(If you missed my post in The Robot Plays where I talked about how much I love Champions of Midgard, you can read it here.)
When taken separately, The Dark Mountains and Valhalla are both great expansions. Of course, adding both in ensures for maximum Viking glory, but it’ll be easier if I discuss them one at a time. The ;tldr version is: If you want to add more breadth to your games, go with The Dark Mountains. If you want to add more depth to your games, go with Valhalla. (And if you’re like me and can’t get enough Champions of Midgard… go with both.)
The Dark Mountains
In the original Champions of Midgard, making the journey across the sea to slay terrible monsters was a lot of fun, and quite the undertaking. You had to make sure you’d recruited enough warriors, hunted enough food, and either hired or built a ship to get there. Then, before you could even attack said terrible monster, you had to survive a Journey card. (I’m still pressed about having to throw my axemen overboard because there wasn’t enough food to feed them.) Slaying monsters was a great way to earn lots of Glory, and it felt downright epic.
The Dark Mountains adds more of that epic-ness in the form of the titular Dark Mountains, which is a new add-on game board that serves as a hub for you and your viking warriors to slay terrifying Bergrisar.
Thematically speaking, venturing to the The Dark Mountains is very similar to making a journey across the sea to slay monsters. Mechanically, however, there’s no need for a boat, and you don’t need to pack food to feed your warriors. Instead, the “Land Journey” cards put extra emphasis on the need to have gold coins. The “Bandits” card, for example, forces you to either pay 2 gold or fight a group of human thieves, potentially causing you to lose warriors before the main event. The “Blocked Path,” “Lost,” and “Blizzard” cards all force you to pay gold or suffer some sort of consequence.
But the spoils of war are bountiful. Successfully venturing into The Dark Mountains and slaying a Bergrisar yields a nice chunk of Glory and allows you to recruit the new archer dice.
These powerful warriors only have a single blank side. In addition, three of the ‘hit’ sides have a hart icon, which means that – when used to hunt for food – you get to take an additional food cube. Archers are primarily only earned for slaying Bergrisar, although there are a few other ways to get them, especially if you’re playing with the Valhalla expansion as well (more on that later).
In addition to the new Dark Mountains board and archer dice, The Dark Mountains adds a TON of additional content to your games of Champions of Midgard: two new Leaders, five new Runes, four new Market Stalls, a new Destiny card, a whopping 24 new enemy cards spread amongst the original enemy types, and… wait for it… pieces for a fifth player! Adding The Dark Mountains to Champions of Midgard is worth it for the sheer amount of new and interesting options without the need to learn a ton of rules. Just open it up and mix it in with your existing game. Your gaming group will pick it up in no time at all… and honor you for sharing Odin’s feast with them.
Where The Dark Mountains adds a breadth of new components to the familiar gameplay mechanics of Champions of Midgard, the Valhalla expansion adds a ton of depth in the form of all-new mechanics.
The namesake Valhalla makes its debut as an add-on sideboard that houses a couple very fun new types of cards: Valkyrie Blessings and Epic Monsters. Now, if you’re only familiar with vanilla Champions of Midgard, you’re probably used to your core bit of decision-making being centered around the question of, “Do I risk these warriors to fight this enemy?” If you roll poorly, you could lose all your hard-earned warriors and have nothing to show for it. Well, with Valhalla, your fallen warriors become Sacrifice tokens – a new resource that actually rewards the kind of high-risk strategies that lead to losing your warriors in combat. Players can use their Sacrifice tokens after any round of combat to purchase new warriors (at the rate of three tokens for one warrior of any type… including the new types), or you can trade your tokens in for powerful Valkyrie Blessing cards or use them to battle Epic Monsters in Valhalla itself.
Valkyrie Blessings come in one of two forms – instant or permanent. Instant Blessings provide you with some sort of resource or warrior dice, plus give you the added bonus of being able to heal your Leader. (Yes, Valhalla gives you a new die and rules to represent your Leader in combat!) Permanenet Blessings confer some type of passive benefit for the remainder of the game, and give you a bit of Glory as well. The later in the game it is, the more Glory you score.
Epic Monsters are another way to spend the Sacrifice tokens you earn from losing warriors in battle. They represent the godly creatures that dwell in Valhalla who can only be slain by the warriors present with them in Valhalla.
Epic Monsters cost quite a bit of Sacrifice, and you need the right kind. But the benefits are huge – not only do you score a sizeable chunk of Glory immediately, but during end game scoring, you get a boost to your Glory for certain other sets you’ve collected. Going for the Epic Monsters is a competitive affair, since there’s only two (or three in larger games) in the entire game. Unlike other cards, Epic Monsters aren’t replenished when someone purchases them.
All in all, the Sacrifice mechanic is a brilliant addition since it keeps the economic engine chugging along even after your warriors perish. It opens up a ton of interesting strategies to consider – there are even instances where you may want to lose your warriors in battle.
Another all-new mechanic introduced in Valhalla is the addition of Leader dice. These blue warrior dice represent your Leader board – each player can only ever possess a single Leader die, and when it’s lost in combat and returned to the supply, it’s thematically “wounded” instead of being “killed.” You can commit your Leader die to combat just like any other warrior die. They’re fairly average dice, with a single blank face, two “hit” faces, and a “double hit” face. However, the other two faces are a helm icon which activates your Leader’s special ability immediately.
Each leader gets an Ability board that reminds you of what your special ability is. The first game we played, I was Hemming The Changer, and his ability “Rune Carver” allowed me to activate a Rune from the supply every time I rolled a helm. I got ridiculously lucky and rolled a helm in combat in each of the first four rounds, and got to activate the Rune of Gifts. (No one purchased it, so it was sitting in the supply every time!) Needless to say, I was rolling in resources, which allowed me to use my workers for more important things like purchasing longships and recruiting warriors.
As if all that wasn’t enough, Valhalla also comes with two more additional types of warrior dice. The pink berserker dice are a favorite as they work well with the Sacrifice mechanic. They’re insanely powerful with only a single blank face, two “hit” faces, and three “double hit” faces. However, they carry a downside – they are always the first to die in combat. This means they don’t last long… but, at least they are sent to glorious Valhalla! The other new type of warrior dice – shieldwarriors (I always want to call them shieldmaidens) – pair well with the aggressive berserker dice, as they have two faces that combine a “hit” with a “block.” Valhalla comes with a new Market Stall tile that allows you to convert any two warrior dice into two other types of warrior dice, but of course, you can always recruit berserkers and shieldmaidens by spending three sacrifice tokens of any type.
As if Champions of Midgard wasn’t good enough already, now I feel downright spoiled with the addition of The Dark Mountains and Valhalla. I can’t wait to get these on the table more so I can experiment with all the new amazingness packed into both of these expansions.
Until next time, gang, and to glorious Valhalla!