What Sets it Apart: Ragnarok, Heavy Metal Combat in the Viking Age

The tabletop scene has exploded in the last few years, creating an endless wave of new content for gamers. While this is a great problem for the industry to have, it can make it difficult for consumers to know where to invest their time and money. In the “What Sets it Apart” series, I will explore the unique aspects of games; what does this game do that no one else is doing? I hope these can help you find the perfect game for you.

Ragnarok is a campaign based skirmish game, set in the aftermath of Ragnarok. Your survivng war clan must survive in a world where the gods are gone, their powers infiltrating the 9 realms as monsters rise from the new balance of power. Released in April of 2019, there have already been two exampansions, The Vanir and The Abyss. This article focuses on just the mechanics included in the core book.

There are no miniatures designed officially for the game, it allows players to build a War Clan featuring their favorite 30mm models. Given the flexibility of the setting, you could argue that Ragnarok happens centuries in the future, and your war clan is the last surviving squad of Space Marines and use your 40k miniatures. It makes for a low bar of entry, as all you need is the rulebook, 2d6 and 1d8 and you’re ready to go.

Morpheus System

The core of Ragnarok is the Morpheus System. This is a system designed by Tim Korklewski to span across multiple settings and genres. Ragnarok is the first game to use the system, but in the future players will be able to play across various settings without having to learn an entirely new ruleset. Vikings are an excellent introduction and the prospects of other unique settings make it a ruleset worth becoming familiar with. Any new games that utilize the Morpheus system will benefit from the easier entry of an already loyal fanbase.

The system itself is simple. Based around the target number 7, for every value your stat exceeds your opponent, reduce the target number by the same difference. Likewise, for every increment your opponent outranks you, increase your target number. For example, you attack your opponent. You have a melee stat of 3. Your opponent’s defense is also 3. To hit, you need to roll 7 on 2d6. If your melee stat was 4 against the same opponent, you only need to roll a 6.

This keeps the game moving quickly as there is almost no math involved. Its consistency allows for players to pick it up almost immediately and cuts down on the time checking the rulebook for what to do.

The downside to this simple system is it makes the rules for the abilities a bit clunky at times. The core ruleset is flexible, but it puts the bulk of the situational rules buried in the wording for various abilities. Things like Flight and Invisibility take paragraphs to define because the core rules are missing the foundation to seamlessly allow for them.

Godspark

Godspark is the mana system for Ragnarok, and the source of all that makes Ragnarok an epic skirmish game. For every non-damage/status effect roll, the amount you exceed the target number gets added to your Godspark pool. For example, if you need a 7 to succeed and roll a 10, you gain 3 Godspark. 

This system rewards your rolls without punishing your opponent. It creates a system where you often have enough Godspark to do something, but when you’re short, you’re desperately praying for a good roll. 1 set of exploding dice can shift the game.

You start a campaign with 3 God Powers. The rules allow for you to either pick the powers you want or randomly roll. While learning the game, I had a tough time deciding which is better. There are 30 different God Powers in the core book alone. Picking one when you haven’t seen the game in action can result in picking some duds, as they focus on mechanics that are easy to forget about in your early games, but randomly rolling can cause the same, and be anathema to your play style.  I believe for learning, allowing players to swap out God Powers after games would be beneficial.

God Powers are the aspect that sets the tone of your game the most and getting 3 that you can, and want, to use is essential.

Monster Recruitment & Encounters

My favorite of the Ragnarok rules. It’s listed as optional but recommended, but I would deem it essential. 

Before the match, you and your opponent select 6 creatures from the bestiary that can randomly appear throughout the match. Before each turn, you roll to determine if one appears, and if so, which one. These creatures spawn randomly around the board, and attack the closest model, attempting to deal as much damage as possible. 

It can throw a wrench in any plan you had going. Suddenly, that charge lane you set up is blocked. That archer you were keeping back in safety is now the prime target for the giant that just appeared.

And the reason you don’t just pick weak, ineffectual monsters? Killing a monster means you can recruit it to your war clan. Do you really want a Kraken on your roster? Your focus will shift to killing the monster and leave the objective for your opponent. It’s a piece that makes the campaign feel like more than just a series of games. You can have a war clan filled with mythical beasts and it’s like having a hall of trophies proving the legacy of your warriors.

Conclusion

Ragnarok is a fun, casual way to fill a gaming weekend. The battles are epic, the “Rule of Cool” dominates and the ruleset is basic enough to allow for quick homebrew decisions. Despite its flaws, I only see potential for it to improve, develop and hopefully become a staple among casual skirmish games to come.

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