(Gamers Alliance is always on the lookout for good games. Greg Schloesser spotted and wrote about one from Ragnar Brothers: Viking Fury. With Fire & Axe, its latest incarnation, featured in this issue, we thought it was the proper time to “flashback” and see what Greg had to say about the game. This review appeared in our Fall 2004 issue.)
(The Ragnar Brothers, 3-5 players, ages 12 and up, 2-2.5 hours; about $50)
A new game from the Ragnar Brothers, creators of such games as History of the World (featured in the Winter 1994 GA REPORT and Fall 2001 GA REPORT) and Kings & Castles … and the game carries a Viking theme. The result? A must-buy. After just one playing, my decision to purchase a copy was immediately affirmed. This is a wonderful game. Subsequent playings have only increased my enthusiasm.
Players “take up their battleaxe” and proceed to make their presence felt around Europe. Trading, raiding and settling, players attempt to earn wealth and prestige, leading their clan to a position of prominence amongst the Northmen.
First, let’s take a peek at the components. As is the Ragnar Brothers tradition, the map is printed upon cloth. The result is, well, less than stellar. First and foremost, the art is counter-intuitive. On most maps, water is depicted in a darker shade than land. Not so here. The land is gray, while the waterways are white. This might make sense considering that all movement takes place on water, but it takes a bit getting used to. Once one adjusts to the graphics, color shades and layout, which may take a turn or two, the map does prove functional, albeit less than attractive. The remaining components are standard fare, including wood cubes, cardboard counters, plastic chips and coated cards.
Fortunately, the true beauty of Viking Fury, a Steve and Phil Kendall design, lies not in its components, but in the game itself.
The map depicts Europe and its surrounding waterways, with dozens of ports scattered across the continent. Most of the ports are grouped into sets of three, which is important when trading and determining victory points. The value of ports can vary from 2 – 4, with some of the independent or standalone ports carrying a value of ‘5’. Players will earn points for trading goods with those ports, raiding the ports containing treasures, and by establishing permanent settlements at those locations. These are known as the “three tasks” of the Viking players.
But there is more to being a Viking than just rampaging around Europe performing these three tasks. Throughout the three sagas, cards are revealed that present the players with various tasks and objectives. Three of these cards are visible at all times, and the tasks they present include the settling of certain areas, trading with a region of three settlements, raiding various ports, etc. The player who successfully completes the objective of a saga card receives the card, as well as any points awarded on the card itself. This bears repeating: the player who COMPLETES the objectives listed on the card receives the card and points. That means that a player may complete two of the three objectives, but another player can swoop in and complete the third task and claim the card. Thus, players are constantly looking over their bows, wary of their opponents snatching these valuable cards from their grasp.
Players begin the game in the wintering port, where they can re-supply their ship with trade goods and crew. Each player has a total of seven actions (or “days” in game parlance) per turn, and it takes a day to load each trade good or crew. Initially a player’s ship can hold up to five goods and/or crew, but with each passing saga (which is determined by the cards), this capacity increases by one.
After loading their ship, players move immediately to either Sweden, Denmark or Norway. While in this port, the player may spend “day” points to draw Rune cards. These cards are akin to event or action cards, and are used to alter the rules in some fashion. They can aid a player in his actions, or hinder an opponent. Although some of the cards are powerful, none are game-breaking. The Rune cards introduce some uncertainty and surprises into the game system, which is something I enjoy.
When players set sail, each waterway sector entered costs one “day”. Players cannot sail with impunity, however, as the map is divided into four sections – north, south, east and west. Each section limits the number of days a player may spend sailing within it, with penalties being suffered for exceeding these limits. These penalties are the loss of goods and/or crew, which can devastate a player’s planned actions. These limits can be increased or decreased by one by the adjustment of the “Wind Dial”, which can be turned whenever a Rune card is played. That additional one day of clear sailing may not seem like much, but it can be quite critical at crucial moments in the game. Tracks are provided on the board to tally the number of actions used sailing and loading goods and crew.
When a player’s ship arrives in a port, he may perform one and only one action: Trade, Raid or Settle.
1) Trade. Trading is as simple as delivering a good from your ship and placing it onto the port. Each port can only hold one commodity, and each port in a region (which consists of three ports) must have a different type of commodity. The player receives victory points equal to the value of the port.
