I have a thing for Viking themed games and own several including Asgard’s Chosen by Mayfair Games, Asgard by What’s Your Game?, Jórvík by Stronghold Games and A Feast for Odin by Z-Man Games and have played several others including The North Seas Trilogy of games from Garphill Games including Shipwrights of the North Sea, Explorers of the North Sea, and Raiders of the North Sea as well as Champions of Midgard by Grey Fox Games. I really like the theme, but maybe it’s the fact that I have Viking blood in my veins. Who knows! I am always on the lookout for a new Viking themed game that I haven’t played and when I saw Villainous Vikings: Voyage to Valhalla 2nd Edition from Victory Point Games, I just had to try it out.
What is Villainous Vikings About?
Villainous Vikings: Voyage to Valhalla 2nd Edition is designed for 3 to 5 players and is a very interesting yet simple game of Viking exploration, colonization, trading and conquest. Each player controls a Viking Captain whose goal is to amass as many Valhalla Points as possible so that after Ragnarök occurs he has the inside track to the best seat at the feast of Odin in the Great Halls of Valhalla. These Valhalla Points will be earned through such Viking like activities as raiding, trading, and battling the other Captains who are also vying for Odin’s favor. What did you expect? Knitting, crochet, tiddlywinks or checkers? These are Vikings and the most ruthless player will be the victor.
After one of the players has been declared the victor of Ragnarök, which is akin to a Battle Royale where all Captains fight against each other eliminating the weakest after each round of battle, each player will tally up their Valhalla Points to determine their overall standing with Odin the All-Father and the other Gods; whoever has the most points will be considered the greatest Viking in history!
In this Second Edition printing, almost everything in the box has been revised for better balance and clarity including the map, the cards, the rules, and even the counters.
The Viking Longship counters are awesome, as I have come to expect from Victory Point Games. They are laser cut and have that campfire smoke smell, that I so much enjoy. Each of the ships has a different color to differentiate your piece and also have subtle differences with the front prow. Nice touches for a simple counter that represents your Viking clan on the map board. The other counters are used to mark your available gold and are in the form of a shield, a nice thematic touch. There are 4 bonus token counters that players need to be aware of and should be working toward as they offer a range of end game victory points. These include the following: Trade Network (four face up Location cards from four different regions in your Player Area and is worth 5 Valhalla Points), Conquest Legacy (three face up Location cards from the same Region in your Player Area and is worth 5 Valhalla Points), Gold Hoarder (spend 20 gold to buy this token and it is worth 5 Valhalla Points) and Trader & Pillager (when the Valhalla card is revealed, the Player with the lowest Valhalla Points is automatically awarded this token and it is worth 3 Valhalla Points). There are also six very chunky blank dice in three colors, red, white and grey, and there are stickers that you must apply yourself but don’t worry there is a guide on how to apply them but be careful as if you have “gorilla hands” as I do, you might just tear them slightly but don’t fret, there are replacements included in the box!
The mapboard is new and improved and is a puzzle style mounted board, which is an upgrade over the original card stock map, which is very sturdy and thick and will weather very well through many plays. The art on the map is very colorful and beautifully done and the symbols for locations are great with a fantastic key located in the upper left hand corner that even shows the number of locations from that area that are available in the Location deck.
The Location cards are also very well done, in both aesthetics and in clarity. My favorite part of the components are the three cards that each player uses to represent the condition of and the combat abilities of their own Longship. The cards represent the Longship Crew Sections of each of the ships and list the amount of damage they can take before being destroyed (the helmets in the upper left hand corner of the card) as well as the type of dice that is rolled during combat if that section is undamaged (noted by the colored cube in the center bottom of each card). This is where a Captain will store his crew for battles and if a section is destroyed during a raid or combat, that crew member card must move to another part of the ship or if he can’t is lost and must be discarded.
Setup is quick and easy, and there is a very clear and concise description of how to create the Journey Deck. You can generally be playing in about 5 minutes, but it took us a little longer as we wanted to admire the great art on the cards and the fantastic board. Lay out the map board, hand out a shield and Longship token of matching color to every player, assign Captain cards either randomly or otherwise and then assemble the Longship Crew Section cards.
The next step is to put together the Journey Deck, which is composed of 26 to 38 cards depending on how many players ranging from 3-5. There is a number of each Age cards that are used with each successive age offering a slightly more difficult challenge with better locations, tougher defenders and various sovereigns that also fight to defend their kingdoms from invasion. Finally, you shuffle the Ragnarök card into the final three cards of the Age III part of the deck. After the Journey Deck is created, you will place a number of cards from the deck equal to the number of players plus 2 to the side of the board, to create the Journey Pool from which players select the locations they will interact with and they are replenished from the journey deck as needed.
