I first stumbled across Villainous Vikings around June of 2013 somewhere on the BGG site. It looked much different than it does now, but it was interesting enough to catch my attention. I had reached out to Jeremy Stoltzfus about playtesting it or reviewing it for him back then. The rule book wasn’t completed at the time, and there weren’t many prototypes available. Sadly, I’m not someone who is going to tackle a print and play, I’m just not confident in making my own copies of games, and the gamecrafter components were just a little more than I could justify on a game that was still being worked out. Jeremy was great with correspondence, and eventually I decided I would have to wait until a later date.
A few weeks ago I was on the Victory Point Games website and noticed a ‘Preorder’ for Villainous Vikings and I told myself to look into it when I had more time. Pleasantly to my surprise it was the same Villainous Vikings that I had spoke to Jeremy about over a year ago. I missed the Pre-order, but was able to get in a quick order and had the game arrive a couple days later.
What was it about Villainous Vikings that drew me too it and kept my attention for this long? Simple and easy answer, Vikings. My gaming group owns a copy of ‘Vikings’ but it’s more of a euro game, which didn’t fill the space in our collections for a true viking based game. Villainous Vikings seemed to have the elements that we were looking for in a game. So, after all this time, what is the verdict?
In Villainous Vikings you set out to amass as many Valhalla points as possible, so that after Ragnarök occurs, your Captain has the best seat to sell his tales of battle and drink mead. You will gain Valhalla Points by trading, raiding and battling the other Captains who are vying for Odin’s favor.
At it’s core, Villainous Vikings is a simple game. During your turn you will have the option to take one of three actions.
Use a Map Card, and decide whether to Raid or Trade with the city.
Interact with the Gods via an Asgard Card.
Regroup in the Northlands.
With only three options for a player to choose, you may wonder if there’s enough depth and strategy to keep this game hitting the table again and again. I’ll cover these options in more detail, as well as the set up of the game.
As always, you’ll set the board up first. The board is made up of 5 pieces that are simple and easy to put together.
Villainous Vikings comes with 50 Map cards and 9 Asgard Cards. 20 First Age, 21 Second age cards, and 18 Third Age cards. You also get 1 Ragnarök card. To prepare the game you’ll combine and shuffle all of the First Age cards and draw 8 cards, you’ll do the same for the Second Age cards. Then shuffle all of the Third age cards and draw 10. Take 5 of the Third Age cards and shuffle the Ragnaök card in with those. Take those 6 cards and place them on to the table near the board, stack the rest of the Third Age cards on top, followed by the Second and First age cards. Your Map deck is now prepared and ready for the game. Place the remaining cards back into the box, you won’t need them for this Journey.
We place the Journey Deck at the top of the board, then reveal the top 5 Cards. You will also need to Sort the three hero decks as well and place them near the board. In Villainous Vikings there are 3 types of heroes, Convert, Mercenary and Bosses. When you flip the top 5 cards of the Journey deck, if any of the Map locations have a banner that lists a hero, find that hero and place it with the Map location.
You’ll also place the Conquest Legacy and Trade Network tokens next to the board.
The game comes with 8 Viking Captains. Use whatever method you would like to determine which Captain each player chooses. There is a 9th Captain that was part of the Pre-Order through Victory Point Games, I understand that these will also be available at limited Con’s that the creator will be attending, so there’s hope for us that missed the Pre-order.
Place any unused Captains back in the box. Each Player will Prep their longship by assembling three cards, and then place your ship token in the Northlands. You’ll distribute gold based on turn order, which is determined by beard length. (For once I’m a lock for always having first place.) The first player received no gold, and each additional player gains two for their position in turn order. You are now ready to Raid…or possibly trade if you’re feeling nice.
The first thing a player must do is determine if they would like to permanently expand the Journey Card pool by one card, if it is not at the maximum of Eight Cards. Every game will start with 5 Map/Asgard cards available to players. The costs for adding additional cards to the Journey pool is listed on the game board.
Then they must take one of the three available actions that I listed above.
Use a Map Card.
To use a map card, you must determine if you are going to Raid the town, or Trade with the town.
