Friday 3 February 2023

Ragnarok: Heavy Metal Combat in the Viking Age (Rules Review)

A campaign skirmish game. With vikings. Using epic god powers and pulling off awesome moves. Viking Mordhiem?  Sounds epic. I've actually struggled to find reviews or much online on this (a bit from a few years back, then it seems to vanish off the radar, despite sequels), so I thought I'd share my thoughts.

The Shiny

The book is a very nice, glossy hardcover. 205 pages, of which about 20 pages are the actual rules. It has a decent mix of artwork and mini photos and the text is easy to read. There is a nice index and I found it pretty easy to navigate. The lore was interesting but not intrusive. I feel it was good production value/cost. Thumbs up.

Overhead "What you need to have/know"

One criticism is the use of "stats" named HP, SP, MA, RA, DF, RS, DR, MN - mentioned through the book. There is an explanation on p.24, but I often had to flip back as it wasn't instantly intuitive what stat "RS" referred to, for example, or why "DR" or "MN" should be effected by x. "DF" is ability to avoid hits, not toughness to resist once hit - that's "DR." I'd prefer they were labelled Health, Speed, Melee, etc throughout the rules - it's only using a few more letters in a 205 page rulebook, and would make things much easier to use.  

It uses the somewhat pretentiously-named "Morpheus System" - basically rolling a 7+ on a 2d6, but modifying it based on stats of both sides i.e. a Attack 5 vs a Defence 7 would modify the usual 7+ success roll to be a 9+ as the negative -2 between the respective stats raises the target number to make success harder. I've used 'stat difference changes target roll' for years (only with 5+ on a d10 or 4+ on d6) but never thought to call it the "Monkeigh Engine." That aside, using the same resolution consistently through a ruleset is a good thing. You only need 2d6, and a d8 for random scatter stuff.

The game is miniatures agnostic, so my Gripping Beast and PSC vikings will be supplemented by some Frostgrave barbarian boxes, I predict, along with LoTR trolls, dwarves and goblins filling in various norse mythology roles. There is actually dozens of unit and creature profiles so finding random models to match may be fun or stressful depending on how you view it.

Activation & Initiative, Movement

The now industry-standard alternate activation, taking turns moving individual models, with the side with superior numbers continuing to move once the smaller side runs out of minis to move (I'm not a huge fan of this as it can make big horde armies tactically superior). Fine, I guess, but a bit dull. Minis get "action points" which gives me a real 1990s-early 2000s vibe. Actions are very detailed. There are detailed rules for falling, climbing etc as you'd expect.

For example: Going prone may -3 SP, -1MA, -1 size, -1RA vs them to hit, and +1MA vs them to hit  

^^ It gives a bit of an old-school RPG feel and feels a bit obtuse and overly detailed. Kinda fiddly - a lot of little things to keep track of that may not be that vital.

There is a fair bit on terrain - from thin ice to thorn forests - the intent is to allow you to throw enemies off cliffs or into spikes and stuff like that.  


Melee and ranged works similarly, which is good. You compare relevant stats (MA/RA vs DF) and modify the target score from 7+. The level of success may inflict extra hits or have extra effects. Then, compare attack ST vs target RS. Despite the "HP" stat this is only 2-3 "HP" for most models so is no different from "wounds" in other games - you could track it with red paint blood spatters on some clear tokens on the tabletop. Models have 360d LoS; restricting this to 180d would allow more tactical possibilities for flanking/surprise etc. 

Melee has some variety (good) - before you just shove minis together and chug dice you have some choices, such as "clash" - counter-attacking possibly getting in a first blow but opening yourself up to be more easily hit. There is also a "MR" - a 2" kinda zone of control which adds some depth. Ranged attack has blast, line(beam) and spray attacks (covering magic and beasts).

Mechanics can be a bit over-detailed and fiddly but are consistent.  I didn't notice much in the way of morale rules but perhaps heroic vikings kinda ignore that.

Campaigns Godspark (Magic) & Special Rules (aka the majority 150+ pages of the book)

From page 47 on, the remaining 150+ pages is devoted to campaign rules, scenarios, weapon and gear lists, special traits/attacks/abilities and god powers (magic) and a bestiary. It really has strong RPG overtones. 

There are rules for creating your own war clan with jarl, bondi, huskarls, skalds, beserkers, speider and gothi. As they are all human vikings they are all kinda samey. They can be equipped with the usual viking-y axes, spears, shields, leather, chainmail etc but the real difference is Godspark - as different warbands get access to different powers (either by choice or random roll).