The final step is choosing the turn order based on whatever random method you deem appropriate or it offers a humorous alternative of choosing who has the longest beard and then assign each captain their starting gold. The first player starts with zero gold with every other player receiving two gold more than the preceding player, with a total of eight gold for the fifth player.
Move is pretty straightforward and involves you choosing a location on the map to move to and interact with. If there is another Captain’s Longship in that location you will initiate a battle, but more on that later.
Using a Location Card allows a player to choose to do one of three actions there. These actions include Conquer, Raid or Trade and are the crux of the game.
Conquer – Conquer means you have chosen to attack the location and to attempt to bring the locals under your control. Seems very Viking like doesn’t it? Once you defeat the location after rolling dice, you will have the option to Colonize the location by moving the card to your Player Area, collect the amount of gold listed in the bottom right hand corner, add any Hero that you defeated to your crew or purchase any available mercenary or add the defeated Sovereign to your Player area as he is worth Valhalla Points at game’s end. Or you can choose to Raze which means you are burning the village to the ground for its resources and are forgoing its Valhalla Points. Collect 3 times the printed gold value, repair your ship and then discard the location.
Raid – Raid means you can attack a face-up location that is under the control and has been colonized by another player in order to deprive them of the benefit. In order to Raid, you must be in the same region as their location and simply follow the basic combat rules. If you as the attacker lose, nothing further happens. If you win as the attacker, you collect 2 times the printed gold value, repair your damaged Longship and the owner then flips the cards over to its face-down side. A face-down location cannot be raided again and is worth no points at the end of the game.
Trade – Trade means you can try to swap goods for a better situation with your ship by paying to have it repaired, hire mercenaries for your crew that are listed on the location card or bully locals into giving you gold, called Collect Danegeld. This action is very like a Viking and you take the listed gold value. You can also rebuild one of your locations as long as you are in the same region and it only costs an action, no gold.
Asgard cards are interesting as you use these to interact with the Gods. These cards are found in the Journey Pool and are simply chosen as part of your actions. These cards are usually some form of event that gives you great benefit such as selecting a Warrior from the discard pile adding him to your crew or rebuilding one of your raided locations or cards that hurt you immediately, such as making you lose half of your gold, in exchange for a benefit later by discarding the card or keeping it for Valhalla Points at the end of the game. These cards are a really great addition to the game and when they are drawn and placed into the Journey Pool, everyone always leans over to read what great thing is about to happen!
Regrouping to the Northlands allows you to repair one of your damaged Crew Sections on your Longship for free but this does require you to use an action. You also must repair the ship from the back to the front, so you must repair your damaged grey section before moving to repair the red.
Acquiring Bonus Tokens require that you have met the various requirements first. So, for example, if you have 20 gold at the time you are in the Northlands, you can spend one of your actions, spend that 20 gold to take the Gold Hoarder token, which will give you 5 Valhalla Points at the end of the game. There are only 4 of these Bonus Tokens and once they are claimed they are no longer available so make sure you watch your opponents and plan to try and at least get one of these valuable tokens.
Combat is simply rolling three types of dice (White, Black and Red) and consulting your Captain’s Heathen Hammer Abilities, your crews Static Abilities and adding up your total number of swords. The player with the highest amount of swords will win but will also take damage to their ship from the swords that they cannot block from their opponent with the shields that were rolled. You can also buy extra swords at 5 Gold each (yikes, that is pricey!) or you can discard locations or crew members for their sacrifice ability, which is usually additional swords or shields. Winning can be very costly though and you must be smart about what you are risking versus the potential reward. If you are giving up 3 points from discarding Locations to win a battle that will only gain 2, that is probably not the best idea.
What I Liked About Villainous Vikings
Varied Captain Abilities – I enjoy games that give me choices, and not just in game play, but in the units, cards or abilities that I have to play the game with. In Villainous Vikings there are 8 Captains to choose from and each offers abilities that can affect the way you play the game offering replayability. Every captain has a static ability along with three Heathen Hammer abilities. All of these abilities are unique, allowing for different tactics with every play. While most of them are combat oriented, some instead make trading easier while others provide additional gold after battles, dice re-rolls or more advantageous retreat options. I really enjoyed seeing the use of Glamr who was a Draugr Captain as he could bring in a Draugr Grunt or Shield Draugr. Very thematic elements are added with each Captain and they are also pretty fun to try and figure out how their abilities should best be used in your overall strategy.
