878 Vikings: Ragnar Comes a Callin’ – A BoardgamingLife Review


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by Russ Lockwood

Designer Beau Beckett, Dave Kimmel, Jeff Stahl

Publisher Academy Games

I’ve enjoyed the variety of Academy Games’ war games (1775 and 1812), having played most of them multiple times with multiple gamers. Each game is generally close, with the balancing mechanism of cards and dice blessing and cursing player actions with equal aplomb.

In general, the four-player games are more exciting than the two-player games because who knows what your enemy might do on any given turn — or worse, what your ‘ally’ might do on any given turn.

So, along comes 878 Vikings, a two- or four-player game of the Viking invasion of England. The $75 boxed game has the usual components you expect that justifies the price. Academy also has a $50 expansion that adds more dice, cards, and cardboard counters.

Mighty Men and Mini-Me(s)

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The older Academy Games’ games used colored wooden cubes to represent regiments and units. 878 Vikings dispensed with the cubes and uses little plastic figures to represent the four main factions — red Berserkers, black Norsemen, blue Housecarls, and green Thegns — plus the yellow fyrd. We reckon the little fellers are about 10mm, having compared them to 15mm figures, and are pleased to note that each faction has a different figure pose.

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The map. 

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The mighty leaders — Alfred the Great for the Britons and a number of leaders for the Vikings — are printed on thick cardboard that are plugged into stands. That’s OK, but Academy went one step further. For $30, you can buy a set of nine 28mm leader figures, each holding a flag. They’re nicely sculpted and can be used with your other tabletop minis. We used the cardboard leaders.

They battle over a board with England (not Scotland or Wales) divided into areas (shires), with some shires containing cities that serve as the victory conditions: In the basic game, at the end of ‘Round’ 5, 6, or 7, if the Vikings take nine cities by the time two ‘Treaty of Wedmore’ cards are played, they win. If eight or fewer, the Britons win.

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Sample Viking cards. The ‘2’ designates the number of shires (areas) to activate. The ‘3’ and ‘4’ designate the number of shires each activated force can move.

Note that in Academy lingo, a ‘turn’ is one faction’s reinforcement, card play, movement, and battle. When all four factions are done with their turns, the ’round’ is over. The game lasts up to seven rounds. However, the Treaty cards also double as movement cards, and each player gets only seven movement cards, so it seems likely at least two of them will be played when round five rolls around.

Some of the cities provide reinforcements to the Briton players — images on the map next to the city icon show how many and which types.

Fyrd, Fyrd, Fyrd, Fyrd is the Word

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In addition, if the Viking player attacks a city, the Briton player draws a Fyrd card and adds that many Fyrd men to his garrison. No sieges in the basic game — just additional yellow dice for the defending Britons. Note that if the Britons (Housecarl or Thegn) attack the Vikings in a shire with city, no fyrd show up. It’s defense only — although one of the random cards does indeed allow the Briton player to draw a fyrd card for an attack.

Indeed, the cards determine movement of the number of armies and how far (number of shires) each may move. The Vikings seem to have the advantage here — just about all cards played were of the 2-4 variety: Move two armies up to four shires. The Britons have quite the range, from a 1-3 (one army up to three shires) to a 4-1 (four armies up to one shire). There’s at least one Briton card that adds three spaces to an army movement.

Like the other Academy war games, 878 Vikings uses six-sided dice with hit, flee, and command icons

Note that an army can consist of any number of men in any combination. As long as at least one figure is of the phasing color, that army is eligible for movement.

Order of Play

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As in the other Academy games, you draw a colored cube randomly to determine which of the four factions performs its reinforcements, moves, and attacks. This offers suspense. Given that the game can end with a pair of Treaty cards, going last has some benefits when it comes to grabbing cities. However, grabbing cities in the first place offers other advantages.

Leader Advantages

The Viking player has all the leaders up until round five, when the Britons get their hero and king, Alfred. Yes, I understand no one voted for him, but he’s king because he hasn’t got poop on him.

Leaders can perform what I call an overrun attack. If a leader’s army gets rid of all the defenders on the first roll of the dice, it can continue to move, assuming it hasn’t run out of movement areas (shires). If it needs a second or more toss of the dice, it costs one extra movement point.

Thus, the Vikings can often pick off an isolated shire garrisoned by only a couple of Britons and then move on to attack another shire. Since the Vikings usually roll five dice (two Berserkers and three Norsemen), they’ll usually get three hits a toss and quite often four. Then again, dice being dice, I’ve also seen five Viking dice generate only one hit — not often, but it can happen.

