Article originally published at Westbank Gamers
Some parts of the article are stripped and can be read at the original place.
Players represent one of the three Viking kingdoms ... Sweden, Norway or Denmark. The game plays up to six players, so more than one player can represent a kingdom. This does not mean, however, that the players work as a team. Some cooperation is beneficial, but each must expand and seek victory on his own accord.
The idea is to eventually conquer various areas, thereby earning precious victory points at the conclusion of each turn. To conquer an area, one must first subdue the local armies and then construct both war camps and trading camps in that territory. Once a certain number of camps have been constructed, the area becomes conquered and will contribute victory points to the player each round based on the trade value of the area. Of course, the areas with greater trade values have stronger defensive forces and require the construction of more camps in which to achieve the conquered status.
The game is played in phases. One of the early important phases is the election of a king for each of the three Viking countries. Being elected king brings some powerful benefits. Mainly, that player gets 1/2 of the countries treasury each turn, plus earns 2 victory points each turn he reigns. A new election is held each turn and is based on die rolls modified by number of camps the player has on the board, silver contributed to influence the election, card play and incumbent status. It is quite possible that no player will be king, in which case 1/2 the treasury goes to a non-player king, effectively vanishing from the available treasury. Since 'it's good to be king', the election process is usually hotly contested.
During the income phase, players receive income from their home countries and divide the country's treasury amongst the players who represent that country. However, if there is a king, the king has first 'dibs' on the treasury, often leaving little if anything to be divided amongst the players. So, early on, income is very tight ... unless you're the king. Did I mention that it's good to be king?
With silver in hand, players then purchase and place ships. Ships come in two varieties -- war ships and trade ships. Each can accomplish certain tasks, so one has to carefully weigh which to purchase and in what quantity. One complaint is that the counters are double sided, with trade ships on one side and war ships on the other. Further, the pictures of both types of ships are very similar, so if a counter inadvertently flips, it is very difficult to keep track of whether the ship was a trade ship or war ship. Minor point, but still causes some aggravation.
Once all ships are purchased and placed, initiative is determined. We scrapped the bizarre system of continually rolling dice as outlined in the game's rules and opted for a easier and less time consuming method of drawing cards to determine the order for each round. Basically, the player drawing the 'ace' moves one of his fleets and completes his journey with that fleet. Then, the player drawing the '2' moves one of his fleets, etc. Once everyone has moved one of their fleets, then cards are re-drawn to determine the order for moving each player's second fleets. This process continues until all fleets are moved. All ships purchased will be 'spent' during the course of their journey.
The moving of fleets uses a system which may be familiar with those who have played SPI's Conquistador or Avalon Hill's New World. Basically, each sea and land area is marked with danger symbols. The more of these danger symbols a player traverses on a journey, the greater the likelihood of losing ships to the perils of the sea and land. Long journeys can certainly be profitable, but pose a greater risk. A player can minimize this risk by constructing camps, as these serve as 'break points' on a journey. That is, a player can pause when reaching one of these camp sites and roll for possible losses due to danger symbols passed up to that point. This only occurs if the camp is of the same type as ship (trade or war). He can then continue the journey, but the danger symbol level is re-started at 0 from that point. Thus, if a player constructs a series of camps along a long route, he can use these camps as 'stepping stones' to reduce the threat of loss to his fleet.
A player uses his fleet to either trade, construct camps and/or subdue an area's armies. Trade ships are used for the trading aspect, while war ships are used for the more violent Viking traits.
Each area has a trade value which can range from 1 - 5 silver. If a player wishes to trade with the area, he must remove one of his trade ships in the fleet and in return receives the areas trade value in silver. At this point, a 'trade stop' marker is placed on the area and no further trading is allowed in that area for the current turn. These markers, as well as all plundered markers, are removed at the end of the turn.
A player may also build trade camps in an area. The value of a trade camp is three-fold:
1) Each round, every camp on the board from each kingdom contributes 1 silver to the kingdom's treasury. This treasury is divided amongst the players of that kingdom each turn (after the greedy king grabs his share!).
2) In order to conquer an area, a player must build a number of trade camps equal to the area's trade value AND a number of war camps equal to the area's defensive value. Thus, trade camps lead to eventual conquering of an area.
3) Each camp on the board contributes 1 victory point to the player at game's end.
In order to build trade camps, a player removes two trade ships and places a trade camp in the area. Be careful, though: trade camps left undefended (no war camps in the area) are easily destroyed by uprisings or opponents.
As mentioned, war ships are used to destroy area defenses, plunder and/or build war camps. Each area has a defensive value indicated by a certain number of shields, ranging from 1 - 4. This indicates the number of armies in that area. Further, each army is rated in strength, either 2, 3 or 5. Viking ships have a strength of 5. In combat, the viking player rolls a number of 10-sided dice equal to the number of war ships sent into battle. For each 5 or less rolled, one enemy army is defeated. The area also rolls dice equal to the number of armies in the area. For each number rolled that is equal to or less than the strength of the army (2, 3 or 5), a viking ship is removed. The interesting aspect is that if the area's army rolls a natural '1' on any of the dice, it immediately rolls again, continuing to inflict damage on the vikings without the vikings being able to retaliate. This represents the idea that the area was forewarned of the viking incursion and was able to prepare proper defenses. Kind of an unusual twist, but it works and adds uncertainty to the battles.
