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Subject: A perspective from someone who has played this game a lot rss

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Michael Denman
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Most reviews are written very soon after a game is released. Makes sense. Reviews are probably read primarily by people interested in new games and there’s a pressure to get reviews up quickly. The thing is that those reviewers have only played the game a few times, probably only once. I know my opinion has changed on some games after more than one play. So I got to thinking about writing reviews of older games. I won’t spend a lot of time regurgitating the rules. Initial reviewers have that covered. I’ll try to focus on opinions and maybe some strategies I’ve seen after numerous plays.

Vikings is one of the niftiest overlooked gems out there. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve set it on the table and had players who’ve never even heard of it before. I’ve had people who’ve hated it after that first game, but most seem to really like it. So what’s it about?

Many are disappointed to find out that it has little to do with Vikings... or at least little to do with their notions of Vikings. There are no violent raids against others. You don’t get to play a Norse god who strikes down his enemies with his hammer, Mjolnir. This is primarily a tile-laying puzzle game. You’re trying to create a puzzle worth more VP than the other players’ puzzles. If you’re playing well, you’re also actively messing with their puzzles as well.

The tiles are pieces of islands. There are left ends, middle pieces, and right ends. As you acquire these tiles, you are considering which sort of meeple (we’ll get to them in a moment) would be placed on that tile, as each tile can hold only one meeple. There are rules for placing these tiles that are fairly straightforward. As you might suspect, a partial island can’t connect directly to open water, etc. At the end of the game, you can gain bonus VP for completing the most islands and/or completing the largest island. There are also some tiles that represent raiding ships which I’ll come back to.

You will also acquire meeples during the game. They come in five different colors and these colors denote their function in the game. For example, the yellow meeples are miners and they bring in money every turn. The red miners are nobles and they bring in 2 VP apiece every time you score points. And so on.

The game consists of six turns. On each turn, 12 tiles are randomly drawn and 12 meeples are randomly drawn. They’re paired together. Players will then take turns selecting a meeple/tile combination until they’re all taken. Then all of your yellow meeples will make you some money. On even turns, VP will be scored. After all six turns, endgame scoring is done and that’s it.

They key to playing this game well is in the selection of the pairs. Without exception, every person I’ve played with who hasn’t liked the game has clearly not understood this process. They’ve later shrugged off their loss as being the result of randomness and dismissed the game as one where luck outweighs skill. They couldn’t be more wrong.

I don’t want to get into explaining the details about acquiring the pairs, but there are some basic bits you need to know. They start out in a circle with one pair costing 0 and then increasing in cost until the last pair costs 11. There is ALWAYS a pair that will cost 0. When that slot is vacated, the prices drop for everything until there is once again a pair in the 0 slot. So when a turn begins if you see a few pairs in the expensive slots that you’d really like, you can pay a lot to get them right away, or you can bide your time as the prices drop and pick it up later for less... if someone else doesn’t grab it first.

One "popular" means of self-destruction is to run out of money. I think we all know that’s not a great idea in any game. Those who lose this way complain that they were unable to acquire any yellow meeples. Yes, that could happen on a turn, but throughout the entire game? I think not. If you don’t get any right away, you really need to control your spending. That means limiting your choices when you pick up a tile/meeple pair. Early in the game, you can be far more flexible so this shouldn’t be a problem. But players get greedy and want a particular pair and spend a lot to get it... and suffer in the poor house for the rest of the game.

Another means of self-destruction is to be forced into picking up those ship tiles I mentioned earlier. Those ships will suppress some of your meeples so that they won’t do their jobs of gaining you money or VP. You really need to consider how you’re going to deal with the ships BEFORE they get to you. The black meeples are used to repel them and you get paid a little bonus for doing so. I’ve seen players get a surplus of those meeples and then willingly take those ship tiles. That means that someone else is probably short on black meeples and is very much hoping to avoid those ships.