2) Raid. Some ports will have face-down treasures, and those greedy Vikings just love looting towns for treasure! To raid a port, a player can roll up to three dice, but no more than the number of crew present on his ship. These dice are rolled one-at-a-time, with any result less that is equal to or less than the port value resulting in the loss of a crewmember. If a player successfully rolls higher than the port value, he takes the treasure counter and receives the number of victory points it depicts. Treasures range in value from 3 – 6 in the regular ports, and from 8 – 12 in the independent ports. The actual treasure counters are maintained, as they will earn victory points at game’s end for the player who possesses the most treasures.
3) Settle. In order for a Viking to settle a port, all treasure counters in that region must have been looted. The player rolls three dice all at once. Like raiding, any result less than or equal to the value of the port results in the loss of a crewmember. A successful result allows the Viking to place one of his crewmembers onto the port, thereby establishing a settlement. Settlements will be worth victory points at the end of the game.
The presence of a commodity at a port reduces the number required to successfully raid or settle that port by one. Seems as though the local population feels that the Vikings are friendly and are prone to welcome them back to their village. Boy, are they in for a surprise!
Although players cannot directly attack each other, Viking settlements and ships are not totally safe from opponents’ assaults. Rune cards can call for the possible elimination of goods, crew and even settlements. They can also cause unexpected delays at sea, and even force players to vacate ports. These can be nasty surprises.
Unlike many games that require players to take a long and often mundane journey back to a base camp in order to refit, Viking Fury allows players to magically transport back to the Wintering box at any time during his turn. The drawback is that the player may only keep one crew member onboard, and is forced to jettison any other commodities or crew. Still, this prevents the game from dragging as players slog their way back to the wintering box.
When the final saga card is revealed, the game enters its end-phase. Three more rounds will be conducted, unless the final saga card is taken, which means its objective has been satisfied. If this occurs, the game ends immediately, which may deny some players a turn. Players must be aware of this and plan accordingly.
Players earn victory points throughout the game by trading and raiding. More victory points are earned at game’s end:
1) The Blood Axe Bonus. The player possessing the most treasure counters receives 3 points per counter.
2) Settlements. Each settlement is worth the value of that port. However, if two of the ports in a region are settled, each port is worth double. If all three ports are settled, then the value of each port is tripled. Ports do NOT need to be occupied by the same Viking in order to be doubled or tripled.
Settlements can provide a substantial number of points, so players should not overlook this aspect of the game. Indeed, the points earned at the end of the game generally account for 70% or more of a player’s total points.
3) Sagas. When players complete the task listed on a saga card, they take keep the card. Some of these cards earn immediate points, but the cards may earn even more points at game’s end.
Each card lists either Norway, Sweden or Denmark. Each category is examined, and the player who possesses the most cards in a category receives 10 points per card. Similar to settlements, this can be a substantial amount of points. It also encourages players to compete to complete tasks of certain cards so that they can accumulate multiple cards in one or two countries. In my games, I’ve concentrated on accumulating cards so that I had the most cards of at least one country. This seems to be a wise thing to do.
The player who accumulates the most victory points emerges victorious and is revered by Viking clans everywhere.
The game is filled with decisions galore. Outfitting your ship, selecting and playing Rune cards, pursuing the tasks presented by the Saga cards, settling, raiding, trading … ALL involve numerous choices, and the decisions made will directly affect a player’s fate. Long-range plans are possible, but events and the rewards offered by Saga cards also provide rich opportunities for short-term payoffs. Further, although direct attacks against your opponents are not allowed, there are many opportunities to thwart their plans and interfere with their progress. This is NOT a solitaire experience.
Drawbacks? Sure. I’ve mentioned the map, which is not very good. There also isn’t much “fury”. One would expect a Viking game to be filled with more violent raiding and combat. Raiding is present, but it is boiled down to a few rolls of the dice. It works and is quick, but it is far short of the rampaging fury one might expect.
In spite of its relatively peaceful nature, Viking Fury is quite exciting and tense. In all of my games, competition was fierce and the ultimate winner was in doubt until all the points were tallied. I felt challenged throughout the games, feeling exhilarated and frustrated due to unexpected circumstances at various times. I was thoroughly engaged throughout, and can’t wait to sail the shores and terrorize Europe again soon. – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Greg J. Schloesser
copyright © 2004, all rights reserved.
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Summer 2007 GA Report Articles