To Raid a location:
You will move your longship onto the region that corresponds to the location that you want to visit. It’s this early in the game that it can start to get ugly. You must check for Enemy Captains in the Region (This is also the same if you decide to trade). If another player is in the location that your in, the player that is already there, must decide if they’re going to Intercept your ship. If they decide not to intercept your ship, they must immediately move their ship to the Northlands. If they Intercept your ship a Battle will begin. (We’ll cover battle in just a minute.)
Each location lists the the corresponding dice that you must roll to battle it in the upper right hand corner. If your Raid fails, aka you lose the battle your turn immediately ends. If you are successful, you will then collect the amount of Gold that is listed on the bottom right corner of the card. You will then deal with Heroes in that location. Adding any Convert hero to your Viking crew, discarding any Mercenary Heroes, as they must be hired during a trade option. And finally you will place any Boss heroes into your player area, they’re worth Victory Points at the end of the game.
Here’s is where part of the strategy comes in, when you successfully raid a location you must determine if you are going to add the location to your player area, collecting the victory points in the bottom left corner of the card. Or you may decide that you are going to Raze the location, to Raze a location you will place the card in the discard pile and take the gold listed in the bottom right a second time. This will also allow you to ‘take captives’ and turn over an empty (aka destroyed) areas of your longship face up. (You will always replenish your ship from left to right.
To Trade with a location:
When trading with a location you may do all of the following.
Replenish your crew. You will spend two gold per empty longship crew card to flip it back over.
Hire a Mercenary. If the location has a Mercenary, you may pay the Mercenaries cost and add it to an vacant space on your ship. Each ship has three spaces on it, so you may hold up to three heroes on your ship. Bosses do not go into ship spaces.
Bribe the Guards, you may pay two gold to permanently reduce the number of Combat dice the location rolls in battle by one. Each location may only be bribed once. You will turn the card sideways to signify that it’s been bribed. (Seriously, not having the ability to just say ‘tap’ a card is ridiculous.) A location will always roll a single die in battle, so you can’t bribe you way completely out of battle.
Or can you? You can Buy the Loyality of a city. Some location cards have a price listed in the upper right hand corner, while trading with the city you may pay the amount listed on the card to add the card to your player area.
Interact with the Gods via an Asgard Card
Instead of using a map card, you may interact with the Gods. You will simple choose the Asgard card you wish to interact with and follow all instructions listed on it. It should be noted that all battles that occur due to Asgard cards are considered to be outside of the normal world, so any location bonuses that you may have will not apply.
After you’ve followed the card instructions, reveal a new card from the Journey Deck to refresh the Journey Card Pool.
Regrouping in the Northlands.
If you begin your turn in the Northlands, or you decide to move there, you may replenish one of your longship crew sections for free. If you wish to refresh additional areas, they are 5 gold each. This is the only action you may take this turn.
When you’ve completed your turn, you will replenish the Journey card pool and the next player in turn will take his turn.
Raiding a town or intercepting another Captain is where a good part of the game is going to take place, and to have a better understanding of that, we’ll need to go into more detail about Battle.
To Determine what dice you will roll during a battle, you will look at the active parts of your longship. For each section active you will roll the corresponding dice. When combating a city, you’ll roll the dice listed in the upper right hand corner. Both participants will roll their dice at the same time.
You will check for any Heathen Hammer Abilities that you may have rolled. (The Hammer symbol on the dice) Compare the Color of the Heathen Hammer rolled to your Captain sheet, and you are then able to use that ability. If a Heathen Hammer is rolled for a location without a Boss, it counts as 1 Sword.
You will then total the Attack and Defense Strength. Attack Strength is the total number of Swords for your side, while Defense is the total number of shields. There are a few things to check.
Swords and Shields from Combat dice.
Swords and Shields from Static Abilities. Each Captain and a few Convert/Mercenary Heroes have a Static ability that will add Swords and Shields.
Swords and Shields from Heathen Hammer Abilities. Make sure to look at any Boss cards you may be fighting when rolling for them, they often have brutal Heathen Hammer abilities.
During this point you may also Sacrifice a Journey Card and/or a Asgard card to add the ability listed on the card.
Ok…got that? It seems like a lot to do, but it happens very quickly and is much easier than it all reads out.
Then you must determine losses for your ship. To do so, you will take your Opponents Attack Strength and subtract your defense. That’s your total losses. If you have taken one of less damage you are unscathed, if you have taken two or more, you’re going to have to start to flip ship cards over. Starting at the right side of your ship, you will count the number of losses and flip the cards according the the helms on the upper left hand side of the card. Two losses and the tail of your ship is flipped over, etc.
