Giant Fire Breathing Robot
Vikings love to raid, but this isn’t about raiding. The love to pillage, but pillaging isn’t featured. In Vikings on Board, the players are preparing to launch their ships for a raid. It’s about making sure that your clan has the most representation on the ships as they set out to sea. This family style title will provide good fun for the target audience, but may not satisfy hobby gamers.
The Basics. There are four clans in the game – red, blue, green, and yellow. Each player is assigned a clan. If there are less than four players, then some clans will not have players representing them, but they will still impact the game.
Each clan has ship pieces with one, two, or three shields on them. They have two of each quantity. These are set out randomly on eight ships to begin the game. The players also get a number of workers that are set up semi-randomly to establish an initial playing order.
On your turn, you take your worker and place it on the action you want to take. Like standard worker placement. Many of them allow you to move around various pieces on the board swapping control of the ships. The player with the most shields on a ship has control of it. The spaces also allow you to place bets. You can put a betting marker on a particular ship to predict who will control it at launch. If you’re right, you get up to four points. You can add goods to particular ships. Finally, you can also take a spot that lets you launch one of the ships.
Turn order is not fixed. Instead, once all actions have been taken and the round completed, players start again. But they go in the order of the actions they placed, from top to bottom. The actions are ordered so that less powerful actions come before those with greater impact. So if you take a big action, you’ll go later in the next round. Choose a simpler action, and you’ll go earlier in the next round.
If someone takes the shipping action, then at the end of a round, they’ll launch a vessel of their choice. Control is determined and the controlling players divide up any goods that were on that ship. Winning bets are also awarded. Then it leaves the shore and can no longer be affected.
The game ends when seven of the eight ships have launched. At that point, the final scores are determined and the winner declared.
The Feel. Vikings on Board is a great example of family-style worker placement and area control. Although it says “Vikings” right on the box, this is not really a viking game. Or it is only in a cartoony sense. There are no axes, no combat, and no blood. Which means the game is thematically unobjectionable and easily adopted into family game night.
It also has a really interesting mechanism for determining turn order. See, the actions go from very mundane and unhelpful to extremely powerful. But the next round, you take your turns in the order the actions appear. So maybe this round I take the action that lets me move a boat piece of mine to the front. The effect is meh, but it’s near the beginning. So next round, I’ll get to move first or second. Similarly, if I take the awesome switch-any-two-pieces action, I’ll get a great effect now, but have to go last next round.
This creates a lot of opportunities for interesting play. Maybe you want to try to take two adjacent actions. That way, you’ll get two turns in a row next time. Or maybe you take that powerful action now because it will actually be of benefit for you to go last next round. As with many area control games, going last is sometimes advantageous since it gives you the final opportunity to shape the board in your favor.
Swapping out the different ship parts is an interesting take on area control. You have a finite number of bits on the board, and so it’s about maneuvering them to where they’ll do the most good. And they look gorgeous on the board. The 3D ships really make the game pop and it is certainly inviting to onlookers. It’s the kind of thing that can inspire imaginations and get kids away from their smart phones.
Getting goods onto ships is also important. While the person who launches a ship can pick any of them, he has to pick one with a good, if able. So he can’t avoid a supplied ship in favor of sending off one without supplies just to hurt opponents.
Still, having the final say in which ship launches is incredibly powerful. Luckily, it doesn’t occur until the end of the round, so the other players usually have a little time to muck up the board and make your choices less obvious. But the ability to decide who gets points – and who uses up their ship pieces – is huge. This is, by far, the most hotly contested action during the mid and late game.
There are a couple of negatives, though. The shields and playing pieces are identified mostly by color. The colorblind may have some difficulty with this game. True, there are symbols on the ship pieces, but they can be hard to see from across the table. The workers are indistinguishable other than by color.
Also, because one player gets to decide the fate of who gets points, Vikings on Board lends itself to kingmaking. It isn’t uncommon for the ship launcher to have bad options and merely be deciding which opponent will get big points.
Components: 4.5 of 5. The three dimensional ship pieces look amazing on the board. They are made of sturdy cardboard and don’t feel like they require more than ordinary care. The game also comes with a great insert that holds all those pieces snugly. If it was just a bit more colorblind friendly, this would certainly be a 5.
Strategy/Luck Balance: 4.5 of 5. There is very little luck in Vikings on Board beyond the initial setup. The only luck is in randomly drawing goods tiles. But a player can still place them on any ship. The game comes down almost entirely to player choices and ensures that you have the freedom to make them.
Mechanics: 3 of 5. Mechanically, the game is solid. But there are some things that just feel not quite right. Having better actions make you go last is a good tradeoff in theory, but in an area control game, later turn order is often better. I’m also not a huge fan of how the game becomes dominated by the launch action towards the middle and end. It has outsized impact compared to the rest of the options.
Replayability: 3.5 of 5. Vikings has room for clever play and interesting twists. Maybe it looks like blue is going to own a ship with a ton of points and it’s the only one that can be launched. So, at the last second, I put a good on a different ship. Now the ship launcher can pick my ship, give me just a few points, and give everyone another round to disrupt blue’s megaship. Still, while family gamers will see interesting things to return to, hobby gamers may play it out more quickly.
Spite: 3.5 of 5. For a family title, players should be aware that there is some significant opportunity for spite. You can swap some ship pieces and take control of someone else’s ship. You can even launch a ship that gives them no points, but does get rid of one of their good pieces. Like many area control games, you should take caution with thin-skinned players.
Overall: 3 of 5. Vikings on Board isn’t an overly ambitious game and it succeeds at what it does. It provides light enjoyment that families and non-gamers can fully appreciate. While it has a few issues that keep it from being truly great, and offers relatively little to those steeped in the hobby, it is actually a pretty good game for the target audience. And if you’re looking for that kind of game, Vikings on Board is a strong candidate.
(A special thanks to Blue Orange Games for providing a review copy of Vikings on Board)
(Originally posted, with pictures, at the Giant Fire Breathing Robot. Check out and subscribe to my Geeklist of reviews, updated weekly)