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Pete Hornburg
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From the back of the box:
“Raid & Conquer is based on the hit TV series, Vikings.

This strategic deck building card game is designed to bring out the Viking in any fan and even challenge the most skilled gamers. Experience the life and times of an ambitious Viking in the course of an hour.

There are shaky alliances and brutal betrayals. You can battle each other or work together and travel to newly discovered lands to Raid and Pillage. Are you willing to share the plunder when you're in command?

Your goal is to become the next Viking legend. Go on raids, attack other characters and collect treasure! Gain the most Legend points to become Viking King and win the game!

The game ends when a player has collected 5 Raid Cards. This does not mean that the player has won the game. Rather, all characters count their total Legend Points found in each of the Treasure cards and Raid cards.

If you are the player with the most Legend Points, you become Viking King and win the game of Raid & Conquer! Congratulations! You are now the most legendary Viking of all time. The stories of your bravery and ambition will be told for generations to come.

This is Season 1, Episode 1 of your Viking adventure. What happens next... is up to you.”

A disclaimer: In our household, the show Vikings, on the History channel, is very well loved. This is one of those shows that we’ll binge watch as soon as new episodes are available. Later, we will go back for repeat viewings at a more leisurely pace. Then we wait, impatiently, for the next season to arrive.

When High Roller Games contacted me and asked if I’d like to play and review their game, I was very eager. I already knew the source material quite well. This will be a Kickstarter project very soon and for my effort I will receive a production copy once they are available.

In case you aren’t yet familiar with the show, here is a basic summary of the Vikings show on the History Channel (from Wikipedia):
“Vikings is inspired by the sagas of Viking Ragnar Lothbrok, one of the best-known legendary Norse heroes and notorious as the scourge of England and France. The show portrays Ragnar as a farmer who rises to fame by successful raids into England, and eventually becomes a Scandinavian King,[nb 1] with the support of his family and fellow warriors: his brother Rollo, his son Bjorn Ironside, and his wives—the shieldmaiden Lagertha and the princess Aslaug.”

General gameplay:

The board has places for the various decks you’ll be building your personal decks with. There are spots for the Coins and Treasure decks on one side of the board. On the other side is Village Row, where you can obtain more Vikings for your deck, as well as Hacksilver (a currency slightly better than Silver) and Longboats.

In the center of the board, is “Viking Row”, which is where cards in the Viking Deck will be available. Also in the center is the Raid Row. The Raid Row is where locations of varying difficulty to raid will be displayed.

The board here is very useful. Sure, you could play without it, but it’s very nice for organization of the decks. A very useful game aid is printed on two sides for everyone to see.

Cards in the game consist of various Longboats, Vikings, Coins, and many other cards. One example being the Sun Stone, an item that not only provides a silver to a player, but also gives that player an additional treasure (VP!) on successful raids. The Sun Stone card also has the word “SHIPBUILD” on it. This means when you play this card, you have the option to “Sacrifice” this card (remove from game) and immediately grab an available Longboat from the board and put into play in your tableau. This kind of card flexibility is key here, and is present on many of the cards. Flexibility like this is key in the game, as players must have a boat in their tableau to be eligible to become Earl, and will help shape who is going raiding this round.

Card functionality and design are very nice here. Easily recognizable photos of characters and items from the show are used on all cards and once you understand the basic terms on the cards, the game is quite easy to grasp.

The last component I want to talk about here is the character shields. These represent some of the main recurring characters in the game. Players will be playing either Ragnar, or his wife-the Sheildmaiden Lagertha and also Ragnar’s son, Bjorn. Rounding out the 5 player characters are Ragnar’s brother Rollo and the boatbuilder Floki. They all start with the same Power (Attack) and Defense stats printed on the shields to begin, but each turn the deck you build will help modify those stats.

When everyone starts the game, it is Winter, and the 10 card deck in your hand consists of just 8 Coins and 2 Longboats. Spring, when raiding is possible, is coming in just a few turns. This gives everyone 4 turns to tweak their individual decks to their liking.

Once it is Spring, each round unfolds like this:

1. Draw phase- draw 5 cards from your personal deck.

2. Secret Plan Phase- Everyone uses their character shield to secretly select one from the following choices: Raid Party, Defend, Lone Raid, or they can select one of the other players and attack that player directly.

3. Main Phase: Player Turns– Everyone lays their hand face up and forms their tableau. Players have an opportunity to buy cards up to the value of silver shown on their cards. Many cards besides the Coin and Hacksilver cards will give you silver to spend. Here is where you tailor your personal deck by obtaining cards that will increase your Power, like more powerful Viking cards, as well as give modifiers that will do things like give you “+1” cards to your tableau. Some pretty basic deck builder stuff.

There are also special abilities on many cards. For example, cards with the “Battle Frenzy” attribute gives +1 Power to each other Viking in your tableau. The amount of Power you bring to a raid, or attack, will determine your strength in battle

Cards with “Leadership” gives a +1 “Influence“to each other Viking you control. Influence is checked to determine who the Earl is this round. The Viking with the highest Leadership will become Earl, and gets to make decisions on who is going on raids this round.

The “Battle Ship” attribute gives a +1 Power for each Longship in your command. And cards with the attribute “Command Ship” will give you +1 to your Influence.

There are also “Conditions” on cards. Cards with the “Shipbuild” condition give you an option to sacrifice that card, take an available “Longboat” from the board and put it immediately into play.

