Have you ever come around the next morning after a rollicking party with a headache, scrambling for orientation and finding your befuddled brain completely and totally blank? If you ever experienced such an extreme yourself, you might be able to feel with the stricken heroes in this historical civilisation builder board game. Everybody else will just have to employ their imagination. The name of the game is a clue in itself: VALHAL is all about Vikings. Real ones. The theme of VALHAL is the life and day of the historic Vikings, and their religious beliefs play an important part. But Ragnarök can wait. For now, the most important thing is being a true Viking who, after a glorious death, will then proudly stride into Asgard, with his sword in hand, and claim his place amidst the mead drinking ranks of the heroes of Valhal. This is the sole and most noble purpose of every Viking’s very existence! It is just that a combination of too much mead, and a too deeply felt anticipation of the glorious afterlife, can lead to certain unforeseen complications…
On one fateful morning, the Vikings of Fjörnheim, a fictitious island in the North, wake up with a legendary headache. Still struggling with the aftereffect of mead still coursing through their veins and some major memory gaps concerning the finer details of the previous night, they are facing Rattatöskr, messenger of the gods, who brings it to their notice that in their drunken state they “accidentally” chopped up a holy tree to feed their little camp fire. The proprietors of the tree in question, the Gods of Asgard, are not amused. At all. Without further ado they withdraw the post-mortem access authorization to Asgard and Valhal from the hung-over Norsemen. Things cannot possibly get any worse for a Viking-!
The theme of the game:
This civilization builder board game takes place in the early Viking era, which is depicted with great historical accuracy down to the very details. You assume the responsibility of one of the Fjörnheim Jarls under whose leadership the Norsemen strive to manage, improve and further their settlements and, most importantly, perform great deeds – i.e. go a-viking and bring home loot. This is done in order to gain Glory and win back the favour of the Gods and eventually be welcomed at the doors of Asgard and admitted into Valhal after their heroic demise.
Some basic data:
- Published by Tetrahedron-Games 2018 (Copyright 2017)
- Designed by Martin Otzmann and Mario Arthur
- Artwork by Nele Diel
- Plays 2 – 4 players
- Age 10+
- Duration of Gameplay 90 – 120 minutes
- Setup-Time about 12 minutes
- Box Size square box (23,5 x 23,5 x 6,5 cm)
Lots of fun stuff in a box:
- 1 Season Marker, which is the central game board in the middle of which the seasons get indicated (there is even a surplus of 3 additional Season Markers in the box that can be used as replacements)
- 4 Favour of the Gods displays (1 per player)
- 4 Ravenhead Tokens in the player colours, used to record the progress on the Favour of the Gods display (1 per player)
- 7 Achievenment Tokens (grant bonus points for being first to achieve certain objectives)
- 8 Memory Aid Tokens (with the sides ”Spring & Disabled“ und “Summer & Winter“)
- 16 Food Tokens
- 16 Building Tokens: 8 Wood Tokens
8 Iron Tokens
- 80 Coins
- 5 game boards: 4 Viking Settlements (the Viking settlement of the player where
they can build, train their warriors and manage their ressources)
The Mainland (one central game boardwhere the villages and towns to be raided are laid out)
- 72 unit cards: 28 units Nordic Warriors
20 units Nordic Veterans (elite warriors) and
24 Longboats (the famous Viking dragon boats)
- 16 Buildings Cards: 4 Warehouses (improve building of ships)
4 Blacksmith’s (help warriors to become “veterans”)
4 Granaries (improve the food situation in winter)
4 Sacrificial Altars (grant ”Benevolence of the gods” cards)
- 24 Town Cards (from small undefended villages to strong fortified towns plus relief troops) .
- 24 Town Cards (from small undefended villages to strong fortified towns plus relief troops)
- 149 Playing Cards : 50 Event Cards
30 Benevolence of (the) Gods Cards
30 Wrath of the Gods Cards
15 Lesser Loot Cards
10 Large Loot Cards
10 Greater Loot Cards
- 4 Battletableaus
- 20 Markers (little wooden cubes in 3 different colours)
- 4 red D6 Dice
- 20 white Custom Dice (faces showing 1 to 3, with each number appearing twice)
Sounds like a huge amount of content? It certainly is. It really baffles the mind how is it possible to put out such a lot of gaming fun for such a reasonable price. It is not the sheer number of single game parts alone that is impressive: The artwork is really excellent and the production quality of the components is good. Everything is straightforward, easy to handle, and well-made. For such a modest price (or even higher prices) we have – on other occasions – seen flimsy products with just a fraction of components such as these. So it is truly amazing and also very gratifying to see how much of a game you are getting in a box of VALHAL by comparison.
