Champions of Midgard accessibility teardown

Champions of Midgard (2015) – Accessibility Teardown

Game Details
NameChampions of Midgard (2015)
ReviewMeeple Like Us
ComplexityMedium [2.60]
BGG Rank97 [7.78]
Player Count2-4
Designer(s)Ole Steiness
Artist(s)Víctor Pérez Corbella
Buy it!Amazon Link (Commisions earned)

Version Reviewed

English first edition

Introduction

Champions of Midgard didn’t exactly get our blood boiling with berserker rage. Fundamentally it’s a version of Lords of Waterdeep that sacrifices the nuance and intricacy of an evolving cityscape for the uncertainty of dice rolls. It’s competent but there are so many excellent worker placement games out there that it’s reasonable for consumers to demand more. That said, it’s in the BGG Top 100 at the time of writing and so clearly the consensus of hobbyists is considerably warmer than the rather icy perception I have of it. We gave it three stars in our review. It’s basically okay!

As usual though, we shouldn’t spend too much time talking about its merits as a game – not here. Here we have other monsters to battle – the sinister draugr revetments of inaccessibility that lurk in the burial mounds of every title we cover on the site. Grab your swords, we’ve got work to do.

Colour Blindness

There’s something of a problem here in that worker meeples exhibit varying degrees of clash across our usual categories of colour blindness:

Colour blindness and meeples

When viewed together it’s easy enough in many cases to see the differences due to the specific hues chosen – but unfortunately mostly you won’t be assessing them together. You’ll be looking at them in isolation across a very large and busy board:

Colour blindness and meeples on the board

This is also going to be a problem when looking at score markers:

Score markers and colour blindness

And in the two different kinds of cubes in the game – wood and food.

Colour blindness and cubes

It’s the latter of these that is perhaps the most egregious problem. It’s relatively rare that it matters particularly who has taken a location. What matters most is that you know it is unavailable to you. Scoring discs can be replaced with any other preferred token, and this may be necessary because the game involves a degree of ‘score redistribution’ through the blame mechanics. You’re going to want to know who is in the lead so you can decide appropriately in the event you get to penalise someone for their troll-related cowardice. Still, token replacement will be an effective strategy at this part of the game.

The cubes though are two of the main currency forms of the game and they are virtually indistinguishable for anyone with our standard colour blindness categories. Very close inspection is needed under even moderately poor lighting conditions and it’s not always going to be effective. Wood and food are used for two different things, and miscalculating how many of either you have may have massive consequences. If you claim a longship thinking you have four food, only to find two of them are really wood, there are massive implications for your voyage. Given how combats are resolved at the end of the round rather than when warriors are allocated, it will often not be possible to ‘roll back’ to that decision point.

In almost every circumstance there is a chance that all of these tokens will need to be replaced with some other easily identifiable alternative. Luckily they don’t have any special role to play in the game other than as a currency and so that’s a feasible compensation. It shouldn’t be necessary though.

The dice you use are at least easy to differentiate, and while the monsters are coded into sets the specific colours used are usually possible to tell apart . Asking about the colour of specific monsters though is going to leak a considerable amount of gameplay information regarding the sets you’re most likely favouring.

We don’t recommend Champions of Midgard in this category.

Visual Accessibility

Card text is often presented in an unnecessarily ornamented font that can make things difficult to read:

Rune cards

Although this isn’t actually universally true:

Journey cards

The game makes use of lots of dice, but unusually these are unlikely to be too much of a problem provided there are sighted players available to interpret results. Here, all the dice are identification in terms of their faces – the only thing that changes is the specific meaning of what their faces mean and that gets resolved at the allocation phase. Some monsters cannot be damaged by warriors wielding swords for example, and a query such as ‘How many dice to do I have without swords’ would give a player all the information they need about chance of success with regards to probability.

Troll card

Monster cards are usually reasonably well structured, with the damage the monster does in the top left and the health they have in the top right. Victory point values are presented in a poorly contrasted circle, but the odd thing is this is done inconsistently through the game. Rune cards for example make use of multiple circles to indicate points totals as you can see above.

Merchant ship cards make poor use of their considerable real estate, employing poorly contrasted icons to indicate the exchange rate of commerce.

Merchant ship

The size of the board too is a considerable accessibility challenge, meaning close inspection of the board (which is often poorly contrasted and not well differentiated into action squares) is often necessary and difficult. This is offset somewhat by the fact several locations will have dice and cubes to indicate their contents. Other things like the Worker Huts are all but hidden in the artwork of the board. The Sage’s House or the Market are easy to miss as well if you don’t already know they’re present. The board is full of information that isn’t easy to make out unless you’re already prepped to find it.

