In the video game world, sometimes games must be “patched.” Routinely, new releases hit the shelves with bugs, glitches, and/or a need for pretty bells and whistles. And so, when buying a video game, consumers generally accept the fact that they’ll need to download some quick software patch, or more, to fix and polish their game.
When a board game has a similar type of issue, be it with playability or the user interface, a parallel solution is neither easy, nor cost-effective. Instead, the industry is more likely to use expansions as a means of “fixing” games – and at a price to the customer. Until now. When Victory Point Games determined that they inadequately developed and prematurely released a title, Villainous Vikings, they immediately began work on a 2nd Edition which would address the issues they saw in their design. But they also created something unique and unheard of from publishers in this hobby: an upgrade kit that would “fix” the 1st edition. And, through the end of 2014, they’re offering it free to customers who bought it!
How it Plays
Overall, Voyage to Valhalla is pretty similar to the first edition. So I won’t re-hash the rules; you can check out the core mechanics and overview by reading that article here. This review will explain what’s in the upgrade kit, new rules the 2nd edition introduces, and then how those changes affect game play.
The kit itself first consists of a complete set of every card deck, in order to replace those of the 1st edition. Additionally, it has a new countersheet, featuring a fifth longboat standee and gold track token so that you can now play up to five. There is a revised rule booklet, with a wonderful player aid on its reverse cover. Finally, it provides a new folded, paper map – alas, not a mounted, puzzle board. With all of that, the kit essentially replaces everything from the first game except the dice and box.
Of course, there are several new rules. A few of these are noteworthy revisions that really change game play. Then there are a number of smaller additions, alterations, and/or tweaks.
The biggest change is that Villainous Vikings is now an action point selection game, of which you’re allotted 2 actions per turn. Rather than choosing a location in the Journey Pool and then either raiding it (conquest) or trading with it (involving several elements) all in one turn, now those individual pieces have been broken down into actions. Moving to a region alone uses one action point. You can then still conquer a location by fighting it – either colonizing it for a little gold and a few points, or razing it for a lot of gold and no points.
If you would like to trade at that location, you now must spend an action on the individual options. However, buying a location’s loyalty outright is no longer available. That has been replaced with collecting Danegold, essentially a bribe, which translates to a little bit of free gold for you, but you don’t keep that location card. Another new action is to raid a location…that is one belonging to another player! You must be in the same region as the card and must still fight the area as if you’re attacking it from the Journey Pool. If successful, you collect twice the indicated gold value and may replace a depleted longship section for free. The card is then turned over so that your opponent may no longer use it as a sacrifice in combat or towards meeting the requirements of a bonus token. You may rebuild raided colonies for free on your turn for one action, and you must be in the same region to do so.
There are other minor rule changes that have a larger impact on game play than first might meet the eye. For example, now when you wish to retreat from a battle and leave a region uncontested, it costs you 2 gold per fully-manned crew section. You can also pay 5 gold for extra swords in combat. And the 2nd edition nerfs the point value of gold so that every 5 coins is worth 1 point.
Aside from that, there are various adjustments to point and/or gold values at different locations, on certain sovereign-type Warriors, and the final Ragnarök card. There is a new Gold Hoarders bonus token any player can buy with 20 gold (and earn an extra point); and a Trader & Pillager token, awarding 3 points to the worst captain before Ragnarök. Finally, some abilities have been tweaked and/or modified on several of the captains and warriors.
Aesthetically, the 2nd edition and the upgrade kit enhance the game’s layout and graphic design. We’re not talking major overhauls, here. There are some minor changes in card format, text font, and backs to aid in clarity and organization. The most significant alteration is with some of the game’s colors to depict regions, distinguishable on both the map and location cards, as well as player longship cards and standees. Again, these are smaller tweaks, but applied well and really improve the game’s “interface,” if you will.
Return of the Norsemen?