The creators themselves, however, told us they are not entirely happy with the quality of the components, especially with some of the cards, although we and our fellow gamers had been satisfied with the present production and its components. So anyone who is planning to get themselves a copy of their own: You can look forward to the upcoming re-issue of the game (soon on kickstarter) with components made by different production companies where everything is going to be even better than it is now!
What impressed us the most about this game is the care and thoroughness that went into the way the theme has been translated into the design and the game mechanics. There is not a single aspect that has not been researched and implemented correctly in terms of cultural history: There are no anachronisms anywhere, n horned helmets or any other such popular nonsense in evidence! The creators did not simply paste a popular theme onto a game mechanism, the mechanism organically grows from the very depths and realities of the theme itself. They do take the Nordic culture of that particular era very seriously indeed. This even applies to such detail as the colour scheme of the game and its components which moves within the scope of exclusively such pigments that would actually have been available at the time of the Vikigs. Wow! That’s what we call dedication! If you are expecting extravagant fantasy Vikings sprung from a comic strip, you won’t find any of those here. But you are not giong to miss them either. VALHAL is a novel and crisp gaming experience with a sound mixture of rules, strategies and luck – just like real life. If, however, you are genuinely into the historic Viking people, you will in fact experience some of their real life while enjoying a game of VALHAL If you have none such expectations and simply want to play an interesting board game, VALHAL is for you, too.
There are four identical settlements. This settlement is the actual playing board for each player, where the destiny of the villagers decides; the victory points generated here are counted on the Favour of the Gods display. In the centre of each settlement there is the Jarl’s longhouse; this is where you place your resources. You collect your (unspent) coins, food tokens and building tokens (wood, iron). The number of food tokens in limited to four: Prior to the invention of canned food and freezers, you just could not store an unlimited food supply to last you all year. So in real Viking life, resources did actually run scarce at times…
In your settlement you have a shipbuilder; in that spot you are able to construct your dragon boats. You have a training ground where you may train farmers to become brave seafarers and man your ships, and a rune stone where you may sacrifice gold or glory (victory points) to be granted a favour of the gods. But be warned – gods are not bound to any profane rules. The favours they will grant are not always beneficial to mortals…
Also, each settlement has building sites for additional buildings – a warehouse, a granary and a blacksmith – as well as an (already existing) armoury for the use of which, however, you need a blacksmith, because it requires a blacksmith to adequately equip simple sailors with the necessary means to become seasoned veteran warriors. That makes a lot of sense.
Your objective is to finish your building as soon as possible. In order to do this, you must first place a coin on the building site and provide food for the settlement. (Workers need to eat.) Using resources can enable you to start or speed up the building process even without any food tokens. When finished, buildings allow you to build ships faster and with fewer resources, to train up and equip warriors or also to have more food during the long winter (better storage conditions).
How to play:
Each game consists of several rounds which take place during the three (!) seasons (summer, winter and spring). At the start of the first round, each player owns one longboat, one unit Nordic warriors manning it, one unit food, two units iron (represented by the two tokens) and three coins.
It starts with a “Vikingfahrt“:
You can only go on a Vikingfahrt (Viking sea raid) in summer. Therefore, the game starts in summer, and you begin by placing some (unfortified) villages on the mainland; their number is determined following the number of players present. And off you go!
The villages you aim for are easy prey – or not: There are small unprotected hamlets, but also big, heavily fortified cities that put up some fierce resistance with the help of relief troops in a second wave of defense. You are facing the dilemma that the easy targets guarantee some booty and a safe return of ship and men, but the booty you bring home may be rather unimpressive. Those rich fortified cities, on the other hand, contain a heap of real riches to be gleaned, and often some noble offspring into the bargain that can earn you a handsome ransom, but all this comes at great risk.
One thing is for certain: If you opt for a risk-free life bullying some conveniently harmless farmers into giving up the little they have, you and your settlement will yourself end up having little, no heroic ballads are sung in your praise and the gates of Valhal will forever stay shut. So when you are planning ahead where to risk a sea raid, you should think and re-think before you take action.
