I love just about everything about Warmachine and Hordes and the Iron Kingdoms as a setting. While I don’t see myself playing some factions, I can happily envision them as antagonists for the factions that I do favour. I love the depth of the setting, I love sinking into Skull Island Expeditions fiction and reveling in No Quarter background fluff. I sink my metaphorical teeth into High Command, and titter with glee as I load up Warmachine Tactics (which I really need to do more often)… but every once in awhile it’s nice to cleanse the palette. It’s no crime to enjoy another game line, to take a break from painting Bane Thralls and to paint something Chibi, to play a game with a different setting or mechanic for awhile. This is why you’ll sometimes see Relic Knights or Arena Rex posts, for example.
I received a ping a few days back from a lad from Poland (always an exciting thing – Hello, Poland!) concerning a kickstarter that’s going on for a new game called Norsgard. Seemed potentially interesting, so I took a look to see what was to be seen.
For me personally, a large part of absolutely any game is the setting. I’m a fluff nut. I occasionally refer to myself as a Fluff Bunny, but Fluffernutter might be more appropriate given my waistline. If I’m engaged by the setting, next is visual appeal. Are the components (be they tokens or models) well-made and spiffy looking? Are the printed materials decent both in terms of interior art and print quality? After that it’s down to the rules and mechanics. My head doesn’t wrap around such things in the same way as others, and I’m willing to work with some mechanical hiccups in the interests of a visually stunning game.
That on the table, what’s the deal with Norsgard?
Setting: Whurr is it?
Norsgard takes place in the world if Isbran. We’re talking Ice Age here, perpetual Winter. Elsa’s still in her ice palace, Aslan hasn’t defeated the Tilda Swinton (who I loved in that role…), you get the idea. The heroes of the setting are the Order of the Ram, and their enemies are the Tribe of Mork. These are the two factions in the game from the beginning, though there’s a third waiting to be unlocked in the kickstarter full of sweet looking dwarves and werewolves.
The Order of the Ram, back in the day, were shining bastions of justice and light and all the good stuff, but over the years since they defeated the elves and their demonic allies they’ve become less vigilant in their duties. A rift developed and some of their number forsook the path of honour, there were internal clashes, a necromancer, and shenanigans. The end result is an Order that is greatly reduced, nowhere near as strong as it was in the past. Reminds me of the Jedi somewhat.
On the other side of the fence are the barbaric Howling Horde, made up of members of the Mork tribe. Those demons I mentioned working with the elves earlier? They’re back and they’ve tainted the Morks (God help me, I keep thinking of Robin Williams – damn, I’m old) and are assaulting the strongholds of the Order of the Ram and generally wandering around being evil while wearing fur pelts.
Now, here’s the twist. We’re accustomed to a few variant races in our miniature games, and there are stereotypes and tropes that are pretty common… but this time around, the Mork tribes are populated by humans, while the Order of the Ram make up their numbers with what we’re used to seeing in other game lines as Orcs. Jutting lower jaws, viciously notched weapons, the whole kit and caboodle. I won’t lie, it caused a bit of a mental disconnect as I was reading through the documents. Humans allied with evil forces I have no problem with, but noble and heroic Orcs as the norm rather than the exception? Huh.
Components: Are there pretties?
This being a kickstarter, we don’t have the full range of models to look at yet, but we’ve got some beginning models and a bunch of art, and of course, the mental image of a land under an eternal Winter. It’s strong and evocative, certainly lends itself to specific opportunities for modelling.
These guys are the Order of the Ram. Noble. Honourable. Proud. Orcs with a hint of GW-style Chaos Warrior thrown in there. In case you can’t tell, the Noble Orc thing is still getting to me. It’s a bold setting choice. That said, the models look pretty darn sweet, and as evidenced by the above, can paint up very nicely in the hands of a gifted artist. I think maybe it’s a reflection of how far the Order of the Ram have fallen since their glory days.
And then these are barbarians from the Howling Horde. Again, nicely designed models. Poses aren’t too static, and that one barbarian woman there has a belly button. These models would be more of a challenge for me personally because, well, natural looking skin tones… but yeah, these are the bad guys of the setting.
I wanted to include this one to show the transition from art to model. This is the Mistress of the Hunt, a “specialist trooper” for the Howling Horde. Creepy axe barbarian lady’s only distinguishing facial feature is an eye, which is all she needs to spot you on the battlefield and determine whether you’re a worthy opponent.
The art of the Mistress is a fair representation of the art style within the beta rulebook, and the models do look pretty nifty.
Mechanics: How do I hit things?
Two things to immediately note. 1) It’s a system built on d10’s. 2) There’s an inbuilt campaign system.
