Publisher: Victory Point Games
Game Designer: Jeremy Stoltzfus, Graham Weaver
Artwork: Brett Mitchell
Ages: 12 & up
Playing Time: 60 minutes
Suggested Retail Price: $36.99
Villainous Vikings is Victory Point Games latest entry to their ever-growing games catalog, just released at the end of July. With the great success of History Channel’s show Vikings, I think the timing for release is perfect for board gamers who have gained an interest in all things Nordic.
Everyone loves Vikings and game designers Jeremy Stoltzfus and Graham Weaver have done well in their freshman outing; blending history, mythology and easy to learn gameplay into an adventurous romp through the famed era of the Vikings. The game is filled with appropriate flavor and theme, allowing you to test your mettle against up to four players in about an hour of play. Villainous Vikings has surprising depth and strong re-playability putting this one in the must buy category, it is what I’d consider a high-end filler for when you want a decent length game without the epic time of some others.
The goal of Villainous Vikings is simple; accrue the most Valhalla points you can through raid or trade, pillaging or buying your way through the settlements of Europe and Scandinavia before the end trigger phase, Ragnarök. In your journey’s, you will also battle other players for gold and glory, all for Odin’s favor!
There are just three actions to choose from each turn, use a map card, interact with the God’s via an Asgard card or regroup to the Northlands. This easy to learn game has nice depth due to a solid mix of varied captain abilities for each player and the hero and boss cards you’ll face at different locations you will visit during the game. Not surprising since this was originally designed as a card game that then expanded into a board game.
Villainous Vikings comes in a compact 6” x 9 ½” pizza box with sleeved cover adorned in fantastic art by Brett Mitchell, this same art is used throughout the game and it evokes the right feel for the subject matter. Inside the box you’ll find 13 counters, 103 cards, dice, mounted game board and a 17 page rule book. This small size means the game is easier to fit in your game bag and transport to game night and get it on the table more often and who doesn’t want to pillage often?
The game board is in typical VPG puzzle piece style and while I personally prefer foldout boards, I am a fan of how they do their game boards especially since Victory Point Games manages to always get everything necessary onto the board without making it appear overly busy and confusing. The layout of the map is very nice, defining all of the regions clearly, each with a colored border to match the map cards and a separate scoring area for each player’s gold.
As this is a card driven game, I think this allows room for potential expansions or add-on’s in the future, so here’s hoping we see that. The included 103 cards break down into everything necessary for play: 9 Asgard cards, 50 map cards, 23 hero cards, 12 longship section cards, 8 Viking captain cards and 1 Ragnarök card.
The counters are simple, low count and very, very nice. I’m never disappointed with Victory Point Games laser cut counters, I’ve become quite enamored with them. The longship counters are beautiful little pieces and every time I have had this game on the table, passers-by always want to inspect them closer while commenting on how nice they are. The counters break down to 4 shield markers, 4 longship tokens, 3 Draugr tokens, 1 trade network token and 1 conquest legacy token. The six dice come in three colors, red, white and grey and are blank with stickers and a guide on how to apply them.
Setup is quick and easy, allowing you to be playing within five minutes. Lay out the map board, hand out a shield and longship token of matching color to every player, assign captain cards either randomly or otherwise and then assemble the longship crew section cards. These cards reflect the strength of the captain’s crew and the dice available to them in combat, more on that later.
Then construct the journey deck, which is composed of 26 cards (eight Age 1, eight Age 2 and 10 Age 3 cards) shuffling the Ragnarök card into the final five cards of the deck. Place the first five cards above the board, this is the journey pool where player’s select the locations they will raid or trade with and they are replenished from the journey deck as needed.
The final step is choosing the turn order based on beard length (yes, that’s in the rule book) or any other manner you decide upon and then assigning each captain their starting gold. The first player starts with zero gold with every other receiving two gold more than the preceding player, with up to six gold for the fourth player.
Gameplay is very easy to grasp in Villainous Vikings as there are just three actions for you to choose from. You can choose a map card and go to the location to either raid or trade, interact with the Gods via an Asgard card or you can regroup to the Northlands.
When you select a map card, you move your longship token to the location and if there are no other captain’s there you can either do battle to raid or you can choose to trade, which allows you to either bribe the guards, replenish crew, hire mercenaries or even buy the locations loyalty if possible.
Asgard cards are interesting as you use these to interact with the Gods outside of the normal world. These cards will grant you bonuses you can use later in battle or Valhalla points to up your final score.
Regrouping to the Northlands allows you to replenish one longship crew section lost in battle for free in the Northlands location only. You can replenish more than one section in a turn but at the cost of five gold and this will be the only actions you can take for that turn.
The map cards provide all the necessary information for each location; its loyalty cost, raid loot, attack dice, accompanying hero (if there is one) and sacrifice ability are all listed along with the locations Valhalla points.
When trading with a location, you have a few options. You can buy its loyalty by paying the cost listed in the top right of the card (if there is one), you can replenish a lost crew section from your longship by paying two gold, or you can pay two gold to permanently reduce the locations attack dice by one. This can help you or another captain if you don’t take advantage of it first, face a weakened enemy force on a future turn. This can only be done once and you cannot drop a location below one die for its attack ability.
