Review: Yggdrasil

Posted by James (admin) on April 13th, 2011

Yggdrasil is a co-operative game where the players are Norse gods trying to stop the evil ones causing the end of the world.  The first thing that strikes you is the artwork which is colour-rich, polished and seems almost backlit – which will be familiar to you if you’ve played or seen Ghost Stories as it’s by the same artist.  The board shows the great cosmic tree that supports the nine worlds.

During the game, the 6 evil ones advance across the 8 spaces towards Asgard.  Each turn, the current player draws an evil one card and then takes 3 actions.  Each evil one card shows which evil one advances 1 space towards Asgard and each evil one has a power too which get stronger as they advance.  The players lose if 5 evil ones go past the 3rd space, 3 evil ones go past the 5th space, or 1 evil one reaches the final 8th space (Asgard).  The players win if they can exhaust the evil one deck without losing, so they need to force the evil ones back and this is done through combat and the Norse gods will need the support of Viking spirits to stand a chance of beating them.

The main place to find Viking spirits is on the 5 islands of Midgard.  Each island has a bag containing a mixture of Viking tokens and fire giant tokens.  When a player uses an action to recruit Vikings from Midgard, they draw 3 tokens from an island bag  – keeping Vikings drawn but putting fire giants drawn back into the bag.  If you’ve played Thebes then you’ll know this sort of game mechanic. (Note that the player can’t pick any bag but must pick the bag where the Valkyrie token is currently situated so they need to use actions to move the Valkyries so they can draw from bags where the mix of Vikings is more in their favour).

Players have a choice of 9 actions.  As well as recruiting Vikings from Midgard, other actions include:

  • Gain and upgrade weapons to use in combat
  • Adding 5 Viking tokens to a bag
  • Drawing 3 tokens from a bag and discarding any fire giants drawn
  • Fighting ice demons (that Loki can summon and which have negative effects until defeated)
  • Summon elves (which are like Vikings but can be used after a combat roll has been made)
  • Swapping items between players, and so on.

Combat & The Evil Ones
Why do players need Viking spirits?  Before a combat, the player states how many of their Vikings they will spend and each is worth 1 point of strength.  The player rolls a dice (values 0,0,1,1,2,3) and adds the result to the number of Vikings plus any relevant weapon strength.  If they equal or beat the evil one’s current strength (which get tougher as they advance towards Asgard) then the evil one is forced back 1 space.  Any Vikings committed to the fight are discarded regardless of whether the fight was won or lost, so it can be a tricky decision.

Remember the evil ones’ powers I mentioned?  When an evil one card is drawn their power is activated – One evil one adds fire giants to a bag, one advances the rear-most evil one, one removes Vikings from bags, and so on.  The increase of these powers as the evil one advances towards Asgard is simple but very clever.

Overall, Yggdrasil is a tight and tense co-operative game.  One of my favourite parts is that all the actions and gameplay are focused on building up strength and defeating the evil ones long enough to secure the win.   This focus makes the game feel cohesive and tight with all the game mechanics working well together.  All of the 9 actions have value so, whilst focused, the player has a variety of choices and it’s often a tricky choice as to how to use them.

As with all good co-op games, the players are thinly stretched as they are torn between gathering strength, fighting the advance of the evil ones, fighting ice demons, and managing the Viking spirits in the bags.  Choosing which evil ones to push back to stop them achieving any of their win conditions is a tough and critical game choice requiring careful balance as you don’t have enough time or power to stop all of the from advancing.  Drawing tokens from the bag is fun and managing the balance of Viking and Fire Giant tokens in the bags to maximise the players’ odds is an interesting and important exercise.

Each player (god) has a different power and I like how that gave each player a unique feel and a slightly different tactical advantage.  Also, one of our players knew a fair amount of the mythology on which the game is based and I really liked how the Norse gods’ and evil ones’ powers, as well as the player actions, incorporated the real details of the mythology.

The only negative I had was with the combat.  Vikings are (unsurprisingly) in short supply so it always seemed wise to spend enough to almost guarantee winning a combat, rather than run the risk of losing them with nothing to show due to a poor dice roll.  My issue was that the combat dice only has a few outcomes and I would have liked a little more granularity in the outcomes so that the decisions could be more fine tuned and less obvious.  For example, we usually spent enough Vikings to guarantee combat rather than risk the large 1 in 3 chance of not rolling at least +1 on the dice.   However, this is a minor point and it meant using elves in combat (which can be used to adjust combat score after the dice roll) and swapping items with other players became very important.

Yggdrasil is an impressive co-operative game – in fact, I think I actually preferred it to Ghost Stories.  All co-op games needs to offer a challenge as well as various tempting routes of addressing it – and Yggdrasil definitely did that.  I’ll be interested to see how it feels after lots of replays but it seems like it should have good variety due to the evil ones progressing differently each game as well as the different mix of player god characters (plus there are some cards that can be included to make the game harder).

You can read the rules on Z-Man Games’ web site.  You can use this link to go there:


[Played with 3 players]

All co-op games needs to offer a challenge as well as various tempting routes by which to address it – and Yggdrasil definitely did that.

One Response to “Review: Yggdrasil”

  1. Andrew MacLeod Says:

    Thanks very much, James! I’ve been waiting for an English language review, and yours has got me drooling.
    Alas, here in Canada, I have to wait until early May until Yggdrasil reaches Vinland. I think the Jormungand must have sunk North America……

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