Little things can make a big difference. A tiny adjustment in lighting brings a picture to life. A little pinch of spice transforms the average recipe into a mouth-watering delectable. A minor improvement in a batter’s swing can turn him or her into a hitting machine. A kind and simple word may brighten someone’s gloomy day. So it is with Villainous Vikings: Voyage to Valhalla. It’s not an entirely new game, but it has enough little tweaks and additions that really change the 1st edition’s look, play, and strategy.
Villainous Vikings now has more interaction. You can still retreat from a fight whenever an opponent moves into your region, but you have to pay 2 gold per crewed longship section for the privilege. That helps to discourage such a move, which means more captain vs. captain fighting. But a hasty withdrawal can often still be worth it. The new raiding action, however, really ramps up the interaction. In some ways, you might say it can even be a bit contentious. If you conquer a new location, you get money and points for colonizing (keeping) it. Or if you raze (discard) it, you get 3 times the loot, in lieu of the points. Raiding another player’s colony, however, only nets you twice the normal loot – and no points. Therefore, you’re taking a little less reward solely to deny your foe its use. Rebuilding these colonies is an easy enough affair, but uses up an action and can be kind of irksome. So know your gaming group. If they’re not the type that would go for that, tread carefully.
Trading is a little more attractive in the 2nd edition. Gone is the “Buy Loyalty” option, which I wasn’t fond of because you lost gold in order to gain points – whereas you could just take the place by force to earn the points and the gold. Also omitted is the “Bribery” action, in which you paid to reduce a location’s dice in combat. It was pretty worthless and we never used it once. I like how it was sort of replaced with the option to pay 5 gold per extra sword in a fight. So rather than hinder the location, you instead get another mechanic to mitigate luck of the dice. Also new to this version is the surprisingly straight-forward Danegold action. Simply weigh anchor offshore and force the locals to pay you off. Here you get a little coin without risking a fight – a nice way to pad the coffers in a pinch.
That said, Voyage to Valhalla is slightly more challenging, though nothing in the way of insurmountable. Some locations are a little tougher. But mainly many of the warriors have been buffed. A few of them are now downright intimidating. This forces you to build up your finances and recruit some warriors of your own before taking on the really hardy sovereigns. That development gives you a sense of accomplishment and feels rewarding when, or if, you’re finally able to take one of those bad boys down!
Other than the switch to action allowance, the economic tweaks have the most impact. In the first version, the advantage to hoarding gold was pretty big. You got 1 point for every 3 gold and, aside from repairing your boat, not a lot of really attractive options to spend that money on, at least in the grand scheme of things. In Voyage to Valhalla, that point value has been nerfed to 1 per every 5 gold. So hoarding is not as profitable. And there are a couple of new, legitimate uses for your wealth: retreating and buying swords in combat. If you insist on being a Scrooge, there is still that option, just not as valuable. Although you can buy the gold hoarders bonus token for 20 gold, which is worth 5 points, so that’s a little better exchange rate.
One minor drawback to the new edition is that it tends to lengthen the game. Thankfully, downtime between turns doesn’t suffer. In fact, there is less of it. The switch to an action point allowance means that you can only do a couple things during your turn, whereas the former trade selection potentially allowed several options in one. Since you only perform two actions, many times one of which is just moving to a region, it takes longer to accomplish what you want. Raiding also adds to game length. Not only are you cycling through fewer location cards out of the Journey Pool, but victims also have to take the time to rebuild their colonies. Axing the “Buy Loyalty” option means less sifting through that location pool, as well.
Voyage to Valhalla gives Villainous Vikings two things. One, it has a more polished look that really enhances its intuitiveness. But it also sharpens game play by breaking down the various conquest and trading actions into individual options and then making you choose only two of them each turn. The question one may logically ask is, “does the second edition improve the first?” In my opinion, it does. Voyage to Valhalla is still an accessible game with a fun theme, good mix of strategy and randomness, well-balanced interaction, and high replay value. Plus, if you act before the end of the year – and can vouch that you purchased the first edition – Victory Point Games while send you the upgrade kit for just the cost of shipping. Try getting that kind of deal from 10th century Norsemen!
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Victory Point Games for providing a review copy of the Villains Vikings Upgrade Kit.