Dale Yu: Review of Vikings (Z-man)


  • Designer: Michael Kiesling
  • Publisher: Z-Man (originally by Hans im Gluck in 2007)
  • Players: 2-4
  • Ages: 10+
  • Time: 60-75 minutes
  • Times played: at least 20, but specifically three with the newest 2014 Z-man edition


Vikings is an older game which has been out of print for quite some time.   The original version of the game was published in 2007, and when it came out, it was one of my favorite games of that year.  While I was not keeping records of games played back then, I’d conservatively estimate that I have played this at least 25 times.  Z-Man has recently acquired the EN rights to the game, and they have put out a new version.  As far as I can tell, there are no changes to the game at all – it is a strict reprint of the original version.

As I mentioned, this game had always been one of my favorites, and it is one of the few games that I prefer playing the “basic” version of the game as opposed to the “advanced” ruleset.  Given that I probably haven’t played this in over 5 years, the re-release seemed to be a good opportunity to see if my old preferences held true today.

Rather than re-invent the wheel, I’d like to use a portion of the original review that interested me in the game in the first place… back in 2007!  Written by a good friend of mine – Scott Russell (http://boardgamegeek.com/thread/172928/the-veeples-are-coming )


There are 76 tiles that consist of 14 ships and 62 island parts. The island parts have a left end, center and right end of islands. Each player starts with a left end island piece that must be placed when the player’s first purchased island piece is placed. The ships all have a color on the sail as well as a risk/reward value of VP or gold pieces. There are also 25 special tiles that aren’t used in basic game. The function of each tile can be clearly seen, but still has pleasing and appropriate artwork.


There are 78 veeples (basic man shape with horned helmet) that come in six colors, blue, yellow, green, red, black and gray, representing different specialities: fisherman, prospectors, scouts, nobles, warriors and Boatswains. The colors were well chosen for distinguishibility even for this colorblind player and seem to fit with the function as well.


There are four pairs of colored cubes, one of each pair is used to score and one is kept in front of appropriate player as reminder of color, a nice touch since there are already six non-player specific colors in the game. The board has the spinner with twelve spaces around it for a tile and a veeple. The spinner has numbers from zero to eleven to indicate the price of each set of tile and veeple. There are spaces for six stacks of twelve tiles (one stack is used each turn) as well as spots for the special tiles with a score track around the perimeter. The spaces on the score track comfortably hold up to four scoring markers.


There is also a half boundary, also of heavy cardboard, for each player that clearly shows the row for each type of veeple as well as icons as a reminder of their use. This piece frames the left of each player’s area as well as indicating the first three columns.


The money comes in 1’s, 5’s and 10’s and based on our two games are sufficient to handle all transactions without excessive change-making or consolidating…


The object of the game is to have the most victory points at the end of the game. VP are obtained at the end of turns 2, 4 and 6 and from endgame scoring. The game consists of six rounds during which players purchase an equal number (six, four or three depending on number of players) of the twelve tile/veeple sets available that round to place in their individual displays.


At the start of each round twelve ship and island tiles are placed on the display along with twelve veeples to form twelve tile/veeple sets. The tiles are dealt first with the island parts filling in from the zero value up and the ships filling in from the eleven value down. Then twelve veeples are drawn and arranged on the display with the fisherman, prospectors, scouts, nobles, warriors, then Boatswains arranged in order from the lowest to highest cost slots. This means at the start of each round the fisherman, if any were drawn will be in the least expensive tile/veeple sets and the Boatswains in the most expensive.


Each player on turn can purchase any of the sets for the indicated cost from one to eleven gold pieces. The zero cost set can only be purchased if the player cannot afford any of the other remaining sets or if there are no more veeples of the same type still available. When the zero cost set is taken by a player, the spinner is moved so that the next lowest remaining set is zero cost and all others thus reduce in price as well. This means the last player each turn will always get the last set for zero. After each turn, the first player marker (a three piece ship construction) moves to the left.


As each set is purchased, the island or ship tile must be placed in the player’s display if possible. The island tiles will be placed in the bottom five rows, while the ships will all be placed in the top row. The tiles when placed must match island to island sides or sea to sea sides with all adjacent tiles and must touch at least one tile or the player’s half border. This means gaps can be formed that do not have to be possible to fill later. The first tree ships must be in first three columns, but can be filled in any order.


If the island tile is placed in the row corresponding to the veeple in the set, then the newly acquired veeple is placed on the newly placed tile. If an island tile is placed in another row, if the new tile is a ship or if the new veeple is a Boatswain, the veeple is placed on the mainland area of the display.


