Saturday, June 28, 2008

Rampaging Vikings In a Fierce Competition to Control the Abacus

What kind of game do you expect when its description reads thus?
Trade, plunder and colonize the world of the early middle ages! Sail the oceans to the borders of the world. Fight bravely under the banner of the Crow and fearlessly cross the doors of Valhalla!

The civilized world will tremble before you and the priests will chant their more enthusiastic prayers: "Lord, protect us from the fury of the men of the North".
I expected some kind of Euro-war game hybrid. Dice-based combat, different ships, heroes, battle cards.

No, no, nope, no, and no. Fire and Axe: A Viking Saga, a game from the Rangar Bros, published by Asmodee, is a pleasant, pastoral game of action points, route planning, delivering goods, and set collection.


Rules

The map contains waterways for your ships to sail, and cities, half of which are grouped into sets of three. For instance, the three cities in Ireland all form one "set". Players start in Scandinavia. On each turn you get 7 action points.

If you are in Scandinavia, you can pick up sailors or one of three types of goods, or pick bonus cards. Each of these costs an action point. Your sailors plus goods capacity is limited to 5 (6 or 7 later in the game), and your card limit is three.

You can move out of a city, into a city, or from one water area to an adjacent water area. Each move costs an action point.

You can play cards for free, but can only play them if you're not in Scandinavia. Cards let you annoy another player, steal some resource or settlement of theirs, and so on.

You can return to Scandinavia for free, tossing out everything on your ship other than a single sailor, but that forfeits any remaining action points and ends your turn.

When you're at a city, you can trade, raid, or settle for free. However, you may attempt only one of these three actions, and only once, at any particular city each turn.
  • You can trade at any place that doesn't have a trade good already, and you collect the value of the city in victory points. The three cities in a set can only accept three different types of goods. The defense value (against raid and settlements) of a city with a trade good on it is lowered by 1.
  • You can raid cities, only if a city chip is on it. You roll up to three dice (or no more than the number of sailors you have), and must roll higher than the value of the city (less 1 if it has a trade good) on any d6. Any misses cost you a sailor. If you succeed, you take the face down chip and its victory points.
  • You can settle cities that don't have city chips. You roll up to three dice (or no more than the number of sailors you have), and must roll higher than the value of the city (less 1 if it has a trade good) on a d6. Any misses cost you a sailor. If you succeed, you lose a sailor which gets placed on the city. One sailor per city.
While all this is going on, mission cards are available, and whenever someone completes the mission (settle these three cities) they get the mission card and possible bonus victory points. You only have to finish the last city in a mission to collect the card, not do all of it.

Game End and Scoring

Game ends when the missions run out. At the end of the game, you score all your trading vps, your city chip vps, bonus for having the most city chips, vps for having the most missions of each of three types, and vps for your settlements. The last one appears to be the ballgame: you score only the value of the city if only one city in a set is settled (by anyone), but you score double if two are settled, and triple if all three are settled. So if you've settled just three cities in a set where each city has a value of 4, that's 36 points.

A bunch of other mechanisms are flying around, but that's the bulk of it.

Reactions

The map and pieces are pretty enough. City chips are 3-D little plastic cities, sailors are little plastic sailors, and so on.

But no, this is not a game of plundering, fighting, or even vikings. This is a game about maximizing your actions to scoring ratio. How many points can you gain this turn? That's your concern. You can take some points now, or plan a few turns ahead, take chips, settlements or cards that will gain you extra points at the end game, assuming someone doesn't wreck your plans with a card.

You have to decide if it's worth trading to a city first to gain the bonus of lowering its defense, weighed against the need to use an extra turn and carry an extra resource, and the possibility that someone else may attack it first after you did the work. And you need to roll well, in any case.

I'm thinking along the lines of Samurai or Through the Desert, if you've ever played one of those. There are dozens of paths to select from, and, from my first play, they seem relatively well balanced. The settlement set thing seems to be fairly huge, but it's hard to have a monopoly on them unless your opponents are being utterly stupid, so everyone typically has a good chance to get their share.

There's no battling other players, no trading with other players, no real interaction other than taking first what they might conceivably want, or playing a card to boot their ship out of some area or city that you want.

There's a bit of game progression, as the game naturally involves shipping the trade goods early in the game, moving to settlements later in the game, with raids kind of happening when the opportunity arises (or perhaps that's just the way we played it). You can't let one person get too big a lead in settlements, or control too many mission cards from two of the three sets. But the game's progression is kind of half-hearted. It would have been better if scores rose during the three phases of the game, but they don't. The end scoring is a wallop, but the interim scoring just kind of plods along at ten points here, another eight points there.

I also would have liked a bonus for failing to settle or raid, such as a free card, to offset bad dice rolling. That's just me.

Still, it's kind of nice and serene, with decent if not tough choices throughout the game, and not too many choices that the game will drag on from over-analysis.

There's too much going on for new gamers, but for those looking to step up from their first games to something more interesting and pretty, it might fit the bill. I'm not sure as to how many times the game can be played before it gets relegated to the back shelf. We'll have to play it a few more times to see. I'm looking forward to my next play, in any case.

In our game, I won 192 to 172 to 140ish to 130ish, by the way.

1 comment:

saleel said...

Hi, true, i like the two games which is given in picture. i would like to know where i can get to download it.