Each color of meeple is only placed in a particular row. When you pick up a tile/meeple pair, you may put that meeple right to work on that tile if you place it in the proper row. And this is usually what happens. But you can place the tile in a different row, setting the meeple aside to be placed later. New players hate to do this. It seems inefficient at first glance and sometimes it is. But there’s more to consider than just efficiently slapping down tiles and meeples. Those end game points matter. Maybe it’s wiser to complete another island or to work on your largest island despite the fact that the meeple you just picked up can’t be placed right away. You’ll find that picking up black meeples with an island piece appropriate for them can be tricky. So why not pick up a different pair (perhaps one with a blue meeple), place the tile right where you want to put the black meeple and set the blue one aside. Later, you choose the black meeple set, placing the tile in the blue meeple’s row and setting the black meeple aside. Then you later place both meeples so that they’ve essentially exchanged the tiles they were "destined" for.

I won’t go into how meeples are placed when not initially set on a tile, but one example can further illustrate how thinking ahead can serve you. You need a gray meeple to bring meeples to the islands if they aren’t placed when acquired. One way a gray meeple can do this is to bring as many meeples as they wish at one time with the caveat that they can’t bring more than one of the same color. OK, so let’s say you have a yellow meeple set aside and you’re already planning to bring him to the islands later. Now you’re selecting a tile/meeple pair, but if you grab that tile you really want, you can’t place the blue meeple it comes with immediately and he’ll need a ride later. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen players choose a different pair because they don’t want to be burdened with having to give that blue guy a ride later, but they’re not thinking about it completely. It’s no burden at all. They’re already planning to give the yellow guy a ride later. That same boat has a seat for every other color. That’s a FREE ride for the blue guy. No burden at all.

Although every meeple in the draw bag won’t be used in the game, very few will be left over. There are enough of each color for everyone, but they’re limited. If one turn has a large number of blue meeples show up and you avoid them in favor of other colors that you feel you need at the time, you have to realize that blue meeples may be harder to get in the future as there aren’t as many left in the bag. A common newbie mistake is to bypass blue meeples since they are mostly for end game scoring. They plan to get those meeples later. This often results in much sadness at the end of the game.

So let’s talk briefly about endgame scoring. It’s important. The bonuses you can get are significant. Ties are friendly with theses bonuses because the designers know that a player just can’t afford to get shut out of everything. Keep an eye on the other players and realize which bonuses you can reasonably gain and who else is going for them. Probably the most neglected endgame bonus is that with the blue meeples. I think this is partially because players put off setting up for it for too long and partially because it’s a negative rather than a positive. Yes, you can score positive points here, but more often it’s a matter of who didn’t suck up a gigantic negative. Don’t neglect those blue Vikings!

Now we get to the number one reason that new players lose. They don’t plan their island building. I’m going to simplify this a bit just to illustrate the problem. Let’s say my last island tile in the blue row is an island start piece. I can now place a middle piece or an end piece. If I place a middle piece, I have the same options. If I place the end piece, now I can’t use anything but a start piece to create a new island. My options have decreased but I can’t help having to do this from time to time and I do want completed islands for that endgame bonus. But what if ALL of your rows are only looking for start pieces? That’s where you end up in serious trouble. When a turn begins and there are only three pairs that include a start piece, you’re going to be desperate to get them and may have to spend too much. If the other players are paying any attention, they’re going to be grabbing those too to deny you. If you have to pick a pair with a tile you can’t place (or can’t place anywhere useful), you’re losing ground. If that happens too often, you’re dead. Keep your options as open as you can. As soon as you get into a position where there’s a type of tile that useless to you, your options have just been reduced. If you continue to let that happen, don’t blame the luck of the draw for not giving you any good pairings to pick up.

Here’s an advanced tip for you. You can trade in 1 VP for 1gold whenever you like. Not a favorable ratio at first glance and players are very reluctant to give back VPs they’ve earned. However, there are definitely times when it is worth it so that you can get a really sweet tile/meeple pairing. Don’t go crazy using this option, but don’t avoid it like the plague either. New players will probably have a harder time evaluating whether this is worth doing or not and are probably well advised to avoid this exchange.

