- Number of Plays: 16
- Game Length: 30-45 minutes
- Mechanics: Tile Placement, Auction
- Release Year: 2007
- Designer: Michael Kiesling
- Artist: Harald Lieske, Michael Menzel
It’s pretty rare that I learn a game digitally. I find it so much harder to learn a game by watching videos on YouTube then starting a game on a website like Boardgamearena.com or Yucata.de and just seeing how it goes over a couple of days. I end up acting like those old point-and-click adventure games, where I just click anything that’s available to click and hope to stumble onto the answer. Generally, reading the rules gives me a framework of how to play, but I find it quite difficult to conceptualize or strategize until I’ve played a game through at least once.
Vikings is a game that I played a dozen times on Yucata.de before picking up the physical edition. The online implementation is great, but like most of us who are ‘in the board game hobby’, given the choice between playing games in a web browser and playing a game in the table, we’ll take the table every time. And I’m glad I did, Vikings by Michael Kiesling is a gem of a game.
How to Play
To play Vikings, each round 12 tiles are laid out around the central spinning wheel. Any boat tiles are placed at the highest available number and any island tile is placed at the lowest available number. Then 12 Vikings are pulled from the bag and sorted into their colours and placed next to each tile. Blue Vikings go among the lowest number, then yellows, greens, reds, blacks and finally greys Vikings are placed at the highest number. At the beginning of the game you’re given coins depending on the number of players and a single island start tile.
On your turn you need to buy a tile and Viking pair, and place the tile into your tableau. The amount you pay for a tile and Viking combo is dictated by the wheel in the centre of the table, from 11 gold all the way down to 0 gold. You can only take the 0 cost tile if the Viking next to that island is the only one of its colour available.
After buying an island and Viking, you need to place the island into your tableau. If you manage to place the island tile in the same colour row as your Viking, you can place the Viking right onto that piece of land, otherwise your Viking has to sit at the top of the board until a boatswain ferries it onto an empty tile. It’s also important to note that the island tiles come in three varieties, start, middle, and end. If you have a start tile in your tableau, then you can put a middle or end tile against it, but you can’t put two start tiles adjacent to each other.
When someone does manage to take the free tile, the price wheel rotates clockwise until the 0 spot is lined up with the next available Viking, thereby making everything else cheaper. If you choose to buy the most expensive tile available, you’ll also get a special tile that offers some significant benefits.
If the tile you take happens to have an invading boat instead of a piece of island, the Viking defaults to sitting on the beach at the top of your board, and the boat is placed along the top row on your tableau. Any boat along the top of your tableau will negate some of your Vikings in that column, rendering them useless.
When I’m teaching Vikings, I feel a bit like I’m teaching Galaxy Trucker. “These blue Vikings are fishermen, they feed 5 Vikings in your commune. You want as many of these as possible. The yellow Vikings are gold smiths, they earn you 3 gold each. You want as many of these as possible. The red Vikings are nobles, they give you two points per red Viking. You want as many of them as possible!” Every Viking has their role, and the left side of the player board will remind of as to what each one does.
Vikings by Michael Kiesling defies expectations. When you hear Vikings, you’ll think exploration, pillaging, and mayhem. In this box you’ll instead find a fast economic game about fiscal responsibility and real estate management. In fact, the only thing that really makes Vikings feel like a Viking game, is the meeples with the horned helmets.
You have a limited amount of money to spend on getting Vikings and limited ways to generate more gold. You need to deal with Vikings of the wrong colour associated with exactly the tile you need so you’ll need to make do. Sometimes in a round there will only be one or two of the coveted starting tiles, forcing you need to balance picking other Vikings and hoping the price for that one tile drops a bit, but not too low that one of your opponents leaps out and takes before you.
The game comes with a couple optional variants, such as bidding for turn order, and advanced tiles that offer a benefit if you buy the most expensive tile available. I rarely use the bidding for turn order option, but I never play without the advanced tiles. They don’t add much to the rules or complexity, but they offer rewards for doing something unexpected, like buying the most expensive tile on the board. Sometimes the cheaper tiles aren’t that appealing it’s really nice to have a reward for spending a bit of coin on the more expensive tiles.
If you run out of money you can opt to use victory points to make up the difference at a rate of 1 to 1. You are never forced to trade points for gold, but if you can if you want. You better make sure that doing so worth your while, as at the end of the game the conversion back from gold to victory points is 5 gold to 1 point.
Vikings plays well at all player counts, but it does feel weird to play several 4 player games, then switch to a two player game. The number of Vikings and islands don’t change, so you just end up accumulating twice as many as you normally would have. It’s full of decisions and trade-offs that make each game feel different and intresting.
Vikings doesn’t coddle you with a catch up mechanism. If you start falling behind you are liable to stay behind. While there’s no way to directly interact with someone, a keen eye can deny someone a crucial component to their community. Thankfully, Vikings doesn’t overstay it’s welcome. With a bright colour pallet and unique spinner in the middle of the table and a 45-60 minute playtime, it’s easy to see why Vikings has is my most played Michael Keisling game. It’s a solid design and it keeps coming back out for more.