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VIKINGS

Reviewed by Herb Levy

(Hans im Glück/Rio Grande Games, 2-4 players, ages 10 and up, about 60 minutes; $34.95)

 

It seems that Vikings are the flavor of the month. Last issue, there was Midgard. In this issue, we have featured Fire & Axe, the remake of Ragnor Brothers’ Viking Fury. Now, rounding out this unplanned trilogy of sorts, comes Vikings, the new game from designer Michael Kiesling.

Vikings comes with 8 player markers (2 each for each player), four “homelands”, cardboard coins (in denominations of 1, 5 and 10), 78 Vikings (13 each in six colors) and a cloth sack to hold them, 76 tiles consisting of (62 island tiles and 14 ship tiles (additional tiles for an “advanced game” are also included), six pages of illustrated instructions, four scoring summary play aids and a game board which includes, along with space for tile stacks and a scoring track along the perimeter, a wheel (some assembly required).vikings

Players begin with one player marker in front of them (to show who is what color) and place the second one on the scoring track on space 10. They also receive a starting amount of money (from 30 with two players down to 20 if all four players are in the game), a homeland, and a start tile which depicts the beginning of an island. Any unused start tiles are out of the game. The remaining 72 tiles are shuffled and stacked in six 12 piece columns. The first stack of 12 goes around the wheel on the board and 12 Viking pieces are drawn from the cloth bag and are also placed, in tandem, with the tiles but all of this is done with a specific method.

The wheel indicates values from 0 to 11. The first island tile drawn is placed on the value 0 space whereas the first ship tile drawn is placed on value 11. Subsequent tiles are placed next to the last in ascending value (if islands) or descending value (if ships). Viking pieces are placed in similar fashion but by color as all blue Vikings drawn (representing fishermen) are placed first (from 0 on up) followed by any drawn green Vikings (scouts), red (nobles), black (warriors) and finally gray (boatsmen) to create 12 tile-Viking “sets”. Now, in clockwise order, players must buy these sets.

A set costs the amount of gold shown on the wheel. Bought sets are immediately added to that player’s homeland. The 0 value set may be taken ONLY if the Viking of the set is the only Viking of that color currently available OR if a player is lacking enough coins to make a purchase. (Victory Points may be exchanged for money – at the rate of 1 VP for 1 coin – not a very good exchange rate and sometimes a necessary but not recommended strategy.) If after a purchase there is no set at 0, the wheel MOVES clockwise to the first available set, thereby changing the cost of all sets remaining.

The homeland piece is an inverted L-shaped bit of cardboard that serves as each player’s “base”. It depicts land (on the long side) with the unknown stretching out towards the right. Island tiles may be placed in any row so that at least one of its sides touch either another island tile or the base but other placement is more severely restricted. Down the edge of the homeland are various figures to indicate the only type of Viking that may be placed in each row. Rows are reserved for, in order, ships (the only tile limited to an exclusive row), warriors, nobles, scouts, goldsmiths and fishermen. The upper left hand corner depicts a boatman who will be used to ferry Vikings to, hopefully, high scoring positions as the game progresses.

Island tiles come in three varieties: beginnings, middles and ends. It is possible to extend an island with one beginning and several middles before bringing it to an end. As mentioned, ship tiles must be placed in the upper ship row and may be placed in any of the first 3 columns of that row. Future ships must be placed so that they touch and may not extend beyond the first 3 columns until the first 3 are filled. Once the island (or ship) tile is placed (or discarded if no legal play is possible), the accompanying Viking must be placed as well.

Vikings are limited to placement in the row that matches their color and must be placed on the tile just picked provided it has been placed on that row. If the island tile was placed in a different row, that Viking is required to sit in the base of the homeland (the upper left hand corner). A gray Viking is ALWAYS placed in the base. When no more sets remain, that round is over. Small scoring occurs after rounds 1, 3 and 5; Big scoring is done after rounds 2, 4 and 6.

Small scoring rewards players with 3 gold coins for each goldsmith he has on an island (not base) that is not threatened by a ship. In Big scoring, players earn gold AND Victory Points provided that certain conditions are met as, in order, going from the top (base) of the homeland vikings2to the bottom, scores are calculated.