Scalability is an issue with me. Despite what a game box says, we all know that some games really only play well with a certain number of players. How many games have I seen that say 2-4 players, but they’re really only worth playing with 4? And then the game ends up spending more time on the shelf than you’d like because you have a hard time getting exactly 4 players. Happily, this is not the case with Vikings. It scales very well. Your focus will change, but the game stays sound. With two players, you care more about those endgame bonuses because any you don’t get might as well be negative points for you. With four players, you’ll pay more attention to your island building and meeple choice because you’ll get fewer tiles/meeples in the game and so it’s easier to get into a bad situation where you don’t have the ones you need.

There’s an advanced game that gives you a few advanced options which you can mix and match as you like. To put it simply, I don’t like most of it. This is one of those rare games where I prefer to avoid the advanced rules. The business with bidding and changing the order of turn setup.. it all strikes me as cumbersome. What it adds is not worth the extra effort you have to put into it. I do like the special tiles and will play with them if everyone else is agreeable. These essentially tempt you into spending more money. Every time you purchase the most expensive tile/meeple pair, you get a special tile (choosing from a few that are sitting face up) as well. They do various things. For example, maybe one makes red meeples give more VP so now you have much more interest in collecting them. Just be warned that all of the advanced rule suggestions really ARE advanced. It’s not that they’re hard to understand. It’s just that new players have enough to think about already and these extra options are probably a bit much to put on them during their first game.

Has this been a review or a strategy article? Well, I suppose it’s a bit of both. It’s my hope though that these basic strategy tips will help new players avoid the pitfalls that can lead to giving them a bad first impression of the game. This still may not be your cup of tea, but at least if you understand the sort of game it is up front, there’s a better chance of you determining whether or not this is a game that you’d enjoy. As for me, I’m always happy to play and I can’t imagine this game ever leaving my collection.
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Wade Ashton
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Nice review - and thanks for the tips/insight. I really enjoy light strategy games such as this, with a relatively short play time and a variety of decisions. I put this one in the same category as another often-overlooked favorite - Oregon.
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J.R. Shoenberger
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I really enjoy Vikings and think it has some interesting mechanics.

I also think that the progress rules add a pretty good flavor, and they're not very complicated. I'm not sure why they weren't included in the regular rules.

I also really like how the game scales. I mostly play with just my wife, but we've played with 4 before. 4 players makes the game a little more tense and more strategic as you get fewer tiles.
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Shane Walsh
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Thanks for the review from a long time players angle .
I too am one of them and must say that this game doesn't get anywhere near the amount of love it should .
I have taught it to around 25 people and nearly all have enjoyed it.
In my opinion it is a wonderful 2 player game (A friend and I have an ongoing duel which is now at around 50 games played)
For 3 it is very good and with 4 good - there is less choice and more chaos but nevertheless it's a fine experience .

So ..... Give Vikings a go !!!
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Steven
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My issue with the game (which I've only played once) is that there's so many ways to score that it's tough to know without experience how best to approach your options. The fact that end-game scoring is itself unique is yet another problem. I don't find it unenjoyable, but I do wonder how many times I'll have to try it before actually getting some sense of good moves.
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Doobermite
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One of my top 3 favorite games to play on BSW. The wheel mechanic works great in a two player game, making it fast and fun. I would love if BSW would incorporate the expansion.
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Michael Denman
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Drew1365 wrote:
Michael, have you tried the "Progress" version yet?


DOH! I totally forgot to address the progress version! I’ll go back and tack on an extra paragraph to my review right now.
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Trump wrote:
Most reviews are written very soon after a game is released. Makes sense. Reviews are probably read primarily by people interested in new games and there’s a pressure to get reviews up quickly. The thing is that those reviewers have only played the game a few times, probably only once. I know my opinion has changed on some games after more than one play. So I got to thinking about writing reviews of older games. I won’t spend a lot of time regurgitating the rules. Initial reviewers have that covered. I’ll try to focus on opinions and maybe some strategies I’ve seen after numerous plays.

