Game Buzz: Yggdrasil

Growing up, I was fascinated by Greek mythology.  I loved reading about the exploits of Zeus and the gang up at Mount Olympus.  That was really my only exposure to mythology, a subject that has some pretty rich history.  I’m particularly not very knowledgeable about Norse mythology.  I know the names Thor and Odin, but beyond that, I’m pretty unfamiliar with all of it.  So hopefully I’ll learn something as I explore this game.

Yggdrasil - image by BGG user edubvidal

Yggdrasil is a cooperative game that was designed by Cédric Lefebvre and Fabrice Rabellino, with art by Pierô.  The game was supposed to be released at Essen this year by publishers Ludonaute, but it has been pushed back to 2011.  The publishers are currently looking for distributors in the States and swear they’ll find someone, but for now, the English rules are online for perusal.  Hence my post.  The game is playable by 1-6 players, takes 75 minutes, and is for ages 13 and up.

So what is Yggdrasil?  As I said, I’m not terribly familiar with Norse mythology, but my understanding is that Yggdrasil is a giant tree that holds nine homeworlds together.  It essentially holds the place of Mount Olympus for the Norse myths, with the gods holding court in the tree.

In this game, the players are gods from Norse mythology – Odin, Thor, Tyr, Frey, Freyja, and Heimdall.  It’s a cooperative game where you will be defending Yggdrasil against monsters to avoid Ragnarök (the end of the world).  Nothing like a good apocalyptic game to get the buzz going.

The board for the game shows Yggdrasil and has areas for the nine worlds, each using a different symbol.  There’s the World of Elves (which holds the Elf tokens), Asgard (which holds the enemy counters), the Dwarven Forge (which holds the Artifact cards), Midgard (which holds the Valkyries and the Submerged Island), the Kingdom of Fire (which holds the Fire Giant tokens), the Sacred Land (which has the reinforcement track), the Ice Fortress (which holds the Giant cards), the World of the Dead (which holds the last five viking tokens), and the World of Darkness (where exchanges can be made).  There are 42 enemy cards that will come up throughout the game, featuring each of the six enemies – Hel, Surt, Loki, Jörmungand, Nidhögg, and Fenrir.  You may include some Angry Enemy cards to jack up to difficulty level.  There are four cloth bags, each containing a different number of viking and fire giant tokens.

Each player begins with a randomly dealt god sheet.  Each god has a different special power: Odin can choose the enemy for the round (from two choices); Thor has +1 in combat; Frey can take an extra action during a turn; Heimdall can take an extra token when looking for souls; Tyr can roll the dice twice and choose the result; and Freyja can perform two actions in the same world.  These powers might make more sense once you know how a turn works.

During a turn, you first draw an enemy card and apply its effects.  First, the enemy will move to the right.  The track they will travel is marked with seven lines.  Each enemy has a different effect:

  • Hel moves vikings to the World of the Dead.
  • Surt adds fire giants to the island bag.
  • Loki moves giants into play.
  • Jörmungand submerges an island.
  • Nidhögg advances the last place enemy.
  • Fenrir causes the game to basically stop until he is calmed down. This is done by rolling a certain result on a die.  You must use actions to do this until Fenrir is calmed down.  If one god can’t do it, the next god must.

These effects may increase as the game moves on.

After the enemy effects are resolved, the active god may take three actions.  These must be performed on three different worlds (unless you are Freyja, in which you can perform two on one world).  Your action choices are:

  • Midgard – Move the Valkyries to an adjacent island and look for souls by drawing three tokens from the island’s bag.  Any vikings are kept by the player, while fire giants are put back.  Vikings help with combat.
  • Dwarven Forge – Take a Level 1 weapon from the Forge, or return a weapon to take the next level (up to 3).
  • World of the Elves – Take an Elf, which will help with combat.  If there are no more Elves, you can’t perform this action.
  • World of Darkness – Take, give, or exchange Elves and/or vikings with another god (just one god).
  • World of the Dead – Take five Vikings from the world of the dead and put them in an island bag.
  • Kingdom of Fire – Draw five tokens from an island bag, returning any drawn fire giants to the KoF.  Vikings go back in the bag.
  • Sacred Land – Move the Army of the Vanes along the reinforcement track, or return it to the beginning and take the effect of the space you just left.  Your options on this track are to move the Valkyries without looking for souls, taking two vikings directly from the World of the Dead, discarding the next card from the enemy deck (unless it’s an Angry Enemy), move an enemy one space back, or discard a giant of your choice.
  • Asgard – Fight an enemy.  The enemy’s power will be 5-8, depending on where they are on the track.  To combat, discard any number of vikings to the World of the Dead and any number of Elves to the World of the Elves.  Roll the die and add the result to the number of vikings and elves you discarded.  If your number is greater or equal to the enemy’s force, they move backwards.  If not, you can try again, but you’ve lost all those vikings and elves.
  • Ice Fortress – Fight an ice giant using the same combat rules.  When defeated, the ice giants no longer affect the game.  However, if four giants of one rune get defeated, the gods will get a bonus (splitting up 15 vikings, skipping the enemy draw phase, moving an enemy backwards 3 spaces, or moving three enemies back one space each).

The game ends when the players either win or lose.  You win if you make it all the way through the enemy deck without losing.  You lose if five or more enemies make it beyond the wall of Asgard (the third line on the track), or if three or more enemies make it beyond the door of Valhalla (the fifth line), or if one enemy makes it to Odin’s residence (the last space).  This is checked at the end of a god’s turn.

So that’s it.  What interests me in the game?  Well, it’s cooperative and I always enjoy those.  I like the process of figuring out how to solve a puzzle in a group.  Another intriguing aspect is the art.  I can’t find a picture to show you, but the rulebook shows the detail of the board, and it’s gorgeous.  In terms of gameplay, Yggdrasil does not seem to be offering much that is new.  It makes me think of Ghost Stories in the way you are just trying to survive until the end.  There are a wide range of choices on your turn, but you’ll probably be directing your energy towards keeping the enemies at bay.  Fenrir will probably be annoying, since it’s only pure chance that will allow you to calm him down.  It seems like the real appeal of the game will be the theme.  People who are interested in Norse mythology will probably really get into it, and other people might find it to be a good introduction to the genre.

So, there’s Yggdrasil.  Did anyone else think this was a Ystari game the first time they saw the title?  Read more at BGG.  There’s not a whole lot there, but when the game does get released, reviews will probably start emerging.  I have no clue how much it will cost when it comes out, but keep your eyes open if you’re interested.  Thanks for reading, and insert clever tagline here.

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