The good news is that loss doesn’t define the winner of the battle. The participant with the most attack strength is the victor, so your ship may have been partially destroyed but you’re still victorious!
But what happens if you tie for total attack power?! If tied Viking Captains have the opportunity to retreat to the Northlands with the Current Player deciding first, retreating is considered forfeiting though, so the opposing player is considered the victor. If neither Captain retreats, you will roll again.
When tying with a location, you may retreat, if you do not retreat and roll again, the location will roll one less combat die in the next battle, but remember you must always roll at least one die for a location.
If you defeat another Captain, you make take captives aka replenish one of your longship section cards.
As soon as the Ragnarök card is in the Journey pool, the game ends and players are summoned to their final showdown in front of Odin!
Each player may now replenish their ships at the cost of 2 gold per section.
This is your last chance, to score some points. You will determine the number of rounds by subtracting one from the number of players. For example in a two player game, there is only one Ragnarök round.
Each player will roll their dice and add any non location attack from static abilities or sacrificed cards. Whoever has the most will win the Ragnarök card. If there are more then two players, this continues until there is only one remaining Captain.
Entry to Valhalla!
You will now total your Valhalla points from Asgard cards, Boss Cards, Map Cards. The Trade network (if you have more than 4 different colored location cards in front of you it’s worth 6 points), Conquest Legacy (The person with the most location cards of one type with a minimum of 3 cards, it’s also worth 6 points). Finally determine how many point you will earn for your gold, one point per 3 gold and an additional 6 for the Captain with the most Gold.
Victory Point Games has done it again, completely taken me by surprise. This is the 3rd or 4th title of theirs that surpassed my expectations. The art is fantastic, completely capturing the theme of the game, the laser cut pieces are sturdy and well done. The card stock is good, though it feels lighter than the card stock in Darkest Night. (Is this the new Playper that they’ve been talking about?)
Setting up the initial deck, allows for the game to have a lot of replayability. Only using 8 of the First Age and Second age cards keeps the game fresh and new for each game. The end game trigger also has the ability to change game length. There are multiple paths to victory, you can Raid multiple locations and gain the Victory Points by keeping locations cards, you can also decide to Raze the locations and start to amass money. While I don’t think that the gold will win you the game, it can certainly set you up to buy the locality of locations that you may not have the ability to beat in battle. I’ve gotten this to the table 6 times already and I still haven’t seen all of the Bosses, Mercenaries or Converts come out yet. These cards also can completely change your strategy, if a boss hits to early, you may have to switch from an aggressive stance to more of a trading stance to prepare for battle and bribe city guards.
The game could technically be played without player vs player combat, though I don’t think it’s a good idea, nor do I think it was intended to be played that way. In fact, in one of our recent plays as a 4 player game, 3 of us were always at each other, while the 4th player just sat in England and continued to beat every location card that came up, because we were so blood thirsty against each other, we didn’t even realize that they had beat 6 location cards. I don’t need to tell you how poorly we lost that time. There are times you have to make a decision on whether or not to risk intercepting another ship or moving into a location where you know you will be intercepted, just to possibly get them out of the location because if they win, it’s trouble for everyone.
We’ve had a lot of fun with Villainous Vikings, and I see us continuing to raid locations for a long time. I gave it a strong rating on BGG, and can only hope that they’ll keep expanding the game. While it’s brand new, I can tell you if there were a deluxe edition with better ships, engraved dice and a larger map, I wouldn’t hesitate to purchase it. I know that it will bother some people that they have to sticker their dice, but it wasn’t an issue for me at all.
If the game has any faults, it comes down to the rule book and it’s lay out and clarity. Jeremy has been excellent responding to emails and answering threads on BGG about any questions people may have. While it may be apparent to some, I don’t think I’ve found anywhere in the rule book that says that “Empty ship” sections means a Destroyed ship section. If you have more questions please refer to the threads on BGG, as Jeremy has been a excellent help.
I haven’t seen Villainous Vikings hit retail channels yet, but I hope that it gets proper distribution and the success that it deserves. If you’re looking for a proper Viking game with excellent theme and mechanics, Villainous Vikings is a must have for your collection!