The “Bury” condition will let you hide some Coins, Hacksilver or Treasure over time and spend it later to directly accumulate a Raid card, if you have enough. This opens the door for economic strategies.

4. Action Phase- In the action phase, shields are now flipped over and everyone’s intentions are now known for the round. Actions get taken in order depending on what a player selected, starting with “Defend”.

Defend action

“Defend” is what a player might select if they thought another player intends to attack them directly, such as if they thought that player could be getting a 5th Raid card this round, which triggers the end of the game. Those that selected to Defend are not immediately eligible to go on Raids, but if you selected Defend, you get additional defense bonus from your shield that makes it harder when a player is attacking you. Additionally, the Earl can invite you to go on a Raid, even if you selected Defend. This is the one time, however, you can refuse the Earl’s request if it is not to your liking.

After working through players that selected “Defend”, direct attacks on other characters are resolved.

Attack Character action

A player may chose to attack another character for various reasons. If you are successful, you get the option to either take the top card, unseen, from the defending players draw pile, or you can go through their discard pile and select a card to steal. But…if the defending player has any Vikings in their discard pile with the “Betrayal” condition, the attacker must take one of those.

This Betrayal mechanic here is a really cool and makes sense, thematically. The Vikings cards with “Betrayal” are pretty good- but they are also fickle and are quick to leave you when the going gets rough.

If you are able to summon a high enough attack, you can even manage to steal a Raid card from the defending player, if they have one. This can potentially prevent a player who was about to get their 5th Raid card from doing so. And remember, once any player has obtained their 5th Raid card, this triggers game end.

Players that choose to attack another player are not eligible to be Earl, and they cannot go on raids. The Earl cannot even invite them. So there are those kind of costs involved here.

Raid Party action

All players that choose Raid Party, and have a Longboat in their tableau are in the running to be Earl, and the title will go to the player who selected Raid Party, and is displaying the most Influence in their tableau. The new Earl looks at how much Attack force he has, and considers taking if he wants to take any of the others that choose Raid party, adding their Attack Value to the overall sum. He then decides who, if anyone, he wants to go raiding with him. As Earl, you might not want to bring certain parties with you, if they are close to victory.

If an Earl can raise enough Attack points that meet or exceeds one of the available Raid cards, then the raid was successful. The Earl will get the Raid card, which has the lion’s share of VP, but everybody that went on the successful raid, including the Earl, also gets a Treasure card to add to their deck. These bestow 2 Silver, an Influence point and one VP.

Lone Raid action

Of those who selected “Lone Raid”, only the player with the most Attack value gets to go. If they are able to obtain a high enough attack value by themselves to equal a Raid card, then they get to do so. They also get one of the standard Treasure cards.

End of Round phase

The last phase in the game is the End of Round phase. All cards in tableaus are discarded and anything sacrificed goes back to its appropriate pile.

Once one player has obtained 5 Raid cards, the game is over and the player that has accumulated the most VP from cards is declared the winner!

***There are also a few variants in the rulebook I haven’t had a chance to explore. One is the Lightning Game- a way to play a quicker game by playing to collect 3 Raid cards (vs 5). You can also play an Epic game by going through all the Raid cards included in the game. There are also options for Co-op, and a 2V2 team game available.

What I like:

First off- this is a gorgeous game. Everything from the graphic design and the art/photos used on the components is top notch. A LOT of time and effort went into this.

Second, there is a lot of room for play customization here. When you build your deck, should you go for Power, collecting Vikings with high Attack values and also those type modifier cards? You may choose this hoping to be invited to go raiding, and potentially go on Lone Raids at times. Or do you go for the highest Influence? Obtaining (and keeping) the Earl status is critical in the game. Or do you go for a blend of the two?

Something else really cool in the game is the various jockeying back and forth to try and become Earl. Even if you didn’t make it to Earl status, you have to hope the new Earl will select you to go Raiding.

But you really don’t know what your opponents are going to do. The use of the player shields to covertly select your action for the rounds is really great in this game.

What I feel could be better?
The two player version of the game is totally functional, but I personally feel 2P is not an ideal player count for this type of game. This isn’t a criticism of the game, but its just inherent with these kind of games. They just aren’t designed with 2P as the sweet spot.

In the game setup, the Raid deck is actually tailored specifically for every player count, which is nice, but two player games will not have the kind of feel a 3-5 player game does. Like I said, this isn’t really a criticism though, as I feel any games with a negotiating/political flavor to them do not make the best 2P games.

Conclusion, or who I think would like this game:
I really enjoy the game. There are a lot of really chewy decisions to make. You need to be able to sum up your opponents & try to determine their next moves. The game definitely rewards players that are able to build efficient decks. This is an area I'm still not great at in deck builders in general, but I am enjoying working on.

Almost everyone else I played with indicated they liked it very much. The only player that was lukewarm to the game was someone that loves games, but does just not like card games in general.

And of the people I played with, about half were fans of the show. Of the other half, some had not seen it yet, or had only seen a few episodes. Lack of familiarity with the show did not seem to hinder their enjoyment. The theme really comes through in Vikings: Raid & Conquer and the game shines whether you have familiarity with the Vikings TV show or not.

Overall, I think if you are a gamer and a fan of the show, you'll love it. For those unfamiliar with the Vikings TV show, but like deck building games, or games with power plays & player interaction, you owe it to yourself to check it out.

Thanks for reading. Keep on gaming!

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