Joshua Gillingham Talks ‘Althingi: Saga Heroes,’ Live Now On Kickstarter

by Anton Kromoff

Welcome to the table.

Recently I have had a chance to sit down with Joshua Gillingham and talk about his upcoming Kickstarter project with Outland EntertainmentAlthingi: Saga Heroes, the first official expansion for the Althingi: One Will Rise card game launching on Kickstarter today.
Anton Kromoff: Hello Josh, and thank you for taking the time to talk to me about Althingi. Before we dig too deep into the core set and this new expansion of the game, can you please tell our readers a little bit more about yourself?

Joshua Gillingham: I’d be glad to! And thanks for having me on. Ok, so I am coffee-loving, Viking history and board game nerd living on Vancouver Island off Canada’s pacific coast. I write books, design board games, do free-lance editing, run a coffee tourism website, and am professionally trained as an online learning designer. My partner and I enjoy playing board games, reading books, and exploring the Lothlorien-like wilderness that surrounds us. We have one little hobbit (aka kiddo) and two cats.
Kromoff: How long have you been in the card game space?

Gillingham: I really got into board games in 2014 when a couple of friends from the US studying in Canada brought up their collection and introduced us to classics such as CarcassonneDominion, and Seven Wonders. (They love board games so much they filled their luggage, even forgoing extra clothes to be able to pack a few more.)

These were the gateway for me into modern board games and before I knew it I was struck with an idea of my own. In 2016 I connected with the design community in Edmonton, Canada by attending and presenting at EPOC (hosted by Nicholas Fong, founder of Fongomongo Games and designer of Rolling Empires) and have since continued to design games, even going so far as to found a design community in the mid-island here on the West Coast, Little Hammer Forge.
As a side note, I may be the only card game designer I am aware of that didn’t grow up playing Magic the Gathering (though I do have a mathematics degree which I hope would make Richard Garfield proud).Kromoff: Aside from the normal playtesting for your own projects, are you currently playing anything regularly?

Gillingham: This month my Friday night games group has been working through Eric Lang’s trilogy of mythological projects: Blood RageRising Sun, and Ankh. They are all rather unique mechanics-wise and the art for each game deserves its own private exhibit. The host of my game night is also very into painting miniatures with his partner so it is a rather splendid affair playing these games fully and masterfully painted!

Kromoff: So walk us through how you decided to make a card game about Viking-Age Iceland?
Gillingham: Vikings are, admittedly, an obsession of mine and once I had packed my brain full of more history text books and saga translations that I knew what to do with, it all had to come out somehow. It started with my fantasy trilogy (now complete): The Saga of Torin Ten-Trees, a troll-hunting fantasy inspired by the Norse myths and Icelandic sagas. This series really was the birth of my creative self.
Building on the productive habits and confidence of this project, I was struck with an idea for a board game and proceeded to design it, play-testing it to the point that I believed it was ready for publication. Unfortunately, that project is still stuck on the art stage (I am continuing to work with the artist and they will complete it… someday); however, in the meantime I came up with another idea based more on the Icelandic sagas, a collection of semi-mythic family histories, which allowed me to explore a more historically grounded space. And thus, Althingi: One Will Rise was born!Kromoff: Now I’ve seen the game being played at multiple conventions and most recently by the hosts of SagaThing podcast on their trip through Iceland. As a game designer does it ever get old knowing your work is out in the wild being enjoyed by others?

Gillingham: Ecstatic. Absolutely thrilled. As someone who loves games, seeing your own game being featured at GenCon is rather surreal. Particularly in the case of Andy & John, hosts of the Saga Thing Podcast, their praise is about as high as it could get. One cannot expect accolades or praise as a creative person – you must do it for your own reasons grounded in the belief that your creative projects are fundamentally worthwhile – but it is an absolute delight to share your passions with the world and find others who want to share in that experience.Kromoff: So the core set is currently out and doing well, so what can we expect from this new expansion?

Gillingham: As a bit of background, Althingi: One Will Rise is a game of strength and influence set in Viking Age Iceland. Players take on the role of Icelandic chieftains and strive to gain control of the Althingi (a historic annual gathering in Iceland on the plains of Thingvellir, which you can still visit today!) through bribery, coercion, and violence (this is a Viking game after all…). The base game is very approachable; with the expansion, I wanted to deepen the strategic elements.

The Althingi: Saga Heroes expansion adds ten new Vikings drawn straight from the Icelandic sagas, a new feuding mechanic with which to wreak revenge on your rivals, kinship cards which provide secret objectives as players bribe Vikings to join their camps, and a devious new loot card which lets you spoil competing bribes and cheat one per game in holmgang (a type of ritual Viking duel) by poisoning the opponent. Great times all around!

