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Subject: Fire & Axe: A Viking Saga - A Detailed Review rss

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Image Courtesy of Forza

This review continues my series of detailed reviews that attempt to be part review, part resource for anyone not totally familiar with the game. For this reason I expect readers to skip to the sections that are of most interest.

If you liked the review please thumb the top of the article so others have a better chance of seeing it and I know you stopped by. Thanks for reading.

Overview

Game Type - Euro/Ameritrash Hybrid
Play Time: 100-150 minutes
Number of Players: 3-5
Mechanics - Action Point Allowance System, Area Movement, Pick-up and Deliver, Dice Rolling
Difficulty - Moderate (Can be learned in 30 minutes, takes 1-2 plays to begin to understand all the moving parts)
Components - Excellent ++
Release - 2004 (this edition 2007)

Designers - Steve Kendall - (A Brief History of the World, History of the World, Nina & Pinta, Steam Donkey, Workshop of the World)

+

Phil Kendall - (A Brief History of the World, History of the World, Nina & Pinta, Steam Donkey, Workshop of the World)

Overview and Theme

For a people, it is time - time for the Vikings of Scandinavia to set sail and unleash themselves on the dark ages of medieval Europe. The Vikings will raid for sure, but they will also trade and attempt to settle new lands as well. In doing so they are also hoping to complete great sagas in the hope of gaining fame and glory, to be spoken of in the stories that are yet to be written and sung by the Skalds of tomorrow.

The Vikings were not all about bloodthirsty conquest and F&A: A Viking Saga seeks to represent this reality in a detailed hybrid of Euro mechanisms and thematic elements. Indeed a hybrid of this nature was something of a trailblazer for 2007 gaining many fans (which in itself was a re-implementation of the 1st edition dating back to 2004).

This review focuses on the Asmodee editions release of 2007 and as an aside, the game was again revamped for release in 2015 (IDW/Pandasaurus Games). This review won't cover this newest production in depth, but I have included a section towards the end which outlines the main differences between the editions. I also stumbled across the name of CROC, who worked on rules revisions for this edition. CROC is of course famed for his design of Claustrophobia. So we have some gaming chops here.

It is also worth noting that whilst the names Kendall may not spark too much recognition, they are also known as the Ragnar Brothers, who have gained a decent following over the years, particularly for their game History of the World (a personal favourite of mine).

So grab that shield, heft that axe and join me in our longboat...we have an adventure to embark upon! meeple

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The Components

Watch me use 944 words to effectively say - It's bloody gorgeous!

d10-1 Board - This is the star of the show. It depicts Dark Ages Europe from the tips of Turkey in the southeast to the English Isles and beyond in the opposite direction.

Parchment surrounds the map and allows for some small tables and such. The waterways are all coloured differently to help identify them (this is important to the game play) and the many ports are nice, large, round affairs. Centrally room has been made for the Saga Cards in play and the Days Track.

It's vibrant without being gaudy and it just works really well. The only downside is that the map is large by today's standards (a 6-segment job) and when you add the player's bits and pieces around the board, this is one game that demands a fair chunk of real estate to get played.


Image Courtesy of Forza


d10-2 Longboats - I decided to lump two components together here. The longboat figure that acts as your sailing band on the board is pretty good, with little ways under the hull and that iconic Viking sail.

The game then includes a large disc, which depicts your longboat artistically. On this disc are a serious of circles, which serve the purpose of holding the things you decide to load (crewman or goods). It's a really nice component and underlines the lavishness of the production.


Image Courtesy of Alice87


d10-3 Viking Warriors - Like the longboat, these are plastic affairs and the detail is pretty good for a time that pre-dates the miniatures obsession of Kickstarter. There is only the one sculpt but hey, they do the job quite nicely.


Image Courtesy of Aden


d10-4 Town/City Figurines - The game also provides great figures to represent the towns and cities of Dark Ages Europe. These could easily have been cardboard tokens in other productions, but here Asmodee went the whole hog.

The game also includes some small tokens featuring values. These are inserted into the base of the town figurines when the game is first punched out.

By the way, the game refers to these figures as town figurines and does not mention cities. I have decided to use the term 'cities' to define the larger figures from the smaller.


