Viking clans raid villages and battle each other, competing for the favor of their gods.
Tiny Epic Vikings is the latest game in the Tiny Epic series for 1 to 4 players, ages 14 and up, and takes about 45 to 60 minutes to play. It’s currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, with a pledge level of $25 for a copy of the game. A $30 pledge will get you the deluxe content, and $40 will also add the Ragnarok expansion. I would say the game could probably be learned by younger kids if they have some gaming experience; there’s nothing graphic or explicit in the game that would preclude younger players (the raiding, pillaging, and battling is a bit abstracted).
Tiny Epic Vikings was designed by Scott Almes and published by Gamelyn Games, with illustrations by Nikoletta Vaszi.
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Note: My review is based on a prototype copy, so it is subject to change and may not reflect final component quality. The wooden components in the prototype will mostly be replaced by custom wooden bits in the finished game. Unlike previous Tiny Epic campaigns, a lot of the component quality upgrades are included right from the start rather than being set as stretch goals.
Here’s what’s included:
In case you’re not familiar with the Tiny Epic games, there are now over a dozen titles in the series, all designed by Scott Almes and and with a wide variety of settings—space, westerns, dinosaurs, zombies—and a mix of game types—area control, resource management, worker placement, and more. The one thing they have in common is the compact box size, which is about the size of a mass market paperback, which is always packed to the brim with components. Gamelyn Games makes use of mini wooden components, large cards used as player mats and game boards, half-sized cards, and other techniques to ensure that although the packaging is small, the game experience is not.
Tiny Epic Vikings is the first of the series to use an actual board rather than large cards. The board is just a tri-fold, a wide rectangle about the width of the box and three times its height. It’s double-sided, with one side used for the 4-player game and the other side used for all other player counts.
The Viking cards are full-sized cards, each depicting a character with a name, a rune icon, and a few action icons. You might expect a Viking game to just depict a whole lot of bearded guys in horned helmets; while there are a few of those, there are also a lot of other people, too: old and young, men and women, and even a couple people of different ethnicities. And although any Viking card can be used for battle, some cards are better for gathering resources or building, and I like the way that this is reflected both by the action icons and the character illustrations. Not everyone is cut out for raiding and pillaging, after all—you still need people to keep the villages running. (And, yes, I know that Vikings did not actually have horns on their helmets … I won’t claim this game is historically accurate.)
The favor cards are half-sized, with one or two runes at the top of the card and a “sack” of resource icons below. The runes in the game are all triple-encoded: different colors, different rune symbols, and also different shapes, so that shouldn’t be a problem for color blind players. (The red and green player colors, on the other hand, might present a difficulty, so it may depend on the final shade of those colors used.) My only complaint about these cards is that the icons in the sack are fairly small: the wood has a brown background and the steel has a grey background, but both look like a little stack of blocks, so I think it would be nice if they were a little larger and more distinguishable.
The wooden components seen in my photos aren’t final, but the finished versions will include screen-printed tokens with custom shapes, as seen in this sample photo from Gamelyn Games.
Player resources and the gods’ fury are tracked using small tokens placed on the number track along a large card, similar to many of the other Tiny Epic games. It saves on the number of components needed, but it does mean you have to be careful not to bump your cards or it’s easy to lose track of where something was supposed to be.
You can download a draft of the rulebook here. The rulebook does not currently have the solo rules, so my review will cover the multiplayer game only.
The goal of the game is to score the most points after 3 eras, by earning the favor of the most powerful gods.
Place the board in the center of the table, with a row of favor cards above and below the board (based on the player count). Place a matching rune token on each island, and a village marker on each of the village icons. Shuffle the god mats and randomly choose 3, placing them face up above the board. Randomize the three fury markers and place one next to each god mat near the start of the fury track.
Place the era mat nearby, with the raven marker on Era 1. Shuffle the Viking cards.
Each player starts with a clan mat. Fill in all the spaces on the board with your settlers, boats, and temples. Place your resource markers on the “2” space on the track. Give the horn to the starting player (the person who most recently set foot on an island). In reverse turn order, each player places their leftover boat onto any fjord (water space) that touches the edge of the map.
The game takes place over 3 eras. Each era consists of three phases: Drafting Cards, Performing Actions, and Cleanup. During each era, the era mat indicates how many cards to draft, what direction to draft them in, and how much steel it takes to raid a village.
In the drafting phase, deal each player the number of cards indicated on the era mat. Players draft those cards—choose one, pass the rest, until all cards have been chosen.
Performing Actions is the bulk of the game. On your turn, you play one card, either face-down for battle or face-up for its actions.
The first person to play a card for battle initiates the battle and chooses a favor card from the end of a row, placing it next to the era mat—everyone else may join the battle on their next turn. At the start of the initiator’s turn, they’ll resolve the battle before taking their next turn.
Everyone reveals their cards and compares battle strengths; some require paying steel, and some are based on the number of runes you control. The highest value wins and gains the favor card (placing it face-down above their player mat), immediately gaining the resources shown on the sack. Losers go to Valhalla: they raise the god fury track for the matching rune icon, and gain that god’s bonus ability. (In case of a tie, everyone loses and the favor card is returned.) If you’re the only one in battle, you fight against the invaders, a growing stack of cards drawn from the deck.
If you play a card face-up, you use the leader action printed in the center. Then, if you have the required runes, you may also use the rune action at the bottom. Finally, after performing actions, you may dedicate a village for a bonus effect.
There are various leader actions. You can sail a boat, which may then allow you to raid a village (by spending steel) and deploy settlers (by spending wheat). If you take control of an island, you gain the rune token and increase that god’s fury. You can move settlers from island to island using the ferry routes, gather resources, or spend wood to build boats or temples. Building gives you bonuses when you harvest resources, and ships and temples can count toward control of an island—but you always must have at least one settler to control an island.
