I have always enjoyed playing the board games that I own by Mayfair Games, including Five Points: The Gangs of New York, Giza the Great Pyramid, Booty, The Downfall of Pompeii, and of course The Settlers of Catan. The gameplay is always deep and rich, the mechanics are solid and usually the components are serviceable, while not being too flashy or verbose. With this thought in mind last fall while at my FLGS (Family Time Games), I came across a game I had never seen before from Mayfair. It was Asgard’s Chosen!
As it was Viking themed game I was immediately intrigued by the lovely art on the front of the box. As I picked up the game and searched on my smart phone for people’s comments and thoughts on gameplay, I couldn’t find much. The tag line under the title on the front of the box reads as follows “A Clever Game of Land Domination + Deck Manipulation”. As I read that description, I thought to myself that this was a tall order to create a game with those two mechanics that would work well. I then thought of another game that I’ve enjoyed in the past that combined those two elements very well, Mage Knight! I love Mage Knight and thought if WizKids could do it, why couldn’t Mayfair. So I bought the game for the very affordable price of $34.99 and even got the Artifacts expansion for free.
What is Asgard’s Chosen About?
From the Mayfair Games website we read the following: It is the end of the Bronze Age! A new era begins. Only recently have you discovered how to extract iron from the ore in the peat bogs, and it’s best to use your new discovery before others use it against you. As a Teutonic lord, your duty is to ensure your family line is preserved and that your land prospers and grows. Of course, every other lord seems to be thinking the same thing. The gods grant favors both to control creatures and to aid your goals. Make the proper sacrifices to the Æsir to appease their whims, and you will win the game.
In Asgard’s Chosen, your goal is to improve the potency of your deck by recruiting creatures into your armies to be able to achieve the desires of the gods. Each god has a request and will help you to gain ground in your ultimate goal of ruling the land. You use the favor of the gods to aid your cause, and in return you appease their desires. In order to win you will need to appease the various gods in your deck. Appeasing gods requires dramatic losses to your position or the composition of your deck, or in other words a sacrifice! When you appease the appropriate number of gods, the game ends, and whoever has appeased the most gods wins.
The game board is composed of different landscape tiles including Mountains, Forest, Hills, Scrub, Bog and Lakes. Each tile contains two different terrain types and an enchanted land. Players will create the board in the beginning of the game by joining the tiles together either in one of the prescribed setups or randomly. City tiles are used to fill in some of the open spaces on the map not used by enchanted lands. There are also a number of different kinds of cards in the game: God Cards, Creature Cards, Town Item Cards, Enchanted Item Cards and Event Cards. Players build a deck with these cards to take over land and to battle each other.
Asgard’s Chosen plays with 2-4 players, and includes both a solitaire version and a two-player co-op version. I have not tried the solitaire or co-op versions.
Summary of Gameplay
My purpose in doing this review is not to delve in depth about the actual gameplay or the strategy involved with doing well in the game but to simply give a quick overview of the different elements, components and to give a quick rundown of how the game play works so you will have a general idea of the flow of the game. You will have to read and study the rulebook to fully understand the gameplay, including its many finer points and obscure rules.
So to start off, each player will get their own deck of 10 god cards. Each player has all the same god cards and they are used in two ways. First, they can be played during the God Phase (see below for more detailed explanation) which will grant you a nice power or favor each turn. Secondly, these cards can also be played as currency or influence in order to defeat creatures in terrain tiles you are exploring or to recruit new creatures to your armies from the Tisch. These cards are also how you score points and eventually win the game (once again, more on that later). The starting player will draw 5 cards, second player gets 6 and the third and fourth players will draw 7 cards as their initial hand.
After that, you’ll do a mini draft of cards. You’ll take out all the “S” cards from the gold bordered creature deck and each player will select or draft one to add to their starting hand. Going counter-clockwise from the person to the right of the start player and passing the remaining hand of “S” cards to the right. After each player has selected one, you will shuffle the remaining “S” cards into the deck. These cards include weapons such as bows (Skadi’s Bow) that will offer a +2 power in combat, enchanted items that will provide special abilities such as being able to muster a card from the Barrows by discarding the item (Wio FÆrstice), or returning played cards to your hand (Mersurburg Chant).
