Drakkar: Preview

By Odin! Fairway takes a sea voyage in search of wealth, weapons and goats in today’s Kickstarter preview of Drakkar: The Card Game.  See if you can build, steal and fight his way to victory in this frantic card game for three to five players.

Drakkar is not just a cologne for men. It’s a three- to five-player card card game in which players are Viking leaders trying to assemble ships, crew and beer in order to fulfill a series of missions in the name of Odin.  Depending on how you play, it can take anywhere from twenty to forty minutes.  I previewed a prototype of the game, so the component quality and art and rules are likely to change before production.

Initial Impressions ^

  1. For a Viking theme, the game’s concepts and art are very kid- and family-friendly. The game is also easy enough to play with new or younger players.
  2. Some of the illustrations are fun and colorful.
  3. The ship-building aspect is nifty, although it really felt under-utilized in the game.
  4. The near “real-time” way suggested by the rules to play was a weird combination of frustrating and hilarious.

Game play ^

In Drakkar, players are Viking clan leaders trying to assemble ships and crew (and beer) in order to capture the most loot and, thus, victory points by the end of the game.  The game is played over three rounds (aka months).

To start, a deck of double-sided Drakkar cards is shuffled together. The number and types of cards included in the deck depends on the number of players. Each card is reversible. And on each face there is one of three types of cards: red, yellow and blue. The red cards are special action cards that allow players to attack each other. The yellow cards are construction cards. The construction cards are used to build your ship, add crew members, and add beer.  The blue cards are attack cards that let players raid, board and sabotage their opponents.

In addition to the Drakkar cards, there are secret mission cards. These secret missions have some combination of viking crew and beer requirements and a reward of loot. At the start of the month, each player is dealt one.  By end of the month, the player hopes to have a complete ship constructed with the required crew and beer in order to earn the loot points.

At the start of the month, one player separates the deck of Drakkar cards into tend cards, each. This means that there is one deck per player. These decks are placed into the middle of the table.  Then, the dealer says “By Odin!” and each player points to one of the decks. This will be the deck of cards for the round. Anyone who points to the same deck as another player has to choose another.  The players then gather their selected decks and the month begins.

Each month is then played in a pseudo-realtime manner. Players simultaneously select one of the cards from their deck (either side) and play it down on the table with their hand covering. The first player to do this starts counting. Every other player has to the count of five to play a card from their hand onto the table. Anyone slower than five seconds will have to discard a card.  Once everyone has selected a card, everyone reveals their played card simultaneously. These pacing rules appear to be some combination of optional yet necessary to keep the game moving along.

Once everyone has a card down, the cards are revealed simultaneously and then resolved. Cards are resolved in the following order: red cards (from highest value to lowest), then yellow cards (simultaneously), then blue cards (from highest value to lowest). For red and blue cards, these require players to simply follow instructions on how to raid, board, steal, etc. Much of the month, however, is spent building ships and crew (the yellow cards)

The rules for building are pretty simple. You need a ship. A ship can consist of up to three parts: bow, stern and the optional deck. During any given month you can only have one ship and only one of each type of card.  A complete ship requires the bow and stern.  Over the course of the month, you will add crew and beer to your ship. To do so, you have to store it on an existing ship piece card — although the ship itself doesn’t have to be complete.  As other players steal and destroy your ship, you’ll need to make sure there’s a place to keep your crew and beer otherwise they’ll also be lost.

Once everyone has done their constructing, pillaging, stealing, boarding, raiding, etc., another hand begins. Each round continues like this until all of the cards from the players’ decks are empty.  Once the decks are empty, players evaluate their missions.

A mission can only be completed if the player has a complete ship. If you don’t have a complete ship, you can offer to sell any of your stored crew or beer for a share in another player’s mission. This is called teaming up.  Players who complete missions collect the applicable loot, and then another round begins (just the same way).

The game ends after three months. Each loot is worth one victory point and one extra point for each complete set of loot (weapons, gold and beer).  The player with the most points, wins.

On the green ^

The game definitely has a raw, Viking appeal.

