Updated: Dec 4, 2019
The instant you open the box, the first thing that strikes you about Vikings on Board is the high production values. This is a game that is beautifully produced. It uses segments that are pushed together to make Viking longboats and, unlike with most other games, these come ready assembled: no requirement to punch, fold or slot together cardboard. Thought and care have gone even into the design of the packaging, with layered trays to take the plastic minis, support the playing board and protect the cardboard ship sections.
I’ve heard colleagues describe Vikings on Board disparagingly as “overproduced” but that seems a churlish criticism. I agree that the components go beyond what may be essential to the game but standout components add greatly to a game’s appeal and help to attract players to the table. The striking look of this game means that if I set it up, I know for sure that people who see it will want to play it. That’s particularly important here because Vikings on Board is accessible enough to be used as a gateway game for players who have yet to get to grips with the “worker placement” mechanic that is at the heart of so many heavier eurogames.
In Vikings on Board, players place out their Viking minis at different locations to take the actions specified at those locations and to claim turn order in the next round of play. To earn victory points, they are seeking to take majority control of longboats by swapping ship sections before a longboat is completed. Players earn points for this and for cargo on the ships. They need to avoid the temptation to put all their metaphorical eggs in one basket though: once a ship 'sails', its segments cannot be repurposed, so a player that seizes an advantage by placing segments to ensure control of a ship early in the game may be placing themselves out of contention for the remaining longboats.
In a clever additional mechanic, players can also score points through a rival’s success if they take an action to bet on that rival taking control of a particular longboat.
As worker placement games go, Vikings on Board is quite straightforward. It is very much on the light end of the eurogame spectrum and that makes it easy to teach and learn. The betting mechanic can lead to a degree of bluff and dare that contributes greatly to the fun of the game and the challenge for experienced games players.
My one key reservation is that, despite the plastic Viking figures and the great looking longships, the theme of the game does not come through. If you are looking for a game evoking a race of warriors, raiders and explorers, Vikings on Board will disappoint you. The Vikings in this game are more concerned with painting and provisions than they are with pillaging. In that sense, this game might have been more appropriately themed as a contest between rival merchant guilds.
Vikings appear to be the new zombies: they have become a ubiquitous board game theme. A game of Vikings on Board will usually take around 45 minutes so, to get the full-on Viking experience, maybe the thing to do would be to play Vikings on Board – getting your Viking parties equipped and ready – and then round off the evening by following on from this game to play one of the many more aggressive games that represent Vikings as marauding raiders.