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Board Game Review: Vikings

2014 May 17
by Michael Schroeder

Tile placement, meeples with weird hats and ships? Sounds like a party! Well, it’s not exactly a party but it’s a game of Vikings, from Z-Man Games!

Vikings from Z-Man

Vikings from Z-Man

Designer: Michael Kiesling

Number of players: 3-4

Age: 10+

Time: 60 minutes

What’s the game about?

A description from the publisher…

And you are tasked with the scouting and settling of undiscovered islands off the coast of the mainland.

To expand your territories and clan, you will need to master the game’s clever rotating wheel. The price for islands and Vikings will change as players acquire more of them. The game will be tense until the end, and you will need to protect your islands against the ships that sail on the horizon. Are you the leader whose clan will rise above the others?

Basic idea in my own words…

In Vikings, you are a viking clan that is trying to get control of territories on your mainland board by purchasing and acquiring groups of Vikings and tiles through this unique wheel mechanism located on the main board. Be warned, Vikings is an economic game. I can see how many would think this is a game about sacking and pillaging villages because of the name, well, it’s not. That absolutely doesn’t mean it’s not fun – in fact, I loved the game. I’m mostly a Euro gamer anyways so this was right up my alley. The game features several mechanics – auction/bidding, tile placement and the purchasing wheel. Vikings includes two versions of a game, a normal game and an advanced game (I’ll cover towards the end of this review).

Vikings Mainland

Vikings Mainland

How do you play?

Setup: Give each player a mainland board, 2 player markers of identical color – place one of the markers on 0 on the score track, and the other on the top of your mainland. Each player also receives 1 starting tile (this tile doesn’t get placed until the players 1st turn), each player receives gold (with 2 players, 30 gold, 3 players receive 25 gold, and if 4 players, hand out 20 gold each). Each player also receives 1 scoring card.

There are 72 tiles, shuffle these and place them facedown in stacks of 12 on each of the 6 tile spaces on the main board. Place all the gold in a central gold supply. Place all viking meeples in the cloth bag and shake it up. Lastly, give the starting player marker, which is a viking ship, in front of the person that last pillaged and razed villages.

Viking Game Board: BoardGameGeek

Viking Game Board: BoardGameGeek

How to play

The game takes place over 6 rounds, each round is marked by the respective number of stacks previously discussed. There is also a different type of scoring at the end of each round. At the ends of round 1, 3 and 5, it’s considered small scoring. At the end of the other rounds 2, 4 and 6 it’s large scoring. As a reminder of the type of scoring you are doing in each round, there’s an illustration on the board to help you. During each round, new groups will be put out on the wheel on the main board. A group consists of a viking and a tile. A tile may be a land tile or a ship. Ships are good and bad. Ships threaten vikings but if you can repel the ships, you are awarded points and money. As far as vikings goes, there are 6 different color vikings. The vikings and points are as follows…

  • Blue – Fisherman – Awards no points, but at the end of the game, they provide food for themselves and 4 other vikings. At the end of the game you will need to feed vikings to get points, and if you can’t feed a viking, you lose a point.
  • Gold – Goldsmith – Provide 3 gold for each un-threatened goldsmith on your mainland
  • Green – Scout – Provides 1 fame point for each scout present that is non-threatened,  and 1 fame point for any goldsmith under him and another point for any fisherman under him!
  • Red – Noble – Provides 2 fame points for each non-threatened noble.
  • Black – Warrior – Warriors protect vikings from ships. During large scoring a warrior that repels a ship is awarded points or money that is indicated on the ship tile in that row.
  • Gray – Boatswain – A boatswain enables the player to place un-placed vikings on any legal tile placement on your mainland. For each boatswain used, you remove it from the game. you can use a boatswain to either a.) place 1 viking of each color, or b.) place all vikings of one color. Boatswains sit at the top of your mainland board and not on an individual tile.

Small scoring

Small scoring awards players that have non-threatened goldsmith vikings out on tiles in their mainland. The award is not points, but gold.

Large scoring

During large scoring, you will actually score points along with money for viking placement in your mainland.

Main game play

During each turn, the starting player takes 12 vikings out of the bag and puts each color together. Then beginning with the fisherman, place all the vikings out around the wheel according to color. All the fisherman go first, beginning with the 0 space. Then move onto the goldsmith, scout, noble, warrior and lastly, boatswain. This order is very important. Much of this game revolves around purchasing groups of vikings and tiles on the wheel. You will commonly not pull every viking color, in this case, that color is just skipped.

After all the vikings are placed, the tiles are placed in front of the wheel (between the wheel and the vikings). Take all the tiles in the first available stack, going from left to right. As you tun over land tiles, those get placed on the spaces beginning with 0 and ascend upwards. The opposite occurs with any ship tiles turned over. Ship tiles are placed in descending order.