The color of the ship tile’s sails indicate how many rows the ship threatens in its column. For example, a blue ship threatens the entire column, but a red ship only threatens the warrior and noble row. If there is a warrior in a column, then the ship is neutralized and the column is not threatened.


At the end of the odd numbered turns, only the prospectors are “scored.” If not threatened, they produce three gold each for the player. At the end of the even numbered turns, Boatswains may ferry veeples initially placed on the mainland to an empty island tile in the appropriate row, then a scoring takes place. This move is optional on turns two and four, but must be done on the last turn. The even numbered turn scoring consists of warriors scoring money or VP, depending on the ships being blocked. Then each noble produces two VP and scouts score one VP plus one VP per fisherman and/or prospector below him in same column. Finally the prospectors produce three gold each. If any veeple is threatened by an unblocked ship, it does not produce VP or gold pieces.


Each Boatswain can move as many of one color veeple(s) or one of each available color veeple(s) to vacant island tiles in the appropriate row. This consumes the Boatswain which is returned to the box. This move is optional for turns two and four, but all veeples possible must be relocated if vacany island tiles and Boatswains are available.


At the end of the game, all unblocked ships cost the player money or VP, as appropriate, each five gold is traded for one VP. The player(s) with the most Boatswains remaining scores ten VP, The players with the most complete (left end, possibly middle piece(s) and right end) islands gets seven, while the player(s) with the largest complete island gets five. Finally, the fisherman matter. Each fisherman can feed five veeples, for each extra veeple capacity, a player gets two VP, for each unfed veeple, players lose one VP. If VP is tied, the player with the most remaining money wins…

(end of quoted review)

There is also a extra sheet with advanced rules on them – not covered by Scott above.  There are two sections to the advanced rules: an auction for Viking placement as well as a set of special tiles that come into play.  The rules do explicitly state that you can opt to not use the auction rules (but still use the special tiles).

The Auction – in the setup phase for the 6 rounds, 13 Viking meeples are drawn out of the bag (instead of 12) and sorted by color; but they are not yet placed on the wheel.  Instead, players auction for the right to start Viking meeple placement.  Whichever player makes the highest bid in Gold pays that amount to the bank.  Then, that player takes any one of the 13 chosen Vikings and removes it from the game.  The tiles are placed according to the regular rules.  Then the winner of the auction takes any one color of available Vikings and starts placing them counter clockwise from the 11 spot on the wheel.  The next player in clockwise order then chooses any remaining color and places the Vikings of that color in the next available spaces clockwise.  This continues until all Vikings have been placed around the wheel.

It should also be noted that in the advanced game, boatswains (the grey Vikings) only move one singular Viking down to the islands (instead of the usual one of each color OR all of one color).  The reason for this is the special tiles…

In setup, 4 special tiles are drawn from the supply and placed face up on the board.  One of these tiles is collected any time a player choses the most expensive remaining group (island tile/Viking) on the wheel.  The final player, who gets his group for free, does not get to take a Special tile.  The special tiles are used at different times.

The most prevalent of these is a tile which allows 1 Boatswain to work as he does in the basic game (move one of each color OR all of one color).  Other tiles give bonuses to the gold production of the Goldsmith or VP production to the Noble, Scout or Fishermen.  There are also a few special tiles which given increased bonus scoring with the Fisherman or for gold at the end of the game.  Other tiles are placed in the island section of a player’s area and score VPs for any Vikings on that tile or on adjacent tiles.

All other rules of the Basic game remain unchanged.

My thoughts on the game

After re-visiting the game, I still feel that Vikings is an excellent game, and one worthy of a reprint even 7 years after its initial release.  I also still firmly believe that the Basic game is far superior to the Advanced game (just as I felt in 2007). The extra rules of the Advanced game certainly add an extra level of complexity onto the game, but I believe that the additional rules detract from the stable elegance of the Basic game and add far too much time to the game length for what you get out of the added complexity.

The Basic game is filled with plenty of tension because there are not many opportunities to achieve your goals, and this makes every turn an important decision.  For instance, in a 4p game, each player will only get to choose 3 tile/Viking sets each round, giving him a maximum of 18 choices of purchase in a game.  The actual number is likely to be lower than this as there will be a few occasions where the board forces you to take a particular set (especially if you are last in a round!).