Progression of Difficulty – I liked how the Journey Deck increases in difficulty as you progress through Age I, Age II and ultimately to Age III. The difficulty typically comes in the form of tougher Sovereigns and tougher locations that require more and more power from swords to defeat. This progression requires that you add better and better Heroes or mercenaries to your crew or you will be unable to fight effectively. I try to add at least 1 such Hero or mercenary during each age, as when you finally get to Age III you will find it is too late as you may not have the power to win. The rewards also increase significantly in both Valhalla Points as well as Gold rewards. This game is well made and progresses nicely to increase the challenge and reward those that plan.
To Trade or Raze? That is the Question
I loved the choices you have about how to interact with a Location Card. The cards are good for various reasons including Valhalla Points at the end of the game, to improve your resources during the game allowing you to be able to repair your ship, hire mercenaries and even acquire Bonus Tokens. But when you have the choice to trade or raid, it can be tough to decide what is best.
If a location has a mercenary or a hero, you must hire them during a Trade action before raiding it. If you get overanxious and Raid the location without first trading and hiring, the mercenary will simply run away to the discard pile and you will lose that opportunity to strengthen your crew. But there is a drawback to trying to Trade first because if you wait until your next turn to attack after Trading, this might give other players the chance to sneak in, attack you and force you out of the location before you even get a chance.
The other choice you have is to Raze. When you Raze a Location, you add 3 times the gold from the Location and repair one of your Crew Sections. This gives you extra gold but you are forced to give up those potential Valhalla points by so doing. This is what I really love about this game, the choices. It is a continual balancing act to do what needs to be done to get ahead with gold but also building your strength by Trading and hiring crew and also building up your Valhalla Points for the game end. In some instances, it can be a really smart and strategic move to burn the villages to the ground taking the most money but you have to remember that you are sacrificing points though in this manner. In a very tight game, that one or two Valhalla Points you lost because you simply had bloodlust, may be the difference between winning and losing. It also feels rather thematic when you trade with a location, gaining from this interaction one turn only to turn around the next round and burn them to the ground. Feels very Villainous and now you know where the name came from! I love this choice! Great design and really a great part of the game.
When you get to within the last four cards of the deck, you will finally come to the endgame, which is when the Ragnarök card is drawn. Once this card is pulled from the Journey deck, the game is nearing its end and will then progress to the final phase, which comes in the form of a round robin Battle Royale that pits each Captain against all others in the game. The victor will win the Ragnarök card that they will add to their other locations and conquered sovereigns and will be worth 7 Valhalla points. I like this battle segment but have found that the strong will only get stronger and win and this can be a little anti-climactic. But is still a really cool and thematic way to end the game.
Your final score is then determined by adding together all of the Valhalla points that each Captain has collected from their conquered/colonized Location cards, defeated Sovereigns, the bonus points for your ending gold as shown on the map and other Bonus tiles you may have earned. The Captain that has the highest Valhalla Point total is revered as the greatest Viking of all time and wins their place of honor at the best seat in the Halls of Valhalla next to Odin!
I loved the chunky, multi-colored dice system where the Red dice is the best (having 2 sides of 6 with 2 swords), as compared to the White dice (having only 1 side with 2 swords and mostly giving shields) and the Black dice (having 1 side with 2 swords but 2 hammers). I found that I didn’t ever get into a battle unless I had that Red dice available to roll. I would also target other Captains that had the Red dice section of their ship destroyed as this made for some easy pickings.
What I Didn’t Like About Villainous Vikings
The game is advertised as 3-5 players but I will say the game truly shines at 4 or 5 players. With only 3 players, the map is so wide open and conflict really can be avoided. When you add the extra 1 or 2 players, the game becomes much more interesting and interactive and will begin to feel very much more like a true Viking themed game with lots of battle! The game originally was advertised as 2-4 and in the 2nd Edition this was changed to 3-5 and is a big improvement. I would not like to play this game with less than 4 players and really would prefer 5.
The Strong only become Stronger
At Ragnarök, I found that the winner was pretty much determined without going through the battles. You could almost scan the combatants and look at their available crews and pick the winner before even rolling. This seemed a little anti-climactic and I wish that the Ragnarök card wasn’t worth so many Valhalla Points. Its value of 7 seems too large of a reward for winning one Battle Royale, although I will say that it is a big battle! Maybe a change to 3 or 4 points would balance it out a little better.
Villainous Vikings 2nd Edition is a very well put together and clean and smooth playing game that has a very good integrated theme. The game is well laid out and easy to pick up but there is depth of strategy there that must be explored over several plays to fully grasp and understand. The options for replayability are great as there are 8 different Captain cards that offer their own unique strategy, 50 different Location cards and 25 Warriors to choose from to hire. This game is very good! It also is pretty easy to setup and takedown and plays in about 1 hour. If you like Viking themed games with good player interaction and depth of strategy all with a quick play time, Villainous Vikings is a good choice for you.
Check out our initial thoughts after our first play in our Board Game Blitz Video.