ELF011[1]By Paco Garcia Jaen

Every thousand years, on the 11th year of the new millennium, Loki sends his son, Fenrir, to start Ragnarok and end the world as we know it.

Every thousand years, a musician of incredible talent will fight to gather the 15 sheets that form the Harmony of Cosmos and find the Organ of Destiny to play the melody that will vanish Fenrir for another millennium. And they have only 11 hours to do all that.

Of course things are not easy. Of the eight candidates, only one is the chosen to play the mystic notes. And Fenrir will do his best to find a host to possess and destroy the said candidate.

The premise for the game comes from the talented mind of Paolo Vallerga and designer Marco Valtriani. The inspiration, the music from the Swedish metal group Therion. And believe me it is a match made in heaven!

The components of the game are excellent. The art direction is absolutely fantastic. With a steampunk look and feel, the board features a gorgeous map of the the city of Turin and a couple of very interesting couple of gimmicks that are pretty fundamental to the mechanics of the game, a set of three cogs and a clock hand. They have to be moved along as the game advances. The cogs tell you what method of transportation, number of steps a character can move and what ability you can use. The clock marks the turn you’re in and also shows at what point Fenrir makes his appearance (more on that later).

This two items are the only bad points of the components. Although the cardboard is pretty sturdy, if you tighten the screws too much (like I did) they can break fairly easily (like mine did). However, now that you know, you will not screw those things too tight and they won’t break, so everyone’s happy.

The coloured wooden token are a bit of an eye-sore compared with the beautiful board and the gorgeously crafted miniatures with the effigies of the band. However they are indeed necessary to track various things.

All this sounds very confusing so far because the game is actually rather confusing. The mechanics are simple enough, but there is a lot to remember and things have to be done in order or the game gets a bit debunked. The rules are a bit messy. Though the layout is lovely, they’re not all that clear and suffer from average translation. Once you’ve got to grips with them, though, they’re easy to follow and very well balanced indeed.

The game takes place in 11 rounds. Every round is divided in 5 phases. And there is a lot to do. First of all you reveal an event card that will give some advantages or abilities to some characters. Then bid time points for to get the turn in which you’d like to go. So if you want to go first, you bid GameLayout[1]some of the 45 initial points you get. If another player wants to go first, they must surrender more points than you… and the same goes for the rest of the players. If a player runs out of time points, that’s the end of the game for that player.

Once you know who’s first, second and so on, you place clues on the board. Clues will allow you later to perform more actions. Then choose one of the characters you’d like to use for that round. That character will have a special ability and will be able to move a number of steps determined by one of the cogs on the board. And you can use that move to get clues and, if you’re lucky, to the Organ of Destiny.

All along, one of the characters will be hidden. That is the chosen one who will be able to perform the music. In order to find out who that is, the players have to use investigation tokens or abilities to look either into a player’s hand at random, or, if available, in the deck of Unknown Characters (the characters left behind for a game wit less than the maximum number of players). So think Cluedo with much greater consequences and a lot more fun.

Comes the fifth round and, if the game has more than 3 players, one of them will be possessed by the spirit of Fenrir (in-game.. not for real). When that happens, the victory conditions for that player change and that player becomes an antagonistic figure who has to find the chosen one to actually destroy that character. Not nice.

And before you realise, some two and a half hours have gone by and you’re still having fun.

Conclusion:

I love this game. I love the looks, I love the mechanics, I love the components and I love the background story.

However, the rules manuals need better translation and you’ll have to be careful not to damage the most delicate parts of the board. This two points are pretty strong with me, specially the rules one. The game is complex and there is a lot to remember and a lot to do. Confusing rules means you’ll have to play the game a couple of times before you are comfortable with the game-flow. The rules need stream-lining a bit too. Simplify them a tad and this is a truly fantastic game.

However, if you’re a friend of mythology, good theme and atmosphere, and don’t mind slightly long games, this one is for you.

Although the game is very re-playable, there is a bit of room for improvement. For example the end of the game can be as simple as a move and that’s it. The chosen one gets destroyed by Fenrir and the game ends. For a game that feels epic from the start, it can be an ending that leaves you wishing there was a bit more.

Well deserved four stars for this game. Hope we see an expansion sometime soon!