I purchased Yggdrasil a couple of months ago after hearing good things about it on Board Game Geek. It is a 6 (or 8 with the two expansions cards) player co-op board game themed around Ragnarök, the end of the world in Norse mythology. Almost all of the board games our group plays involve competition between players so I thought it might be fun for put down our knives and give our backs a rest by trying a co-op game.
The game has each player taking on the role of one of a selection of Norse Gods, and by working together stop Ragnarök, which has taken the form of 6 villains from Norse mythology advancing on Asgard. On each persons turn a card is chosen at random that determines which enemy is advancing. There are 7 steps along the track and each enemy advances one step at a time (there are cards to increase the difficulty by introducing multiple steps and multiple enemies stepping forward at once). Once the enemy has advanced, and applied whatever unique effect they have to make it more difficult for the Gods, the player gets to take actions out of a possible 9. The 9 different actions relate to the 9 realms:
- Asgard, perform combat to drive back an enemy
- Midgard, search for Vikings to aid in combat
- Nidavellir, obtain a weapon from the dwarves
- Alfheim, obtain an elf to help in combat
- Niflheim, exchange vikings or elves with another God
- Hel, repopulate Midgard with the souls of Vikings
- Muspellheim, remove Fire Demons from Midgard
- Jötunheim, fight the Frost Giants
- Vanaheim, ask the Vanir for help
Unless your God’s unique abilities say otherwise you have 3 actions in 3 different realms. If one of 3 of the Ragnarök conditions it met (to do with number of enemies beyond a certain distance towards Asgard) the Gods lose but if the pile of enemy cards is depleted before this then the Gods win.
After 3 games with 4-5 players and different combinations of Gods we still haven’t won After 5 games we finally managed to win (but only on the easiest difficulty). Despite only winning once each game has been extremely tense and enjoyable and each loss makes us want to play all the more, to the point where Yggdrasil is now top on my list of favorite board games and my girlfriend has to stop me from pestering everyone to play it every week.
What impressed me most about the game were the mechanics. The rules are very straight forward, to the point where it took only a few goes for a new player to pick it up. It’s the amount of different things you can do on your go which make the game interesting and complex. With 3 choices from 9 options each player is faced with 84 possible combinations on their go, and while this may seem like too much, it is relatively easy to see how each combination and action will affect the game for both you and the next players. While some situations, like needing to push back an enemy, limit which actions you should perform by imposing a goal you must have achieved by the end of your go there is still a lot of variety and usually a number of different ways you can make things happen. So far all the games we’ve played have gone very differently, from focusing on good Viking management for combat, to focusing on killing off Frost Giants in the hope of a bonus, each time a different strategy emerges. One of our group thinks that there is only one strategy to win and we have yet to find it, I however think the different strategies we’ve tried have only failed because of our inexperience with the game. Yes we know the rules, but we’re still working out how best to implement them as a team, and this for me is where a lot of the fun of the game comes from.
Another big portion of the fun comes from teamwork. At the start of each game the game play has been very relaxed and each person has gone about their action in the way they best see fit. Then the storm starts. At some point in each game it has, seemingly out of nowhere, suddenly ramped up the pressure and intensity to the point where we are now staring at defeat. Once this happens strategies are planned and actions are thought out as everyone comes together to stop the end of the world. Maybe it’s because our group doesn’t play any other co-op games but the atmosphere when one enemy steps too far is why Yggdrasil is now my favorite game. It’s addictive, especially when we manage to force back the tide (usually only momentarily) and buy ourselves some breathing room. The post game analysis is almost as fun as the game itself, everyone suddenly knows what we should have done to win, which combination of Gods we should use next time, what combinations of actions seemed to work in certain circumstances and how we can improve them for next time. We can spend almost as long discussing and dissecting the game as playing it.
There are a few minor points as well. I could see a situation where one player could easily try to take control of the game and bark orders at the rest, but this hasn’t happened in our group (hopefully the others would agree with me). Also, it is possible to count the cards and work out early whether you’ve won or lost. Again this hasn’t happened in any of our games, but for some people it may take the fun out of it.
Maybe after a while we will lose interest in fighting off the enemies of Asgard, but I doubt it. Yggdrasil is a brilliant game that I would recommend to anyone, just be prepared to work for your victory.
Update: You can read my review of the Yggdrasil iPad app here.