GAME REVIEW: Vikings on Board

Blue Orange came out with a game at Gen Con in 2015 called New York 1901.  That was there first big strategy game, as they’re usually releasing lighter, kid and family games (which are almost always great).  That game was really good.  When I heard they had another strategy game lined up for this year’s gen Con, I got excited.  And that game is Vikings on Board.  Did Blue Orange do it again?  Let’s find out!

VIKINGS ON BOARD (2016) Designed by Charles Chevallier, Catherine Dumas, and Pascal Pelemans – For 2-4 players and takes about 30-45 minutes to play. 

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This is a worker placement game.  Players will take on the role of vikings who are shipping goods on their boats.  But since vikings are greedy, each player wants to control the ships with the most valuable goods.  There are ways to gain control of ships, make certain goods more valuable, and even gamble on who will have control of a particular ship.

The game board has 3 different sections:

The village you place your vikings to take different actions.

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The Harbor has eight different places for you to place your gambling tokens to bet on who will control a particular ship.

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The Fjord is where the ships are placed and can be rearranged.

Before I get into the gameplay, let’s talk about the ships.

At the beginning of the game, there will be eight ships placed in front of all eight harbors.  They will consist of 1 front piece and 3 middle pieces.  On each boat piece will be either 1,2 or 3 shields, mounted on the sides, in one of the 4 player colors (yellow, red, blue, green).  This is how to determine who is in control of the ship.  Whoever has the most shields in their color when a ship sets sail will have control, and therefore get first pick of the supply tokens on board.

So now we know the goal of the game (to gain valuable supplies from ships by controlling them), let’s get into the game play, which is pretty straight forward.

On your turn, you will place your viking on an action space in the village, and do that action.  Once everyone has placed their viking on spaces, a ship may set sail, and that will be the end of the round.

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At the beginning of the game, vikings will be placed on one side of the village in a certain order.  Then in that order, players will take action with their vikings.

Here’s a list of all the different action spaces:

  • First Player – The only thing this space allows you to do is be the start player of the next round, which could be quite important.
  • Promote – Move 1 boat piece in your color to the front of its current ship (this will break ties of there are an equal amount of shields.
  • Jump Your Ship – Move a boat piece of your color from one ship to another, placing it in the back.
  • Bet – Place one of your four gambling tokens (1-4) on a ship’s harbor, placing it on the colored circle of which player you think will control the ship when it sails.
  • Add 1 supply – Draw the top supply token from the stack next to this action and place it faceup on a ship’s front piece of your choice.
  • Marketplace – Increase the value of one type of supply.  There are 3 types: Cotton, Nails, and Wheat (I think).  This will determine how many points you’ll get from each supply token you own at the end of the game.
  • Jump Any ship – Move a boat piece of any color from one ship to another, placing it in the back.
  • Bet/Move a Bet – You may place a gambling token on a ship’s harbor, or move any gambling token from one harbor to another.
  • Draw 3, Add 1 – Draw the top 3 supply tokens from the stack next to this action, pick one and add it to a ship, then place the other 2 on the bottom of the stack.
  • Set Sail – Take a stern piece next to the board.  At the end of the round, you will pick a ship to set sail, which will then score.
  • Swap Ships – Exchange any 2 boat piece of your choice between 2 different ships.

After the action phase, will be the sailing phase.  The player who took the Set Sail action will place the stern piece on the back of a ship, and move it away from the harbor.  Then the ship will score.

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First, determine who is in control of the ship by counting who has the most shields. Ties are broken by whoever is in front.  Then, in order of control, players will take 1 supply token until they are all gone. If there was only one player in control, then they will get all of the supply tokens.

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Winning Bets: If there was a gambling token on the color who controlled the ship that sailed, then they will take their gambling token and place it facedown on their scoring circle.  This is also where you will place your supplies that you collect throughout the game.

…. and that’s actually it.  Once the 7th ship has sailed, the game will end at the end of that round.  There will be one ship that will stay at the harbor.

Just like most worker placement games, at first it may take a few rounds to remember all the different actions you can take during a round.  But these actions are pretty easy to remember once you understand the iconography.  I guess that’s one thing that could be hard for some people.  To remember what the icons mean.  But I found it quite easy to remember all of the actions.

Honestly, the viking theme isn’t that strong.  This seems like it could be any kind of worker placement game.  With viking games being all the rage lately, this one doesn’t feel like a viking game.

That being said, I did find it refreshing that they took what is normally a “collecting resources in the Mediterranean game” and slap a viking theme on it.  The artwork is bold and colorful.  The vikings look silly and playful, and it brings out a pleasant vibe.  It definitely doesn’t look boring, and could possibly attract gamers who would normally be turned off by dry themes.  This definitely doesn’t feel dry.

I am a big fan of worker placement games.  Compared to the ones that I play, this is fairly light.  Which is perfectly okay.  I think the goal of this game is to introduce new gamers to the worker placement genre.  And I feel like it does this very well.

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The components are outstanding, as is usually the case with Blue Orange games.  The boat pieces are made of nice thick cardboard and are very sturdy.  And they just look very cool.  I also love the board.  The artwork just pops, and I love the nice little touches, like the sea monster tentacles poking out of the water.  The game has a nice flavor.

As far as the gameplay goes, it’s solid.  Maybe gamers who just want to play heavy Uwe Rosenberg games (and I do love those) may think this is too light, but I still found it enjoyable.  I got a kick out of moving the boat pieces around, screwing my opponents over.

I thought there were some interesting decisions to make.  Sure, you can take all of the “move a boat piece” actions, but then another player might take the “set Sail” action and score a boat you don’t have any shields on.  Then trying to move up the value of a particular supply so that it will score you big points at the end is critical too.  But, you will only have 2-4 actions per round to choose from (depending on the player count), so choose your actions carefully.

I think 3 is the best player count, because you get 3 actions per round, which is just enough to get things done.  I don’t really like the 2 player variant.  4 players is also good, but you do have less control since you only have 2 actions per round.  It’s still fun though.

Blue Orange has done it again.  Taking a popular genre (worker placement) and streamlining it in order to attract new gamers.  This is definitely a good introduction to the genre.  The theme is tacked on, but is still fun.  Great artwork, components and smooth gameplay.  This might not be my game of the year, but it’s a solid presentation.  I played this with my middle school group and they loved it.  Another winner for Blue Orange.

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