Then comes setup of the tiles. I won’t go into detail about it, but you basically draw one, add it to the previously placed tiles and place a town token that touches 2 terrain types. You’ll need the 3 starting tiles in addition to other tiles based on player count. 7 total for 2 players, 9 for 3 player and 11 for 4 players. You can also use the pre-determined setup for the Introductory Scenario. Once the map is complete, you’re almost ready to start playing.
You then shuffle all the gold bordered cards together, place out 8 as the initial Tisch (table in German) in 2 rows of 4 cards. These will be the cards that you can eventually recruit during the Muster Phase to add to your deck. Normally you’re only allowed to buy from the bottom row, but you can get special access to the top cards during the game. When one card is bought from the bottom row, the top card slides down and a new one replaces its place on the top row. After you’ve built your terrain and setup your Tisch, you’ll be placing down your Heroes onto the newly created map. In turn order, you will place down a hero and a control marker and gain a card matching that terrain type from the Tisch. You’re now ready to start playing.
This phase, in turn order, you’re allowed to play 1 god card of your choice from your hand and gain it’s favor for that round. The difficult decision comes into play as the god you played for the favor cannot also be appeased that same round. Usually the gods favor also typically works hand in hand with the Appease text, but since you can’t appease a god you’ve already played, you really have to use the other god cards in conjunction with one other. For example, Thor gives you +1 power to each attack this round, but his appease power is to vanquish a defending hero. This seems like a fairly simple and innocuous phase but in my opinion is the most important phase in the game. This is where planning must be done! You must look at your cards, what is available in the Tisch to recruit and what gods you possibly could appease during the round, before making your decision to play a god or not. I have chosen not to play a god card in this phase because I knew I needed the power or influence to fight or recruit or I had a plan for how I could appease one of the gods in my hand. After everyone has either played a god card or passed, we move onto the next phase.
Again, this phase in turn order, you’re allowed to play 1 item card from your hand that has the Chalice icon on it (see the item in the bottom right hand corner of the picture below). It will take effect for the rest of the round as long as it’s still in play. After everyone has played a card or passed, we move onto the meat of the game. Item cards are very important and must be obtained throughout the game. They act as a benefit or power for multiple actions or attacks in the round and therefore improve the efficiency of your deck. I always look to recruit these cards first when possible as they are generally more efficient, meaning they offer multiple benefits or act as a benefit for multiple actions.
This is the highly involved part, but it’s rather simple once you get your head around the actions available and how to do them. Essentially it comes down to this: On your turn, you’re allowed to optionally move one of your heroes that hasn’t moved yet this turn. He/She can move through any/all adjacent controlled land that you possess (connected land tiles that you have control of with a cube placed on) and attempt to attack an occupied (opponent controlled) territory or attack an unoccupied (neutral) territory. Fighting against the unoccupied territory is typically easier to defeat than going up against opponent controlled territory. After you’ve moved your character into either of these type of spaces (moving is optional and moving into friendly territory does not trigger a battle), you’ll draw 2 cards off the top of the creature deck. If monsters show up they are referred to as militia, you typically will have to fight them off before you’re able to conquer the land. Each monster has a terrain type that they excel in and one that they cannot attack/survive in. Any monsters that have an opposing type to that terrain that you’re attacking get banished and don’t add to the battle. Sometimes you’ll get lucky and go unopposed and sometimes you walk into an ambush of very powerful creatures. Any monsters that match the same terrain type get a bonus and become stronger to fight against. Not only that, but if you’re fighting against player controlled terrain with a hero in it, they’ll get a bonus card (bodyguard) in addition to the 2 militia drawn earlier and they will also get to play cards from their hand to fend you off. Attacking someone with a full hand of cards can be a waste of a turn if you’re not ready for it. The battle basically proceeds as follows: Attacker plays cards, Defender CAN play cards but doesn’t have to, Attacker can play more cards using the Berserker Attack and whoever has the higher total wins; in the case of a tie, the defender wins. Whoever wins the battle, gets to control the contested land and place a cube and the next player may proceed with their turn. If the defender loses with a hero in play, they vanquish their hero (knock him over) and that hero can’t battle or act this round. You’ll do this phase for each hero, one at a time in turn order. After everyone has optionally moved each of their two heroes, we then move on to the card recruiting step.
