Vikings on Board (Game Review by Chris Wray)

  • Designers:  Charles Chevallier, Catherine Dumas, Pascal Pelemans
  • Publisher:  Blue Orange
  • Players:  2 – 4
  • Ages:  8 and Up
  • Time:  30 to 60 Minutes
  • Times Played:   4

VikingsonBoard.png

Vikings on Board is a family-friendly strategy game that was released at Gen Con 2016 in limited quantities.  The game sold out its allotment each day, and it seemed popular.  The goal is to get points from shipping goods and betting.  The game offers an interesting combination of majorities (you can only grab goods if you’re winning the ship) and worker placement in a medium-light to medium-weight package.

I’ve enjoyed my plays, and I expect Vikings on Board to get some attention in the coming months.

Gameplay Walkthrough

Each player takes the viking tokens of their chosen color, the four betting tokens of the same color , and their scoring circle.  The number of viking tokens each player receives is based on the number of players: 4 in a 2-player game, 3 in a 3-player game, and 2 in a 4-player game.  The initial turn order is determined randomly, then there will be a pattern in which to place the remaining vikings.  

VikingsonBoard

Vikings on Board is played over seven or more rounds, and the game will end when the seventh of eight ships has sailed.  At that point, the player with the most points — which are earned from shipping or betting — wins.  

A round consists of the players taking as many turns as there are viking tokens in the game.  On a player’s turn, he or she picks one of the available actions (called a “village action”) for their viking token.  All eleven village actions are described below.  Some actions are better than others, but there can be a cost for choosing them: you’ll be later in the turn order for the next round.  Once an action is chosen, it cannot be selected again until the next round.  When a round ends, if the “set sail” action was taken, that will happen.  

Points come from shipping goods or betting.  When a ship sails, the player with the “majority” on that ship — meaning that they have the most shields on the ship — chooses which supply token to take.  Then the player with the next most picks, and so on.  A ship can only sail if it has a supply token on it.  

Each player has six “body” pieces of the ships in the game, and these can have two, four, or six shields of that player’s color (or 1, 2, or 3 pieces, depending on how you want to count).  Since ties are frequent, the order of the body pieces is significant: the player with their body piece closest to the front of the ship wins ties.  

Each good will be worth 1-4 points at the end of the game.  Each good starts the game worth one point, but one action space allows players to raise the value of goods.  

Betting is simple: you taken one of your tokens (which are numbered 1, 2, 3, and 4) and place it in one of the four circles in front of each ship.  The circles are colored to correspond to the players, and you’re betting that the player whose circle you chose wins the majority on that ship.  The number of points bet is secret.  Incorrect bets will stay on the board, but as described below, they can move.

VOB Gameplay

The 11 village actions are:

  1. Take first player.  You don’t get anything other than first player in the next round.
  2. Promote.  Move one piece of your color to the front of its current ship.  This helps you in the case of ties.
  3. Jump your ship.  Move one piece of your color to the back of any other ship.  
  4. Bet.  Place a bet on the board.  
  5. Add 1.  Draw a supply token from the face-down stack and pick a ship on which to place it.
  6. Marketplace.  Change the value of any good upwards by one.
  7. Jump any ship.  Take a body piece of any color and move it to the back of a different ship.
  8. Bet / move a bet.  Either make a bet or move an existing bet to a new circle.
  9. Draw 3, add 1.  Draw three tokens from a face-down stack and pick a ship on which to place it.
  10. Set sail.  Take a stern piece and, at the end of the round, choose a ship to set sail.
  11. Swap ships.  Exchange any two body pieces of your choice between two different ships.

When a ship sails, any correct bets are placed on the player’s scoring circle face-down, as are any earned supply tokens.

The game ends when the seventh ship has sailed.  At that point, the player with the most points wins.  

My thoughts on the game…

Vikings on Board an interesting combination of majorities (you might only get goods if you’re winning the ship), betting, and worker placement. My favorite part of the game was the worker placement element’s impact on turn order: picking better actions meant going later in the next round.  It is especially fun when you get to take two turns in a row!

The game is simple enough, and the iconography acts as a well-designed player aid.  I can teach Vikings on Board in under five minutes, and the beginners I’ve played with seemed to grasp the game with ease.  I played in a tournament at Gen Con, and a new player actually won it all.

But don’t be fooled: this game can be a bit think-y, and I’d say Vikings on Board approaches the upper limit of the family game weight.  You have to balance your actions with what your opponents are likely to do on their turns.  You can grab a majority only to have it immediately undone, or place a supply token only to lose control of that ship.  As a result, gameplay in Vikings on Board can be a bit nasty.  Careful planning is rewarded, as is often the case with worker placement and majorities.  

The game seems to work best with four, at least to me, but it works well at all player counts.  The components of the original game are beautiful.  Blue Orange always seems to publish beautiful games, and Vikings on Board has stunning artwork and components.  They could have used flat cardboard pieces for the ships, but the 3D design makes the game pop.  The viking miniatures are equally impressive.  Vikings on Board has one of the better produced games I saw at Gen Con 2016.  

Overall, I thought Vikings on Board was a tense, interesting game. It can be a bit think-y, and the gameplay can actually be quite confrontational, but I like that in my games.  The gameplay feels streamlined, and this would make a great introduction to the worker placement genre.  Add in how beautiful it is, and this game is a worthy successor to New York 1901, Blue Orange’s big game of last year.  

Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers

Greg S:  While I agree that the components are gorgeous, I found the game to be quite chaotic.  The situation could and did change very quickly, making any long-term planning futile.  This normally might be fine for a family-style game, but as you mention, the thinking involved may be a bit too much for that market.  

Dale Y: This is the second year in a row that I have been pleasantly surprised with the “big” Blue Orange release.  New York 1901 was a solid strategy game, and this year, Vikings on Board is another game that exceeded my expectations.  At this point, it’s probably more likely that I need to adjust my own expectations of Blue Orange and the designers!  Unlike New York 1901 though, this is not one that is perfect for family gamers – it’s actually more crunchy and complicated than it looks!

Vikings on Board is a very well constructed combination of several major mechanisms, all rolled into a game that takes 30-40 minutes to play.  The role selection phase often gives you challenging decisions to make – weighing the pros and cons of particular actions combined with the belated effect on your turn order for the next round.  Many turns go by quickly as players know what they want to do – especially if they are at either extreme end of the selection bar.  

But, when you need to stop and think about what might happen – including trying to figure out what other players are going to do with the actions that they have already chosen… it can be a few minutes.  While I’ve never had to actually place anyone on the clock  in the game, I can see AP as a possible issue for slower players.

While not an outright mean game, there is definitely room for direct actions against your opponent, and some of the moves can come as a complete surprise.  Most often this happens when a player gets two actions in a row – whether specifically next to each other in the role selection row or due to chance because no one has chosen an intervening action.

Our games tend to go quickly, usually 7 or 8 rounds at most.  It might be group think – but someone always seems to choose to sail a boat each round; either to score a quick surprise victory (usually with a high valued bet token), or maybe to send an empty ship off to sea thus wasting the sailor tiles of their opponents stranded on the ship.

The game is a visual gem, the 3-D viking boats never failing to catch the eyes of the players and people walking by.  I’ve played the game 5 times, and while I don’t think that it’ll hit the table again prior to Essen, it will definitely be in the stack of games to get back on the table in the multiple gaming events post show.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!  
  • I like it. Chris Wray, Dale Yu
  • Neutral. John P, Greg S.
  • Not for me…
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