Image Courtesy of Alice87


d10-5 Goods Tokens - The game uses three different goods types in furs, skins and tusks. These are represented by small, round tokens with a clear image on a white background.


Image Courtesy of Alice87


d10-6 Saga Cards - The game comes with a raft of Saga Cards, which act as objectives to try and complete. All the cards in the game feature a matte/linen finish and the card design for the Sagas is clean and sharp.

Each Saga Card consists of 3 key elements. At the top is a name relating to one of the Home Ports (more on these later). Below this is the requirement for completing the Saga and this is associated with one of the 3 Tasks that a player can execute (Raid, Settle or Trade). The bottom half of the card is then used to visually show the location of the ports listed on the card.

It's very well done.


Image Courtesy of Aden


d10-7 Rune Cards - These cards act like event cards if you will, which the players can play to gain a benefit, break a game rule or mess with the opposition.

The quality is great here too and the format is good. My only gripe here would be that the text outlining the card effect is a little on the small side. But I nit-pick really.


Image Courtesy of Alice87


d10-8 Coins - Coins serve as victory points in the game. These are fairly simple by the standards set by the rest of the components. They are round in nature and come in denominations of 1, 3 and 10 and each value is of a different colour and size to assist with quick recognition.

The game also throws in some larger tokens that represent a hoard of treasure and loot. These are worth 50 coins each and tend to be used in the final scoring to make adding up a little easier.

This could just be me but my first look at these tokens whenever I open the game always has me seeing a hot rod car.


Image Courtesy of Alice87


d10-9 Assorted Tokens - The game also provides a couple of extra tokens to track the winds and to record the number of days spent preparing and sailing. These do the job but are a case of function over form. Oh there are also 3 numbered tokens to help track the endgame too.


Image Courtesy of Alice87


d10-1d10-0 Rules - I really like the rules as they are presented. They follow a logical flow and I had no trouble interpreting them. They are also embellished with some lovely artwork and clear examples to spell things out as you learn the game.

Interestingly, the new 2015 edition has reworked the rulebook to make it easier to use and follow. I took a look at the digital file and for me the 2007 book is the easier to use and nicer to look at of the two.


Image Courtesy of Alice87


I can't say too much more about the components. They are really fantastic and if you forked out for a copy of the game in the 'out-of-print' days, then I think you have still received value for money from a production standpoint.


Image Courtesy of Bostich


Set-Up

The set-up takes a little work but it isn't too onerous. The only real fiddly bit is the Saga Deck construction.

The game does take two seconds of pre-work before the set-up even. There are a number of small, round tokens that feature a value. These need to be pressed into the bases of the town figurines.

Each player chooses a colour and takes their longboat, crewman (Viking Warriors) and longboat template. The town figurines are placed on the ports that feature a star icon, with the three larger ones being placed on Paris, Rome and Constantinople.

The coins are placed to the side to form a stack and the two Day Track tokens are placed in the center of the board, ready for use.

The Wind Token is placed on the compass on the left of the board with the +1 facing south and the -1 facing north.

The Rune Cards are shuffled together and placed beside the table.

The Saga Cards must now be readied. In each Saga (I, II and III) 3 cards are removed at random to help with variability. Each set of Saga Cards are then shuffled and the cards are placed atop one another with the I's on top (18 in total in the deck). Three of these cards are then drawn and placed on the central locations on the board.

The players select a start player, place their longboat figures in the Wintering Box and the game is ready to begin.

The Play

Image Courtesy of mdu2boy


I think the best way to outline the play of F&A: A Viking Saga is to outline the basic turn structure and then I will cover the key aspects of the game that make up the mechanisms of the game and the subsequent decision making.

Hopefully this works well.

d10-1 Turn Structure – The game requires that each player take their turn before the play moves on to the next player in clockwise order. There is never a change of turn order within the game as the cycle simply continues until the players trigger the end-game condition.

Within each of the player's turns, they have a total of 7 action points that they can use. The game refers to these as days and a track is provided to keep a record of how many days have been used. At the end of the 7 days available in a turn, a player may find themselves somewhere within the known world (out sailing), at one of the home ports or in the Wintering Box.

