VIKINGS on BOARD: Charles Chevallier, Catherin Dumas & Pascal Pelemans (Designers) Maeve Da Silva & Christine Deschamps (Illustrators) Published by BLUE ORANGE
This is a boardgame for 2-4 players aged 8+ which should last between 30 minutes to an hour. The Viking theme is demonstrated by the style of ships and the miniature Viking models in brightly coloured plastic.
The overall production is exceptional, just as you would expect from Blue Orange, for apart from the finely detailed miniatures (which have a specifically designed plastic insert to hold them firm and keep them safe), the board and ship parts are made from super strong durable compressed card. There are also 8 sets of Rules, a separate booklet for each language which shows dedication to making this open to the world of games. There is nothing in the production that could have been done better, in fact at around £30.00-£35.00 retail the production surpasses many games with prices that are double that and more.The game is visually amazing, so good I doubt that anyone could pass on by a game of it being played without stopping to watch.
Although the game features Vikings there is no conquering, no fighting (not even a mild squabble), nothing really Viking like at all, except that the ships are long, narrow and have a Dragon carved as a figurehead. VIKINGS on BOARD is a game about players trying to stock the ships with the most valuable goods, food, cloth and building materials, and then manipulate their way to being in control of as many ships as they can just as they set sail. 8 ships are being prepared to sail but there are only seven Aft pieces available, thus one ship is going nowhere. The game mechanic uses a neat idea to keep track of whose turn it is. First a start player is determined at random and they place onw of their Viking pieces on the first space on the board. Then in an order documented in the rules the players continue to position their Vikings one at a time until all Vikings are lined up on the Market side opposite the Black Viking figure. This Black Viking is always placed on the side opposite the Vikings at the start of each turn and thus when the last Viking is moved across the round is over. The ship chosen to move leaves port, any scoring counters are taken and placed face down on their owning player's shield, and the Black Viking moves to the other side of the Market ready for the next round, thus the game is played over 7 Rounds with each player having up to 5 Vikings (depending on number of players) each of which has to be moved every round.
The Viking on the far right of the Market is moved first. It can be moved to any one of the spaces (shown as round shadows) on the other side of the Market. Once placed the player has to activate the action pertaining to that space which relates to stall in the Market it (the space) is in front of. The further left the Viking is placed the better the available action but it also means that in the next Round the Vikings on the left will be at turn later in the Round, those furthest to the right therefore will be the earliest to be placed in the next round. It's a system that has been used many times but it works especially well in this game, right until near the end of the game when it sort of falls to pieces a bit, at least it always does in our games and I can't imagine we're the only ones to have minor reservations about the near-end game.
Players use their Vikings to put goods on the ships (only the Bow piece carries Goods) but the number of Goods available is very limited. Possible Actions available mean that Vikings can place or move pieces of the ships, theirs or opponent's pieces according to the action taken, they can bet (each player has four betting tokens) on which Viking clan (colour) will control the ship when it leaves port or they can raise the value of one of the Goods (though never past 4, also Goods can never be devalued) - each Market stall offers a different Action (some are similar but slightly different) and only one Viking can be on each Action space each round.This means that the far left space, which determines the first player on the next round becomes very important at certain times in the game, particularly nearer the end.
Each Viking ship is made of a Bow and an Aft piece (except one as already mentioned) and up to five separate pieces. These separate pieces have one, two or three Shields attached as well as the coloured insignia of the Viking clan that it belongs to. When determining who has control of the ship when it sails the Shields are counted and the clan with the most Shields controls the ship. This gives them first pick of the onboard Goods, then the clan with the second most Shields then the third most etc coming back round to the first player if there are enough Goods on board - generally unlikely in our experiences. If there is a tie for the number of Shields then of the tied players the one whose ship piece is closer to the Bow wins. The player who bet on the correct colour of the controlling clan takes their betting counter and places it face down on their large Shield tile; any other betting counters remain in place as they can be moved later. As only one Viking can be on each space this means that only one Aft piece is available each round and at the end of the round it must be placed onto a ship to make that ship sail, you may never hold onto an Aft piece until the next round.
One of the Actions reads as follows: "Exchange. Swap ANY two Body pieces of your choice (regardless of colour) between two different ships." We had a serious discussion as to whether this meant swap two body (ship) pieces from Ship A with two body pieces from Ship B or swap one piece from each ship - we settles on one piece from each ship because the illustration in the book tended to show this, but it still wasn't exactly clear.
There is a typical problem of putting all your eggs in one basket, in this case it's all your ship pieces in one ship, because once the ship has sailed then you cannot move your ship pieces from it. Therefore if you use all your pieces early on then the remainder of your game is playing spoiler, placing your Vikings on the Actions that you know others are more likely to want to do, grabbing first place so you can control the Aft piece allows you to play Kingmaker. Of course you have to be able to perform the Action that you take, you cannot just block the space, thus as you have no Ship pieces to move you cannot choose any of the spaces that move your Ship pieces - this really limits your choices. If your Vikings are near the far end to the left then you will be having late Actions which again gives you limited options, you may even have to take an Action to help an opponent. With four players this happens more often than not because you only have a limited number of Ship pieces and it is often necessary to use more than one of them to gain control of a ship, sometimes it takes at least three.
There are a couple of things we would have liked to see in the game that although they are not innovative or new they would possibly give the players another option or two. These are only our thoughts and suggestions for things to try. For example when a Viking is placed on the space to raise the value of a Goods allow them to lower a Goods by one instead if they wish to - raise one or lower one ? We also thought the betting could have been handled differently, perhaps allowing players to bid on the same colour Ship but with Bonus points for being the first to bet so you might score the value of your chit plus 3 for being first to bet, plus 2 for being second, plus 1 for being the third and straight value for being the fourth to bet on it; all tokens bet would be removed from the game after scoring; this would still give players a chance to score some points if they had used all their Ship/Body pieces.
VIKINGS on BOARD looks absolutely brilliant, has super components, a well appointed Rules booklet and super-detailed miniatures but it also looks like a gamer's game and plays like a family game.