Updated: Oct 19, 2019
If you'll forgive the cocktail mix metaphor of myths, War of the 9 Realms has finally emerged from development hell. War of the 9 Realms is designed by Robbie Munn and published by Wotan Games. It has been demoed at the UK Games Expo for the past couple of years, so it's great to finally see the finished product.
War of the 9 Realms is a tactical combat game built around Norse mythology. Players each control one of four of the races that inhabit the Norse Nine Realms (Norsemen; Aesir; Dark Elves; Ice Jotnar) and they are battling either to end up with the last warrior standing or to kill their opponents' rulers (as in Chess, each player has a piece that represents its 'king').
Although each player has a similar spread and number of pieces, what makes this game particularly interesting is that the factions are asymmetric: the equivalent pieces in each faction do not have exactly the same powers. The factions are decently balanced but they each play quite differently. The game can be played with two, three or four players, and the modular hexagonal tile board can be appropriately modified both for the number of players and for variety and increased tactical challenge. Players have to manage the effects of different terrain types which limit movement or line of sight for ranged attacks, and they can spend action points to alter terrain.
Players each start their turn with a pool of nine action points. They spend these in any way or combination they choose, including to move pieces and to attack. If a unit is attacked, it can counterattack but only if the defending player has action points left to spend on that counterattack. This means players always have to carefully balance their use of action points to be sure they maximise their impact without leaving the player unable to hit back if attacked. You'll find the dynamics and demands of defence and counterattacking capability vary noticeably with different player counts...
Combat in War of the 9 Realms uses 12-sided dice, with the attacker and defender both able to contribute 'fate cards' to modify the dice rolls (adding or subtracting from the roll, or forcing the attacker to re-roll). The attacker dishes out damage to a piece if, after modifiers, the total rolled equals or exceeds that piece's defence value.
This is the sort of game where you might have expected plastic minis but War of the 9 Realms actually uses cardboard standees. Fond as I am of plastic minis, I have no problem with standees. They don't need painting and they often score over minis for the clarity of display of key information: in this case, the unit type and, importantly, its defence value. The most basic units in this game (vanguard; valkyries, malformed; frost spirits) can take only one hit, so are eliminated if successfully attacked (though players can later spend an action point to respawn a fallen warrior). More powerful pieces can take multiple hits (3, 4 or 5, depending on the unit). Hits on these units are marked with tokens on the players' boards. The tokens supplied are tiny cardboard chits, no bigger than the punch out holes you will have thrown away in other games. If, like me, you find these annoyingly fiddly, it's not difficult to find tokens from another game to offer a more substantial substitute.
War of the 9 Realms is easy to learn but its asymmetry and variable set up makes for a challenging tactical game. The game is also scaleable in difficulty. Once you've mastered playing with the 'Heroic' factions, you can flip the boards over to play them in the 'Epic' versions where each unit has two or three special abilities that can be deployed. And, as the name of the game suggests, Norse mythology has five more factions still held in reserve for possible future expansions. :-)