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JORVIK: Stefan Feld  2-5 Players Aged 10+  45-90 Minutes per game  Eggertspiele  Pegasus Spiele  Stronghold Games

JORVIK is a trading, resource and worker placement game; well actually it is two games, the KARL and the JARL games. You choose which game to play and set the board accordingly, folding it in half for the Karl and using the complete board for the Jarl. JORVIK is designed for 4 players but it can accommodate 2, 3 or 5 players by adjusting the number of cards used; this occurs for both game types. The rules are written for the KARL version but you follow them through for the JARL as well, except that at certain points in the rulesbook you replace a paragraph or two of text from the main body with the text found in the associated Red Boxes. This system works surprisingly well and makes the game rules easy to follow. In fact the rules are so well detailed that you can setup and play as you read through them for the first time with your players in attention, there really is no need to study the rules; this is almost a pick-up and play game, almost!

The players control the actions of the Viking Tribes in the City of York, then known as JORVIK.  The components are basic wooden blocks and meeples along with strong card for the board and player boards, regular die-cut card for coins and a simple black bag to hold them. There are four decks, Winter, Spring, Summer and Autumn that comprise the main 104 card deck and each of these is beautifully illustrated by Marc Margielsky. In fact I would go as far as to say that the designers and creators of this game have gone the extra mile to ensure that the pieces are of top quality and durable because this is a game you are going to want to play many. many times. Although both versions, KARL and JARL, are similar in gameplay they are also sufficiently different to make each game unique in its own way. The wooden piece for Start Player; Thor's Hammer "Mjölnir" looks a bit like an anchor rather than a mighty weapon of the gods and players are commenting on this, possibly because the shaft widens a little where it meets the hammer head, but this doesn't affect the gameplay in any way, shape or form, it is, after all just a reminder of who started the round.

  

The KARL game:
You begin by folding the board in half so that the side showing the row of Viking Huts each with a tiled path leading to them. This path is a very important and clever part of the game for it is here that the players can gain useful cards for their tribe and collect goods from the supply ships.

The game follows the same four phases until the final card of the Seasons deck is revealed; this will be the Attack of the Picts which is placed face up on the card space prior to the deck being created and played onto it. This last card can be a bother for the player who has collected the least Warriors but as you know it is coming it is possible to play your game in the way that suits you best and just being mindful of the final battle. There are four of the Attack of the Picts cards in the game, one for each Season, beginning with 1,-1 and going through 2,-2 then to 3,-3 and the final 4,-4 these numbers are plus and minus Victory Points and are awarded to the players with the Most Defence (the plus number) and the Least Defence (the minus number); Defence values being the total on player owned Viking Warrior cards.

  

The Phases are: The Supply Phase, where the cards from the deck are placed in the Viking Huts above the pathways, the number of cards depends on the number of players. These cards are placed face up and bought by the players in the Buying Phase, phase three. The second phase is the most ingenius, clever and interesting. In turn the players place their Viking meeples onto the topmost available space on the pathways, putting them one at a time, in turn, under the card or cards they wish to purchase. The price of each card is determined by the number of Viking meeples on its pathway. For example, if there are a line of Vikings in this order, from the top; Red, Green, White, Red, the player who is using the Red Vikings can now buy the card for 4 coins as there are four Vikings in the line. If they decide not to buy it they remove their Viking and the Green player (in this case) can buy it for three coins. If they decide against it then White can buy it for 2 coins and if they refrain from the purchase, having placed their Viking just to hopefully oik the price up, the last Viking remaining is the Red one who can now buy the card for 1 coin.

Of course placing your meeple first gives you the advantage of being the first player the card is offered to, but it also means that other players can push the cost up. The balancing of the placing of the Vikings and the juggling of your money is a very clever mechanic for which Stefan Feld, the author, should be applauded. The cards in the row each have a special ability, the majority of which can be actioned in the fourth phase; Loading. When players buy these cards they place them above their own player board in the Buying phase. If they have bought ships there will be resource cubes that accompany the cards. Once all cards have been bought or discarded, any cards unsold are removed from the board and returned to the box, the players can bring the cards from the top of their boards down to the play area below, distributing the goods onto cards that need them, into their personal storage, spending them to gain coins or other Goods from the supply or discarding them to the supply pool; if you cannot store them and cannot use them then you have to discard them - it's a bit harsh but it makes for a super game of bluff, collecting, and managing.

Some cards require Goods so that they give a VP value at the end of the game. These cards are vulnerable to attack until their need is fulfilled and then they are safe. Victory points scored or lost during play are marked on the score track around the main board, other VPs are only counted at the end of the game; the winner being the player who amasses the highest overall total.

  

The cards all have specific icons to determine which set they begin to; these sets are described in the rules book: Ship, Artisan, Trader, Feast, Journey, Skald, Building, Warrior Loki, Defender, and Oracle; though not all types are available in the KARL game. There are also a symbols (or icons) for the Phases that are found on the cards to show which phase of the game they can be activated (used) in. Some cards are one shot while others can be used every turn. Cards that are saved may also score additional VPs if you have the specific cards that cause them to be counted at the end of the game; the most Ships or the most Traders for example.

The JARL game: Everything as above with a few differences.

To begin with you use the complete board. This shows another row of Season cards that are positioned in spaces above the first row. The buying of these is different but similar. If you want to buy one of these you put a Viking on it and move the card to the first position on the top row. This will become available to you to buy at a cost depending on how many other cards there are for sale in the row. The pathways have nothing to do with these cards and only one player may think about buying each card. This is another bluff or strategy spoiler in as much as you can waste a Viking by placing it on a card that you have no intention of purchasing, obviously it's no use doing this near the front of the row as that will mean you have to buy that card or discard it, either way it doesn't put any additional cost to the cards following it in the row. New ship cards come into play with the JARL game and players gain an additional coin in the Loading phase, making it two instead of the one gained in KARL mode. Other differences are explained fully in the Red Boxes and the new cards introduced into the game are also fully detailed on the same reference pages as the regular cards and again in a Red Box. New cards that are useful are the Oracle cards that allow the sacrifice of a specific type of Goods to receive 2 VPs.

There are so many little nuances in this game that allow you to score points or gain money and each is often just out of reach, making each game a most enjoyable experience. Stefan Feld is an exceptional games designer and comes up with some superb, playable games. Wikipedia provide a list of his best games:

Many of these I have played and nearly all of those I have enjoyed, Stefan rarely designs a weak game and even if the chrome of the game itself isn't to your taste there is often a good mechanic that drives it.

I thoroughly recommend JORVIK and you should be able to find it at your local game store for between £35.00 and £50.00, yes there really is that price difference between online stores.

© Chris Baylis 2011-2015