Board games that try to simulate the feeling of a sport usually fail. It is difficult to create the same kind of dynamic of a sport in a board game. Heroes of Jugger TTG positively surprised me as a game designer and jugger player.
Disclaimer: I am a jugger player but I have not met the game designer yet. I have played the game three times online on Tabletopia. The game is on Kickstarter from March 22 on.
Heroes of Jugger TTG is a strategic two player game that is based on the real life sport jugger. You might want to check out what this sport is like if you never heard of jugger before:
The game starts with a drafting mechanism during which players get to recruit team members. They alternate drawing potential team members but they may not have more than 5 player cards in their hand. So they got to either recruit or discard player cards each time they draw cards. Each player represents a real! jugger player and has some unique talent/ability that no other player has.
When both players have recruited five team members (eight in a long game) players give their team members weapons (usually corresponding to their specialty). Then, the starting player is determined, they will hold the initiative. Each team needs one quik (a runner, not having any weapon) and a chain player.
The player cards feature several values and the unique ablities. Players with a higher reflex card get to play first, like in real jugger kind of. Then each player has a an attack and a defense value to which the attack and defense values of their weapon can be added. Higher will helps you get the initiative and corresponds to a higher number of focus points. Focus points act a bit like action points that you can use for doing stuff on the board. Focus points replenish each time the player has its turn. Stamina points can be used like focus points but are not replenished (unless the player gets to make a break which is only possible in the long game, in that case the fortitude comes into play and helps to recover faster). The speed value adds to the reach a player can move in a turn. If a player used up all their stamina points that player can only walk, there simply is no energy to sprint anymore. Most special talents require the investment of focus and/or stamina points.
Players move on the hexes, attack each other, engage in duels and defend. Each time players fight players roll a number of dice that equals their attack or defense value. The higher count wins. Like in real life jugger a player who lost a duel is not eliminated but only down temporarily.
Fun: 9 out of 10
I feared the game might be complicated. I was wrong. Especially as a jugger player almost all rules made perfect sense on a theming level. So knowing jugger definately makes it easier to learn this game. Knowing most jugger players that are represented in this game, recognizing the art and their special ability is so much fun!
The game mechanics simulate the dynamic of the real life sport incredibly precise. I’ll give you some examples: In a real duel the better player has the better chances but might still lose. The dice fit very well in here. Having lost all stamina results in exhaustion and players can only walk (up to 3 hexes) rather than sprint (up to 8 hexes). The different weapons have a different reach (1 to 3 hexes). Players can flank attack or backstab opponents so they can use less or no dice to defend. The chain need to be loaded again after being used. Players can pin opponents. The defense and attack values of the players and the weapons are realistic (eg. the chain is strong in attack but weak in defense). If you recruit players from the same team, it adds synergy points that you can use as focus points.
The special abilities of players and the uncertainty added by the dice prevents the game from being “Jugger-Chess”. It is about choosing a strong team, with matching strengths and weaknesses and using each member to their fullest. Using the focus and stamina points means resource and risk management at the same time. Do I use all my stamina to use my special attack in hopes to win against the last man standing? If I still lose the duel, my exhausted player is seriously handicapped for the rest of the game.
Interaction: 10 out of 10
This is a zero-sum game: if one player wins the other one loses. So naturally, the interaction is as high as it can get. Not necessarily table talk but each decision has an impact on your opponent and vice versa.
You got to spot the weakness of your opponent’s team and play accordingly.
Replayability: 10 out of 10
There are up to 60! different players with unique values and special talents. In addition you can combine each player with one of the five roles (chain, quik, staff, long sword and shield). This guarantees endless variations. Especially the special talents do have a significant impact on the game experience.
Despite the laurels I got to mention three minor things I disliked:
The drafting mechanic of players seem to result in the strongest players being in play quite often where as the weakest players hardy get chosen. There is a recruitment cost of each player, the better players being more expensive. Your team might not exceed 30 recruitment cost in total. I felt this was not limiting enough to make sure the weakest player get into play more often. Also, there is the risk that some players might be too strong or too weak for their recruitment cost. I once tried a different drafting mechanic: there are 3 chain players, 3 quiks and 10 enforcers randomly drawn. Now the starting player (roll the dice) gets to recruit one heroe, the other player choses two heroes, the starting player chooses further two players etc. till both recruited one chain, one quik and three enforcers. This mechanic would result in weaker heroes being in play more often and thus in a higher replayability. And it is a bit more straightforward. Let me know how it plays out if you try it!
The other thing that I dislike is that you can equip your players with different weapons and that there are even three tiers of weapon. A heroic version of a chain would have better values but would require paying a recruitment cost. While this should add some more replayability (to a game with an extremely high replayability anyway) it also drags the phase before the game even starts. I personally would be totally happy to play without different tiers of weapons and would prefer a quicker start into the game.
Finally, having the initiative is really strong and comes at no cost. Players roll the number of dice of their player with the highest will value, so usually with 3 or 4 dice. You can’t push your luck here and if you get the initiative you don’t have to pay anything for it. So it is mostly luck if you get the initiative or not. I’d prefer if the initiative came at the cost of some focus or stamina points to balance the strong advantage at least a bit.
The good thing is: these are really minor complaints and do not diminish the fun for me at all since I can completely ignore them (eg. play with basic tier of weapon only) or use a small house rule.
So who do I recommend this game to?
Jugger players who are into board games: You gotta get this one!
If you are into strategic and interactive games that include a bit of playful aggression.
If you hate luck in games you might be offput by the dice. I usually belong to this group but in this case I liked it because it is so thematic and you can push your luck by investing focus points to get to roll more dice.
Heroes of Jugger TTG is a really innovative, thematic and interactive 2-player strategy game that is on Kickstarter from March 22 on! If you are still on the fence you might still want to go for it because it comes with a strong 3-month money-back guarantee incl. return postage.