Updated: Dec 3, 2019
If a year ago, you had asked me my second least favourite game mechanic, I’d have said “deck building”. I liked deck building games obviously a lot more than mere dice roll and move games but I found it difficult to whip up much enthusiasm to play a game that was all about using cards to buy other cards.
It was hard to explain this dislike. I loved many of the worker placement games that were also engine builders so it wasn’t the fact that deck-building involved using cards to buy and build a victory point generating engine. It wasn’t that I hadn’t played deck builders with appealing themes: I am a great Star Trek fan and I was quickly introduced to the various Star Trek deck-building games. Hated them.
This past year, however, I have seen the light. There is something about some of the latest crop of deck-building games that has changed my mind about the whole mechanic. Perhaps, it’s that I have finally discovered deck-building games that are sheer fun to play. It was probably Clank! that began my Damascene conversion but it was Vikings Gone Wild from Lucky Duck Games that completed the job.
This is a game with lots of options but which is still simple enough to learn, teach and play without having to spend an hour ploughing through a rule book. It’s helped in this by exemplary design, with very clear artwork that means everyone can instantly see at a glance from across the table what a card’s cost is in barrels of beer or gold (the two currencies in the game). This makes the game quick to play, in contrast with some other deck-builders where turns take ages not because players are indecisive but because they are straining to read the text on all the cards available to them. The cartoon artwork fits in well too with the fun feel and play of the game. All players start with identical decks of 10 cards and they draw five cards each turn. They use these for their beer or gold value to buy more cards that go into the player’s deck or to add buildings to their town tableau, most of which either produce or store gold or beer barrels. There are ‘missions’ (generally, easy to meet objectives) that score victory points but victory points are most commonly earned by attacking other players’ buildings.
Vikings attacking one another may be thematically solid but it could so easily have sabotaged a fun tableau building game. Here tho’ you need to think of the ‘attacks’ as raids rather than rampages. In this game, when a player attacks another’s building, he does not damage or destroy it, he just scores points for having successfully attacked it (ie: for playing cards with an attack value equal to or more than the defence value of the target). Successfully defending by playing extra defence cards does not just deny victory points to the attacker, it can also score victory points for the defender. This seems a neat way of incentivising both attack and defence without making it a ‘take that’ game that would have been a much less comfortable fit with the good-natured fun theme and design.
Vikings Gone Wild is straightforward enough to be readily picked up and played by the family but there is enough meat in the game for it to appeal to and hold the attention of seasoned gamers. It’s not perfect: the fact that a player’s building cannot be attacked in the same round by more than one player can lend a frustrating significance to turn order. However, this has rapidly become one of my go to gateway games. I gather that Lucky Duck have already published a bunch of expansions. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing and playing each of these and will hopefully show them off in Board's Eye View.