You pick out one of the places laid out on the mainland that you want to raid and pillage and chose the longboat and unit of warriors you want to employ for the task. The next step is the actual fight. A successfully pillaged village or city is removed from the mainland and you bag all the loot that is stated on its card: gold, resources like food, wood or iron, ransom for hostages…
That having been done, the next player starts the next raid on the respective target. This continues until all the places on the mainland have been raided.
How you fight:
If a ship has more than one unit of warriors on board, you have to first determine which of them is going to attack first. The attack bonuses do add up, but not the life points. All attack bonuses are used in battle, but only the unit in front takes the damage. If the attacking unit in front loses all life points and die, the remaining unit will be next to attack, but of course there are no more bonuses to add up. This gives you the impression you are dealing with real human beings who are acting together in small groups, though you do not experience them as different individuals. However, you do perceive them in a totally different way than you would if you played “unit“ as a mere abstract.
Cities have their life points, too, and they can either put up a weak or a very strong defence. An attempted raid cannot only fail, it can actually end in disaster! This is a somewhat sobering view of the raiding seafarers. What they do is depicted with all the dangers and uncertainties, the risk of paying for some lousy loot with the death of crew members, or even never returning home but sleeping with the fishes forever.
The good news: If your unit of warriors „die“, i.e. lose all their life points, they are not dead yet, but wounded to such an extent that their number of life points will be considerably lower in the next fight. The bad news: The wounded warriors are, of course, also weaker now. If the unit lose all their life points a second time, they are then considered dead and are removed from game. If the ship is no longer manned because your first and also second unit of warriors are truly dead, it is removed from the game. (It is lost to you.) This system also adds a lot to the realism of the gameplay.
The clear and well-structured combat system is easy to grasp and plays smoothly. How successful you are is determined by your attacking strength and choosing your targets wisely, but the dice add a random element of luck. The result of this combination convincingly simulates the actual hazards of a “Vikingfahrt”: However well you prepare, in reality you simply cannot achieve a total control on events and circumstances! To influence the probabilities in your own favour and prevent the worst from happening, all you can do is to plan ahead as well as you can and think your decisions through. The element of luck adds a lot of suspense to the gameplay, but it also helps you maintain the hope that next time fortune will smile at you again, even while you are failing.
And there is more good news: If at any point a Jarl finds himself without any ship or men, his settlement will immediately provide a new ship and unit of warriors! It rarely ever happens that your settlement has to throw you that lifeline, but it makes certain that all players can always continue to have fun together and game on. When all is said, this is what it’s all about, even in a most definitely non-cooperative game. We really like this simple solution because it excludes nobody and there is no interrution in the flow of the game.
This happens during winter and spring:
After your “Vikingfahrt“ you will – hopefully – have all the resources necessary to prepare for the coming summer and to further develop your settlement.
You place food tokens on the seasons on your settlement. Food tokens can be replaced by coins; you “buy” food you do not have. Next you need to hire more men, train up your already existing units to become veterans, and of course you have to build things. This is important because the buildings give you certain advantages once they are finished. It is essential to have a larger number of reliable ships, too, and also more warriors manning them, because all those villages that are easy prey will soon be gone (due to certain activities of certain seafarers from way up north). The cities you will be trying to raid next will not be overcome by a handful of men in a glorified rowing boat. In fact, this is a very busy and fast-paced phase in VALHAL .
The zeal you invest in your own village is not unlke the joyous ecxitement you would feel when packing your bags for a world trip. Your setttlement must survive the long winter; the journeys of the summer ust be well prepared for so that the men and boats will return safely and laden with treasures – what could be more important? Nothing, absolutely nothing of what happens here will be without consequence. In fact, this is a very busy and fast-paced phase in VALHAL
How to win – or lose:
You win by collecting the most victory points and thus being the first to reach the open gates of Asgard on the Favor of the Gods display.
The gaming experience viewed from the inside:
We tested VALHAL several times at our Dice & Mystics game nights: People who come to us expect to spend a nice, relaxing and entertaining time with good board games. Such guests only sit down at the table when the new game looks attractive and promises a great, varied gaming experience.
VALHAL immediately passes the visual test: As soon as the box is opened, there is a lot of interest. The artwork is appealing to all, and especially to some outspoken fans of the Viking culture, who admire the great care taken in the game design. They visibly enjoy the fact that the bold seafarers of the North, who so fascinate them, are not just props and decoration. During the following game rounds we constantly hear comments and observations about the life of the real Norsemen, their characteristics and their daily lives; the game arouses interest and furthers understanding.