At this point I think it is critical that we cover some key terms and what they mean :-

mb Wintering Box - The Wintering Box is a location on the board where any player can find themselves (multiple players can also be there at the same time). This is essentially a location that simulates a player and their clan preparing for the next great voyage, stocking up and preparing once again.

mb Home Ports - The Home Ports consist of Sweden, Norway and Denmark and are represented by large round circles on the map. This is the location that any player can launch voyages from. Once a player is happy that their longboat is loaded, they move their vessel from the Wintering Box to the Home Port of their choice, naturally the one chosen may make it easier to sail in a certain direction.

Again the Home Ports simulate the fact that these countries were the homelands of the Viking peoples. From a gaming point of view it is clear that the players don't have a specific starting location. This is not a 'dudes on a map' game in the same vein as a Risk or Axis and Allies.

mb Day Track - The Day Track consists of 7 numbers and two tokens are used to keep track of how many days have passed. One of these tokens is called the Preparation Token. This is used to track how many days were spent loading your longboat or consulting the runes. The Navigation Token is used to track how many days have been spent sailing. The combination of the two tokens can never exceed the 7 day limit.

The reason for having two tokens is the fact that it is important how many days are used for sailing in a given waterway. More on this later.

mb Regions - Many of the ports in Viking Europe come in sets of 3 and are coloured the same. These are referred to as Regions and are important in relation to trading, scoring settlements and completing Sagas, as will be outlined later.

Any ports coloured grey are isolated outposts and are part of no Region.

d10-2 Actions – As mentioned, each player has 7 days (action points) with which to conduct actions to 'get things done'. In total there are 3 key actions that can be taken.

mb Loading - This is a very common action and is always required between voyages. A player can load two commodities onto their longboat, goods or Crewmen. There are 3 types of goods in the game (skins, furs and tusks), each of which is represented by a unique token. A longboat must always have at least one crewman figure on board but often more is desirable.

Each longboat has room for 5 things in Saga I (think of this as a time period in Viking history). Saga's II and III allow for an additional space each time, so by Saga III a player has a maximum carrying capacity of 7. This is a nice mechanism as it reflects the advancements that the Vikings made over time with their boat building skills.

Very quickly it becomes evident that loading your longboat could take the best part of an entire turn, provided you wish to fill it to capacity. For this reason a player's turn can be completed quite quickly at times.

Once a player is satisfied that they have loaded their longboat sufficiently, they can move it to their choice of Home Port. If they have days remaining, they can chose to do one of the following two actions.

mb Consult the Runes - This action is thematic as it represents the Vikings belief in the gods and it was the Runes that they would consult to communicate with them and look for favourable omens.

This action allows a player to draw a Rune Card to their hand and for each card taken, a day is spent. A player cannot have more than 3 cards in their hand at any given time. Runes can only be played or discarded in a player's own turn.

mb Movement or Sailing - This is of course how the players explore and traverse the Viking world. It takes a day to move from one sea, ocean or river location to the next adjacent water location (the lines are well defined). In addition, if a player wishes to sail into a port on the map, this will take an additional action (day) even though it may reside within a water box already entered.

This is something that is easily forgotten when learning the game but it is crucial because of the limited number of actions that are available within a single player turn.

Open waterways can have multiple longboats in the same location at once, however, a port can never have more than one longboat in it at a time.

Loading, Consulting Runes and Movement are the only actions that are possible within the game and that consume the concept of time (action points). But these are only the mechanisms that make the actual goals of the game possible! The goals of the game that allow coins or points to be earned are called Tasks and these define what the Vikings were all about! cool

d10-3 Tasks -

Image Courtesy of filwi
The game allows the players to carry out 3 different tasks. Performing a task takes no time, tasks are simply something a player can chose to do when they have reached a particular location (which will always be a port).

mb Trading - Trading allows a player to deliver a trade good from their longboat to a port. Doing so requires that the token traded is placed onto the empty port location.

This implies two things. The port can have neither a town/city still in place and nor can it already have a goods token. Hence, once a port has received a trade, it cannot be traded with again.

