We gamers can be a bloodthirsty bunch. As soon as we find something we like, we start thinking about how long before it’ll die.
It’s not a board game, but World of Warcraft is the best example. It came out and became hugely successful. It conquered the MMO market, and with good reason: it was fun, there as tons of stuff to do, the world was engaging, and it played liked pixelated crack. But before long, every MMO that came out in its wake was the potential “WoW-killer,” the game that would knock WOW off its perch. Except Dungeons & Dragons Online couldn’t do it. The Lord of the Rings Online couldn’t do it. Two separate tries by Star Wars couldn’t do it. Even today, when it’s clear the real WoW-killer is probably WOW itself (not that it’s gotten terrible, but its growth was never going to be sustainable), people still wonder if the WoW-killer is on the horizon.
In short, we crave a success. And then we want to see it taken down so it doesn’t get too full of itself. The same thing happens with board games. Dominion became hugely popular, practically inventing the deckbuilding genre. And then every deckbuilder that came out after was the Dominion-killer, the game that would replace it in your collection. What was once revolutionary was now just waiting to become old news.
Which brings me around to Champions of Midgard. A few years ago, Wizards of the Coast, the Dungeons & Dragons/Magic: The Gathering people, released Lords of Waterdeep. It was a worker placement game set in the Forgotten Realms, and since WotC wasn’t really known for its board games, it came out to little fanfare. And promptly blew everybody away by being really damn good. You had set locations and locations that could be built, making each game unique. There was a quest system where you had to hire “adventurers” (i.e. collect cubes of different colors) to complete missions and score points. The action selections were limited, making every choice excruciating. People raved about, but, apart from an expansion relatively quickly after its release, WotC’s been content to just let it exist, preferring instead to focus on its dungeon crawl board games. Enter Champion of Midgard, a game very much in the same vein as Lords of Waterdeep: worker placement, limited spaces, randomized locations. And of course, the words “Waterdeep-killer” are now being bandied about.
Thing is, beyond the most superficial similarities, the games are pretty different. Midgard doesn’t have quest cards and adventurer cubes. Instead, it has Vikings represented by different dice. You recruit these vikings into your war band, using either to combat monsters threatening your village or sending them across the sea to battle epic monsters there. What’s neat is that there are three different types of dice, each with different strengths and weaknesses; white dice are a fairly basic attack, red dice have some more damage, black dice are awesome damage but zero defense, etc. And when you fight the monsters, the damage they do is represented by discarding dice. If a troll pops you for three damage, that’s three dice you have to get rid of, meaning you might not have enough Vikings left to finish it off. Kill the monsters and you earn glory, which is the victory point mechanism in the game. Yes, there’s an element of randomness (mitigated somewhat by favor tokens that allow re-rolls and rune cards that can mitigate minor disasters), but it’s also the key thing that keeps this from simply being Waterdeep Redux. In Waterdeep, you just keep gathering cubes until you have what you need, then you finish your quest. Here, you need to decide how you’re going to use your Vikings, and manage the resources that support them. And even then, you run the risk of losing them before the fight is done. It’s a nice bit of uncertainty that Waterdeep lacks.
But you’re not going to hear me call Champions of Midgard a Waterdeep-killer, because both games have their place. I don’t feel like I have to stop playing one because I also like the other. Granted, I’d probably choose Midgard if given the option between the two, but that’s probably a case of being the new hotness, not of Waterdeep suddenly being a bad game. We gamers need to stop being so binary, so set on thinking that if two games do something well, one has to replace the other. We’ve got plenty of room in libraries for similar experiences, provided they each bring something unique to the table. Who wants their game room littered with the shells of dead games?