Thursday, July 21, 2016

Board Game Review: Rampaging Jotunn by Lost Cog


At last night's North East Nerd Night, I had the chance to play another great two-player game, Rampaging Jotunn. It wasn't the first time I'd played (and it certainly won't be the last, since I was a first-day backer on Kickstarter), but I wanted to share my thoughts about the game as its Kickstarter enters its final days.

Overview
You and an opposing viking clan are competing to be the last standing on an island that just so happens to have a giant, nearly senseless brute on it who's prone to trampling villages and armies. You and your opponent start the game by randomly selecting three terrain tiles each, each with 10 hexes on it. Players then alternate placing these tiles down, all touching a central hex, where the Jotunn starts the game. Once the tiles are placed, players place their villages in locations they think they can protect - since once your villages are gone, that's the game! To help with this, each player gets two armies to help protect their three villages - or to attack their opponent's stronghold.

Matthias Bonnici, publisher & co-designer of Rampaging Jotunn, demoing the game.
Players then alternate playing cards from their five card hand - usually to affect the Jotunn's movement - or from one of three face up cards in front of them on the table, allowing one of their armies to take 2, 3, or 4 movements. Since different terrains require different numbers of movement to get into, players have to choose these carefully - as once you use them, they're flipped over until you've used all of them.

The key to winning is using a mixture of your own power and the Jotunn's power to wipe out your adversary, trampling their armies (though more of those can be raised through sacrificing cards in their hands) and squashing their villages (and once those are gone, they're gone for good).

Review
Rampaging Jotunn is a great game. It looks great, plays smoothly, and feels almost entirely intuitive after one game. The randomized / chosen set up of the island works well to make the game different each time and to have players start strategizing even as they're setting up the board. The face-up army movement cards are brilliant, as you have to choose when to advance quickly, knowing that you won't be able to do so again until you've used your other cards. These movement cards also enable your opponent to think strategically about where to move, knowing what your potential is.

More folks enjoying Rampaging Jotunn at Dex Con.
At the same time, the random draw of cards to hand that (usually) control the Jotunn gives the game enough randomization to prevent one single dominant strategy from emerging, and the fact that the army battles depend on die rolls helps to prevent the most skilled player from always winning - even if that player will, of course, have a strong advantage. My one critique of the game is in some of the random elements which can feel a bit frustrating - though there are usually enough measures you can take to mitigate that luck.

Visually, the game is fantastic. The graphic design is great (unsurprising, since Matthias is a graphic designer by trade), and the art is perfect for the game. There's enough in the game to appeal to more strategic players, and there's enough luck to keep new players feeling like they have a real shot at all points. I strongly, strongly recommend Rampaging Jotunn, on Kickstarter right now!



  Doug Levandowski is a game designer who co-created Gothic Doctor, co-created UnPub: The UnPublished Card Game, and created You're Fired. He has other designs in the works, too - because that's what designers do. When Doug's not designing, writing articles, sleeping, or playing Star Realms on his phone, he's teaching English to a bunch of amazing high schoolers. You can find him on Twitter at @levzilla and on Star Realms as DougLev, where he'd love to lose to you.