In our first Action Point, we looked at the cards that are included in 878: Vikings – The Invasions of England from Academy Games. In this entry, we are going to take a look at how Battles work.
The Battle system is simple but fairly clever and you really have to have a good understanding of the dice makeup of each of your units involved. In fact, the system really reminds me a little of RISK. But before I get into the details, I want to talk about the Viking Reinforcement phase.
Viking Reinforcement Phase
At the very beginning of each round, one Viking faction gets to draw a card from the Invasion Deck. The choosing faction is decided by which Viking faction has their cube drawn from the draw bag first. The card draw is random but each of the cards represent a historic leader along with a number of units for an invading army to be used that turn. As you can see in the example taken from the rule book below, the Leader chosen was Ivar the Boneless and he comes with a good sized and powerful army consisting of 14 Norsemen (black figures) and 6 Berserkers (red figures). Once drawn, the appropriate figures are placed on the card drawn and the Leader token is placed next to it. The controlling Viking player then can play a Movement card (see previous Action Point for details) and move not only this army with the Leader but any number of allowed armies the appropriate amount of spaces, as shown on the played Movement card. The really unique part about the Leaders is that they can win a Battle and keep moving as long as they have Movement points remaining. So, if the Viking player plays a Movement card that allows 3 armies to move up to 4 spaces, one of those armies that are allowed to move is the Leader and his invasion force. They can move up to 4 spaces. They have to come from the sea, as the Vikings would cross the North Sea or the English Channel in Longships to get to England, and then land and move into a Battle.
Here is a look at the Invasion force led by Ivar the Boneless. As you can see, all of the units shown are placed on the card along with any other reinforcements that the Vikings might have from their units that Fled earlier Battles.
As I mentioned earlier, the real power in the Leaders is that they can move and attack, and after a victory in a particular Shire, they can move on to engage in more Battle until their Movement points expire. If a Viking force is engaged in a Battle that lasts beyond the first round, they will have to spend a Movement point to continue the Battle. I found that as the English I would try to do anything that I could to make a Battle last more than one round. This most often was determined by the number of Fyrd units I would be granted to use as defenders in Shires as well. The other advantage of Leaders is that they get to move and Battle first during each round. If this ability is used properly, one Viking faction player can do considerable damage to the English and then leave the Leader token well positioned to do some more damage on the other Viking faction player’s turn. It really can lead to a devastating left-right combo that can knock out the English.
The Battle mechanic used in 878: Vikings is really very simple, and simple is not a bad thing in this instance. A Battle happens when opposing units occupy the same Shire. There can be multiple Battles in each round and the active player gets to choose the order in which they happen. The defender always has the initiative and therefore gets to roll their Battle dice first, removing any casualties from the enemy force and any of their own actions as well, such as Flee or Command (where a unit can be moved to an adjacent space occupied by that factions pieces). The attacker then rolls their dice, simultaneously if attacking together, and applies the results. Battle will last until one side or the other is the only one standing. There is no retreat in force in 878: Vikings. The retreat option comes from the Command results on the dice.
The number of dice that are rolled are determined by 2 factors. The type of units involved in the combat and the number of those units. For the English, Housecarl units may roll up to 2 dice, while Thegn units can roll up to 3 dice and their Fyrd brethren can roll up to 2 dice. In order to roll the number of maximum dice, there must be units of that type up to the number of dice. For example, if there are only 2 Thegn units in a given Battle, they can only roll 2 dice, not their maximum 3. If they lose a unit, they will then only roll 1 die. This mechanic reminds me a little bit of RISK, as mentioned earlier. But the system works well for this level and difficulty of game and the dice symbols really add some interesting outcomes.
In the picture above, this was my first attack of the game after the Vikings invaded East Engla Rice. As you can see, I went all out and moved 3 armies located in three different Shires to converge on the Vikings located in one of my fallen reinforcement cities of Theodford. In looking at the picture, you would assume that the Battle went to the English, and it did, but it wasn’t as easy as you would think. Remember, that the Berserker dice are really good and they hit on 66% of their rolls (4 of 6 sides have Hit results) and never Flee as compared to the Housecarl units (50% Hit results) and the Thegn units (33% Hit results).
One other interesting note about Battle is that the Vikings have to lose a Berserker unit as a part of their first loss in any Battle that Berserkers are present. After that, they can discuss among the two factions and decide what units to lose. More often than not though, Berserkers are saved as they are really powerful. In this Battle, I was rolling my maximum dice, including 2 dice for the Housecarl units and 3 dice for the Thegn units, but the dice gods didn’t smile on me. While I did ended up winning the Battle, I lost 5 of my 7 Housecarl units and 5 of my 9 Thegn units. This result really hampered my future turns and caused me to move to a more defensive posture.
I hope that you have enjoyed these Action Points on this great game and I hope that you get a chance to try it out for yourself. I really like how Academy Games has created a cool historic based game that is simple to learn and fun to play. The rules are very clear and straightforward, the components are fantastic, and I really like the way they used the Movement cards and the Action cards in the design (even though I have concerns about their power).