Different Era, Same Combat

Like the other Academy war games, 878 Vikings uses six-sided dice with hit, flee, and command icons in varying numbers depending on the type of troop. For example, the Berserkers have four hits and two command icons. The Thegns have two hit, two flee, and two command icons. The fyrd, well, they’re fairly useless except for being fodder and generating the lucky hit. Indeed, the fyrd die has a blank side, which is better than the flee sides.

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Combat at Theoford: Thegns and huscarls finally victorious.

Defender tosses first (except if a card alters the order) and applies results. A hit eliminates one enemy figure, enemy choice, while a flee sends one of your men to the ‘flee’ zone — think of it as a rally zone where they show up the next round. A command icon calls for a decision. You can ignore it, or you can use it as to retreat one man from the battle to an adjacent shire IF, and only if, that shire has a friendly man in it. Otherwise, in a battle, it’s die rolls to the death of one side or another.

Of course, cards can alter many things during a battle. For example, one Thegn card turns ‘flees’ into hits! That’s a good one to play in a crucial battle.

Halfdan Better than Wholedan

In our game, Dennis landed the Vikings on the coast, took Ehmachi city with ease, then took another — Theoford. I counterattacked with what I had, was defeated, and attacked the next round. Defeated again, although whittling down Vikings in the process, I attacked next turn in another round, finally cleaning up the Viking riff-raff and slaying Halfdan the Viking in Theoford shire before recapturing Ehmachi and getting rid of that particular band of plunderers.

Of course, by that time, another Viking leader — Ivar the Boneless — showed up and grabbed much of the north with judicious application of the overrun attack.

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Turn 3: Ivar the Boneless overruns the north with norsemen (black figures) and berserkers (red figures).

Not much I could do up there, but I eventually played some cards that tuned Norsemen into Thegns, which forced the leader to go back and mop up — and leave a stronger garrison in each city. Then he played a naval movement card and landed in Kent shire. I played another ‘convert two Norsemen into Thegns’ and then counterattacked with a considerable number of troops. Although I had heavy losses, that infestation was crushed.

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By this time, Rollo and another band of plunderers landed and captured London. Admittedly, when I saw the way it was going and that I had an adjacent shire with a goodly number of troops, I often used the control rolls to exit, stage right.

On round five, Alfred the Pre-Great showed up — he always shows up on round five. I sent him on overruns of thinly-held, Viking-conquered cities in central Britain while a rolling horde of huscarls and thegns stormed into London and rolled over Rollo. I placed his head upon a spike.

By this time, two Treaty cards had been played. We counted up the cities and the Vikings only had eight. Briton victory.

Snipe and Tripe

The only nitpicking note I can bring up is the combat dice system. For the previous wargames, 1775, 1812, and the new 1754, a similar combat system for similar types of combat throughout the black powder era makes sense. I was a bit surprised to see the exact same system for sword, spear, bow, and shield era.

Granted, play one system, play them all makes for ease of learning, and I don’t have a concrete suggestion on what the ‘Viking combat system’ should be, but for the more adventurous among you, feel free to use American Revolution troops in Viking land, or visa versa.

Academy’s website needs errata. I only had a couple questions, so sent off an e-mail to Academy, but nothing back after a month.

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End of game: The Britons hang on to win a close one. Note that the grouping of figures in upper left is the flee zone – you get these troops back on your turn.

Twasn’t major. For example, can you roll fewer dice in a combat (the idea here being that you may not want to avoid rolling flees if you have to roll the full complement of dice)? Some cards have the word ‘battle’ on them — can you use them in any battle where that faction has troops, or, can the cards only be used when that particular faction is the activated faction (via the random cube draw)? A couple others. Maybe the answers are on a social media platform — dunno.

Questions and Answers

When I came back from vacation, I had an e-mail from Ashley of Academy Games noting their e-mail replies were delayed due to interest generated by GenCon. Anyway, for those interested…

Question 1: On the DaneGeld Card, does “Remove” mean to eliminate the men from the game? (Not to “fled” area). We played that ‘remove’ means eliminate from game and put back in the box.

Answer 1: The Vikings are eliminated in the same way that occurs when hits are taken. They go back into the Unit pool for future reinforcements.

Question 2: Can you opt to roll fewer dice than allowed in a battle? In other words, say the Viking player had enough berserkers and Norsemen to roll two red and three black dice, can he instead roll only one die or two dice? The idea here is to reduce possibility of rolling a flee result on the black dice….

Answer 2: You must roll the maximum number of dice you are able to roll. You cannot elect to roll fewer dice. This is true for all of the Birth of America/Europe games.

