaining alliances. Heroes in some respects are quite a distinct part of the game, but in Lords of Ragnarok, you do still feel they are part of it and can impact on the bigger picture. This is because in part of their special abilities but also because their location can matter in terms of influence.

You might find that armies are not as mobile as perhaps they are in other games of a conquest nature, but then conquest isn’t really at the heart of Lords of Ragnarok. Yes, conquering is one way to win immediately, but with the limited movement options you have, concentrating on building their strength and moving them about will mean missing out of other options. This makes the task of conquering regions challenging but not unobtainable, especially if other players are focused on other win conditions.

One of the disappointing features is the drakkar piece. Each player has a naval vessel that helps transport armies to distant regions, but quite frankly it has very little impact on the game. It’s not so much that it takes anything away from the game, but there is a missed opportunity to add further depth. Expansions may help, but in the games I’ve played, it seemed fairly redundant.

A key thing to note, is during a player turn, each player has perhaps more frequently preferred options, but pretty much all options have a value. I think this is a strength of the game that players looking for opportunities can seize the initiative. This could be by claiming regions, capturing settlement or temples, or building temples, using runes in a wide variety of ways or by taking the build the monument action.

The Map

This is a feature which for me could be better. The layout of regions is interesting and conducive to strategic positioning. However, to begin with the design isn’t convenient for ease of set up. With practice it’s not a problem, but I think it could’ve been designed better. That said the artwork is nice and thematic, the map at times does feel small, but with monsters often being used threateningly it isn’t always easy to expand a great deal anyway. Attacks therefore seem more often to be precision attacks to secure strategic positions. Overall, the map feels a little underwhelming, with few sea regions, unnecessary space taken up with the potential allied regions and the smaller regions in the centre of the map prone to becoming congested with armies, monsters and heroes.

Yggdrasil, A Key Feature On The Map & The Mechanics

I like this feature. Remember, to win during the Ragnarok last turn, a player needs to control more regions adjacent to Yggdrasil than any other player, and with a tie-break mechanic if needed.

On the Yggdrasil space is a rondel with several special actions available. Each turn, each player has to choose one option that they have not already selected. Alternatively, once they have previously played an action, a player can choose to build a monument.

Around the map there are three, for Thor, Freya and Odin, that represent the three qualities or hero stats. Each time you send a priest to a monument, you gain a benefit, which improves the more the monument chosen is built. Sending priests is a great way to increase a hero’s stats and building a monument is important to increase and improve the benefits from sending priests; so each priest subsequently sent gains you more.

But building the monument, in addition to speeding up the game by achieving a Ragnarok triggering condition by completing one, also means the player responsible for that action gain priests from their temples and runes from forges so there is an incentive to be the one to take that action. Given this action also removes tokens on the rondel, if you time it right, you can open up freshly available special actions for your next turn.

Components

These components in Lords of Ragnarok are nice and of good quality and although the monuments are a little oversized, they do look good. The miniature sculpts are varied, nice looking and quite solid so there shouldn’t be any issues with breakages unless careless.

Similarly, the card stock and quality of the card components is good and although that to some degree is to be expected these days, it is still nice to see corners haven’t been cut so as to preserve a better play experience.

Strategy

A strength of the game is that there are varied ways to win. Do you plan to secure the most regions to Yggdrasil? Going first in the last round may give you some advantage in positioning and the tie-breaker, but equally being the last to play may help make a move that can’t be countered.

There is a risk here. You can win the game immediately through one of several win conditions. Going after the monster kills can be very tough, especially if you have a small hand size for combat cards or no-one else is contributing to damage, but under the right conditions it can be a quick route to victory with whatever else is going on being irrelevant.

Alternatively, you can muster your armies and conquer territory. The more temples you control will lead to more priests and the benefits they can bring, thus also denying your opponents the same with less potential to gather priests. The more settlements you control, the more choice you have when recruiting armies and the better your strategic positioning.

Ideally, you want to control regions adjacent to Yggdrasil if you can because you don’t want to leave the game to chance if you don’t have to. Having some presence like this help reduce your opponents’ presence too. But perhaps more importantly, give yourself options, be flexible and open to what chance may bring. When I’ve won, it’s usually because I’ve done this, I’ve kept a couple of options open, making it more difficult for opponents to counter and then I take the one that seems easiest to fulfil.

My Final Thought

It’s a worthy game to play if you like thematic strategy games, with a degree of asymmetry, different ways to win and a dudes on a map element. Each game of Lords of Ragnarok is likely to be different, with the potential for replayability quite good.

Zatu Score

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You might like

  • Great Presentation
  • Tight and coherent rule set
  • Moments of high drama when monster hunting

Might not like

  • Long Play time
  • Rulebook is dense
  • Inexperienced players can lead to anti-climatic end game