Vikings! Few peoples capture the modern imagination like those Scandinavians of a millennium ago. Novels, films, TV series and yes even board games have tried to evoke the thrilling terror of the Northmen. As a theme, you’d think it would lend itself to the War Game end of the spectrum or Ameritrash style games. In fact, my absolute favourite Viking game is a clever worker placement euro called Raiders of the North Sea.
Raiders is a Shem Phillips design that came out in 2015. It’s part of his North Sea trilogy set during the Viking Age. Raiders is, in my opinion, the cream of the crop. This is due in part to its utterly brilliant twist on worker placement. Players start Raiders with a single worker in their hand. More Viking meeples are liberally spread across the board on action spaces and raiding spaces. Each turn you’ll place your worker in a free space and take that action. You’ll then choose another occupied space, pick up the meeple there and resolve that action too. This appears simple but in actuality the choice of which actions to use and in what order is a brilliant efficiency puzzle!
This might all sound very euro and not particularly Viking but there’s plenty to bring the theme to life in this brilliant game too. The art by The Mico is full of character. The main board is beautifully illustrated. It has a village of action spaces on one bank of a river and a ton of settlements to raid on the other. You’ll collect a motley crew of raiders in the form of double use cards. These ruffians help you raid for loot. They may even nab themselves a glorious death bumping you up the Valkyrie track. What more could a Viking want?
Is Blood Rage the best Viking themed game? Yes! Is it the best game ever? Maybe! It’s certainly in my top 10! A lot of people give this game a lot of attention because of the amazing miniatures, which are certainly very appealing! But the game is so much more than that. It is a brilliant balance of drafting, area majority, hand management and action points. It all blends into a delicious cocktail or a game that plays as good as it looks.
Criticism for this game centres around the imbalanced abilities and runaway leader effects which I can understand. But I think that comes more from the other main complaint. People learning it can be crushed by those that know it well. However, find a good teacher or a group who know it equally to you, and you could be in for a treat!
I love the way the game builds and your powers grow. At the start, everyone starts as equals, but by your choices, you can advance into a position of power. The card drafting at the start of the rounds is a lot of fun and gives you a good insight into your opponents' available options.
Developing your abilities is a lot of fun. Using your rage (energy) effectively is wonderfully challenging. And getting your first giant miniature on the board is just so satisfying! Getting into this game is a lot easier than you may think too. The rule book is excellent and I found I could teach others in around 15-20 minutes, with a few questions!
If you want to immerse yourself in a Viking theme, you cannot avoid war! And for a game that does Viking War better than any others, I can safely say I agree that this is the best Viking game out there!
I love the Norse stories. I loved hearing about the Aesir and Vanir, and how the worlds (all nine of them) came into being. When I watched an episode of TableTop which featured this game, I wanted it quite badly. I rushed online and bought a copy. So if you’re in the mood for some Norse based fun, please consider Champions of Midgard.
Champions of Midgard is the Norse themed worker placement game by Ole Steiness and is similar to Lords of Waterdeep, but with Viking combat and a light observance to the Norse way of living. You move your meeples to the various spaces to gather wood, meat, warriors and points (known as glory). You can use your gathered goods and warriors to sail to distant lands and battle the creatures you find beyond the seas.
But closer to home, the trolls and undead Draugr are attacking from the north. You can choose to deal with the Draugr whenever you want, but don’t wait for the troll. The longer they’re around, the more blame each competitor gets. If you kill the troll, you get the glory and can blame someone else. For they are weaker than you, and not deserving of glory! And that is the case, the more blame you accumulate, the more negative points you get at the end of eight rounds.
The combat is dependent on the collection of different warrior dice you gather from your various actions and use to attack the monsters. In true Norse fashion, these warriors will gladly charge into battle at your command, even if it means certain death because they will ascend to Valhalla (one of the two expansions, the other being The Dark Mountains). Good luck my mighty warriors, rise to glory!
Vikings are, without a shadow of a doubt, my favourite raiders throughout history. Not the raiding part – that wasn’t cool – but their rich culture, history and faith system. It’s so incredibly dynamic and fleshed out, with their deities being as flawed and mad as they were. But, ignoring their thirst for fighting and flamboyant faith, they were also exceptional fishermen and farmers. Skora by ITB Games is centred on Viking fishermen. It’s an area control, set collection game for 2-4 players that runs in 15 minutes.
The aim of the game is to control fishing grounds in order to get the biggest and best pick of the fish there. All players only have six boats and there are only three waters to fish in. What makes this less of a race to dominate a zone is the secret objective each player chooses. This may dictate which nautical creature will net then the most points when netted. You may need more crustaceans than anything else, or have zero fish, or have nothing but sharks!
Points are cumulative with the values of the fish collected too. All players are dealt three standard cards, common to all players that allow them to place boats. Then, the interesting fish which manipulate fish locations are dealt. Each turn a player plays a fish to a location and resolves its effects. Once all players have played all cards, fish are collected in controlling order and points are counted. Whoever scores the most overalls, wins!
Why we love Skora is for its simple design and application of some great mechanics. It’s done so in a way that forces players to think and attempt to outmanoeuvre their opposing fishermen. Having little control still guarantees you a fish, and holding your objective close to you may let you exploit others’ greed so you get the necessary cards! We’ve used this as a basic introduction to area control successfully and found folk are always captivated by the game’s gorgeous artwork and ease of access. It’s one we always end up playing twice! It won’t get you to Valhalla, but being the most renowned fisherman across Midgard may earn you favour with the gods!
I am not sure a Viking game can be more ‘Vikingy’ than 878 Vikings – a lean and pacey wargame about the Viking invasion of England in, you guessed it, 878. This game is an absolute treat for a whole range of reasons. The mechanics and theme mesh beautifully – waves of Viking Norsemen and Berserkers appear on England’s shores each round; huge wodges of miniatures that look like they will sweep away all before them. As they advance into the interior the English players will muster Thegns and Housecarls to face them (bolstered by levied Fyrd when the Vikings attack English strongholds). Each of the four factions will play one turn per round, but the order is decided by drawing tokens from a bag – a tense and often significant ritual that keeps everyone on tenterhooks.
Actions are driven from each players hands of cards which provide choice on how many armies can move and how far, as well as providing special cards with powerful effects. Combat witnesses handfuls of custom dice being chucked by both players: each of the five troop types has different dice which certainly inject a healthy dose of luck into the slaughter, but also remove the need for complex tables and cross-referencing as the different sides clash. The combination of these mechanics for combat, movement and powers keep the pace of the game cracking along, with any slowdown a function of tactical thinking not rules mire.
While 878 perfectly plays well with 2, the magic happens in 2 v 2 team play with each player taking control of one of the four factions. Tactical discussion becomes a fundamental part of the experience, which happens openly around the table. Big fights with each player picking up their faction’s combat dice just add to the competitive and collaborative experience. Fair to say it’s a wargame with more luck than many, but I am very happy to trade that off for a fabulously paced experience and some superb team play. Blood-axe good – and perhaps all the more so as a 2nd ed is just about to drop!