Beginning with the start player, that player must purchase a group from the wheel. The amount of gold they must pay is clearly marked in the slot on the wheel, pointing to that group. The group from the 0 slot may not be purchased until the color viking at that 0 spot is the last one/color in that group. Make this part of your strategy. Also to note, if you don’t have enough money to purchase a group, you can sacrifice a fame point to get 1 gold. After the 0 group is purchased, the wheel is rotated, in effect, lowering the cost of all the groups by one.

When you purchase the viking group, you place that group on your mainland. If this is your first turn, you place your starting tile on the mainland. Tile placement is similar to Carcassonne, meaning, the illustrations on the tiles must be contiguous. Rules for tile placement are, the illustrations must match, the tiles must either directly touch the mainland or another land tile previously placed. You can place orthogonally but not diagonally. When I initially played the game, I screwed this up. Your tiles can be placed so that there are gaps in your board. See the image towards the top of this review for an example. The goal is though, to not have gaps, because you want to have land tiles out to place your vikings to get points. After you place a tile, you can place the viking that came with it, on the tile you just placed. But if you can’t, you have the option of placing that viking up on the top of your mainland, along with your boatswain. You can possibly be able to place this viking later on in the game through the use of the boatswain.

Placing Boat Tiles

If you get a group with a boat tile, your boat tile must go on the top row, next to the boat/ship. Your first 3 purchased ships must go in the first 3 spots, however. The viking that came with the ship tile must be placed with the boatswain. The boat tiles are bad. They threaten vikings. If a viking is threatened, it’s award do not happen. There are different colored ships. How the coloring of the ships sail works is, say in row 1, you have a green sailed ship, well, all the vikings going down that column (not row) up to and including the green viking, are threatened. And you should put these vikings on their side, to indicate that. However,if you have a warrior viking in that column, he repels the ship threat, and you aren’t threatened. So the ships can be bad, but if you play wise, you can repel all of them and be awarded many points and money! At the end of each round, the start player marker rotates clockwise around the table.

Your goal in this game is to build your mainland up and be able to place all of your vikings.    The game seems to start a bit slow, especially since in round 1, you’re not getting any points. But you’re building up an engine, of sorts. Because in addition to 3 large scoring rounds, there is an game scoring…



Game End

After all the 6 rounds have been scored, there is an end game scoring. End game scoring is as follows…

  • For each ship not repelled by a warrior, you lose the number of gold of fame indicated on the ship.
  • 5 gold = 1 fame
  • Whoever has the most boatswains, they get 10 fame points
  • Whoever has the most completed islands, receives 7 fame
  • Whoever has the single longest island receives 5 fame
  • Fisherman feeding – you must feed every single viking on your tiles and mainland, even threatened ones. For each fisherman you have, you can feed 4 vikings, and himself. For each viking not fed, you lose a point. You have an opportunity to over feed vikings. For each viking that you could feed but don’t need to, you get 2 points.

In case of a tie, all tied players receive full game, for each of the above.

Advanced Game

In the advanced game, the rules are changed a bit and there are more tiles to use which can really spice up the game. The game includes a 1 double sides rule sheet to show you how to modify the game for the advanced rules. In the advanced rules there is auctioning off position for start player, the viking placement is varied a bit, but besides that, the mechanics of how you go about the game is primarily the same. With the exception of, with the boatswain, you can only move a single viking to the main board tiles. In addition, where I think this game gets a lot of spice is the different advanced game tiles. There are different tiles you can use to get money immediately, get more gold or points. These are like special action cards, which break the standard rules or enhance them.


Components: 7/10

The components are of good stock. Even the meeples don’t look like regular meeples. They have viking helmets on, even though they kinda look like cowboy hats. the insert also works extremely well.

Theme: 8/10

I enjoy themes like in Vikings. Even though isn’t really about pillaging, I like economic, euro-ish games better. My favorite games tend to be ones of historic nature too, such as Vikings. The theme is family friendly.

Luck Factor: 4/10

There’s a fair amount of luck in Vikings. When you play, you will find that you don’ get the land tiles you need. So you have to balance that accordingly.

Strategy: 7/10

Money can be a bit tight in this game. While not as bad as others, it’s tight regardless. So you have to play smart and hope and try to get your opponents to buy more expensive sets. If you really want a specific group though, I say go for it and splurge. Also, how you arrange your tiles is important too. You can paint yourself in a bit of a corner due to tile placement restrictions.

Overall Feelings: 8/10

 I really enjoy Vikings. I had to play it a couple times. The first time seemed to go to fast and not give me a lot of satisfaction. Then the second time I played, we realized we were screwing up some rules so we scrapped it almost half way through and started up again. The third time then was very satisfying, especially considering I lapped my opponents scores! Vikings is not a long game at all. I’d consider it a light to medium weight euro game. Which is actually my favorite kind of game. I enjoy the theme – it won’t offend anyone, the components are good an most importantly, the game is fun! Vikings seems a bit like a puzzle – you are trying to figure out where the best pieces go, while at the same time, having that indirect conflict with your opponents.

Review copy kindly provided by Z-Man Games.

Images provided courtesy of BoardGameGeek.


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