Game Review: Völuspá + Order of the Gods (expansion)

VoluspaVöluspá /Order of the Gods

  • Designer: Scott Caputo
  • Publisher: Stronghold Games
  • Players: 2-5
  • Ages: 10+
  • Time: 45 minutes
  • Times played: 6 plays (1 of Kachina, 2 of Völuspá, 3 with the Order of the Gods expansion)
  • Review copies provided by Stronghold Games

When the majority of your knowledge about Norse mythology comes from reading The Mighty Thor comic books (some 35+ years ago), watching the most recent Marvel films, and playing board games like Heroscape & Yggdrasil (and SPI’s Ragnarok: The Twilight of the Gods way back in the day), you have to do some research to figure out why Stronghold Games would name a game with Odin & Thor & Loki “Voluspa”. For the record, the word is “Völuspá (Stronghold got it right on the box cover) – and it’s the title of one of the best known Old Norse poems. Translated, it means “Prophecy of the Seeress” (the völva referenced in the title).

That’s a whole lot of background for a game that is essentially a gamer-friendly version of Qwirkle.

Components

First, a heartfelt thank you to Stephen B. and the folks at Stronghold Games for giving us an appropriately sized box. I thank you, my shelves thank you, my wife thanks you.

The box is stuffed with attractive, thick tiles – seriously, the artwork is very nice. You also get a scoreboard, 5 scoring pawns & 5 tokens to indicate when you’ve “circled” the board (+50/+100).

But wait, there’s more! While there are no Ginsu knives or Salad Shooters included, you do receive the first expansion (Saga of Edda) in the box with the base game. This adds four new tile types to the mix.

Game Play

Let’s get this done quickly:

  1. Play a tile from your hand of five tiles
  2. Score points based on your play
  3. Draw a new tile

Lines cannot be longer than 7 tiles. (Evidently, creatures from Norse mythology don’t like to queue up in long lines. They would hate Six Flags.)

Moving on…

Scoring

Scoring is almost as simple as game play. Check the row and/or column that you played your tile next to – if your tile is the highest valued tile, you score one point for each tile in the line.

The Tiles

Each of the tiles has a value (between 1 and 8) and most of them have some sort of special power:

  • Odin (value 8)
  • Thor (value 7)
  • Troll (value 6 – no tile can be place orthogonally adjacent to a Troll)
  • Dragon (value 5 – can be placed on top of other tiles)
  • Fenrir (value 4 – the value of a Fenrir tile is the sum of all Fenrir tiles in the line)
  • Skadi (value 3 – put in place of another tile & put that tile into your hand)
  • Valkyrie (value 2 – score a line when there is a Valkyrie at each end of the line)
  • Loki (value 1 – tiles adjacent to Loki have a value of zero)

Game End

The game ends when all tiles have been drawn and played. The winner is (I know you’ll be surprised by this) the player with the highest score. In case of a tie, the player who reached the high score first wins.

Saga of Edda (first expansion)

This “in the box” expansion adds four new types of tiles: three which are added to the base set and one which is distributed to the players as the game begins.

  • Hel (value X – is placed face-down on top of another tile and creates a gap in the line; scores one point for each tile adjacent diagonally & orthogonally; one per player given at the beginning of the game in addition to the regular hand)
  • Jotunn (value 5 – can bump any tile to the end of a line; replace the bumped tile with Jotunn)
  • Sea Serpent (value 6 – scores across gaps)
  • Hermod (value 3 – after playing Hermod, score and play another tile; you can use multiple Hermod tiles in one turn)

Order of the Gods (second expansion)

This “in its own box” expansion adds four more types of tiles to Völuspá, as well as additional “circle the scoreboard” markers (+150/+200), booster tokens for use with Freya, and a set of zero tokens to make it easier to see Loki’s power at work. (Granted, it would have been nice to have had these zero tokens in the base game, but better later than never.)

  • Dwarf (value 2 – when placed score ½ the value of all orthogonally adjacent tiles rounded down; can be placed next to a Troll)
  • Freya (value 3 – play as normal or discard from hand to boost value of another tile played from your hand; you can use multiple Freya tiles in one turn)
  • Raven (value 4 – you may place this tile twice in one turn, remaining in the second placement; Ravens may cover other tiles like Dragons)
  • Niohoggr (value 7 – when you score a line with one or more Niohoggr tiles in it, score 2 bonus points per Niohoggr tile)

The rules offer several different suggested tile sets to play with, suggesting only that players avoid playing with all the tiles (from both expansions) at one time.