Kromoff: Can you give us a sneak peek at what new heroes we can expect to see from the sagas joining the game?
Gillingham: The cast of new Vikings in Althingi: Saga Heroes includes Erik the Red, Leif Erikson (his son), Guthrid Far-Traveller (his daughter-in-law… yes, there are many family connections in the sagas!), Grettir the Strong (not so closely related), Egil Skallagrimson, Kormac the Skald, Burnt-Njal, Hervor, Angantyr the Berserker, and Arrow-Odd.

Kromoff: Do you have a favorite saga?
Gillingham: Ah, what a cruel question. The most mythic (and so, for the purpose of this interview, my favorite) is perhaps Örvar-Odds saga. Given a curse in his youth that he should meet his end by the horse owned by his foster family, he kills the creature and runs away. Early on, he acquires three magic arrows that, when fired, return to his sheath like a boomerang. Since he vows to never return home, he never dies and lives out several life-times adventuring across many realms, including Jotunheim far in the north where he encounters and deceives a court of jotun (Norse giants).
A mysterious figure named Ogmund begins to hunt Odd and it is soon realized that Ogmund is in fact a ‘shadow self’. Pursued by Ogmund in a ghost longship crewed by draugr (Norse zombies), Odd continues to win fame and acquire magical artifacts, including a magic shirt in Ireland blessed so that no sword can pierce it. As fantastic as this story is, he actually appears as a figure in more historically based sagas; for example, Odd waltzes onto the stage in The Saga of Heidrik the Wise (which is really more about Heidrik’s bad-ass mother Hervor) and plays a critical role in the narrative as the slayer of Angantyr the Berserker (Heidrik’s great-grandfather).
At last, after a period covering about two hundred years, Odd faces Ogmund in an epic final battle which takes place at Ogmund’s mountain fortress in Helluland (a location believed to be Baffin Island in Canada’s arctic). Weary of living and having lost so many friends, Odd accepts his fate and returns to his foster family’s homestead. He digs up the horse’s body and strikes the skull with his shovel; from that broken skull springs a venomous viper which bites him. The prophecy fulfilled, Odd recites a rather long-winded death poem recounting his feats and recalling what wisdom he has gained before succumbing to his long-foretold fate. A really feel-good story all around.

Kromoff: During playtesting did anything fun happen that made you stop in your tracks and go “…well I need to revisit that!”
Gillingham: So, this game entered the development phase back in 2016 and I playtested it for four years; hundreds of hours went into design and playtesting so the arc of development was really quite epic. It went through several iterations, including an RPG-style structure and even a speed-play game. In the end, I was able to distill the essence of the game in Althingi: One Will Rise; it is an absolute thrill to bring in some of the mechanics and features I loved back into the game with Althingi: Saga Heroes.

Kromoff: Aside from your own release is there anything currently happening in the board and card game space that excites you?
Gillingham: I am always blown away at what new things can be done on the table using cards, dice, cardboard components, etc.; this constant cycle of innovation is what keeps me coming back to board games as a creative medium, both as one who creates and as one who enjoys the creations of others. Three games that I’ve played recently that struck me as particularly brilliant were Merchants of the Dark RoadReturn to Dark Tower, and Dead Reckoning.
Merchants of the Dark Road (designed by Brian Suhre) puts a fresh twist on the fantasy tavern trope, placing players not in the seat of the hero but in charge of the wandering caravans that must navigate the dangers of a dark fantasy realm while also transporting heroes, trading goods, and trying their damnedest to turn a profit. Return to Dark Tower (Restoration Games) features an monolithic AI-integrated sorcerer’s tower that eats skulls, spits them out to spoil the surrounding realms, lights up, and spins on multiple levels to change the direction of cursed sigils on its battlements that darken whichever realm they face; I’m not usually a fan of AI-integration in board games but this one was done very tastefully with options for both competitive and cooperative play.
Finally, Dead Reckoning (designer John D. Clair) is a pirate-themed card-crafting game with this absolutely brilliant mechanic involving partially transparent plastic skill cards which you sleeve into the pirate crew cards to train them up, granting them specializations depending on how you want to play the game. I could go on but… this is an article and not a novella.

Kromoff: As we wrap up I really want to thank you for giving me a chance to talk with you about Althingi: One Will Rise. Tell our readers why they can keep up with you online.
Gillingham: Well, the Althingi: Saga Heroes Kickstarter is live right now – so go ahead and check it out here! The best place to find out about my other creative projects is through my website (, though everything Althingi can also be found on the Outland Entertainment website! I am regularly on Twitter @JoshMGillingham and very irregularly on my Little Hammer Games page on Facebook @LittleHammerBoardGames. Tusen takk (a thousand thanks) for having me on!
Until next time, may no sword pierce your shirt.

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