The rune actions include a lot of the leader actions, but also a few others: moving an entire temple along a ferry route, removing enemy settlers, and exchanging resources. There’s also an action that lets you enter a battle immediately—so you get the leader action, but can also use the same card for a battle. You may use a rune action if you have the indicated runes in your island rune tokens and on your previously played Viking cards.
To dedicate a village, place a village token that you’ve raided onto either the god mat or the era mat. The era mat has the four main actions: move a settler, sail, harvest, or build. The god mat’s do not give you a bonus, but increase the fury track by 2. Each village dedication space may only have as many villages as there are players.
After everyone has played all of their Viking cards, the era ends. All of the played Viking cards are discarded, the raven is moved to the next era, and the horn is passed to the player who has the fewest island rune tokens. Start a new era by dealing and drafting a new set of Viking cards.
At the end of the third era, you score points based on your runes, both the island runes and runes printed on your favor cards. The value of the runes is based on the gods’ fury tracks, with the highest fury worth the most points. The back of the era mat has a scoring track, and a reminder of how many points each rune is worth.
The highest score wins. Tie-breakers are used in this order: most island runes, most favor cards, most temples built, most boats built, most combined resources.
I’ll confess that Vikings aren’t the most exciting theme to me. I don’t dislike them; it’s just not one of those settings that I’m especially drawn to. But I am a fan of the Tiny Epic games, so I was curious to see what the Gamelyn Games team would come up with.
Tiny Epic Vikings includes some of what you’d expect from a Viking game: sailing around in boats, attacking villages, fighting each other, and seeking glory in Valhalla. One of the interesting aspects to me was the way that the player conflict works. There are actually two types of conflicts: there are battles for the favor cards, and there are contests over control of the islands.
The battles for the favor cards have a few things at stake: the favor card itself grants the winner some resources, but also some runes that are worth points at the end of the game. The favor card runes aren’t worth as many points as the island runes, but they cannot be stolen away. But in these battles, losing isn’t all bad, because the loser gets to increase a gods’ fury track and gains the Valhalla bonus, and these can be very powerful. Odin lets you gain a village that has already been dedicated, which gives you an extra village to use, but also potentially opens up a space that was already filled so it can be used again. Njord, god of the seas, lets you sail all of your boats, which could help you get into an advantageous position on the map. (There are six gods included, and you’ll get a different mix each time.) Not only that, but since the value of the runes will be based on which god is highest on their fury track, controlling those tracks can be just as important as gaining the runes themselves.
These battles are resolved using the face-down Viking cards, so you generally don’t know how strong anyone’s leader is until they’re all revealed. Of course, because the cards were drafted at the beginning of the round, a good card-counter might be able to have an idea … but I’m not a good card-counter, so it’s all a mystery to me! (There were times when I was trying to throw a fight so that I could get the Valhalla bonus and increase the fury track, but won a favor card instead. Oops.) The battle strengths have a wide range, from as low as 1 to as high as 13, plus there are some that are based on runes or resources you currently have. Using a card for battle means that you don’t get to use its leader and rune action, so that can be a really tough choice. Either way, these aren’t luck-based battles (other than if you fight the invaders, with a random draw from the deck).
The fights over the islands can be fierce: settlers, boats, and temples all count toward control of an island, as long as you have at least one settler present. However, whenever you put settlers on an island (whether deployed from a boat or exploring from an adjacent island), you get to remove an opponent’s settler if you outnumber them. The map—Small World–style—isn’t big enough for everyone to have their own space, so conflict is inevitable. But at the same time, with only 6 settlers per player, you don’t have enough to spread out too much before you’re a sitting duck for invaders. Since the island runes are worth more points, and are another way to increase the gods’ fury, there’s a lot of combat happening all the time, especially after the initial few turns when players have snapped up the unoccupied (well, if you don’t count those villagers) islands. Since these contests are simply based on control value of your pieces, there’s no luck involved here, either—it’s a numbers game.
Managing your resources is crucial: you’ll need steel to raid villages (and power up some battle cards), wheat to deploy settlers when you sail, and wood to build more boats and villages. What’s more, you can only store 7 of each resource at a time, which means it’s hard to hoard a bunch in advance, so you’ll need to keep getting more throughout the game. Of course, getting resources is useless if you can’t sail to a spot to use them, and you can’t build unless you have a settler present. Getting the right mix of cards during the initial draft can make or break you. In one era, I only drafted a single “sail” action card, and then ended up using it for a battle. By the end of the round, I had plenty of resources I could use to deploy settlers and raid a village, but I couldn’t get them there!
Once you’ve drafted your cards, picking the right order to play them is also part of the strategy. If you can trigger the rune action, that’s like getting two turns in one, and since these rune actions can be triggered by Viking cards you’ve played earlier in the era, that will affect the order in which you play out your actions. It’s a mix of plotting out how you want to play your cards, and responding tactically to the current situation on the board.
I’ve only gotten to play a couple of times so far, but I’ve really enjoyed the game despite my initial lack of enthusiasm about the setting. I like the tough decisions about how to use my Viking cards—for actions or for battle—as well as the tug of war over island runes, and my own struggles to balance harvesting resources versus spending them. I like the way that losing battles can be just as important strategically as winning them, and the way that the scoring is affected by the fury tracks, so that you can sometimes increase your score not by gaining more runes, but by raising a god’s fury instead. There’s definitely a lot more for me to explore here!
For more information or to make a pledge, visit the Tiny Epic Vikings Kickstarter page!
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a prototype of this game for review purposes.
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