I write comments for games (my way of submitting reviews that are specifically targeted for GeekBuddies) when I feel moved to do so, pure and simple. I genuinely appreciate a review that is written after a game's tenure in "The Hotness." I also love reviews that eschew the "regurgitate the rules" formula, and stick to opinion and commentary. I can read the rules. Your opinion expressed in a review is truly adding value. On both counts, this is an excellent review. Well done!
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Steve Duff
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We play the progress version, but without the bidding. I think the special tiles are a must, and I really like the fact that the meeple order is no longer set.
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Darren Copple
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Thank you for writing this up. Just picked up the game, and cant wait to get it to the table.
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Brian Foster
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moldndecay wrote:
Thank you for writing this up. Just picked up the game, and cant wait to get it to the table.


Same here! Thanks for a detailed and thought-provoking review. After reading this, I think Vikings will be one of the next games we learn, and we have quite a few contenders for that honor!

I read lots of reviews but few compare to this one. It's going into my Vikings bookmarks as it will come in handy when learning the game.
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Gordon Berg
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How much screwage in this game? I realize it's a good two-player title, but can it be played successfully without hampering the other player directly? My wife is pretty sensitive to negative interaction games, no matter how slight...

thanks!

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david landes
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To me, a very interesting aspect of Vikings that lends itself to strategic depth is the interaction of two elements:

A) The value of a given color of meeple changes over the course of the game. Gold meeples are most valuable in turn one where they may collect 3 coins 6 times. Red meeples deal a steady 2 vp throughout the game. Green only deliver a steady one vp.. but as gold and blue meeples pile up, they may deliver three later. Blue seems valueless early, but are oftan the decisive factor at the end. Gray and black are both differentially valuable depending on where you find yourself.

B) The useability of a given meeple/island pair differs by player as the game progresses. If you are short of started islands, start pieces go way up. If you have soaked up ships, black vikings value rises dramatically.. etc etc.

Makes for neat interactions and tough decisions both around how much to pay for the pair you want versus how valuable it is to slightly sob-optimize to deny a pair to another player.
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Michael Denman
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Deroche wrote:
How much screwage in this game? I realize it's a good two-player title, but can it be played successfully without hampering the other player directly? My wife is pretty sensitive to negative interaction games, no matter how slight...


It's all up to you. You'll know what she really wants. You can avoid taking it if you wish to keep the peace, Alternately, you can really talk up why a certain set is crucial to YOU and play down how it's incidentally causing her grief.

I understand the aversion to the "negativity" as my wife is the same way whether she wants to admit it or not, but I confess that I have a little more trouble understanding in a two-player game. Can you really get upset if the other player hinders you? It's not like they could possibly hinder someone else. My wife gets bent out of shape because she can never see why SHE would be the target of the "negativity". She sees it when there are only two of us though.
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Gordon Berg
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Well, since she will be my main partner playing this game, I guess the type of interaction involved becomes the primary factor in any purchasing decision I'll make. I'd rather not buy the game in the first place if it won't see the table because she'd rather play Pandemic or some other kind of multiplayer solitaire. The other day in Arkadia -- our first play of it together -- I covered a castle piece that reduced the amount of seals she would have cashed in and she was pretty upset. Good move on my part, bad move for ever playing that with her again.

Sorry for the derail.

Another excellent review, Michael. More please!

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Michael Denman
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Deroche wrote:
I'd rather not buy the game in the first place if it won't see the table because she'd rather play Pandemic or some other kind of multiplayer solitaire.


You could play Vikings as multi-player solitaire if you like.
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Steve Duff
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I'd call the screwage minimal.

I mean, you're alternating taking pieces from the board, of course some times you're going to grab the island piece or colour meeple the other guy wanted.

So they take something else instead.
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Bob
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Awesome review! thumbsup

This game has been a family/group favorite for awhile now...
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