Once an area's armies are defeated, the viking player can plunder the area. If the strength of the area was a '5', then the viking player gets 1 silver piece for each army defeated. If the strength of the area was '3', the viking player receives 1 silver piece. If the strength was '2', then the area was uncivilized and doesn't deliver any booty.
War camps may also be built after defeating the area's army. As in trade camps, two war ships must be removed and a war camp placed. In addition to counting towards eventual subjugation of the area, war camps also reduce the area's army by one for each war camp present. Once enough war camps are constructed to equal the number of armies in the area, the area is secure and no further combat against the area's armies will be required on future turns. Otherwise, armies regenerate and await battle with future visitors. And, of course, each camp will generate 1 victory point at game's end, just like trade camps. Finally, a player with a war camp in an area can prohibit passage by another player (other than one representing the same kingdom), or extort compensation from that player to allow him passage. Ahhh, sweet bribery!
Now building camps isn't that easy. There are six existing empires represented on the board: Britain, Roman-German, Byzantines, Eastern Caliphate, Western Caliphate and Khazakstan. Once per turn, and anytime a camp is constructed in one of the areas contained in one of these kingdoms, a roll is made on the Empire Reaction table for that empire. It is possible that the empire rises up and trashes all camps located there, or negotiates a monetary settlement for their removal. The more war camps present, however, the less likely this will occur.
Players may also combat each other, except players representing the same viking kingdom are prohibited from doing this. Combat is handled in much the same manner as attacking areas, except that war camps count as two ships in combat and the possibility of war being declared between the two kingdoms is likely. If war does erupt (or is declared), then players involved in the war only get half as much silver during the silver distribution phase. Ouch.
When all journeys are completed, the Scandinavian version of the IRS comes knocking. Players MUST pay 1/2 of the silver they possess into their country's treasury. This can be prevented if a player elects to emigrate from his homeland and found a new homeland, which must be in an area he has conquered. This has benefits and drawbacks. One does escape having to pay taxation and thereby keeps all of the silver acquired each turn. However, one does not get the free 5 silver each turn and cannot run for king without the aid of the all-to-rare 'king' event card. Tough choice.
After clearing the plundered and trade stop markers, players then tally victory points for the round. Areas that have been conquered generate victory points to the conquering player equal to the area's trade value. Any king receives 2 victory points. Further, if a player has made a discovery (certain areas of the board can only be entered with the aid of a discovery card), 5 victory points are awarded.
Beginning in year 900 AD (turn 5), players roll each turn to see if they become 'Christianized'. The chance of this occurring increases with each passing turn. When all players become Christianized, the game ends and final tallies are made. The player with the most victory points is the victor.
One other neat aspect of the game is the incorporation of an event deck. Every player begins with 4 and can play these cards usually whenever the need or whim arises. There is a wide variety of events, including uprisings, usurping of the throne, extra trade income, small kingdoms, sea monsters, Thor's Hammer and more. I've mentioned many times before that I LOVE event cards in a game!
Whew .. quite a lengthy description. So what do I think. The components are gorgeous, which I've come to expect from foreign games. Lots of color, easy to read map and player aids. Well, the player aids are in Swedish, but with the aid of a computer, labels and exacto knife, I now have a full english version! The only problems in regards to components I'd mention are the double-sided counters (mentioned earlier) and the map size. Many areas are too small to hold all of the markers required. A larger map would have been nice.
The game is long. It certainly has the feel of an Avalon Hill style game (Advanced Civilization and Age of Renaissance spring to mind) as well as the corresponding duration. It takes a while to get used to the rules and flow of the game, so we are moving slowly. Plus we have a full contingent of six players. We completed four turns in about 3 1/2 hours. The game can feasibly go 13 turns, but most likely will end in 9 or 10 due to Christianisation. The pace has picked up as players get more accustomed to the rules and mechanisms. We should be able to play to completion next week.
Several have mentioned that Sweden has an unfair advantage. Granted we haven't completed the game yet, but none of us have seen this problem yet. In fact, the current leaders are both Norwegians. I'll keep a careful eye to see if this rumored Swedish advantage surfaces.
Reaction to the game has been extremely positive from the players. The main complaint heard is the downtime as other players move their fleets. However, our pace is quickening, and I don't see any more down time here than in many of the Avalon Hill games and much less than in quite a few. I asked everyone for an initial rating, assuring them that this gauge is certainly premature. However, I wanted to get a feel of what everyone thought. The initial ratings are very positive and I feel will actually get better as we learn the system and uncover the strategies:
Kurt 8, Trevor 8, Lenny 7, Greg 7, Darren 7, Jerry 5
I am VERY excited about this game. I feared it would be the worst of the three games I secured in the Swedish trade, but it has turned out to be the best. I see this one being a regular at our gaming sessions.
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