Oftentimes in a round, players will have to make a difficult decision on whether or not to spend a large amount of money to buy a set with a grey Boatswain Viking.  In addition to the higher cost, you also almost always get saddled with a ship tile as well.  I believe that having access to the grey Vikings is essential to doing well in the game – whether you use them to transport Vikings down to the board to assist in scoring OR if you are keeping them for the endgame 10VP bonus for having the most boatswains.  Ideally, you’d like to wait until closer to the end of the round to buy this set as it will cost less money – however, each time you let it go by, there is a higher and higher chance that an opponent will beat you to the punch, and you’ll be left with a less desirable pairing of tile/meeple.

As it is difficult to get Vikings down onto the board, this also makes the placement of acquired tiles more difficult.  Certainly it is much easier to place a tile on the same row of the meeple that comes with it (so that you can place the meeple on the same row).  When you place the meeple at the same time as the tile, you make sure that it is eligible for scoring, and you preserve the limited movement potential of the boatswains that you collect!

In the advanced game, the difficulty of acquiring a Boatswain is variable – as they are not always on the most expensive pairings.  However, their function is quite reduced without the bonus tile which allows them to function as the ones in the Basic game.  There are only six of the boatswain tiles available in the supply, and there only a guarantee that five will show up in any game.  Thus, an already tight situation of getting your Vikings onto the board is made even more difficult with the advanced rules.  This tends to increase the length of the game as people need to think even longer about how/where to place their tiles and Vikings.

The basic game, in my current group, takes about 40 minutes to play for a 4p game.  The one attempt at the advanced game (albeit with a different group) took just over 90 minutes.  Admittedly, the latter group normally plays a little slower, but it probably still added at least 50% to the play time to add in the decisions with the auction and the bonus tiles – both when considering how to move the Vikings around as well as calculating, re-calculating, and then calculating again the endgame scoring bonuses and how they are affected by the different tiles.

For me, that extra time isn’t worth it.  The Basic game is delicately balanced and there doesn’t seem to be a bit of wasted action/effort.  Every decision is important to the outcome of the game, and there isn’t a lot to drag the game on.  Thus, players are constantly involved in the game with very little downtime.  This is not the case in the advanced game where the endgame drags on with the constant mental calculations of Viking movement manipulation and endgame bonus calculation.

Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers


Patrick Brennan: Topshelf lightweight Euro, full of hard choices and tradeoffs with every turn. The turning price wheel is a wonderful addition to the gaming scene. Each turn you need to assess who wants the remaining tiles and whether the tiles you really want will still be there by your next turn or not, and that continual assessment drives the game along. There’s also a tradeoff in going for money (invest in your engine) or secure long term VP’s. A whole bunch of rich gaming decisions in a shortish but complete and satisfactory timeframe. We’ve been completely happy playing the version with the special tiles but without the auction, which I think is the best mix of adding an extra layer of decision making without bogging the game down.


Larry:  Very good middleweight game, that plays very quickly while giving you plenty of tough decisions.  Despite the flashiness of the wheel (which I agree is an excellent price adjusting method), there’s nothing terribly innovative in the design.  And yet, I don’t think there’s really another game quite like it.  It continues to get steady play in my group and there aren’t many titles 7 years and older that can make that claim.  It’s a game I’m always happy to play and one that works well with both casual and dedicated gamers.


I strongly disagree with Dale about the best way to play the game; to me, the Advanced game adds a tremendous amount to the playing experience, at the expense of little extra time and complexity.  Utilizing the auction properly is a subtle skill, but it can be well worthwhile, since it gets you first pick, lets you choose which viking is discarded, and lets you decide which color will be most expensive.  All of these can be employed in evil fashion, which makes this mechanic even more enjoyable.  The special tiles add a lot of variety to the game and give you even more difficult choices.  And the revised rules for Boatsmen make this a more demanding and unforgiving game–just the way I like it!


I can see why Dale would prefer the Basic game, since he’s looking for a 40 minute game that still gives you some challenges.  However, my 4-player games with the Advanced rules usually only take an hour (maybe as long as 75 minutes if some of the players aren’t too experienced); that still represents great bang-for-the-buck for me.  There’s no way I’d give up all the extras the Advanced rules give you for a mere 20 minutes.  I always suggest the Advanced version and will only play the Basic game if the other players insist (and there’s no other game we can agree on).