Large board

The amount of food needed to make a voyage is noted in the space between the journey card and its target, and it’s not well contrasted because it occasionally blends into the background. Dice icons in particular are a problem because the ‘wild dice’ icon is difficult to tell apart from other icons. It’s just not good iconographic design – so much free space on the board, and yet key information is crammed into out of the way nooks. It keeps the board looking aesthetically pleasing but it makes the game considerably less accessible.

Overall we don’t recommend Champions of Midgard in this category.

Cognitive Accessibility

Numeracy is stressed in a few ways – primarily in terms of probability (which is occasionally weighted by the other factors in the game), and the exchanging of resources for different numbers of other resources. For example, a voyage takes a unit of food for one or two dice depending on where a ship is going. Sometimes a merchant ship will offer a trade of a coin for several other things and the value of that trade is going to depend on what the availability of those resources is likely to be in the future.

This is particularly going to be true when it comes to picking dice. If all the monsters available for killing are immune to swords and/or spears then it massively inflates the importance, at least

temporarily, of axes. As such, it might be a better deal to spend a coin to get two axes than it would be to get four swords for free. It all depends on the economy of the board and the unpredictable distribution of monsters and draugr.

The unconventional vocabulary too decouples action from description. While literacy is not heavily stressed in play (pretty much just in location descriptions, which can be internalised and rune cards which cannot) it’s still a feature of play. We’ve made this point elsewhere on the blog – a good, comprehensible theme is an accessibility aid because it offers a real world context for actions. If you activate a fisher and get a fish – that’s a valuable cognitive affordance. Here though you might activate a ‘smokehouse’ to get food and that’s not quite as intuitive for most people. You might also activate the ‘Aumingi’ to trade food for the favour of the gods and I don’t even know what’s that’s supposed to mean. The actual effect is noted in the iconography but it’s not quite as instantly tractable as it would be in a less exotic context.

There is a similar feature in the monsters in that you often won’t really know what you’re supposed to be fighting – what’s a Dreki versus a Lindwurm versus an Elojotnar versus a Draugr? I know some of this from reading around Viking mythologies and playing Skyrim but I don’t think it’s standard general knowledge. This would be a problem were it not for the fact that there is functionally no difference between the actual monster types. You fight based on their icons, not based on their monstrous characteristic. It’s a bit of a missed opportunity though. ‘Jotnar can’t be killed with swords’, or ‘lindwurms are immune to spears’. Instead, immunities, strengths and weaknesses are all largely random.

A point we made in the review was that the rolling of a dice adds massive error bars to the strategic space. At best you’re shifting odds in your favour by adding new dice but it lacks any reliable predictability of the results. Since dice allocation needs a lot of things to line up there’s a considerable stressing here of fluid intelligence. You need to get the right dice, to the right place, at the right time with the right supporting resources. In a lot of worker placement games that would be sufficient to accomplish something but there’s a possibility, moderated by number of allocated dice, that it’ll end up giving you nothing to show for all that effort. Not only that, you’ll lose all the assigned dice and in some cases be penalised further with blame tokens.

You don’t just have to line up your dice with the monsters, but also the monsters and your resources with your hidden goals. They will be a very significant part of your scoring and knowing how to marshal your warriors, resources and accomplishments to gain these points can be difficult.

Game flow is reliable until the combat phase at which point it becomes more difficult to follow. Combats are resolved in an order that may not match up to player turns and combats may take several rounds with state tracking between. The order of play can be changed by someone taking the Jarl’s Longhouse action, and thus the position a player has in a round cannot be relied upon. This has a considerable implication for the strategic elements we discussed above – being able to take an action depends on that action being available by the time your turn comes around. If you really needed food for a planned journey but someone uses the smoke house before you it might undermine all your future plans.

There are a lot of tokens and pieces too in the game. There are three different types of dice, personal longships, food and wood cubes, money, favour tokens, runes, destinies, shifting merchant ships, voyage cards, monsters with set bonuses, and more. Really, there are too many different kinds of components for it to be comfortable and this has an implication for not just the game but also its setup and teardown time. There are some intensely synergistic elements too, mostly as part of the rune cards. These can be deployed at particular times to take advantage of situational emergent scenarios in the game and understanding when and why to deploy them is important.

Some actions in the game permit players to ‘peek’ at parts of the hidden game state, and this must be held in memory unless everyone is happy with that player consulting that information again later in the round.

We don’t recommend Champions of Midgard in either of our categories of cognitive accessibility.