If a location has a mercenary hero, you must hire them during a trade action if you want to hire them before raiding it. Raiding the location without first trading and hiring the mercenary will cause him to hot foot it out of the location, never to be seen or heard from again. In other words, he goes into the discard pile and you’ll lose the chance to add him to your crew!
The drawback to trading first is that you must wait until your next turn to attack, allowing another player to come along and possibly forcing you out and then raiding that location before you get a chance. If you’ve spent some gold to bribe the guards, you’re not going to want to run away but you may have to if faced with a greater threat from another player.
If another player moves into your location, you must choose to either regroup in the Northlands or to stand and fight. Bear in mind that even if you are successful against another player, you may be left in a weakened state because even when you win in battle, you stand a good chance of losing crew and with it, combat abilities. This will leave you open to attack from other players until it is your turn to move again, thankfully no one is ever eliminated from the game. If you lose all sections of your crew, you begin in the Northlands and will need to build your crew back up either by paying gold or spending turns to get free replenishments.
Raiding a location in Villainous Vikings is settled through combat and the attack dice on the card are what you will roll against. Any other player will roll the dice listed for the location as you roll yours; if you succeed you add the raid loot gold listed on the card to your fortune and the card to your player area. If there is a hero present and he is a convert or boss, they will also go to your player area as well with the hero added to a crew slot on your longship.
Bosses give you Valhalla points at the end of the game and can be worth a goodly sum. Converts have no Valhalla point value but serve as additional crew, giving you extra static abilities to bolster your combat strength, so they are worth adding and if need be, sacrificing for added bonuses especially in later rounds.
Now let’s revisit the longship crew cards that we touched on earlier. These cards represent the three sections of your longship and corresponding combat dice, so when you lose a section you also lose the use of its matching combat dice until that section is replenished. Taking casualties in battle carries over until you can fill out your crew complement, either back in the Northlands or using the trade function or razing a location you have conquered.
When you raze a location, you add the gold from the location to your total a second time and place the card in the discard pile and you refill one crew section. This gives you a little extra gold and a new crew section by taking on slaves but you are forced to sacrifice Valhalla points in doing so. As always, everything in this game is a balancing act. It can be a good move in some cases but in tight games, that one Valhalla point may determine the difference between winning and losing.
Combat is a numbers game but as mentioned earlier, even winning can be costly. To determine the outcome of a battle, both sides use opposed rolls. Adding your captain’s and any hero static ability to your crew dice gives your total offensive and defensive strength. A full crew grants you all three dice while a diminished crew takes dice away for each lost crew section.
Add together the shields and swords rolled and compare to those of your opponent, whoever inflicts more damage wins. Even when you have won a battle, you may still lose a large amount of crew if you do not roll enough shields to negate your enemies attack strength. Again, no one is ever eliminated from play but you can get behind pretty quick if you aren’t careful.
Every captain has a static ability along with three Heathen Hammer abilities. All of these abilities are unique, allowing for different tactics with every play. While most of them are combat oriented, some instead make trading easier while others grant gold, dice re-rolls or better retreat options. You can also sacrifice a hero card or map location card for further combat bonuses as depicted on the map cards to gain extra attack or defense, by giving up Valhalla points. Again, you need to balance what you’re willing to lose in order to gain.
As you make your way through the journey deck, the bosses and locations become increasingly more difficult, so adding a hero or three to your crew in the early going will come in handy. When you get to within the last six cards of the deck, you will finally get to the endgame which is when the Ragnarök card is drawn. Once this card is pulled from the draw deck, the game is over and moves onto the final phase which is a round robin battle royale to determine who wins the Ragnarök card worth six Valhalla points.
You final score is determined by adding together all of the Valhalla points from map cards, bosses, Asgard cards, gold and other bonuses such as trade network and conquest legacy that you earned throughout the game, after the grand finale. Whoever has the highest point total is deemed the greatest Viking of all time! Well, at least until the next game.
The only detractors from the game are some confusion with a few of the rules and cards but thankfully the game developers have been very active on Board Game Geek to clear up any confusion. The other is small but worthy of note, the game is listed as 2-4 players but in all honesty, the game really needs four players to shine. With only two players, the map is plenty open for the players to avoid each other altogether, eliminating any adversarial play and making the game a solitaire race to the end. In a game about Vikings, you need adversaries and combat!
In the end, I think Villainous Vikings is a solid four player game that keeps everyone involved until the finish since there are no eliminations and you can mount a comeback, although it won’t be easy. The need to weigh the benefits of attacking, trading and buying will cause you to think before making your moves and while the game is not a brain burner, it does require good tactical decision-making and forethought.
With the varied abilities of the captain, hero, boss and map cards, each game is an interesting experience and the cards balance nicely, not making any captain feel over or underpowered. The distinct differences in play style needed for each captain gives the game very good replay value and most importantly, a lot of fun!
Thematically, the game has a great blend of history and mythology to get you in the mood of the game. You definitely feel like a Viking leader, prowling the seas in search of conquest and glory, all accomplished in about sixty minutes.
Company Website: Victory Point Games
Company Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/VictoryPointGames
Company Twitter: https://twitter.com/VPGame
Note: A review copy of this game was provided to me.