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Review: Voluspa: Order of the Gods

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Voluspa: Order of the Gods – Cover

There are some new characters joining the battle for Asgard in the continually unfolding story of Voluspa.  Prepare to meet the stocky Dwarf, loyal Raven, terrifying Niohoggr, and beautiful Freya.

How It Plays

Voluspa: Order of the Gods is an expansion for Voluspa, I’ll only be covering what’s new in the expansion so head over the review of the base game first if you’re new to Voluspa.  Order of the Gods is similar in scope to the Saga of Edda expansion included with the base game, it contains 4 news tiles as well as some tokens to make the game play a little smoother.  Among the new characters are some familiar faces and others that you may not have heard of unless you are a Norse mythology buff.

Voluspa: Order of the Gods - DwarfFirst up is the Dwarf, the low power tile of this set weighing in with a value of 2.  Luckily he doesn’t score like a traditional tile so his low value is not restrictive of his scoring potential.  Instead of attempting to dominate a line the Dwarf only looks at adjacent (orthogonal) tiles, adds up their values and scores half that amount.  Because Dwarfs are hardened fighters and enjoy a challenge they may be placed next to a Troll.

 

Voluspa: Order of the Gods - RavenThe other familiar character is the Raven, the faithful messenger of Odin.  The Raven works a lot like the Dragon with the ability to be placed on top of another tile but is slightly weaker at a value of 4.  Because it is more agile than the Dragon, the Raven may be placed (and score) in a second location after its initial placement.

 

Voluspa: Order of the Gods - NiohoggrMoving on to some less familiar faces we have Niohoggr, a “Monster from the world of the dead”.  Niohoggr doesn’t have any special placement rules but instead adds 2 points to a line being scored in which he is present and visible.  If there are multiple Nihoggr’s in a line then each will contribute 2 extra points during scoring.  This bonus applies when the Niohoggr is first placed (potentially applying to both lines being scored) and when a Niohoggr is first covered up.  He has the same high value as Thor so players will have to work hard in order to score the bonus points from a Niohoggr.

Voluspa: Order of the Gods - FreyaFinally we have Freya, a truly unique and game changing character that embodies her title of the “Goddess of Fertility”.  Freya may be placed normally but due to her low value she will most often be used instead for her special ability.  When placing another tile you have the choice to discard any number of Freya tiles from your hand to permanently boost the value of the tile you’re placing by 1 for each Freya discarded this way.  The tile being boosted comes into play with the increased value and maintains that value until it is covered up or has its value changed (by Loki for instance).  If a boosted tile is claimed by Skadi then a number of Freya tiles are also gathered equal to the amount that it was boosted.

In order to help mark boosted values the expansion also comes with tokens showing values from 2 through 12 which are to be placed on top of tiles that come into play under the influence of Freya.  Along the same lines there are also a generous number of tokens with a 0 value that can be used to indicate tiles that have had their value nullified by Loki.  The back of these tokens are blank and I have taken to using them on their back side to mark dead spots on the board such as the end of a completed line or next to a Troll.  This may not seem like a big change but it goes a long way towards decreasing the amount of time that is spent scanning the board.

Voluspa: Order of the Gods – Tokens
The tokens used for Freya and Loki

To keep the game at a reasonable length it is recommended that you only use 4 expansion characters from the 8 available when mixing this with Saga of Edda.  I definitely agree that this is a good idea but if you don’t mind playing a longer game then it would certainly work to mix all the tiles together.  For those that prefer to use suggested sets there are four included in the rules with the most obvious one being the full compliment of tiles from Order of the Gods.

Voluspa: Order of the Gods - Lightning BoltI also received a the Lightning Bolt promo with my copy of Order of the Gods and have found it to be a great addition to the game.  The Lightning Bolt must be placed on top of another tile and automatically dominates the line it is placed in or, if it is placed at an intersection, the shorter of the two lines it intersects.  The Lightning Bolt has a value of 1 so it tends to open up the board for more scoring opportunities when it is included.  Since it is a promo you may choose to include it with any combination of expansion tiles.

The More Gods The Merrier or Uninvited Guests?

Voluspa was one of my favorite discoveries of last year.  It’s a simple game that has a surprising amount of puzzly tactical depth and really shine in its excellent two-player form.  I first noticed it because of the incredible artwork and after a slightly underwhelming experience with the base game I was really amazed by how much the included expansion, Saga of Edda, added to the game.  Those four tiles really pushed new strategic directions by encouraging players to branch out and manipulate the board.  I’ve played with Saga of Edda in every game since.   Order of the Gods follows suit by again changing the dynamics of the game but it places a lot more emphasis on setting up and executing powerful scoring opportunities in clever new ways.

