Many would question the validity of converting a board game into a computer game. They'd say that it does not use the capabilities of the computer to enhance the game, or that it does not provide any more than a set of pieces and a board's worth of entertainment but at a much higher price, or that you cannot play it in the bath or something. The counter argument would retaliate that for a start you have a computer opponent, which provides a better challenge to those who keep whopping the butts of all their mates, or indeed for those who do not have any mates. They would point to Battle Chess as an example of a board game which has been enhanced by the battle sequences and animation.
Another good excuse for doing a board game on the Amiga is that it is simply unavailable as a board game. This appears to be the case with Ragnarok. Ragnarok, as the manual so informatively points out, is based on an ancient European board game called King's Table, the roots of which can be traced back to the Vikings (it says here, although I find it hard to believe that a marauding group of international vandals, whose sole reason for living was that there were still civilisations around that they had not completely slaughtered, could come up with an intricate board game involving a heavy strategic element).
Have you ever heard of King's Table? I know I haven't. (Stuart has. - Ed). And I bet if you had heard of it, or even read an in-depth account of how it is played and thought to yourself 'Hmmm, sounds like an interesting way of exercising my intellect using strategy combined with a ruthless determination to go for the kill when my opponent is at his weakest', then you would not be able to just pop down the corner shop and get it anyway.
So now you have the chance to buy it for £34.99 in a fascinating new variation called Ragnarok. Not only that, you also get King's Table itself bundled with it. Your search is over, your life-time struggle is at an end, your mission is complete. (I should be doing PR for a living, I'd be good at that). OK, there might be the odd person out there who has been dying to get hold of King's Table (or any derivatives) their whole life, but for the most of us it is really a case of 'Well, what is that then?' And we are really going to need some convincing if we are going to shell out thirty five quid to a game that was not interesting enough to survive beyond a time when human intelligence stretched to wearing helmets with horns sticking out of them as some sort of personal statement.
Happily I can tell you that Ragnarok is interesting enough. It is actually a rather intriguing game which offers a wide variety of ways to achieve your objective. I admit I was expecting a poor man's chess (or perhaps a moronically violent man's chess, considering its Viking roots). Instead you get a game which has similarities, no doubt, but has a completely different structure to it. Just look at the board layout and you will see that it works in a different way.
The two opponents play black versus white, but unlike chess you do not get the same pieces on both teams. The white team plays with eight "Einhrirar", the Ragnarok equivalent of pawns, Odin himself, who is equivalent to a King in chess, and four special pieces which have their own unique powers. These thirteen pieces are arranged in the middle of the table with Odin at the centre.
It is actually a rather intriguing game
The black pieces are made up of twenty pawns (the Giants) and again four special pieces, and these twenty four pieces are arranged around the four sides of the table. The objective of the white team is to get Odin from the centre of the board to one of the four corner squares, thus winning the game. The objective of the black team is to prevent this from happening, and the black team wins if it surrounds the Odin piece on all four sides.
The black team always starts the game. The pawns can move an unlimited number of squares horizontally or vertically as long as nothing blocks their way. The special pieces have varying qualities, such as being able to jump over other pieces like that horsey one in chess, and before the game each player can choose the four special pieces that he wishes to use out of a choice of six.
To take an opponent's piece you have to sandwich it between two of your own, with the exception of a couple of special pieces which require surrounding on three sides and of course Odin who has to be cut off on all four. And that is about it really, with a few other inevitable technicalities in the rules. It might be as clear as mud to you at the moment, but I can assure you that it is dead easy, and if you are still unsure of what to do during the game it will tell you how each piece can move and what options you currently have open to you. You can even get advice on what move to make next.
It is a good game which requires totally different tactics from chess (although the similarities are obvious - there must be some common ancestry here). You can play a human opponent or a computer one. In order to beat the computer and progress to a higher opponent you have to beat it twice, once as black and once as white.
To enhance the game further there is an animation run whenever a piece is taken, which is fairly amusing in some cases (like when the dwarf takes a swipe at the giant who does a back somersault to avoid the blow, only for the little guy to pull out a gun and shoot him in the groin). The computer opponents also add the odd quip to wind you up.
The difficult part now is actually rating this thing. I face a similar problem to Mark W in his Chess Master 2100 review, in what we are really looking at a board game here and if you do not like the board game then you are not going to want it are you?
Having said that, it is well executed, the animations enhance the action and Ragnarok the board game is not only a lot of fun but a good intellectual challenge too. If you are looking for an original board game with an intelligent strategic element then you will love it. Anyone else will know they are not going to like this, so you can go on to the next review if you like. Simple, isn't it?