First, each gray Viking at the base may ferry all Vikings of one color OR 1 Viking of each color situated at the base to empty island tiles anywhere in that player’s grid. (During the last Big Scoring, this is NOT an option. All gray Vikings that can be used MUST be used.) Now, the effect of ships is determined.

Ships threaten Vikings in their columns that stand on islands directly BENEATH them, extending to the color row that matches the color of that ship’s sail. (So, for example, a red sail ship can reach down two rows to the noble [red] row; a green sail ship threatens down three rows to the scout [green] row.) Ships that reach down unimpeded neutralize any Vikings located within their reach. Those Vikings score neither gold nor VPs. However, should a warrior (black) Viking be situated directly beneath a ship, that ship is blocked and has no effect on Vikings beneath it and, as a reward, the player collects gold or Victory Points equal to the value of the ship (ranging from 3 or 5 gold or 2 or 3 VPs depending on the ship).

If not hampered by ships, each noble (red) Viking generates 2 VPs, a scout earns 1 VP plus 1 VP for each goldsmith and/or fisherman directly below the scout, and goldsmiths generate 3 gold coins each. Fisherman score nothing in the Big scoring although they have the potential for a large score in the Final Scoring phase. 

After the last Big score (after round 6), Final Scoring is done. Each ship NOT repelled by a warrior REDUCES a player’s money or Victory Points by the number on the ship. Players earn 1 VP for each 5 gold. The player with the most boatsmen left on his base earns 10 VPs, the player with the MOST complete islands earns 7 VPs with the longest island worth 5 VPs. Ties are friendly. ALL tied players receive the “first place” number of VPs. Finally, we come to the fishermen.

Vikings must be fed and that’s where those fishermen come in. Each player counts the number of Vikings he has (including any still remaining in his base). Each unthreatened fisherman on an island can feed himself and 4 other Vikings. For EACH additional Viking that COULD be supplied, the player earns 2 more VPs. But what if you can’t feed them all? For EACH Viking of the player that can NOT be supplied, that player LOSES 1 VP. The player with the most VPs wins. (The player with the most gold wins any tie.)

Advanced rules provide for an auction to place Vikings around the wheel, limit the power of transport for boatsmen and introduce special tiles awarded to the player buying the currently most expensive set on the wheel. (These tiles, four of them randomly drawn each round, are there to help balance high money expenditure by awarding that player more gold or possibly more VPs during a scoring or the Final Score phase.)

Vikings departs from the stereotypical view of Vikings as, in this game, they are not the fierce warriors of legend. Although battling plays a part (you do have to try to defend against those ships to have any hope of victory), conflict is very stylized. Rather, the focus is on the expansion of islands and populating them.

In our sessions, we found the game to have a “solitaire” feel as generally (albeit not always), you find yourself choosing tiles best suited to your own needs with little regard to those of other players. There is a significant amount of randomness here due to the luck of the draw of tiles and Vikings (roughly equivalent to being dealt a hand of cards). There is also a disadvantage for the players going third and fourth when playing with four players as those players will not get an equal number of “first picks” which makes the sweet spot for the game two or three players which eliminates that potential problem.

Developing your grid in Vikings takes on aspects of a puzzle as you try to choose and fit pieces to maximize Victory Points. That is the crux of play and it is the challenge of maximizing the tiles and Vikings available that makes the game what it is. For this reason, money is a key ingredient. Of course, it is a source of VPs but, more importantly, a large cache of cash makes a crucial tile set you need affordable even if it means paying a bit more. In the Final Scoring, VPs come from all directions which means that you are never completely sure which player will end on top, another good thing. One word of advice: be sensitive to feeding your Vikings. With enough fishermen in play, you can score a killer amount of VPs while your opponents flounder because of a starving population.

At its core, Vikings is an abstract game with a thin veneer of theme and some counter-intuitive but innovative concepts that may take a little time to wrap your head around. The game is, in essence, a puzzle wrapped inside a game. While this may not be to everyone’s taste, it works on that basis and is, from my view, well worth the effort. – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy


 

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