Before I dive into the gameplay I’ll start off by again praising the artwork and component quality in Voluspa.  The four new characters have beautiful portraits that are distinct and easy to tell apart which is quite impressive considering that there are now 16 different tiles which can be quickly identified at a glance.  On top of including new characters I was thrilled to get a set of value tokens (both for Freya and Loki) which present a must have value-added feature to this expansion.  Being able to indicate tiles that have a manipulated value at a glance is excellent for scanning the board quickly.  But I especially like being able to use the back side of the tiles to mark off areas of the board that are blocked from further placement.  This function isn’t indicated in the rules and you can start to run low on tokens by the end of the game when Freya is included but doing so has cut the scanning portion of the game significantly for my group.  I’d recommended using them this way for anyone that picks up this expansion.

Voluspa: Order of the Gods – Token Example
The tokens make it a lot easier to scan the board!

The primary thing that Order of the Gods provides are the four new characters along with several ways to integrate them into the game.  The first set that I played was the suggested “Order of the Gods” one which included the base game and all four characters from this expansion (excluding all tiles from Saga of Edda) along with the Lightning Bolt promo.  I’ll come back to my thoughts on the Lightning Bolt and start by focusing specifically on how the Order of the Gods tiles change the dynamic of the game.  My first impression was very similar to my first game including Saga of Edda, I was amazed at how much the game changed with the inclusion of the new tiles.  But it changed in a completely new way that I wasn’t expecting.  Just like in Saga of Edda each new character from Order of the Gods has a game state in which they excel.  This encourages players to build the board in new and exciting ways that can be drastically different from previous games.  Let’s take a look at how each character in Order of the Gods brings a new dynamic to the game.

We’ll start with what might appear to be one of the more straightforward tiles, the Dwarf.  The thing that makes the Dwarf unique is that he cares about pretty much the opposite of what you’re normally looking for when placing a tile.  Not only does he completely disregard the concept of dominating a line but he actually wants to be near high strength tiles that would otherwise make it very difficult to score at all.  The ideal spot for a Dwarf is extremely unattractive to nearly all other tiles and the more extreme (surrounded by Odins, Fenrir packs, and Trolls) the better.  Placement of high valued tiles is more important with the Dwarf in the game and Trolls have a natural combo for the first time playing a key roll in creating opportunities that only the Dwarf can take advantage of.  The two tiles that manipulate values are also natural combos and counters to the Dwarf.  Freya can set up a great scoring opportunity by boosting an already powerful Odin and Loki can take away opportunities by nullifying tiles in key spots.  The Dwarf reminds me in a way of the Sea Serpent but plays out to an opposite extreme.  Both tiles encourages you to build the board very specifically to create scoring opportunities that would otherwise be meaningless.  But where the Sea Serpent encourages you to branch out in order to create large gaps, the Dwarf ends up filling in gaps and making the board more compact.  Not only can he go in spaces that are normally blocked by Trolls but he wants to touch as many tiles as possible.  I personally find the branching boards that the Sea Serpents encourages to be more interesting than the blocky ones that the Dwarf creates but both tiles do the best job of shaping the board dramatically in their presence.

Moving on we have the first strictly better tile with Niohoggr matching Thor’s value but providing a power to boot.  You could argue that the Dwarf is almost strictly better than the Valkyrie but I think the tiles play out differently enough that it’s hard to draw a direct comparison.  In Niohoggr’s case there’s no question, you’d always rather draw him than Thor (though perhaps someone could come up with an edge case where this isn’t true).  At first I was a bit turned off by this but the reason that I don’t ultimately take issue with it is that Niohoggr’s ability persists after he has been placed and may end up benefiting other players as much as the one that initially placed it.   More than any other tile, with the possible exception of Loki, Niohoggr’s presence on the board is worth taking note of and carefully planning around.  Sure, it can be a lot of work for only 2 (or 4) extra points but there are many tiles that can beat out Niohoggr (Valkyrie, Fenrir, Odin) or land on top of him (Dragon, Raven) and don’t forget about tricky old Loki or the boosting power of Freya.  Niohoggr helps create extra incentive and competition in any area of the board where he’s present.

Next up we have the fragile powerhouse that is the Raven, the character that I have the most mixed feelings about.  He looks innocent enough with the low value of 4 but he is capable of scoring higher than any other tile in the game by a wide margin due to his double placement.  You have to meticulously craft the board to take advantage of the Raven’s ability because he has so few tiles that he can actually dominate.  If that wasn’t hard enough you are looking to set up not only one but two different spots in which the Raven can score well.  Because of its low value the Raven has more critical timing than any other tile in the game.  As lines get longer they will generally attract higher value tiles so a Raven won’t have long to take advantage of scoring a line unless players specially cluster low value tiles together as in the case of Valkyries being placed consecutively in the same line.  This tension is great in theory and plays out well during some games but there’s a point at which it can break down.  The specific scenario is when lines have been capped at their maximum length and then are picked apart by Skadis, Lokis, or (regrettably) Lightning Bolts.  This opens up opportunities for Ravens to come in uncontested and, in the worst case scenario, create a towering stack with Dragons, Jotunns, and Skadis looking to repeat the trick.  I took slight issue with Jotunn being able to repeatedly alternate scoring with the Dragon but the Raven can be even worse since it can take advantage of two such opportunities in a row.  At the height of the problem you include Freya and the Raven is no longer bound by its low value and can much more easily pull off 20+ point turns that can be reclaimed by a Skadi just to do the same thing again.  I take issue with absolute bomb turns that can be repeated with minimal effort (and partially mimicked by other Ravens because they only cover up one of the two key scoring spots).  I can see how it might be great fun to pull off these kind of power turns to some but I personally don’t enjoy that dynamic.  Despite all this I absolutely love the Raven and the push-your-luck tension that exists while you’re holding on to one and deciding how long to hold out and when to capitalize on key spots before the big boys take them over.  I believe most of the problematic scenarios that I perceive can be avoided by simply ensuring that the Raven never shows up in the same game as Freya or the Lightning Bolt.  This is a shame because the introductory set to Order of the Gods contains one (or both) such combinations.

