The world is coming to an end. An endless winter has descended, freezing the land and forcing the people to the brink of destruction. What is left of the Vikings live in small groups, slowly making their way through what little stores they have left. However Vikings never go down without a fight. There are other groups out there with stores, which they will defend with their lives. And a glorious death means an eternal life in Valhalla. The final battle of Ragnaroll may be approaching, but now is the time for great deeds and glory!
Ragnaroll is a dice game for 3-4 players. In it players guide their Vikings through The Great Winter, raiding rivals for food and also protecting what little stores they have left. The players Viking warriors are represented by dice, red dice for beserkers, yellow dice for shieldmaidens, black dice for dogs and white dice for heroes. At the start of the game each player chooses a hero character. These heroes have special rules and abilities, and are mighty warriors in their own right.
During each turn a Fate card is in play. This is randomly drawn from a deck of Fate cards, and they provide bonuses or challenges to players over the turn.
Each turn players are tasked with splitting their Vikings into raiders and defenders. Raiders go out into the winter, stealing valuable stores from other players and killing all who get in their way. Defenders protect the stores a player has accrued. Killing, or being killed, earns a player Glory. This can be spent on their Heroes abilities to grant bonuses.
At the end of each turn players expend stores to feed their Vikings to keep them in play. Unfed Vikings starve, and are removed to Valhalla to await Ragnaroll.
There are three victory conditions, which any player can achieve. The ‘Last Viking Standing’ condition means that you win if you are the only remaining player with human Vikings alive. The ‘Ragnaroll’ condition happens when all players run out of stores, or all human Vikings are dead. This instigates a final climactic battle, where players spend Glory to buy Vikings from Valhalla and roll off against each other. The ‘Glory Victory’ is achieved if a player gathers the Glory number indicated on their heroes character sheet.
The core of Ragnaroll is quite simple. Combat revolves around rolling dice and comparing values, and is the main task of the game. Axes kill Viking warriors, while shields cancel out axes. A dagger provides an unblockable attack, a treacherous stab from behind. The snake is a failed roll, the Viking has been wounded or wandered off. The Eye of Odin provides a reroll, with varying effects depending on how many are rolled.
Stores are needed to feed, and ultimately keep, your Vikings. So they are an important commodity that requires defending. However, stealing stores from other players is the only way to gain more. This offers a tactical choice for players, in how they distribute their raiders and defenders. In the later part of the game this can be quite important, as stores dwindle and there is a single turn between a players Vikings and starvation.
There are not a lot of components to the game, so artwork is limited. However, where illustrations and design are needed, they are exceptionally well done. Each hero has an amazing and detailed character illustration on their card which really evokes a sense of rawness and power. The dice icons are simplified, but distinct enough from each other that you can tell at a glance what they are. Everything is contained in a simple colour palette of white, pale blue-grey and vivid red. This provides a tangible visual link to the games core themes, The Great Winter and bloody sacrifice.
Unfortunately, where Ragnaroll failed for me was in the complexity. I am not averse to a complex game, but even though the core mechanics of Ragnaroll are quite simple to understand, they exist in a very elaborate and methodical hierarchy of sequences.
Each turn has dozens of moving parts, and a multitude of little rules to remember. It also appears to rely on the assumption that a player will choose the optimal play in any given situation. For experienced players this is probably second nature. However, for those just starting out, the game can be quite baffling.
Recently I ran a number of games of Ragnaroll with players of varying experience and game tastes. The initial interest with the game was high, most were drawn in by the fantastic visuals and engaging theme. And while people were quick to grasp the fundamentals, they quickly became lost in the minutia of the rules. There didn’t appear to be a lot of facility for spontaneous and reckless actions. Contrary to what you would think about Vikings, this game promotes a very planned and forward thinking approach.
I can see how this can appeal to certain types of players, people who enjoy knowing a system and how they should respond in certain situations. With repeated and regular plays I think the game would eventually ‘click’, allowing players to break through that confusing barrier and really enjoy the experience.
At the moment I would only recommend this game for experienced players, primarily people who enjoy the challenge of learning the nuances of a system or are interested in optimal play. This definitely isn’t a game for brand new entrants to the tabletop game hobby, or those who don’t have a high appreciation for dice games.
Having said that, it is beautifully designed, and would look fantastic in any game collection.