This is how deck building happens in the game. As you conquer new land types and control them, this opens up the possible creatures that you are allowed to recruit, meaning you have to own a terrain type of the creature that you are interested in recruiting. So, in order to recruit a Mountain Duergar, you must control a mountain terrain. In order to directly recruit from the top line you must control the territory and have one of your heroes in that terrain. Getting those cards into your hand makes it easier later on to buy more of that same type as they have synergy bonuses. Starting with the first player, you’re allowed to buy 1 card out of the Tisch. So if you’ve kept enough “money/influence” cards in your hand, you can purchase a card of the terrain type that you have control over. These cards really can swing a battle your way and getting a diverse selection in your hand can really be a boon. This is also the phase where event cards can show up when refilling the Tisch. The event cards can be permanent or a one time boon/bane. These change how the game is played and can really make things interesting.
This phase is the clean up step where you’ll discard any god/chalice cards in front of you played during the God or Charm Phase and discard as many cards as you’d like from your hand. Draw back up to 7 cards, pass the cool hammer 1st player marker to the next player and you are ready to start over again. This is also where you’ll check for victory. You remember those god cards? As mentioned earlier, they have an appease condition on them. Each round, you’re allowed to appease up to one god card if it’s symbol matches that phase. That god then comes out of your deck and becomes a victory point for you. In a standard game, you need 5 points to win and getting the 5th god or more appeased that round will signal the game end. You can also do a shortened game that requires 4 gods being appeased or an Epic game that takes 7 gods to be appeased for victory.
What I Liked about Asgard’s Chosen
Gameplay – Gameplay is really where this game shines. Deck building isn’t the main focus of this game and neither is area control. They both blend nicely and you need to have a balance of each part if you want to win. Each offer a fresh new take to the genre and compliment each other. The game played relatively quickly and there was plenty of action to keep you engaged. Reading all the cards, planning out your next move and making tough decisions about which cards to play and what to keep so that you’ll actually have money to muster makes this game really something special. Hand management is key as well as controlling the right areas at the right times. Should I use this card to fight this creature so I can control this terrain, or do I save it to be able to muster? Hard choices abound! Each of the cards have special abilities that are usually only triggered when attacking that specific terrain.
Appeasing Gods as Victory Condition – This is a brilliant use of the phase. I love that I have to be able to meet their demands and then have to offer a sacrifice (or remove something, either control cubes, cards or creatures). This also requires a great deal of preplanning and thought as you have to know each round how you are going to address the needs of one of the gods before it is used and out of your hand. I also like how players can also get lost in the goal of recruiting new and more powerful cards while overlooking the basic goal of the game which is to appease the gods. It is true that you need more powerful cards to succeed, but you don’t need a glut of them and should be working toward your main goal first.
Art – The art on the cards and the box is very well done and thematic. I love the ancient Nordic script used and the colors are great.
Theme – The theme of Viking conquest is well integrated into gameplay with plenty of combat, great artifacts and ancient relics, a reference to the Barrows and the many creatures of Norse myth and legends. The best part of the theme and gameplay is the Berserker Attack option when you are tied or losing a battle as the attacker you can go berserk and spend more cards to come to a triumphant conclusion to a key battle.
What I Didn’t Like about Asgard’s Chosen
Components – Mayfair Games never knocks it out of the park with their components, but these are not great. The heroes are simply reused molds from other games (the female warrior is from Walnut Grove) and the tiles are not great either as the printing seems washed out and wavy and they are not much to look at. I am pleased with the card art and layout but the cards are thin and will bend easily over time. The worst part though is the player aides. They were included bound in the printed rule book and you have to carefully tear them out and then cut them out following the guide lines. They are very thin, glossy paper so will not last through many plays.
Box Insert – The box insert is not made for this game and is deplorable. I cannot fathom why Mayfair didn’t put a little more care into this game as it obviously has some great game play. This lack of attention to details is what has kept this game in obscurity.
Rules – the rules are not well written and there needs to be an index included at the back of the booklet as it was a little hard to find references to specific rules as they came up and needed to be referenced.
I really enjoy Asgard’s Chosen and am glad that I have it in my collection. My group enjoyed the gameplay and look forward to playing again in the future. This is a game that does offer replayability and has such good mechanics, that it will remain interesting and challenging even after many games. There have also been 2 mini-expansions released for the game since 2013 including Artifacts and Little Ice Age. I also am very impressed with the designer Morgan Dontanville, especially since this was his first game design. He has skillfully integrated two difficult to meld mechanics and most importantly kept the game playable and FUN! I believe that I will keep my eyes on him in the future.