Art.  These are some really nice art assets used on the cards. This aspect is probably ready to go. I’m betting that the other components, like the mission cards and iconography and the loot tokens, will be improved before they go to production. All of those lacked the same level of polish. But, again, this was just a prototype version.

Theme and game play.  The Viking theme fit the frantic, take-that, rough-and-tumble nature of the game. The game does a very good job integrating the feel throughout the game. It also has enough strategic options to make it interesting.

Likewise, if you’re a fan of the simultaneous, real-time action mechanic, this game has it in spades. This feature is clearly what the game is shooting for and it’s unapologetic about it.

Tableau-building. We really liked building the ships and staffing crew and storing beer. This was one of the more enjoyable aspects of the game. As I note below, if we had one issue with it, it’s that we really wanted more of this aspect.

Learning and play time.  The game was pretty simple to explain. There was some issues about trying to remember what which cards did which things and what they cost and how they were resolved. This added to some game times, but for committed players this won’t be an issue for long.

Teaming up.  We liked this addition to the game, at least in the middle rounds.  This let players who didn’t finish their own mission or even have a full ship earn a few tokens.

Where it comes up short ^

Real time design.  I mention this above, but if a game is going to be “real time” or it’s going to reward players for acting first and punish players who act slowly, then you have to enable the player to make those decisions quickly. If not, then all you’ve done is create a situation where experience matters more than anything else. We had some real concerns on this front.  The rules suggest this mode of play and I’m not convinced it’s a good path.

First, the basic card design does not lend itself to a real-time game. The cards look too similar. The iconography for action cards (red and blue) is at the bottom of the card so that they’re hidden below the fan. The rules vary slightly between things like “Raid” (no complete ship, compare to an opponent, loser discards a viking crew card) and “Boarding” (complete ship, compare to the card itself, you discard a viking crew card) blue cards. To give you an idea, there’s two and a half pages of card explanations for a real time card game. I’d think it be really important if you’re asking players to make real-time decisions that they not have to go through the rules to make the decisions.

Second, and largely unmentioned in the rules, is that while other players are sorting out battles and resolving cards, other players can plan their next play. This means that the resulting chaos is not mutual, it favors the player who does basically nothing on a turn. Ah!

Third, the cards themselves aren’t predictable. It’s not like every card has the same reversed order. So you’re left either memorizing, guessing, or rifling through cards.

I will say, I think that if you don’t implement some version of this rule, players do a lot of planning and rifling through their cards. So it’s somewhat clear that the designer intended some form of this mechanism to be implemented.

Feel bad moments. No no, we weren’t expecting a jaunt through a tame tableau building game. But to understand this issue, you have to realize that ships can at most have three parts (bow, deck and stern yellow cards). That means, at best, you can store at most three things on a ship at any given time.  Now, the “red” thief cards let players steal or discard another player’s yellow card. Any yellow card. So how to force a player to discard two things? Take one of the ship cards.  Also, how to prevent them from taking a mission? Take one of the ship cards at the very end of the game. Those red cards were not defensible. It’s not like having a bunch of viking crew members would prevent it (unlike the raid cards). They just were. It resulted in a lot of feel-bad moments.

We couldn’t help but think that there’s got to be a better way to handle the red cards. For instance, we tried the following house rules: (1) red cards couldn’t be used to “take” a loaded ship piece, you could take the crew or beer, though; (2) you could steal and use a ship piece without anything stored, but you couldn’t “discard it”; and (3) if you couldn’t use it, you could render the ship piece unusable for storage purposes (yet counted for completeness), but a player could always replace it. The result was way fewer feel-bad moments.

It also meant that we had more fun with the ship-building aspects of the game, which we really wanted more of.

In the hole ^

Drakkar is a wild, frantic card game. For fans of real-time games of frantic card flinging, this game has it. By combining nice looking Viking art with a family-friendly set of game play mechanics. We had a good time with the game even though we took issue with how some of game play worked and there might be still time for improvement before the final production run. So, if you like goats, beer and Vikings, you should check out Drakkar’s Kickstarter launching this week.

Drakkar: The Card Game is in the hole for one over par. ^

Fairway was provided a pre-production, prototype copy of the game in order to write a fair preview. He was not otherwise compensated for this post.


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