Vikings Gone Wild: Review

Fairway takes a trip to the wild-side of the frigid Northern civilization. Fairway reviews the relatively recent Kickstarter delivery, Vikings Gone Wild, by Lucky Duck Games.

Vikings Gone Wild is a two- to four-player deck-building and tableau-building game. It is a board game port of the popular real-time, strategy video game. I backed this game (at the last moment) and I’m really glad I did. Lucky Duck Games is nearing the end of another Kickstarter for a Vikings Gone Wild expansion: Masters of Elements.

Initial Impressions

  1. The art is really quite brilliant. There’s a good number of unique pieces.
  2. This game has a lot of things going on component wise. They’re all nicely done with good finishes.
  3. The game play is like a combination of you’re typical deck builder with a market of available buildings and units combined with a river of random cards. Fans of the deck building games will pick it up really quickly.

Game play

In Vikings Gone Wild, players are the leaders of warring Viking clans attempting to earn the most victory points by the end of the game. There are essentially three ways to earn points: completing missions and by attacking a foe or successfully defending against an attack.

To start, a board with a market is placed in the middle of the table. The market consists mostly of two different types of cards: units and buildings. These cards are separated and placed in draw piles on the board. Throughout the game, players will purchase these cards through a combination of two types of resources: gold and beer.

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In addition to buildings and units, the market has a draft of other cards called Odin’s path. Like the building and units, the five face of cards are available for purchase for a combination of beer and/or gold. But unlike the units and buildings, these are limited cards of various types from specialized units to unique buildings and an array of “enhancement” cards that aid the player in attacks or defense while other cards might provide bonuses to gold or beer production.

At the start of the game, each player begins with a player board, a town hall, and a starting deck of cards. The town hall defines the maximum size a player’s village can grow. Over the course of the game, the town hall will be upgraded which are reflected by additional cards.  The starting cards have the base production cards (6 beers and 2 gold) and starting units (2 warriors).

There is also a set of “divine favor” and mission cards. Missions are specific tasks players must complete in order to earn victory points. The divine favor cards are special bonus cards players earn as players cross specific victory point thresholds.

The game is played over a series of rounds until on e player passes a victory point threshold (40 points for two players or 30 points for higher player counts).  Each round is divided into five phases: production, draw, action, storage and then clean up.

During the production phase, players’ building produce gold and beer. The players collect the corresponding beer and gold token for these building. These tokens are playable like resource cards in the player’s hand, but can be stored in other storage buildings — something that canrds cannot do.

After producing, players draw up a hand of five cards from their deck.  This draw can increase depending on the number of taverns.  Typically cards are either production cards (beer or gold), attack units (e.g., warriors) or defense units.

Now players take turns, starting with the first player and proceeding clockwise, to take various actions.  They can spend gold and beer to buy any number of cards from the market or Odin’s path.  Buildings are placed into the town (so long as there’s space) and will be “under construction” until next turn. Other cards are placed into the draw pile. These cards will be available when the draw pile is emptied, forcing the player to shuffle the discard pile.

Players can also use attack cards (units like Warriors) to go after the buildings of an opponent. To do so, the player assigns one or more attacking units to a single building at a time.  The total attack strength is summed up and compared to the total defense strength of the building.

The attacked player also has an opportunity to add defense units to the building to prevent an attack.  There’s two outcomes here: if the attack is successful, the attacking player earns victory points.  The more buildings the attacker successfully attacks, the more total points they’ll earn. Certain buildings will also provide additional bonuses (points, stored loot, etc.). If the attack is unsuccessful, then the defender earns victory points equal to the number of attacker cards defended against. In addition, if the attacked player defends every attempt, they’ll earn a bonus. Importantly, a player can only be attacked once per round. And a single building can only be attacked one time.

After each player takes their turn, then unused tokens can be stored in storage buildings, any unused cards are discarded, the first player token is move, and another round starts.

In the hole

The combination of theme, art and mechanics is very compelling and top the reasons why this game is so popular.

Art.  The bright illustrations and vibrant color palette are energizing. Flipping through the many unique illustrations in the Odin’s Path cards is entertaining. Lucky Duck Games has done a great job utilizing the great art assets.

Tableau-building / Deck-building combination.  There’s a lot going on in this game.  I’m sure I didn’t do it justice describing it above, but this game’s twist on the standard deck-builder mechanism is nice. The ability to essentially buy permanent production bonuses in the form of building out your village is clever. The game’s internal limit is the city hall which prevents players from exploiting the building path.

Non-destructive.  So, I’m not a fan of games (like in Unfair) where my hard work building cool things are destroyed (or rendered inoperable) by my opponents.  Vikings Gone Wild does a great job avoiding this issue. Even if I’m not able to defend an attack, the building is restored next round.  The only things I “lose” are potentially only those resources I could afford to “store” from previous rounds. Kudos for this mechanism.

Play time.  In general, Vikings Gone Wild games were just about the right length: players were able to build out their towns, but it didn’t go on for so long that it became tedious. The game board’s score track is littered with bonus for reach particular victory point thresholds so that too kept players’ focused.  That said, games come in around an hour for two players and close to ninety with four.

Components.  We played the Kickstarter edition that had nice plastic pieces for score tracker and first player marker. But everything about the game had a nice degree of finish: thick cardboard, nice linen, bright printing, etc.  Top notch.

Where it comes up short

For all the things Vikings Gone Wild does right, aspects of the game left us feeling like it wasn’t entirely complete, even though we had a content-rich version from the Kickstarter. I can only imagine that the regular retail box leaves players even emptier.  Here’s the trouble: the base game isn’t so expansive as to permit a lot of variation. It’s somewhat hilarious how similar players’ strategies wind up: a balance of attack/defense cards, similar building structures, etc. The variation in game is made possible really only through the Odin’s Path cards and the occasional luck of the draw/shuffle.

There are other expansions to the game, including the one on Kickstarter right now, and those might breath a bit more life into the variety and strategy.

In the hole

Vikings Gone Wild is a light and bright addition to the deck building scene. The art, theme, and interesting combination of deck-builder mechanisms have an instant appeal. It’s definitely enough to pique most gamers’ interest. And the game will definitely appeal to fans of the original video game as well as those looking for another deck-builder game. I worry that the out-of-the-box content for non-Kickstarter edition will limit its replay, as we sort of feel that even with that content. Expansions surely will help to extend the replay for those committed to the game or the theme. But even with those concerns, I’m sure people will ask to play it, and I gladly will.

Vikings Gone Wild is in the hole for a par.

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