09 October 2018
The longboats that rocked
If popular culture’s taught us anything, it’s that Vikings get everywhere. And also, that they really love a good, bloody bit of conquest. So it’s proven on the tabletop, where it’s starting to feel like every other new game released has a Viking theme. Not that that should be a turn-off. Not only is it a flexible and fun milieu, it’s also one that easily fits a limitless variety of mechanisms – far beyond games which involve, well, a bloody bit of conquest.
Here, then, Elysium designer duo Brett J. Gilbert and Matthew Dunstan focus on the Norse seafarers’ predilection for voyaging: charging about in their longboats, trading, raiding and fighting dragons and giant squid. (Disclaimer: this game may not be entirely historically accurate.)
On the surface – and what a crisply gorgeous surface it is, thanks to artist Biboun (Chimere, Dice Forge) – it looks like a race game, with a track circling around a ‘world’ of fjords and islands, punctuated by locations where randomly-placed tiles offer different rewards: goods, runes, coins (made of actual metal!), etc. But, even though the first of the game’s four rounds does indeed reward the swiftest lap, it’s by no means as straightforward as that.
In a Tokaido-ish twist, players take their turn only when they are the last longboat on the track – and whenever they do so, they must remove all the tiles between them and the next closest player. In other words, they must catch up before they can proceed, stopping them from hogging all the turns. Even so, racing ahead to the end – you can lap the world in a single go, if you want – is rarely an advisable tactic, as it means you’ll miss out on things to fill up your longboat (represented by a player board which only has space for seven tiles at a time), and spend ages waiting for your next go.
The trick is to always be looking at the board as a whole, taking in the placement of the tiles you feel you most need and aiming for those – without making it too obvious to the other players what you’re chasing, as players can challenge each other for a track placement through dice/card-free attrition-driven combat (which is why it’s never smart to have too few Vikings on your longboat).
The aim, naturally, is to earn the most glory points, and you can bag those in several different ways. Collecting sets of runes, for example; or picking up a port tile which enables you to cash in goods; or gathering Mjöllnirs, which each give points according to the number of little Hägars you have on your longboat at the game’s end. Defeating monsters also earns bonus points; if you don’t sacrifice a Viking to dodge round them and leave them for someone else to deal with, you simply kill it by throwing out as many of your crew as the creature has strength points, reducing that by one for each weapon you have on board. Furthermore, each round the victory conditions change, earning you points for different achievements like having the most goods or sail tiles at the journey’s end.
There is a saga’s worth of variety within this compactly-constructed game, which is only mildly marred by an inferior two-player mode that requires a neutral, placement-blocking ‘ghost ship’. That aside, it’s a true joy to play. Even if you’re not, for some crazy reason, into Vikings.
An enduringly enjoyable title which should satisfy everyone from gateway gamers to tabletop vets. Including those who aren’t into horned helmets.
Designer: Brett J. Gilbert, Matthew Dunstan
Time: 40 minutes
This review originally appeared in the August 2018 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here – or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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