Emotional Accessibility

Imagine spending all your round acquiring resources to send an army of warriors to kill a monster that will shower your troops with riches and glory. You load up a boat with food and soldiers. You read the journey card – it’s all clear. Everything is going fine. You get to the shore and roll your dice… and everything comes up blank. You spend a favour token to reroll… and only get a single hit. The monster wipes out three of your dice. You try again with your diminished detachment. Again, only a single hit. The monster needs three to be killed, and you just lost all of your dice. You pay another favour token. Nothing. All that work. All that effort. You got nothing, and lost everything.

For some people that’s going to add to the thrill of the game. For others it is going to feel profoundly unfair especially if you see someone else throw a couple of spare dice at a powerful enemy and win without a loss. The dice are heavily weighted towards incompetence – they roll nothing more often than they roll anything useful. If this was just ‘roll poorly and you get nothing’ that would be one thing. This is ‘roll poorly and you lose everything’ and undoing the damage of a series of bad rolls can lose you your next turn or two. If that happens to you early on, you may as well concede the entire game.

It’s even worse than this though because if you take a foreign journey you may discover the journey requires you to discard food or warriors before you even get there – so you may find yourself going into battle with considerably fewer resources than you thought you might have.

Coupled to this is the usual issue in a worker placement game of people taking spaces just to stop you getting the resources. This is especially problematic in Champions of Midgard because of the lag involved in getting any resources at all.

That’s not even the worst part of Champions of Midgard in this category. The worst part is that when someone slays a troll they get to give negative points to another player and that’s an issue both from the perspective of bullying and from the power it gives a player to kingmake in the final rounds.

Blame tokens by themselves don’t have a lot of negative weight – it’s only when you start acquiring them in large quantities that they become a major problem. That incentivises a player to ensure that blame goes where it’s going to do the most harm. Giving a blame token to someone with five tokens already means you cost them six points. Giving a token to someone that only has one means that you cost them two points. The maximum impact of blame goes with the player already most disadvantaged by its presence. It’s enough to rob someone the game in the end and it’s something the entire table can work together to bring upon another – especially if that player is seemingly in the lead.

As might be imagined, score differentials can be extremely high in Champions of Midgard. A combination of poor luck and targeted demerits can result in players being a hundred or more points apart. That comes with no lesson thing that the losing player can learn other than ‘roll better in the next game’.

We don’t recommend Champions of Midgard in this category.

Physical Accessibility

There’s a lot of dice rolling here and a lot of stretching over an extremely large board to see key information such as the strength of monsters or the exchange rates associated with changing merchant opportunities. Placement of dice and food on ship is complicated by their poky dimensions, and the player board that you have to indicate your clan leader has a set allocation of dice with their locations marked out on the front. It’s easily dislodged, but the impact is minimal. As long as you obey the limits to your dice (eight) it’s mostly decorative and informative.

Player board

However, whether a player has a physical issue with fine-grained or with gross motor control the size of the board is almost certainly going to be an issue. Every edge of it is used in some way, shape or form and there are a lot of tiny cards and tiny action spaces with equally tiny descriptions that must be examined. At least the dimensions of any associated action spaces tend to be accommodating because there is such a huge amount of otherwise unused space on the board.

Sometimes those tiny cards will need to be picked off of a board that seems reluctant to permit them to leave. Othertimes you need to check underneath and place them back where they were.

Board locations

Verbalisation though is reasonably straightforward. Every square has a unique name, there are only a handful of monsters on the board at a time. It’s possible to precisely articulate an instruction with minimal difficult. ‘Place my worker on the runesmith and spend my wood to take the Potential rune’. Or, ‘Place my meeple on the largest public longship’.

Allocating dice too is straightforward to verbalise – ‘take three sword warriors and place them on the troll’. After that, it’s a case of dice being rolled and players reacting to the result and there’s no requirement the player rolling the dice has to be the one making decisions. I will say though that in a game like this actually rolling the dice is part of the fun – you get a handful of up to eight hefty dice and there’s a tactile satisfaction associated with sending them off to their doom. In circumstances where a physical impairment prevents that, the game loses some of its charm.

Nonetheless, we’ll recommend, just, Champions of Midgard in this category.

Socioeconomic Accessibility

The box shows men and women battling with various supernatural mythological beings, and that’s mostly fine except perhaps for the cleavage window prominently displayed for the female Viking.

