Robert Yates

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Warriors don't show their heart until the axe reveals it. - Floki

The Story


Earlier this year, during the time that many a sports fan is glued to the end of one season or the start of another - I, like many other board gamers was enjoying the peak of kickstarter season. It can be a gut twisting and exciting part of the hobby itself, deciding what to back, when to wait, and perhaps what could be worth triple once you have it in your hands. It was during this time that I discovered 878 Vikings.

During this competitive season of agonizing where to put your dollars, I had ultimately selected this new offering from Academy Games as one of the final two I would back. I knew of the series, but did not yet have a title within it. It would fill a hole in my collection, and Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye is my 46th great grandfather. No-brainer. Upon seeing the miniatures and many upgrades on offer I was ecstatic. And yet, some unexpected twists of my own's life's plot forced me to pass on backing it with great dismay. However, as fortune would have it, as I was working with Gamelyn Games at Origins this year I happened by the Academy Games booth were they were offering a last chance to pre-order Vikings and receive the kickstarter edition at the same time as everyone else. I blew my entire remaining game acquisition funds on this order - also adding on the leader and building miniature upgrades. It would seem that the game and I were destined to be together.

The Goods

My goodies came in just recently, after a small shipping issue that Academy was quick to resolve with both a professional and kindly personal touch. I had already been hearing so much praise about the quality of the production, and I was eager to make my own inspection. These initial murmurings proved absolutely true. From the boxes, to the components, down to the included and unexpected extras - this purchase is a delight. Trays are included with lids to separate components. The leaders came with their own game tray as well, with stamped in plastic icons and the dedication to quality one does just not always expect.

It was evident that design decisions were made by someone that cares about their product, and is not only keeping eye on the ones and zeros. It is clear that Academy takes pride in their work. The board is thick and designed well both for theme and function. Cards have beautiful illustrations. Miniatures have enough detail to give them thematic heft, but are sized appropriately enough to minimize crowding issues.


The Game

As a newcomer to this game system, I can say that it being a "system" was a primary draw and is a primary strength. With the Viking Age expansion, expansion options and different scenarios deliver and experience that this is a game which works shockingly well as a one off - but is also built extremely well for to be a game that a group dedicates themselves to playing regularly. The card abilities are straightforward, but learning those decks and being clever about when to use them is enough to keep the Tony Topper one-game-focus minded frothing at the mouth.

I had no idea what to expect from the experience, with most of the friends and family meandering about the house I was playing at eyeing it and comparing it to Risk - a game I actually hate to death. Instead, this game delivers upon the expectations I had of Risk as a child each time I broke down and took it out of the box - that I could play an intense strategic simulation (rather than the random dice rolling festival of frustration that Risk actually is).

The beauty and enjoyment of 878 Vikings comes from two main factors. The first, is the gentle asymmetry of the two sides. Playing the Vikings and the English is a very different experience, but it is not expressed through powerful abilities, and rather shines through execution. Both have powerful tools in their arsenal - but this power must come from wit rather than simply having powerful text on a card. I could already tell from my first play how brilliant the dice and card system were. There is no "miss" or "fail" with these dice (minus the Fyrd, but hey that's what you get from civilians and barely trained militia). There are instead results and choices.

The card abilities come to light as true tactics that must be used well, and if used lightly just to mitigate luck can seal your doom. The flee mechanic links together with this very concept like carefully crafted chainmail. Yes your men flee, but these fleeing men can be manipulated tactically to reorganize your front or bolster your forces when they most need it. My opponent, playing the English - had mastered his use of fleeing forces by half-way through the game, and my chances at success were getting lower by the turn.

Speaking of turns, this brings me to the second strength of the title - which is tension. Tension in buckets. Tension in waves. This is not a dry historic game, but a turn by turn knuckle biter meant to spark conversation long after the game has ended. While turn order mattered little in the first or second rounds, I myself was praying to the Gods each time I reached into the bag to determine turn order by round 4. If I drew a red cube, my current plans would work perfectly. If it was blue...all of my plans would be dashed to pieces. It was blue, by the way. The final round(s) of my first game I was absolutely certain I had lost. My opponent had become quite adept at blocking off routes and had turned his defenses into rampaging armies. Half-Dan was dead. Bjorn was Dead. Ubbe was Dead. Ivar was dead (though he did survive enough onslaughts to have us both cheering and swearing enough to bring others into the room to watch).

By the time my opponent had played both of the treaty cards, the game had delivered to me that sweet moment which I love and seek most in gaming - a brilliant strategic puzzle. Doom was certain, but how could I change my own fate through wits, wagers, and manipulation. And oh, manipulate him I did. Alfred never even knew that we was walking into that particular trap. His English armies had eradicated almost all of my forces, but clumped so tightly together I had the perfect opportunity - down to every single movement and army point used - to seize victory. And oh was it sweet when I did.