Last up we have my favorite of the new characters and perhaps the most game altering one as well, Freya.  I would compare Freya most closely to Hel because both tiles drastically alter the traditional conventions of the game.  Hel allows you to break up lines, opening up areas of the board that previously couldn’t be played on.  Likewise Freya allows tiles to come into play with a boosted value, letting them dominate a row that they otherwise would not have been able to.  Much like how Hel unlocks areas of the board that were unplayable, Freya opens up potential in tiles that wouldn’t otherwise occur.  Odin can overcome a pack of Fenrirs, Sea Serpents can run rampant, even the lowly tiles have the potential to score in unique ways.  There are so many possibilities that Freya creates that any game involving her is much more open to creative and tactical play.  The other dynamic introduced by Freya is the effective handsize reduction that she represents.  Since you’re unlikely to play Freya on her own for most of the game she is a dead tile in your hand until you play her.  This affect increases for each Freya that you hold.  The result is that you lose the flexibility of a full hand size in order to take advantage of discarding your Freyas at just the right moment.  This is a clever and subtle drawback for such a powerful and game altering tile.  Add in the ability to reclaim discarded Freyas with Skadi and you have an incredible amount of tension introduced into the game with just one tile.  The biggest drawback to Freya is that she has the greatest potential for upsetting game balance as I alluded to in discussing her incredible combo with the Raven.  I’ve only found this to be problematic specifically with the Raven but I’ll be guarded against further abuses in future expansions.

Voluspa: Order of the Gods – Tiles
The whole cast of characters

If it’s not already clear I really enjoy the new characters that have been introduced in Order of the Gods.  Though I didn’t find this set as a whole to be as game changing as Saga of Edda I did find that the new characters were each really fun to play with, equally matching its predecessor in that regard.  However, when combine with the base set I just couldn’t get past the powerhouse combo of the Raven and Freya.  Fortunately the biggest draw of this expansion is the ability to mix characters from the two expansions to create a unique experience for each game.  Since each character has a different effect on the way that the game plays out it’s exciting to see how each mix changes the development of the board and introduces unique interactions between the tiles.  This creates a new level of variety while allowing for the game to remain consistent in length.  If there’s any draw back it’s separating the expansion tiles during cleanup but since you end the game with all the tiles in play it’s not that hard to find and pull out the non-base tiles.

I’ll end by briefly looking at the Lightning Bolt, the promo tile that I received along with my copy of Order of the Gods.  I wasn’t expecting much from this tile but it had a much bigger impact on the game than I was expecting.  It’s similarity to Loki should be pretty obvious, it’s generally more limited in scope because it can only affect one tile (and is forced to cover it up) but is more flexible in that it can target anything and is more effective at scoring.  Since Loki is one of my favorite tiles for creating combos it’s not surprising that the Lightning Bolt should follow suit.  One of the results that I wasn’t expecting is the slight buff to low value tiles when playing with the Lightning Bolt.  Having another extremely low valued tile in play can allow you to actually get a couple extra points off of a Valkaryie, Skadi, or Hermond.  Overall I’ve really enjoyed playing with the Lightning Bolt and include it in most games that I play with the exception of those containing the Raven to prevent mega-turn abuse.

Voluspa: Order of the Gods - Packed Up
Everything packs up nicely with the expansion box fitting inside the base game

For players that enjoy Voluspa I’d say that Order of the Gods is every bit as essential as the Saga of Edda expansion included in the base game.  Now that I’ve played with it I can’t imagine going back.  On top of getting four new characters that change the game in exciting new ways you also have the ability to mix expansion tiles to further increase the tactical dynamics from game to game.  The value tokens also go a long way towards reducing game length by making it easier to scan the board.  But for those on the fence about Voluspa I don’t think Order of the Gods will win you over unless you were simply looking for more variety.

Summary

  • Rating 8
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Summary

Pros

  • New characters change up the game significantly
  • Mixing expansions adds a lot of variety
  • Value tokens make for easier scanning of the board

Cons:

  • Won't win over any new fans
  • Be careful with that Raven
8.0 Very Good

I love optimization and engine games with tableau builders and card driven ones being my favorite. This usually means medium-heavy euros and medium-light card games.

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