In addition, a player cannot trade a good type to a port within a Region if that good type is already present in another port of the Region. Thankfully regions always consist of 3 ports and the game comprises of 3 good types. Funny that! whistle

The other consequence of a trade is that the value of the port is reduced by one from the printed value on the board. This signifies that the port's defences have softened somewhat as their citizens have become used to luxury goods and think the Vikings to be their friends. devil

mb The Benefits of Trading - The benefit is in the acquisition of wealth. A player trading with a port earns coins equal to the value of the port. The other major benefit of trading is that the outcome is guaranteed, no dice roll is required.

A player will receive a +2 coin bonus if the good type being traded matches the current good in demand!

mb Raiding - Raiding is how the Vikings take down towns and cities and was an action they were notorious for. Raiding can only be carried out against a port with a town or city figurine.

To attack such a location, a player is allowed to roll a dice for each crewman aboard their longboat but the maximum number of dice that can be rolled is 3. Having more than 3 crewman may be beneficial for further attempts (should the first fail) or to carry out additional raids before returning to the Wintering Box to reload.

The dice are rolled one at a time and each roll is dealt with before the next. To raid successfully the player is hoping to roll a value greater than that of the port's value. If they succeed the raid is over. If they fail (roll equal to or less) they must return a crewman from their longboat to their supply and roll again if they have more crew and they have not already rolled for the 3rd time.

It should be remembered that a port with a goods token is an easier target and -1 is subtracted from the value of a port when determining the number that is needed for success.

mb The Benefits of Raiding - A successful raid will allow a player to take the town or city figurine into their possession. Underneath these figurines are values and these will add to a player's score at the end of the game.

In addition, one of the end of game scoring bonuses is awarded for capturing the most town/city figurines. There is no doubt that raiding is more risky than trading but the potential earnings are far greater.

mb Settling - The Vikings, in time, liked the notion of settling in more hospitable lands. Thus the settling action allows a player to call new shores home.

Much like raiding, settling is only possible in a port where no town/city figurine is present. However a port can have a trade token and still be settled.

Settling is resolved in a similar fashion to raiding in that a maximum of 3 dice are rolled (1 dice per crewman on your longboat) but here the dice are rolled all at the same time. Again the criteria for success is to roll a value on any one dice that is higher than the port's value (again a -1 applies if they have a trade good). The catch here though is that any dice that fail to roll the required value will result in a casualty.

In effect, settling can be more dangerous than raiding as a raid could be successful on the first roll and therefore no casualties are lost. With settling, one dice may prove successful but the other two may still cost casualties (if 3 are being rolled). Thematically I guess this reflects the difficulty that a Viking Clan would have in being accepted by the natives of the Region.

If a player successfully settles a port they must take one of their crewman off their longboat and place it on the port circle. If this removed the last crewman from their longboat, the boat is returned to the Wintering Box and their turn ends.

mb The Benefits of Settling - Whilst higher casualties are possible (likely even) the benefits are significant. At the end of the game a settled port will earn a player points equal to the port's value (-1 if a trade good is present). However if two of the three ports in the Region are settled, by any player, then the points for each port are doubled. If all 3 ports in the region are settled then the points are tripled! bag

So it is the tasks that are essentially the goals that the players are trying to complete, and more efficiently than their rivals.

mb Limitations -

Image Courtesy of henk.rolleman
At this point it is important to outline a critical limitation when carrying out tasks. A single player can never attempt to conduct more than 1 task in the same port in a single turn. So it is not possible to raid a port before trading with it, nor is it possible to trade with a port before trying to settle there (and gain the -1 penalty to its port value).

Multiple actions such as these would have to be carried out over successive turns and of course the player would need to remain in the port. This is of course possible and sometimes desirable as another player can never enter a port that already contains another longboat.

For this reason, sometimes it is beneficial to fully load a longboat with crewman because if one raid/settle attempt fails on one turn it may be viable to stay and try again on the next.

d10-4 The Sagas – The game as outlined above would work well enough on its own but it doesn't end there. The game also introduces the notion of Sagas, which in the Viking world were the names given to great expeditions and voyages, battles and conquests.

The game always has 3 Sagas in play, at least until the endgame period. Each Saga outlines the conditions that must be met to complete the card. These always pertain to trading, settling or raiding. In most cases a Saga will require that 3 different ports (often those in the same Region) are to be traded, raided or settled. But some Sagas may refer to one or two locations only.

