by Russ Lockwood
Designer: Beau Beckett, Dave Kimmel, Jeph Stahl
Publisher: Academy Games
With the start of a new season of the TV show Vikings, Dennis and I pulled out an old favorite boardgame: Vikings 878. Dennis leans towards the conclusion that the Vikings are the underdogs in the game, so wanted to try a new strategy. I prepared to resist his invasions as the Anglo-Saxons.
The Viking leaders offer a distinct advantage in that they can pick up and drop troops off as they move and can perform something akin to an overrun if they can whack all the defending locals in one round of combat. I forget which Viking leader begins the game, but Dennis gets one to start and draws others from a deck of cards each turn.
Dennis invades Brittania.
Cards and Combat
Each contingent (Norsemen, Berzerker, Thegn, and Huscarl) gets three cards, most of which are movement cards that tell how many formations can activate and how far each one can move in areas. Other cards are tactical cards that offer some benefit, like extra movement, exchanging enemy troops for your own, combat bonuses, and so on.
Combat is by d6 icon dice: hits kill one enemy soldier, flees cause one of your soldiers to run off the board (to return next turn), and commands allow you the option of retreating one soldier to an adjacent area IF you have troops in that area. The British Fyrd also have a blank spot of their die (no effect) and Fyrd flees are the equivalent of destroyed. Note that the different factions’ dice contain different combinations of icons.
Now you can start to understand a bit of the leader advantage — the Viking leader (with his multitude of troops) can drop off a soldier on an adjacent area before entering combat — it offers a retreat option when the troops get whittled down.
The Anglo-Saxons don’t start with a leader, but get one on turn 5 (Arthur). It’s a long wait. That means if a force blitzkriegs across an empty area, the leaderless Anglo-Saxons can’t drop off a retreat option. Quite often, I found my troops in a do-or die spot.
Also, one soldier stops an army movement in that area. That can channel British movements and attacks.
As you can see from the photos, the map is an area one, so you have to pay attention to the shapes and connections of shires (areas).
Dennis ShortAxe stormed through the midlands of merry ol’ Britannia on Turn 1, capturing three cities.
He dropped off a soldier here and there to create retreat options. It diminished his strike force a bit, but not by much. Us Britons were spread out. We got reinforcements — how many and what type depended on the village. Some villages don’t generate any troops while one offered two huscarls and one thegn. Most generated one or one of each type.
Dennis drew the Viking Reinforcement card, which beefed up his existing force, but deprived him of a new leader. That was a stroke of luck for me. He spread out across the middle of Brittania, but my counterattacks secured most of what I wanted. I played somewhat conservatively, as the Vikings still held the initiative and a mass of troops.
Dennis drew the leader Bjorn and his army. I played one of my benefits cards called Saxon Navy, which secures six coastlines against Viking landings. I chose the six from Kent northward, forcing Bjorn to land in the midlands or northlands. This put a crimp on Dennis’ plan, but it was a smart move because the southlands were too weakly held and had too many villages adjacent to each other. Many could fall, but the Saxon Navy delayed any landing for this one turn.
So Bjorn landed in the midlands and captured Lincoln while the initial leader worked in tandem to spread Viking soldiers in non-village areas. I guess he wanted to build a wall.
Dennis’ other attack was in the north and he took out the two villages on the Scottish border. They’re almost impossible to retake, although unless properly garrisoned, would fall to one of those cards that remove up to two enemy soldiers and replace them with friendly soldiers.
Dennis’ plan to seal off the middle and make the north a Viking stronghold worked. My big counterattack against Lincoln failed.
Dennis drew Ivar the Boneless as a leader and I had no Saxon Navy to protect the coasts. But I had a Danegeld card that caused an automatic one Berzerker (red soldier) or two Norseman (black soldiers) loss at the beginning of each Viking attack. Ivar stormed ashore and took North and South Suffolk and their respective villages and consolidated the middle and north. He was successful, but it cost him, mostly from the card effects but also from some nifty die rolling. It also dissuaded him from other attacks.
My Thegns went last in the turn and I had a special card that said all Thegn flee results become hit results. I played that card along with a three-army attack that targeted all three of his leaders in three separate areas.
I also played a card that switched North Suffolk from Viking controlled into one of my areas. Why? To deprive Ivar any chance of retreat. I wanted to destroy that army before it did any more conquering and I was willing to empty London to do it.
For once, it all went like clockwork. I pounded the Vikings in Suffolk to turn Ivar the Boneless into Ivar the Lifeless. I hammered Bjorn into Bgone and placed his army under six feet of earth. I took out the first leader, too, but since I can’t remember his name, I can’t create a pun. I’m sure you’re grateful for the reprieve.
Note that card play had a significant impact on the game. You have to pick your moment. If you fritter them away as soon as you get them, their impact will be small. If you adapt them to a strategy, you’ll get more decisive use from them.
Although I had depleted much of my army onboard, I had also crippled the Viking force. They only held four villages, and although the next Viking leader would come ashore on Turn 5 along with returning Norsemen from the flee box, I would get Arthur and his special reinforcements, plus the usual band of reinforcements. With reasonable rolls, I’d chip away at the new invaders before they did too much harm.
Dennis saw the runes on the wall and sheathed his warsword.
About the Author
Russ 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.