There is no shortage of players. Setup takes a little time. Good things will take a while. Patiently and full of anticipation we endeavor to learn the rules for the impressive amout of components. What appeared a little complicated at first soon turns out to be quite easy to grasp. In the first round, the rules are still in the foreground, but everything works smoothly and effortlessly: We sit down, start playing, and have fun.
The first “Vikingfahrt“ is quite easily accomplished, although success is by no means guaranteed. In our very first trial round, all men and ships return successfully. The Jarls are happy. The first building projects commence in winter, in spring one of the settlements is proud to have their own blacksmith. When the second much more difficult “Vikingfahrt“ is in progress, the rules are crystal clear and the combat system does not need to be explained anymore.
The following summer it gets obvious that the first raid with the small easy-to-pillage villages had actually been some kind of tutorial. This is neat. It feels more natural to go through the steep learning curve within the actual gameplay rather than having to complete a separate practise session before. (In later game rounds, for a new gamer to be able to join in, a quic briefing about the bare essentials proves sufficient, everything else can be learned “on the fly”. Learning by Doing actually worked just fine!)
As the game proceeds, it turns out that it is not so easy to complete your buildings quickly enough and take advantage of them, if you had previously chosen to follow the less profitable but safer path. Two things become very evident. First, VALHAL rewards taking risks, not choosing the safest way. Second, the smallest mistake in your planning is going to mercilessly lead to serious consequences. That does make sense: The living conditions in the Viking age allowed no mistakes. So you have to be pretty alert and quick-witted. If you miscalculate your sea raids or fail to provide for he long winter or bring home too much of the wrong loot, you will have serious problems at hand – and there go your chances to become the most successful and most renowned settlement in all Fjörnheim. Winners as well as losers – all our gamers are enjoying themselves and want to play again as soon as possible.
At the following game nights and with the same paricpants, the gameplay is even more balanced. Everybody knows how it goes (or rather how Rattatöskr scuttles). Nonody is careless enough to naively attack the most harmless hamlet; all building activities, resource management and storage projects are planned more carefully and with better foresight; more ships and crews go a-viking, the game becomes more eventful, faster and more fluent, and whoever is going to win this time ramains open until he game is finished.
In the end, everybody applauds the winner, but although there is no envy among the players, you can read it in their faces – resolutions are being made to do everything differently and better the next time, all in order to win the favor of the gods. That’s the way it is meant to be!
If it was not for this little horned guy, we might have taken a little longer to catch our attention, but a glance round the corner and there he was, his little keen eyes blinking up at us from his place on the corner of the table – and we stood spellbound! We were captivated on the spot!
This little fellow is the messenger of the Gods (the Asen), who came scuttling down the trunk of the world ash Yggdrasil all the way down to our hung-over Vikings to deliver the dire message of the angry management. This unusually attractive figurine is not needed for the game itself, but renouncing him? No Viking way!
The messenger of the gods, a finely sculpted resin figure, and the attractive leather coasters with their beautiful ornaments are the extras that come with the special edition. But even without them the game VALHAL is a visual treat.
VALHAL is more than playable eye candy, it also has substance. It combines original, “organic” game mechanics with a historically correct and realistic representation of a popular theme. You can see very clearly what a huge amount of true passion and great care has been invested in the creation of this game. There is so much to do and experience, and although it is played taking turns, there is no downtime that deserves the name.
The Viking theme so convincingly portrayed by Nele Diehl is not an illustration, it becomes tangible and alive. That is what makes VALHAL so special. Even the steep learning curve at the beginning can be explained by the logical and convincing derivation of the rules from the topic itself.
The playing time given by the publisher is a realistic estimate, as demonstrated on several game nights. This makes VALHAL an interesting game not only for plays at home but also for a game club. Several games one after the other, even with partial change of players, are easily possible.
VALHAL appeals to different types of gamers, is entertaining, plays differently each time and offers excellent value for money for a good and unusual game with good production quality. Its moderate length makes it suitable for adults, but it is easy enough to learn to be accessible to older children.
To sum up:
VALHAL has convinced us: It’s great funthroughout! What more can you possibly want? We are glad that we discovered this game which now enriches our collection. „You should bring it to the table more often“, we’re being told, und there are questions concerning the upcoming kickstarter…
(The Dice & Mystics thank the publisher Tetrahedon Games for the free copy of their game.)
By: Martina Frohme; Dice & Mystics