In a nice touch and to reinforce that Sagas mark the passage of time in Viking history, Sagas II and III tend to feature more distant locations and the raiding of larger cities. This simulates the growing strength, prowess and aspirations of the Vikings as the game unfolds.

The catch with completing a Saga is this - only the player that completes the final element outlined on a card can take it for themselves. So other players may have traded, raided or settled other ports in a Region but the player that completes the final element gets the spoils. It is tough for sure but it also adds much to the strategy and tactics that the players must employ.

mb The Benefits of Completing Sagas - Many Saga Cards will offer up a number of coins/points, which are earned once completed - so that benefit is simple enough, but some cards do not offer any points up front.

Each Saga card also features a name associated with one of the Home Ports (Sweden, Denmark or Norway). At the end of the game the player that holds the most Sagas in each Home Port will receive 10 points and second place will receive 5. So as well as driving the longer term motives of the players (and the importance of timing your actions), they also introduce a set-collection aspect to the game as well.

d10-5 Triggering the Endgame – And so the game plays out over a series of turns with players loading boats, seeking runes and sailing to distant shores. Once they arrive they try to trade, raid and settle their way to a bright future and in doing so they can hopefully complete great Sagas.

It is the Sagas then that track the progress of the game. The Saga deck consists of a number of Saga I, II and III cards. When a Saga is completed, the next card is taken from the draw deck and added to the Saga slots (always 3 in play).

Sometimes a newly revealed Saga will not be achievable because it has already been satisfied (all ports in the green Region have been settled for example). In these cases the card is simply discarded and a new card is drawn to replace it. This mechanism allows the game to offer some extra variety between plays as the order that Saga cards are revealed and how the players set about exploring the map will change things up from one game to the next.

When the last Saga card in the deck is drawn and added to the available slots, the endgame is nigh. The next player in clockwise order is given 3 endgame tokens to help track the finale. When all players have taken their 3rd turn after these tokens are issued, the game is over. The game can end before these 3 turns are up if the last Saga Card in the active slots is completed.

At this point it is also worth mentioning that the Sagas also track the passage of time. As soon as a Saga II card is revealed, the players have an extra slot on their longboats that can be loaded onto. An additional slot opens up when the first Saga 3 card is revealed also.

d10-6 Scoring – There are numerous means of scoring, some are in-game and others are calculated at the end of the game.

In game Scoring - Trading earns coins/points during the game equal to the value of the port that is traded with. Raiding also scores points during the game by collecting coins equal to the value underneath each town/city figurine. The final ways to score points in-game is by completing Sagas that offer points directly or by playing the 'Colonization' Rune Card.

End of Game Scoring - This consists of three parts:

The Bloodied Axe Bonus -

Image Courtesy of henk.rolleman
This bonus is awarded for having raided the most town figurines during the game. The player that achieves this earns a bonus of 3 points per figurine and all tied players for the most figurines can earn this reward. It is important to note that the size and value (underneath) have no bearing on this reward, it is simply the player(s) with the most figurines in total. As the number of figurines collected is visible at all times, the players will always know what needs to be done to secure this bonus.

Settlements - This bonus is earned for the settlements a player has established during the game. Each player earns points equal to the value of each port they have settled. If two ports in a single Region have been settled, then the bonus for each port is doubled and if all three ports in a Region have been settled then the bonus is tripled.

Consider that a single player could aim to settle all 3 ports in a Region and the bonus points can be considerable. It is also worth remembering that a port's value is decreased by 1 if it contains a trade good.

Sagas - The final bonus is awarded for completing the most or second most number of Sagas for each of the Home Ports in the game.

The players tally up and compare how many Saga cards they have with the names Sweden, Norway and Denmark and the player(s) with the most earn 10 points, whilst 2nd place earns 5 points. In the event of a tie for 1st, multiple players can earn the 10 points but no second is awarded. If there is no tie for first but there is a tie for 2nd, then 5 points is awarded to all.

bag Total Scores - It is best to collect the coins earned for each of the end-game bonuses in turn. In this way the players simply need to count up all of their coins to see who has the most, taking the glory of leading their Viking people to ultimate glory.

To make matters easier, '50-coin' tokens are provided to trade in lesser values and keep things manageable.