Godspark is the "god powers" or magic system, and is generated when any roll exceeds the target number i.e. if you need a 7+ and roll a 10, you get 3 Godspark. it seems cool but I'm wondering if (a) this will incentivize a big "pile in" fight in the middle to maximise generation of Godspark and (b) it makes lucky dice rolling even stronger and making it harder to recover from early game bad rolls i.e. you are punished twice - your opponent got a good roll to hurt you and melee AND now has extra magic to beat you with further...

That said it does add an element of resource management - another 'layer' to the game, which is good. However tracking/adding Godspark pretty much every roll could become a bit tiresome.

There are about 40 God Powers which sounds quite a lot as they all trigger further special rules/effects/traits, however each warband has access to only 3 which makes it more manageable in practice.

These God Powers link to specific norse gods - so Balder's powers allow you to heal wounds, while Thor's powers allow channelling electrical shock attacks. Having a read through I'm not confident they are well balanced; some seem much stronger than others. So I'd suggest they are randomly assigned as there'd be a temptation to min-max.

There is a very thorough campaign section where you can level up warriors, gain glory, check injuries, roll for loot, purchase new gear, weapons and God powers etc. Many modern skirmish rules skimp on this section with barebones campaigns but Ragnarok is the real deal. There is equipment, magic items to buy, a detailed injury table, legendary weapons and detailed rules on levelling up warriors and God Powers. (Basically, the God Powers get cheaper to cast, until the cost reaches 0 and it is imprinted on a particular warrior - i.e. is free but cannot be used by everyone else in the warband any more)

You can recruit new warriors, but interestingly, only recruit special heroes and beasts if you have defeated them in battle (i.e. as random encounter). There is only 6 scenarios (I say "only" but that is probably because the rest of this section is so thorough) but there are 12 secondary objectives that modify them for more variety. There are also random "encounter models" which randomly deploy from a pool of models they players determine before the game - once defeated, you can recruit them. There is also a mechanic for helping warbands 'catch up' if they are behind.

There is a large bestiary (80~) of monsters and races, from dwarves, and swartelves, to dragons, hags, draugr, demons, direwolves - basically a roll-call of norse mythological critters.

Finally there are 70+ special abilities or traits, from attacks like toxin, drain, blind - to 'absent minded' healer, delusional, regeneration.  This whole huge section gives real RPG vibes and I found myself mentally comparing it to "Savage Worlds" - my usual go-to "RPG-cum-skirmish-game." Based on the contents of this rulebook, I'm confident the author is an avid RPG-er.


A very nice rulebook which was easy to access, but obscure stats (MN, DR, RA) and key words were not always obvious so I had to spend time backtracking/checking. Rules were somewhat fiddly and had an old-school 1990s feel (which may appeal to some). Not as accessible as I'd hoped. 

Very detailed Mordheim-esque campaign with injuries, gear and tables; and big bestiary and magic list. The last 150 pages could have come from a RPG book like Savage Worlds. Plenty of chrome, "Godspark" adds an interesting (if potentially unbalanced) layer and the book has a cool theme and world-building. 

Ragnarok has happened - but not the way we thought. Vikings fighting for "essence" of dead gods in the ruins of the world? It's got a good theme for sure.

Recommended? Yes. Not a resounding yes, but yes.

I could probably replicate everything in it using Savage Worlds at about the same speed, for half the price...  ....but it does what it says on the tin, and has (for once) a proper skirmish campaign and trimmings. It's decent value for a quality book. It's not amazing or revolutionary, but I have no regrets of my purchase - and while I suspect I won't play it much, I'll certainly be making some viking warbands. It's worth a spot on your gaming shelf.


  1. I have this book, and I had a generally positive opinion of the rules, and I have a Victrix painted viking army..... yet I have not played this game on the table.

    No idea why, other than it was cool and looked nice..... BUT wasn't quite cool enough?

  2. I think the slight fiddliness makes it a bit inaccessible - a 'barrier to entry'. Song of Blades and Heroes is a game I often criticise for its "lots of special rules instead of stats" but I've actually played it quite a bit as I didn't have to consult the rules every time I want to go prone.

    Also, the 'best bit' of Raganarok is the campaign; so you have to kinda commit to it long term to get the proper experience. It's like a book that only 'gets good' at the end - it may not be worth the time investment to get there... You are unlikely to chuck down minis for a pick-up game.

  3. I love campaign games... in theory. I haven't managed to do much in a campaign since the end of high school and responsibilities piled up. So I now own a bunch of times for the sake of their campaign system but when I play a game it's a one off using a system that is solid tactically.

    One of the reasons I haunt this blog is because it delves into what makes a good tactical game and that is where I spend what game time is available after my job, schooling, house, kids, and wife!