Champions of Midgard box

You get to choose from a number of clan leaders with specialised abilities here. On the one hand, they all look awesome. On the other hand, the women seem considerably less interested in protective armour than the men. Consider Svanhildr, the Swordmaiden:

Svanhildr

And then Dagrun, from the cover of the game:

Dagrun

She cares enough to protect her neck, but not enough to protect her cleavage window. Compare though Ullr to her right, and Asmundr and Gylfir below:

Characters in Champions

There’s no midriff bearing Chris Hemsworth equivalent here and it really feels like their should be for parity. I guess Gylfir might be topless but it’s hard to say with the Modesty Axe protecting him from objectifying gaze. So, plus points for recognising that there were women Viking warriors, but minus points for playing into the stereotype that women are more interested in showing their flesh in battle than protecting it.

And, as you probably would have guessed, the world of Champions of Midgard is very white.

Champions of Midgard has an RRP of £55 and while you certainly feel the heft of the box I’m less certain it has sufficient value to justify that price point given the competition. There is some variety in the game but fundamentally it doesn’t feel like it’s a title with a lot of staying power. The different clan leaders and building types introduce variety but they don’t really introduce much depth. For a game that maxes out at four players, it’s a poor value proposition when there are stronger games available for less. Lords of Waterdeep is only £40 for example.

We can only tentatively recommend Champions of Midgard in this category.

Communication

There is a fair amount of literacy required to play, but no other formal need for communication. What literacy is there is sometimes supported with iconography, but not always – particularly when it comes to the rune cards.

Rune cards

There aren’t enough of these that they need pose an intractable obstacle to play, but it’s something to bear in mind especially given the unconventional vocabulary (for some of us) that the various Viking terminologies introduce.

We’ll tentatively recommend Champions of Midgard in this category

Intersectional Accessibility

Well, we don’t have a lot of positive things to say here about Champions of Midgard so this is going to be a short section!

Physical impairments intersecting with language impairments are likely to be a problem when dealing with the often opaque vocabulary. Close inspection is often needed to examine iconography where in other games it might be a sufficient prompt to remember that if you go to the market you get a pig (or whatever). Similarly, the ease at which verbalisation is possible depends on how easy the locations are to articulate and some of them will suffer in that frame of reference.

The game plays more briskly than something like Lords of Waterdeep, stretching perhaps to two hours at the extremes of player count and accessibility support. Given the nature of the game this is easily enough to exacerbate issues of discomfort. The sheer sprawl of the game state means that it’s unlikely to be a game that lends itself well to leaving set up for later. Unless you have a huge house with spare tables, you’re going to need that space to live your life.

Conclusion

I wasn’t sure where Champions of Midgard was going to land in this teardown, but I didn’t really expect it to suffer quite so badly. As I occasionally say, I’m often as surprised by what a teardown shows as anyone.

Champions of Midgard, Meeple Like Us, [CC-BY 4.0]
CategoryGrade
Colour BlindnessD
Visual AccessibilityD
Fluid IntelligenceD
MemoryD
Physical AccessibilityB-
Emotional AccessibilityD
Socioeconomic AccessibilityC
CommunicationC

Really a lot of this is down to the nature of the rolling dice and how difficult Champions of Midgard makes it to build up a surplus of any of your resources. Losing a few dice stings. Losing all your dice and getting nothing for it can not only knock the wind out of your sails, it can sink your entire boat. That has implications for the emotional accessibility section and the cognitive section. For the board design, it’s mostly a case of sacrificing the user interface of the game for sheer acerage of the board. It looks nice, but that comes at a significant usability cost.

We liked Champions of Midgard enough to give it three stars. We liked it a bit. However, it’s a hard game to recommend in any axis. All I can say is ‘If you fancy an inaccessible version of Lords of Waterdeep where you roll dice instead of executing a grand strategy, you might like this’. That seems like a pretty lacklustre pitch though and I wouldn’t begrudge you for a second if you ignored it and tried another game instead.


A Disclaimer About Teardowns

Meeple Like Us is engaged in mapping out the accessibility landscape of tabletop games. Teardowns like this are data points. Games are not necessarily bad if they are scored poorly in any given section. They are not necessarily good if they score highly. The rating of a game in terms of its accessibility is not an indication as to its quality as a recreational product. These teardowns though however allow those with physical, cognitive and visual accessibility impairments to make an informed decision as to their ability to play.

Not all sections of this document will be relevant to every person. We consider matters of diversity, representation and inclusion to be important accessibility issues. If this offends you, then this will not be the blog for you. We will not debate with anyone whether these issues are worthy of discussion. You can check out our common response to common objections.

Teardowns are provided under a CC-BY 4.0 license. However, recommendation grades in teardowns are usually subjective and based primarily on heuristic analysis rather than embodied experience. No guarantee is made as to their correctness. Bear that in mind if adopting them.

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