If two or more players tie for the win, they are declared shield-brothers, bury an axe in each other’s foreheads and hold hands across the threshold to Valhalla. devil

So How Does F&A: A Viking Saga Actually Play Out - What do we Have Here?

A Viking Saga is a hybrid design, a mix of euro and thematic/conflict elements. In truth it is more euro design than conflict game, as the dice rolling is rather simple and direct conflict is not possible. As a hybrid design it is one of the earlier ones that I came across. Nexus Ops pre-dates it for sure but that game to me is more thematic/conflict in nature with euro mechanisms.

But calling a game a hybrid is simply to apply a title, it doesn't tell us if it is any good. So what is the nature of the game and is it enjoyable?

d10-1 A Game of Timing - If there is one element that dominates F&A: A Viking Saga it is the concept of time and timing. The players are constantly in a race to reach new locations first, not only because once a port has been traded with, raided or settled it cannot be done again...but because some ports will be significant for a short time because they feature in a Saga.

The fact that time is precious gives purpose and meaning to the loading of longboats as a mechanism. If it were not for this then the players would all simply spend an entire turn fully loading their vessels and not worry about losing ground on the competition.

It is the fear that a rival may reach an important port first that drives the players to load their longboats in varying ways, sometimes not seeking to maximise their load. It can be risky or inefficient to not load a full complement of goods and crewman in the hope that they can site landfall before the competition.

d10-2 The Tactical Battle - On the flipside of the need for urgency is the nature of Sagas themselves. Because the spoils go to the player that completes the last element, no one is particularly keen on forging ahead to complete the initial steps of a Saga. This lends the game a tactical edge, whereby the players try to conceal their plans carefully and potentially stall to sit just behind the sails of a rival vessel.

It is a great feeling to realise that you are in prime position for reaching a port first or completing the last element of a Saga. But it can be equally 'demoralising' when you fail to make that Raid or Settle roll and someone else swoops in for the spoils.

d10-3 Competing Interests - The game does not feature direct player interaction or conflict...that is, you cannot directly target and hurt an opponent in combat. Instead the play is more subtle with racing elements and Saga Completion being the main ways that a player can earn points over another. This will satisfy the conflict averse amongst us, although some Rune Cards can directly target the gains of another player (remove a settlement for example).

d10-4 Thematic Integration - One thing the game does very well is to integrate the theme of the Viking period into the game. The winds mechanism is very well done and simulates not only the reliance that Viking vessels had on good weather and winds but also the changing natures of the oceans and seas over time. Being able to play/discard Rune Cards for their power but also allowing the active player to rotate the Wind Dial 90 degrees cleverly simulates a Viking receiving the blessing of the gods.

Beyond the wind mechanism and its impact on movement, the game does a very good job of representing the Viking culture accurately. They were not only warriors, they too sought to settle and trade as they learned more about the world that they lived in and other cultures.

I like that in a game. meeple

d10-5 Interesting Scoring - The final strength I would highlight is that the varied ways of scoring are very interesting and provide the players with a number of objectives that they are trying to meet in order to do well. All of the scoring options feel balanced (risk versus reward) and have a purpose and this allows the players to experiment with different styles of play.

But no game is perfect and often ones on this scale and of this nature can have their flaws exposed more easily than other gaming genres.

d10-6 The Luck Factor -

Image Courtesy of stooge
For me the combat (if it can be called that) is pretty lacklustre and does feel like a bit of a crapshoot. Apart from trading with a port before trying to raid or settle it, the dice roll cannot be mitigated in any other way and it is down to the luck of the gods.

This can detract from the experience and almost negates the positives of having some form of luck in a game, which is something that I enjoy. Your options are either to go after the weaker ports in order to improve your odds or load up big on crewman and try to win out over better defended ports through a war of attrition or simply a lucky roll.

Foe me at least - this feels a little cheap and not an aspect I particularly enjoy, which is a little odd for me.

d10-7 The Impact of the Runes - I'm not entirely convinced that all Runes are made equal within the game as some can have devastating consequences and others more benign affects. Some Runes are also about tearing down what others have built up over the course of the game (removing settlements etc) and this can have a deflating affect as there is no recourse for such as action except to play tit-for-tat if you are holding the right cards.