At least Dale has good reasons for preferring the Basic game (even if I disagree with them).  What really astonishes me is how many Vikings veterans I’ve met who have never even tried the Advanced game!  Are we not gamers?  Do we not shy away from a little extra complexity?  Do we not always check out the most involved version of a game???  It’s a great mystery to me, but happily, there are plenty of fans of the game in my group who agree that the Advanced rules are clearly the way to go!


Ted: I’m glad that Z-Man is reprinting this; it’s a very solid middleweight Euro that has held up really well over time. I agree with Dale that the Basic game is great as is; the Advanced game is fine, but doesn’t add enough to be worth the potential additional time/complexity (I would never teach the advanced game to new players, and I’ve only played it with other players who have played the basic game several times). And the Auction is totally unnecessary and adds an enormous amount of time to the game. Why oh why clutter up an otherwise excellent, fast, balanced euro with an auction it doesn’t need?


Jonathan Degann – This game is always successful when it comes out on the table.  It plays quickly, presents difficult decisions, and it’s original design in which the challenges are unlike any other game.  At any given time, you have a strong idea as to which types of tiles or Vikings you need – but these may not be what is available.  You can get what you want – but perhaps at a very high price.  So the game exerts pressure on you to take something which may cause you trouble – and then dare you to figure out how you’ll fix the mess later.


There is some weakness in this instability.  There are definitely games where nothing will go your way.  A layout may favor other players and punish you, leading to some frustration.  However, there is always the promise that you can make it work out later – sometimes successfully, but sometime only getting you into more trouble.


On the question of the basic vs. the advanced game, I am neutral.  I played basic for a long time feeling the game was perfect as it was.  Then I found much new to enjoy in the advanced game.  This is a good feature – both versions are entirely satisfactory, and you can choose one based on the experience of the players, taste of the moment, and time available.


Mary Prasad: I have mixed feelings about the game. The luck of the tile combos offered when it’s my turn seem to never quite go my way. I don’t care much for the four player game, which is mainly what I’ve played recently. With four, it took too long (over 2 hours), there was too much competition, and there were not enough turns per player. That being said, there are some interesting things in the game. I would probably much like it better with fewer players. I don’t remember the advanced game enough to comment on it.


Joe Huber (22 plays, all of the first English edition): I was originally taught the advanced game, and only played the basic game after nearly twenty plays of the advanced game.  Perhaps not surprisingly, I significantly prefer the advanced game.  We play the advanced game with four in 45 minutes or so, which feels appropriate to the weight; I particularly appreciate the control over the ordering of the different colors, and the added complexity of placing pieces which can’t be located directly.  When I finally did play the basic game, I found it – rather flat.  Not awful, but I’d play some other game in preference, if I couldn’t convince folks to play the advanced game.


Brian Leet (Estimated 30-40 plays) I learned this game when it first hit the shores seven years ago, and have always been bewildered that it didn’t get more buzz. I enjoyed it in all forms and after a handful of games thought that I liked the full advanced game best. Then this game was available in the Basic Game format on BrettSpielWelt for some time and played easily over 30 times as a three player game against the same two other opponents. That experience confirmed the depth and subtlety of the Basic Game, although I’ll gladly play in any format.

This is the epitome of a great Euro design and I think the experience may only be marred by the fact that whenever you sit down to play with different gamers you have to negotiate which set of rules you will use. If you’ve never played before, then don’t miss the reprint and make up your own mind!


Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

Basic Game:

  • I love it!  Dale Y, Ted, Jonathan, Brian L
  • I like it. Karen Miller, Mary Prasad, Craig V.
  • Neutral. Larry (mostly because I’d be annoyed not to be playing the Advanced game)
  • Not for me.  Joe


Advanced Game without Auction:

  • I love it! Patrick Brennan
  • I like it. Dale Y, Brian L
  • Neutral. Ted
  • Not for me…

Advanced Game with Auction:

  • I love it!   Jonathan, Brian L
  • I like it. Larry (I actually like it a lot!), Joe
  • Neutral. Dale Y
  • Not for me… Ted


Larry’s Irrational Preference for the Auction Version of Vikings:

  • He’s right!  Joe
  • He’s mistaken. Brian L
  • He’s a nut.   Ted, Dale

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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1 Response to Dale Yu: Review of Vikings (Z-man)

  1. shigadeyo says:

    I didn’t get to play this game during it’s previous availability, but was glad to finally get to play recently! The mechanisms and application of theme are spot on for the vintage, but that doesn’t mean that the game isn’t good or isn’t relevant anymore. I liked it and learned pretty quickly that it was usually worth paying a bit to get a better tile rather than just sitting on the money!

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