Kachina

Völuspá was originally published by a smaller publisher as Kachina, which I had the opportunity to play not too long after the original release. The art on the new edition is definitely better – while the Kachina tile are was thematic, it was incredibly busy and difficult to read across the table.

The designer, Scott Caputo, listed two other changes to the game:

  • There are 2 less Troll tiles (called Ogres in Kachina)
  • A Skadi can now pick up a Dragon tile (which was not permissible in Kachina)

I think that Völuspá is a definite step up from Kachina – primarily because the game is easier to play with the better (and more attractive) artwork. As well, both rules changes make it easier to play tiles rather than more difficult… a theme you’ll hear me complain about some of the first expansion tiles in just a minute.

voluspa closeImpressions (the base game)

Now it’s time to defend my crack about “gamer-friendly Qwirkle”. Both games have similar turns (play a tile or tiles/score/draw to fill your hand), and similar placement rules (lines in Völuspá can have one more tile than Qwirkle – evidently simple shapes hate standing in long lines even more than mythological beings).

Moreover, both games are extremely tactical – you make the best play you can with some eye to future turns. The painful reality, though, is that Robert Burns was right: “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley…” (The last few words are often translated “often go awry” – but honestly “gang aft agley” is closer to the sound I make when someone scoops up the points I was going to get for playing a Niohoggr or a Valkyrie.)

The wide variety of special powers on the tiles in Völuspá adds some intriguing twists to a standard tile-laying game – but at the expense of speedy play:

  • It is much more difficult to “read” the board in Völuspá than it is in Qwirkle. This is both a consequence of the (gorgeous) artwork and the multiple powers that affect each other.
  • The plethora of options means it take longer to prune down your decision tree.
  • Since the various types have differing numbers of tiles in the bag, it is not as easy to read probabilities and make informed guesses.

And your enjoyment may be impacted by the extra time involved… or it might not. (One person’s analysis paralysis is another person’s strategic cup of tea.) I will say that the game hasn’t yet bogged down to a dead stop for us (ask me some time about the first edition of RoboRally and one particular player whose name has been hidden to protect the unbelievably slow)… but over the length of a game those slightly longer turns can add up.

As in many games of this type (play something to a tableau and/or the table to score points), the common problems rear their head here in Völuspá as well:

  • You want the stupidest player possible to sit to your right.
  • The more players there are in the game, long-term (more than the next turn) planning goes out the window.

I don’t know that you can “cure” these problems – I think they’re inherent to these kind of game designs – but you can mitigate one of them by not playing with a full complement of players. (Personally, I avoid playing Carcassonne – and Völuspá – with more than 3 players.)

I would be interested in seeing some other tile mix suggestions from the designer – perhaps removing some of the base game tiles when adding expansion tiles to shorten the game a bit while continuing to add variety.

Impressions (the expansions)

While I found a lot to like in the new expansion (Order of the Gods), I was less enamored of the tiles included in the “Saga of Edda” set found in the base game. As I’ve thought about it, I think my reaction is due to the nature of the tile powers. The “Saga of Edda” tiles (with the exception of Hermod) require multiple plays to ‘pay off’ – and given the nature of the game, too often they are played at less than full effectiveness.

On the other hand, the Order of the Gods tiles all make it easier to harvest points, which adds not only to the overall scores of the game but also gives the game forward momentum. (They help players feel like they are advancing their game.)

Conclusion

Though the theme of Norse mythology is lovingly portrayed in the art (and some of the tile powers), this is really an abstract tile-laying game with a plethora of gamer-friendly powers. Those seeking an immersive thematic experience will be disappointed.

However, gamers who are looking for a tactical tile-laying super-filler will find a game they can enjoy … and if you like the base game, I’d highly recommend you add the Order of the Gods expansion for extra variety (and the helpful zero/Loki tokens).

I personally enjoy the game – but am not interested in playing it with more than 3 players ever again. (Ever. Seriously – I’d rather play Devil Bunny Needs A Ham again.) I think Völuspá is best with 2-3 players and with my own tile mix that includes Hermod, the Dwarf, Freya & the Raven. (Your mileage – or however Norse gods measure distance – may vary.)

If you’d like to try the game for yourself (before you buy), it’s available to play on yucata.de.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

I love it –

I like it – Mark J (but only with 2-3 players)

Neutral –

Not for Me –

 

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About Mark "Fluff Daddy" Jackson

follower of Jesus, husband, father, pastor, boardgamer, writer, Legomaniac, Disneyphile, voted most likely to have the same Christmas wish list at age 44 as he did at age 14
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