At this point it is worth mentioning that the game comes with both Rune and Saga cards that are marked with a red diamond. These cards are designed to be more devastating and often target other players and for this reason they can be left in or out as per the preference of the players. I think experienced players would want them in, especially if they like to meddle in the affairs of others.

How Has the New Edition Changed?

Well this section is rather moot as a quick bit of research had me come across a comment from the production team stating that the game has no changes at all from a rules point of view. The visual production is quite different and the rulebook has been re-worked to make some elements of the game clearer or easier to learn.

From what I've read I would not feel the need to own the 3rd iteration of the game if I owned this edition. In fact I prefer the visual production of this edition over the newer edition.

Whilst the 2015 box cover is gorgeous to look at, I think it is quite misleading in relation to the game-play on offer (I think it suggest a more Ameritrash experience as opposed to Euro experience)...but it is a small thing really.

I also really dislike the board/map of the latest edition. I think they have gone for darker hues to reflect the time period of Dark Ages Europe but to me it is all too cluttered and I dislike that the Wintering Box is now central, which doesn't make a lot of sense from a thematic perspective. I have also read some comments that the darker colours used on the map can be difficult to see in some lighting and the text on the cards is not as easy to read.

In its favour though is the fact that the game comes with 3 Viking figure models (3 different sculpts), which look lovely and the longboats are a bit more detailed. Of course this won't mean a whole lot if you sit on the Euro side of the hybrid fence. The longboats have a habit of breaking when shipped as well but I think the companies involved have been replacing these.

When all is said and done, I think the 2007 version is the superior production overall.

The Final Word

So after all that, what do I really think? Well a funny thing happened on the way to Valhalla. I really don't like Fire & Axe: A Viking Saga all that much. soblue

So why not?

When I get down to the point, I just don't find that much enjoyment within the mechanisms of the game. The race to secure certain objectives irked me more than it inspired me. I really disliked the timing required to snare the last element of a Saga too. It felt cheap when I screwed others by doing this and I felt cheated when my hard work was stolen by someone else. angry

The preparation element of a turn (loading your longboat) felt a bit tedious to be honest and that process of load, sail and roll a dice or two felt really repetitive after turn 4. If the game went for an hour I think it would be fine, but at double that length it got old quick.

But beyond all that it didn't feel like the game gave you much scope for doing really clever things. The options felt pretty straight forward and obvious. For example, if I had a day or two up my sleeve after loading my longboat and there was no major competitor racing me for a location, then it was a no-brainer to take a Rune Card or two, given their power.

In short, I liked some of the mechanisms and I can appreciate what the game was trying to achieve. I just don't think it pulls it off all that well and I was looking forward to the game wrapping up as opposed to wanting to play it again.

Funnily enough I had this exact same reaction (as did my group) 9 years ago, when I first played it. This time nothing has changed and my play group felt the same way (a totally different group).

Of course this is my opinion and experience and yours may differ greatly. But in the final analysis this is one title that I wanted to love more but in the end I won't be sad to see it sailing off into the distance (I may even fire a flame arrow at it in parting).

Till next we meet, may your longboats sail true and your Viking brood find their way to Valhalla.


Image Courtesy of W Eric Martin


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Doug Adams
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Fair review. I have a soft spot for the Ragnar Brothers games, and I really like this one. I have played the newer edition three times, and while I was initially skeptical about the darker board, I found it no problem at all - in fact it's quite stunning. I don't recall much about the Asmodee edition, but the newer edition is fine.

The publisher has indeed been replacing ships - a friend picked up a new edition and had it had a broken ship or two - speedily replaced.
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McDog
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Very nice review. I always thought this game looked interesting.

One typo, you said "Well this section is rather mute", I think you meant "moot".
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Thanks for reading folks - fixed that typo.
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dougadamsau wrote:
Fair review. I have a soft spot for the Ragnar Brothers games, and I really like this one. I have played the newer edition three times, and while I was initially skeptical about the darker board, I found it no problem at all - in fact it's quite stunning. I don't recall much about the Asmodee edition, but the newer edition is fine.

The publisher has indeed been replacing ships - a friend picked up a new edition and had it had a broken ship or two - speedily replaced.


