Ragnaroll: A Preview

Disclaimer: I first played an early iteration of this game at last year’s OzComicCon where I first met Jason, the creator, for an interview. Since I enjoyed my experience, I jumped at the opportunity to preview the final game. I will probably pledge to the Kickstarter of this game when it come up because, spoilers, I like the game.

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The world of Ragnaroll has the feel of a heavy metal fantasy and would not be out of place painted on the side of a van in the 80’s. Ragnarok (the Norse apocalypse) has come to the game world and the sun has been devoured as the God’s enter their final battle. In this bleak frozen realm, each player takes control of a Viking hero and his small and quickly dwindling tribe that must fight for supplies and survival.

Game play wise, Ragnaroll is a dice game for three to four players.  Each player begins the game with a bunch of dice that represent Viking Warriors, 10 Supply Stores, and three points of ‘Glory’ which are used to power abilities.  Your tribe consists of one ‘Hero’, two ‘Viking Beserkers’, one ‘Shield Maiden’ and a ‘Dog’.  Each turn players must secretly decide how many of their Vikings will go raiding and how many will stay behind to guard their own camp from raids.  Then, simultaneously, everyone reveals their decision.  The player with the smallest raiding party then gets to decide which player will go raiding first (and there is an element of strategy in this decision as well).  The chosen player then decides who they are going to raid and a battle ensues.

Example of different dice: Hero (White), Berserker (Red), and Shield Maiden (Yellow)

When a battle occurs the two players roll off their raiding and defending dice/vikings respectively and the results determine the winner. Axe symbols represent an attack and a double axe symbol counts as two. A shield icon will block out any axe result from any one die, whether it’s one or two axes. An eye of Odin will allow you to reroll that die and any other die, even that of an opponent. In case of multiple eyes, they all need to be rerolled and if an eye is rolled again, it will do nothing. The snake sign of Loki is a negative result and will result in a wound if the die/viking in question was defending and death if the viking was attacking. Lastly there’s the dagger, a symbol unique to the hero die and will allow the player to kill off one of the opposing vikings after the battle is done.

This dice roll mechanic is further complimented by abilities present on the character card of different heroes. All of them share two common abilities that cost one glory, changing your hero die to the result of your choice or rerolling up to two of your vikings. After all the rerolls and abilities are used, the player that rolled the most axes wins the battle. The number of axes you win by is how many enemy you may choose to kill off, and if you are the raider you have the added option of instead choosing to steal any number of supplies, only limited by the number of your raiding party. This means that if you have a two viking strong raiding party you may only choose to steal up to two stores and must choose some kills if you won the battle by more than two.

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An example of a hero card with the flip side for when she is killed.

Raiding and defending is repeated until all players have raided and then each player returns home to feed their tribe. Each Viking will consume one ‘store’ a turn to survive or must be forced out into the icy wasteland to wander and die. When in a pinch and you really want to save that one viking from starvation and death, you can also choose to eat your dog, because hey, they are vikings. After the feeding is done, the round begins anew.

The main win condition of the game is to be the last viking standing when every other tribe has been wiped out. You can also introduce alternate win conditions once you are familiar with the game, such as ‘final battle’ which occurs when all of the players have run out of food. In such a case, all remaining players enter a giant melee in which shields are meaningless and the player with the most axes emerges victorious. There is also the glory win condition where the player that first obtains a certain amount of glory wins.

This core game play loop may sound simple enough but with a fate deck that adds additional elements to every turn, heroes with diverse passive and active abilities, and alternate abilities if your hero dies, the game reveals a hidden complexity. I particularly enjoy the social engineering aspect of the player who wins the initiative choosing who gets to raid first. It would be a mistake to presume there is the one correct raiding order to choose since it’s as much playing the players as playing the game. Most of the time, your next choice of who will raid will be dependent on who the last player chose to raid. You will be subtly encouraging revenge, hoping to weaken a player’s defences or simply trying to prevent a certain hero’s power from activating by shutting down necessary conditions. These decisions are vital to offset the small raiding party you chose in order to win the initiative.

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The fate deck and example of the conditions it can introduce to the game.

As someone who is ‘that guy’ that is always trying to introduce different tabletop games to friends that would be perfectly happy with simpler or more classic games like ‘Cards Against Humanity’ and ‘Pictionary’, the ease of learning and the speediness of Ragnaroll is a huge draw for me. While I’d say it’s easy to learn, I wouldn’t recommend everyone simply reading the entirety of the rules as it’s going to be hard to parse the whole thing. Someone is going to have to take one for the team and learn the rules before teaching the group with a practice game. Some aspects of the game, such as the order of roll, rerolls, and abilities usage during battles, are much more intuitive in action. When everyone gets the hang of the rules, it should flow well and most games should run not longer than half an hour.

A prerequisite for enjoying Ragnaroll is of course, that you have to enjoy dice games. Even with competent mechanics and reroll abilities, it is still a dice game and sometimes the most logical plays will be ended by the worst rolls. This is not designed as some intense match of skill you can power-game but rather more skewed towards fun and accessibility. Usually for party games, player elimination is actually an unwelcome mechanic as it simply shuts out one player from the rest of the fun. Ragnaroll overcomes this problem with every hero having abilities on the flip side of their card that allows you to bring the hero back into the game as long as certain conditions are met and you have enough glory. This glimmer of hope keep eliminated players engaged in the rest of the game as, if triggered at the right opportune moment, it’s quite possible to grab victory from the jaws of defeat.

Thematic!

Thematic!

The accessible appeal of this game actually lead me to one complaint I have about it. The game being set for 3-4 players seem quite a narrow window considering its capacity to appeal as a party game, especially if alcohol is involved. However, the player limit could be a limitation set by the cost of production. So there’s nothing stopping you from picking up two and turning it into a 8 player game, especially since Jason stated that he was considering adding more hero characters as stretch goals.

The main appeal of this game for me is its theme. It doesn’t just feel like a dice game with viking fluff, it feels thematically viking. This is a game of acceptable losses where it doesn’t reward you for playing it safe. For example, even if you set your whole tribe at defending and prevent any stores from being raided, you’d still only have 2 turns before you are unable to feed your tribe entirely. In other words, it’s not only okay to sacrifice a few vikings, it’s actively encouraged, especially with fate cards and hero abilities that reward you with glory when your vikings die in battle when certain conditions are met. It is a game that rewards risky gambits with long odds and it seems fitting for a game about vikings in the post-ragnarok world.

If either the setting or the idea of a fun dice game with tight mechanics appeal to you, I recommend you don’t let this pass by. Check out the kickstarter and have a closer look at the art, the contents and the gameplay video. If they all seem to be to your liking, well, anytime you can support a local designer by grabbing a cool game is a win in my book.

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