The d10 thing isn’t really an issue, just something that’s significant about the way the game’s built, but me, I love a campaign system, especially in skirmish level games where you’re likely fielding less than a dozen models. It means the games matter. If my dude gets hurt, there’s a chance he’ll walk away (or not!) with a lasting injury that’ll affect future games. If my other dude successfully achieves a scenario objective or defeats a bunch of opposing models, he may earn a skill or ability increase. I can’t just throw models out sacrificially because what happens to them can potentially affect every game I play in future in a campaign. It’s a whole new level of engagement.
Each model has 6 statistic – Movement, Attack, Strength, Defense, Armour and Bravery. These are represented on their cards by icons. The first is Movement, the axe shows Attack and Strength, the shield Defense and Armour, and the next symbol shows Bravery. The last symbol – the helmet – represents Mystic Power, for the spellcasters.
Each model is worth an amount of Gold Coins, and it’s recommended that games range from 150 to 450 Gold Coins depending on how zealous players might be. A game played at 150 Gold Coins might have as few as four models. The Vei-Banshee shown on the right here has a Gold Coin cost of 40, but each model in the game has the option of spending more resources on upgrades. The Vei-Banshee comes equipped with a hand weapon and a javelin, but has the option of purchasing a second hand weapon, a second javelin, or coating her weapons with poison for a modest investment.
Challenges are resolved using d10’s as mentioned. When a character attacks they roll a number of d10’s equal to their statistic, with a target number dependent on the target. Let’s say our Vei-Banshee was fighting her evil twin, and ignore any special rules so we’re just looking at the stats.
AttackingVei (AVei) and DefendingVei (DVei) have disagreed for the last time over who Daddy loves more. Combat is simultaneous – they’re attacking each other at the same time – so the two Banshees determine their combat styles. Standard Attack uses the dice pools per their stats, Brutal Strike lets an attacker sacrifice dice from their attacking pool to increase their damage potential, and Defensive Combat lets someone sacrifice potential damage to increase their defense. We’re going to assume AVei and DVei are equally pissed and both using Standard Attacks.
Reach then rolls a number of dice equal to their Attack with a target number of their opponent’s Defense, so each will roll 5 dice, against a target number of 5. If you get no successes, you miss. If you score any successes, your pool of damage dice is equal to your strength plus any successes you rolled to hit. We’re going to simplify matters by saying DVei missed entirely, but AVei scored 2 successes. Accordingly, her damage pool is 5 dice (3 STR + 2 successes). She now rolls the damage dice with a target number of DVei’s ARM (4). Each success would mark off a damage box (shown on the card, much as they are in Warmachine).
Adding one more level of complication (which would be a major strike against the game if it was played at a larger scale), when you’ve worked out how much damage the model’s taken, you note the colour of the last dot filled in, and roll on a table for that colour to determine any further effects – extra damage, dazing, stat penalties, etc.
It’s a lot of dice to roll in the end, but remember, we’re not talking 30+ models on the board here, we’re talking half a dozen or so in most games.
So, how about that then?
Norsgard’s setting is certainly atypical. If there’s a flaw at this point, it’s the lack of faction options, but it’s a brand new game, we can’t expect a dozen or more distinctly varied choices out of the game. Remember, Warmachine started with Cygnar and Khador; the loyal Menite among us had to wait a little bit before we got toys to play with. The Alliance of the Bat looks particularly sweet [EDIT: And have just unlocked…] and provide a third option for Norsgard. The factions have a distinct look, evocative art, and models that are cleanly sculpted, even if the Mork must get bloody cold being all shirtless and stuff in a world of eternal snow.
The mechanics seem are a little more complicated than one might expect from a tabletop wargame, but the low model count balances that out – when you only have to deal with 5 guys, you can afford to make an extra roll here or there. Where Norsgard really shines in the inclusion of a campaign system out of the gate. I honestly believe this is a key component of small skirmish level games and sports-style games like Blood Bowl, Grind, Kaos Ball, etc. Participants gain EXP, scaled according to their opponent, bonuses for winning, lingering damage (man, I’d hate to have a beautifully painted model suddenly roll one-armed in a campaign…), stat increases, skills to be gained, the need to manage resources to replace casualties, everything except for a map with zones to control.
All in all, it looks like a decent game with growth potential and decent deals in the Kickstarter pledge levels if any of the starting factions have piqued your interest. You can find out more about Norsgard in the Kickstarter, which is expected to deliver mid-2015.
Thanks to Paweł Żuchowski for bringing Norsgard to our attention. We wish the Norsgard Games team success with their entry into the tabletop gaming arena.