Yeah I figured many would disagree as this game does have its fans for sure. Sometimes I think an opinion can be influenced heavily by a persons playgroup. My gang don't get much out of it so the experience is diminished even more than my own thoughts. But if you have a group that really enjoys something, that can lead to memorable plays and that can lift a game as well.

Glad to hear that the newer edition is great to look at.
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Neil Thomson wrote:
My gang don't get much out of it so the experience is diminished even more than my own thoughts. But if you have a group that really enjoys something, that can lead to memorable plays and that can lift a game as well.


That's a shame - I can appreciate the Ragnar games are a bit quirky, and I can certainly see why Fire & Axe wouldn't be enjoyed by everyone. It probably gets a little long and same-y. Still, we really appreciate the historical touches in the game - the geography, the trade/settle/raid rules, the weather, the sagas, the one-upping of your rivals, etc. Interestingly we recently played this and Blood Rage back to back, and the vote went 3 to 1 in favor of Fire & Axe.
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Rastak wrote:
Very nice review. I always thought this game looked interesting.

One typo, you said "Well this section is rather mute", I think you meant "moot".


I think you should have kept quiet about that.


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da pyrate wrote:
Rastak wrote:
Very nice review. I always thought this game looked interesting.

One typo, you said "Well this section is rather mute", I think you meant "moot".


I think you should have kept quiet about that.




That point is moot now anyway David

Once again Neil, your reviews are always fantastically thought out and in depth. Really enjoyed reading it through.
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WOW! That was one in depth review. Obviously a lot of time and thought went into it. I was floored when at the end I read, "I really don't like it all that much". Usually these types of reviews are reserved for huge fans of the game. Nice review with a surprise ending.
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jphien wrote:
WOW! That was one in depth review. Obviously a lot of time and thought went into it. I was floored when at the end I read, "I really don't like it all that much". Usually these types of reviews are reserved for huge fans of the game. Nice review with a surprise ending.


Cheers Joseph.

Yeah I have a collection of a size now that I won't like every game I acquire and when I review them the outcome could go any which way.

Gaming for me is about exploring titles so I acquire just about anything and I can outline the strengths of a game, even if they are not something I am fond of - thanks for reading.
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Definitely gets a mixed reaction. Because it is difficult to influence dice rolls, there can be some bitter experiences missing out on ports or cities purely because the gods are against you. I was at ConVic playing this years ago, and when we finished the game, the owner went and sold it to me! He hated it that much.

My wife doesn't like it, and neither do most of our Saturday night euro crowd.Provokes much whinging.

But I still really like it. I just think the theme is awesome, and I've never minded bad rolls.

Good review though Neil.
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TOSHIRO MIFUNE
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Thank you for taking the time to enlighten us with your experience. I for one appreciate all the effort & thought you put into this.

Always gotta show respect, especially when pictures are included. Still keep looking for an eventual good Viking game.

Much respect!
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Cheers Toshiro,

I have another 2-3 Viking Games to try out but I must agree, I don;t think any one viking themed game that I know of has nailed it yet.

I do have the Raiders of the North Sea Trilogy on its way though...so maybe they can do it.
 
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Same with pirates. No game has really nailed it with that theme either.

arrrh
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da pyrate wrote:
Same with pirates. No game has really nailed it with that theme either.

arrrh


You've probably played more than me David but I am hoping that Merchants & Marauders can be a good title.

And then there is Seafall!
 
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da pyrate wrote:
Same with pirates. No game has really nailed it with that theme either.

arrrh


Berg's original Blackbeard was frothy fun, and by far the most historical attempt. That's the best I've tried.
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dougadamsau wrote:
da pyrate wrote:
Same with pirates. No game has really nailed it with that theme either.

arrrh


Berg's original Blackbeard was frothy fun, and by far the most historical attempt. That's the best I've tried.


Yes I would probably 2nd that too. I had forgotten that one.
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red_gamster wrote:

My wife doesn't like it, and neither do most of our Saturday night euro crowd.Provokes much whinging.

But I still really like it. I just think the theme is awesome, and I've never minded bad rolls.


Yes, whining is the worst. It totally kills the mood here. This should not be played with people who cannot handle some random in their games.
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