I should start with a little disclosure; I am a good friend of Peter Morrison, the developer of Viktory, and have helped with the play testing of Viktory from back in the "Imperial Conquest" days. I am, perhaps, biased in my review, but I will be candid and try to paint a picture of what the Viktory experience is like. First, I think a little background is in order. Peter is the biggest board game enthusiast that I have ever met. Every time I come to visit he has a handful of new games that we try out. We primarily play war games and enjoy talking about each game's positives and negatives afterward. Viktory was born in this environment through Peter's desire to create a war game that included the positive aspects of the games we played and avoided the negative. There are several primary elements that Viktory was designed around: lack of a fixed optimal strategy, an encouragement of unit diversity, combat that appropriately awards the aggressor, rules that can be explained simply to a non-enthusiast and perhaps most importantly a workable game duration (who can regularly spend six hours gaming and find friends who can too?). I think these are laudable goals and I think that Viktory fulfills them admirably.
This is a tricky category to write about because these may change if enthusiasm for the game broadens; I will describe the pieces in their current state. The game board is made up of five different hex types (water, grassland, plains, forest and mountain). Each hex is about 1.7" (4.3cm) across and about 0.05" (1.3mm) thick. The artwork is glossy and original. The production quality is equal to what you would find in something like Settlers of Catan. The current game pieces are plastic and include infantry, cavalry, artillery, frigate, town and city pieces. The game provides pieces for four players, bags to hold the pieces and six dice. In all you are getting around 400 pieces. Also included in the game are the rules (of course) and some reference cards that help new players learn the unit abilities and hex types. It all comes in a sturdy cardboard box that is probably better for protecting the game than a flashier box, but doesn't look quite as nice as a telescoping box (no box top to roll dice in). I'm not sure what the usual quality level for a "home made" game is, but the components in Viktory are the equal to what you would get from a major game company. You can see pictures of what you are getting on BoardGameGeek and the Viktory website.
The core of Viktory operates using a system that I have never seen before. Town and cities are built on hexes and support military units. Each turn the player begins by either placing a town or upgrading a town to a city until town placement is no longer possible. Towns support one infantry; cities support one infantry plus one additional unit based on the hex type. The number of units that you have at any given time is always the total number of units that your towns and cities support. The original (to me at least) aspect is that any losses in battle are only temporary. The units are moved to a reserve area and are replaced on the game board at the end of the player's turn using certain restrictions. The fact that losses are only temporary makes attacking worthwhile from the first time that you are able to attack (there is no real need to wait and build up). The restrictions make an organized effort to project power essential. Even though the units may only be lost temporarily, the inability to have them in a useful position can be fatal. After additional town placement is no longer available, the only way to expand is to attack the other players. The only way to permanently destroy an enemy unit is to take a town or city that is supporting it. Correspondingly, when a town or city is taken, the attacker gains the additional units associated with the town. Turtling is a dead end in Viktory.
The elite units are very well balanced. The cavalry gets a bonus die on attacks, artillery are given a first round bombard attack with casualties unable to respond and frigates provide a bombard and the ability to threaten coastal cities with their transport capability and long range. One of the most elegant aspects of the game is the determination of combat dice. Dice are given for the number of unit types in combat, so having an army with infantry, cavalry and artillery is far more potent than a hoard of one unit type. No single elite unit stands out as the "must have" and the additional incentive for diverse armies ensure that you organize your city placement to take advantage of the "combined arms" effect. Towns and cities provide defense dice during combat making the reward of taking a city appropriately difficult to achieve but certainly not impossible. All hits are on a three or less, so there is no need to roll multiple sets of dice for each unit type other than to take care of bombardment type attacks.
The downsides to game play are relatively minor. Since an attacker knows that any units lost will be regenerated and able to defend (though possibly not in the location you'd like) at the end of his turn, there is little disincentive to performing "punk attacks." You can send a small army against long odds of success with little consequence and sometimes a string of luck plays a big role in turning the game. Relying on getting lucky with punk attacks usually won't get you very far though; well planned projection of power is far more reliable. Perhaps the most counterintuitive aspect is the fact that there are times when as an attacker you'd like to lose a unit in order to be able to place them elsewhere defensively at the end of your turn. These are small prices to pay for a combat system that is otherwise quite active and that rewards good planning and aggressiveness.
As with any game incorporating an element of randomness, luck can play a role in the outcome of Viktory. A string of good luck during a critical juncture can turn a game, especially amongst a smaller number of players. That said, luck usually seems to be the nudge over the top among players who have pursued strategies of equal quality and not a substitute for good planning. In the end, you know that fortune could swing your way in the next game which could be just around the corner.
Viktory was designed to be fast-paced and ideally finished by three players in about an hour. This is possible with a group of experienced players. Teaching someone the first time through will extend the game time a bit, as will adding a fourth player. The hex based game board makes it possible to adjust the size of the game board for faster or lengthier games. The game's structure makes it difficult for players to remain balanced for long once the opportunities for expansion by town placement are eliminated. Overall, unless you are playing with an unusually deliberative group, games tend to last less than ninety minutes.
The hex-based game board makes each game's starting place unique and more importantly, the particular arrangement of hex types greatly affect the sort of strategy that is necessary to be successful. Lots of inland water means that frigates will be especially useful. A few prime sets of choke points might become battlegrounds for the entire game. While there are general principles that can be followed, every decision is an exercise in weighing opportunity costs. "If I place a town there I will secure a nice choke point, but will I be able to defend it until I can make it a city next turn?" "Should I go ahead and use this unit for a punk attack with a slim chance of success or save it so it is in position to be part of a more substantial attack next turn?" Games don't develop according to a fixed pattern, so each game seems fresh. There are no instances of mindlessly following an optimal strategy.
Viktory was originally designed to meet the goals of a group of war game enthusiasts. While each gamer has his own opinion of what properties are necessary to make a good game, the principles that Viktory was designed around make for an excellent fast-paced war game. Since there isn't an optimal strategy to crack, beginners can enjoy the game and have success while experienced players can appreciate the balance and variety of the game experience. Since care was taken to keep a game of Viktory from becoming a day long event, players can find the time to come back for more. Viktory is my favorite war game; I doubt it will sit on your shelf collecting dust.