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Question 3: Cards with “Battle” in italics. Do you play these ONLY when the faction is the phasing player? For Example, if the card says “Thegn Battle,” can this only be played when the Thegn faction is performing its movement and battle actions? Or, can you play this any time a thegn man is in a battle? We played that if a specific faction was listed, it could only be played when that faction is moving and battling in its turn. We noticed there was an “Any Battle” descriptor on one card and figured that could be played at any time in any battle, as long as there was a corresponding man at the battle. Is that how it’s played?

Answer 3: For event cards, the ultimate indicator of which player turn you can play an event card on is the color bar next to the image on the card. For example, the card may say ‘Thegn Battle’, but if the color bars to the side of the image are green and blue, then it can be played during a battle that contains at least one Thegn unit on either the Thegn or Housecarl turn. If the card that says ‘Thegn Battle’ only has a green color bar, then it may only be played on a battle that occurs during the Thegn players turn.

Color bars? Well, that’s a subtle indicator we never observed. Now we know. — RL

Question 4: If two Viking leaders are in the same shire, but only one berserker is in the shire, when the berserker faction is to perform actions, can both leaders take armies and move together, even if only one berserker man is available? Can the two leaders move in separate directions, even though only one leader would have the berserker? We played that only the leader with the berserker man can move (i.e. activation by army, not by shire). Is that correct?

Answer 4: The Berserker unit is either in the shire or is associated with one leader (which means the unit would be placed on that specific leader’s card to indicate which leader group the unit is associated with.) This means that the Berserker player would be able to move only one leader from a shire on their turn because there is only one Berserker unit that is eligible to move with that leader. A leader must have a Berserker unit with the leader group when it begins its movement. If the berserker dies, say if a combat was initiated in a neighboring shire, the berserker dies, but the Vikings are victorious and have further leader movements available, the leader can still be moved. The single Berserker cannot be used to activate both Leaders because the first leader is required to have that Berserker on his leader card to qualify for movement during the Berserker player’s turn.

Overall

Vikings 878 is an entertaining game like the other Academy wargames. Simple to understand, the cards switch things around enough during the first few playings until you learn how many cards of each type are in a deck, and the little minis are a step up from the cubes.

In addition, this would make a nice miniatures campaign setting for you Viking-era fans. Both sides’ starting troops and reinforcements are already calculated, although you’ll have to do some sort of conversion of what one plastic figure equals in miniatures. It offers a nice shire-area map — which you can buy in a ‘super-size’ version.

Vikings 878: Nice package. Nice game. A winner.

About the Author

SoWD_RussRuss Lockwood has been bouncing around the wargaming world for the last 25 years in one capacity or another. Most know him as creator and CEO of MagWeb.com (on-line archive of 162 military history and related magazines from Coalition Web, Inc. from 1996-2009). He appeared on camera on The History Channel (Modern Marvels), ABC, NBC, Fox, and various cable TV shows. MagWeb was also covered by the NY Times, USA Today, and other newspapers, a variety of trade and consumer magazines, and a multitude of on-line sites. He’s given lectures at various HMGS conventions, Origins War College, and various professional meetings and seminars. Although MagWeb closed in 2009, those white MagWeb rulers still appear on wargaming tabletops across the country.

On the prior professional front, Lockwood was Editorial Director of AT&T’s web division, Senior Editor at Personal Computing Magazine, Assistant Editor at Creative Computing Magazine, Telecommunications Editor for A+ Magazine (Apple), tech writer at AT&T, Staff Writer (Financial) NY Times Information Service, and freelancer for PC Sources, Windows Sources, PC, MacUser, Byte, Restaurant Business, Hotel Business, Computer Buyer’s Guide and Handbook, and other magazines. He also hosted a radio show, ComputerWise, for five years, and was an on-line editor for ZiffNet on Compuserve and Ziffnet on Prodigy.

He is currently a freelance editor and writer covering financial and defense news, with a concentration on the retail industry. If you are really interested, go to Linked In, where he maintains a profile.

On the miniatures front, you may have seen his byline in various hobby publications in the 1990s and 2000s. Lockwood is also the author of: Snappy Nappy: Simple, Subtle & Ultrafast Miniature Rules for the Napoleonic Era, and, Hyperspace Hack: Ultrafast Spaceship Fleet Battles with Miniatures (both published in 2009 and available from http://www.onmilitarymatters.com and http://www.caliverbooks.com).  Lockwood is also the editor of the Secrets of Wargame Design series, releasing the fifth volume in 2015.

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