This game provides tough choices. This game also provides enough random elements to provide a fresh experience, elements that force you to play the game you are in, not the game you played a week ago. My very first Viking card drawn round two was "Reinforcements," which crippled me for a couple rounds seemingly, but also caused my opponent to distribute his forces differently. This in turn created a hole for me to later capitalize on.

With historical games, I take such glee when the rules make thematic sense - rather than being just rules for the sake of fair competition. Each time my opponent asked a rules question, I enjoyed being able to give it quickly and easily (thanks to a great rule book), and (as a total nerd for this very time period) also add in a historical explanation as to why the rule worked that way.

Fans of the show, this is your game. Fellow Viking descendants, this is your game. Those who want a game that is easy to teach and easy to play yet strategically deep - this is your game. Those who want a great 2 player game that also works quite well at 3 or 4, this is your game. Fans of quality components, this is your game.

I have backed many a kickstarter with varied results ranging from turn a profit, enjoyment, disappointment, and still sitting sealed on the shelf. Though I never would have guessed it, I can say that this has been my favorite purchase so far for me specifically.

The breakdown

878 Vikings is a game with fantastic production value and components (Man I wish I could afford that upgraded roll out map). The rules are easy to navigate and teach, leading to a highly replayable game that is strategically deep enough to be played with an absurd range of player experience levels. It is thematically well done both in a mechanic and design sense, while the dice and cards do not make it feel like an experience centering on luck. It is deliciously tense rather than dry, and the certainty of who will win keeps on changing to the very last turn played.

As with any asymmetric titles, there will be plenty of talk of imbalance, but I have found that noise usually is the loudest from those that lost or made poor choices they choose not to learn from. Yes you can have a bad game, a bad roll, or a bad card flip - that is war. This game needs to be enjoyed, explored, discovered, and plundered just as the title would suggest. You will need to manipulate, bait, tease, and bluff your way to victory rather than relying on a single card or battle result.

Bravo to Academy for this brilliant title I will be teaching and enjoying for years to come.

9.5/10



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bryan wills
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Fun review to read!

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Robert Yates

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bwills wrote:
Fun review to read!



Thanks!
 
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Barry Miller
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Nightsbane wrote:
...I take such glee when the rules make thematic sense - rather than being just rules for the sake of fair competition.

Nightsbane wrote:
As with any asymmetric titles, there will be plenty of talk of imbalance, but I have found that noise usually is the loudest from those that lost or made poor choices they choose not to learn from. Yes you can have a bad game, a bad roll, or a bad card flip - that is war.

Amen on both counts! 1000% correct attitude!


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Steve Wrenn
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What? You thought I'd have some interesting overtext?
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Sigh...now it seems I have to get this game. I'm a big fan of this period as well, though more on the continent and Charlemagne. The most interesting historical conference I've been to was on the Anglo-Saxons...but I digress.
 
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Christopher Wood
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Quote:
most interesting historical conference I've been to was on the Anglo-Saxons...but I digress.

The Blues & the Greens! ... in the 878: Vikings games, I mean — not the ones in Constantinople ... but I digress.
 
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John Rice
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Nice review. While I do enjoy the game, I have found there to be a few rules that could use some clarification. Also, in the games we have played, the English have won handily. The Fyrd presence often slows the Viking advance by limiting the number of "one roll" Viking victories. We have also found the English Event cards to be superior to those of the Vikings. Granted, we have only played three times, but we feel the game could use more balance.
 
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uwe eickert
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Thanks for the great review! We will be posting a link to it on our social media and website.

Gunter
Academy Games
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Michael Dardia
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That is interesting because in our club, after seven or eight communal plays, some people feel the Vikings have the edge. I remain unconvinced...really fun game though, and best of the series.
 
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Christopher Wood
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dardman wrote:
That is interesting because in our club, after seven or eight communal plays, some people feel the Vikings have the edge. I remain unconvinced...really fun game though, and best of the series.


It's the terror factor.
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Robert Yates

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uweeickert wrote:
Thanks for the great review! We will be posting a link to it on our social media and website.

Gunter
Academy Games


Thanks!
 
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chuck rowan
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Glad for the review. It saved me a ton of money. Since I have sold every Academy Game I owned, I was hoping for something more advanced but alas I guess it's just not so.
 
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Christopher Wood
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crowan1978 wrote:
hoping for something more advanced but alas I guess it's just not so.


https://academygames.com/games/conflict-of-heroes-series ...?
 
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Robert Yates

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Thanks for the Gold everyone, finally pushed me over the needed amount for an avatar cool
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