Thursday, July 16, 2015

A Viking Thing (Part 1)

Vikings are getting more popular again. With the phenomenally good TV series the Northmen once again entered the pop culture stage, this time sporting only beards, but no horny helmets. Vikings are also once again becoming more and more popular as a theme for a game. Does that mean that Vikings are the new Zombies?

No, they’re not – and a short trip to the BoardGameGeek will prove that during the last two years we’ve had many (and I mean many) more Zombie-themed games, than we had board games with Vikings. Still, with games like Raiders of the North Sea doing quite well, games like Villainous Vikings quietly entering the stage, games like Nord awaiting a more general release and games like Viking Fury getting a reprint, we might be on to something here.
Image Source: BoardGameGeek

But let’s start with the simplest question: what makes Vikings interesting for board game designers and publishers? After all, the violent raiders, crafty merchants and bold explorers don’t quite fit the bill when it comes to traditional Euro games (with the “violent raiders” being the part that does all the damage), and history has more than a few explorers and merchants that without the violent streak. So, why Vikings?

The first answer is that it’s because they are popular again. They are popular, so board games having some Viking characters on the cover will most probably be more popular than those without. And it mostly doesn’t really matter if there is any raiding and seafaring in the game, as proven by the excellent Vikings by Michael Kiesling.

Image Source: BoardGameGeek
Vikings (also known by its original title Wikinger) is a rock solid, innovative and exceptionally intriguing design that mixes a tile laying game with auctions and an absolutely unique game of chicken all players will have to participate in every turn. It looks gorgeous, it plays really well, and it almost purposefully does Vikings as wrong as possible. Starting from horned meeples, through absolutely non-violent gameplay (in which our Vikings were more like victims than victimizers) to putting horned warriors on the cover of the game, everything was wrong with the game’s theme.

Nowadays, when Euro games are being designed with the idea of theme and mechanisms coming together more tightly, Vikings are making a comeback – and this time the designers and publishers don’t have to shoehorn the theme into a bunch of mechanical ideas that barely fit the idea of the Northmen. Elements of Euro games have entered American games, more aggressive mechanisms seeped back into European games, and that made a topic like Vikings something that can be fully developed in more or less a Eurogame.

In this new climate Vikings are actually incredibly attractive, as they have almost unparalleled potential: a designer can focus on seafaring and explorations, blend trading and raiding (Merchants and Marauders style – making Vikings the new pirates in the process), go for the power struggle with the titular Viking Thing, or simply show that a compilation of older mechanisms with new ideas can also make for a great game with a really cool theme.
Image Source:
Next time I'll talk a little more about the more current Viking games and what they bring to the table. In the mean time, do you have any specific likes of dislikes when it comes to Viking games? Or maybe there should definitely by an aspect of the cruel Northmen that should be done well in a board game, but has not yet been up to date?
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