Full disclosure: A review copy of Valley of the Vikings was provided by HABA.
More HABA! I think we’re moving out of the yellow box HABA games and into the Game Night Approved line. My schedule at least suggests Karuba: The Card Game and Miyabi are going to make an appearance in the near future, since we already covered Dragon’s Breath last week. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned about schedules (especially ones made at 1AM), it’s that they’re always subject to change. Well, let’s lock down this post and see what Valley of the Vikings has to offer.
In Valley of the Vikings, it’s time for the … I’m reading the rulebook, annual bowling competition. A famously Viking tradition, yes. Either way, you’re going to knock the ball around to topple various barrels and move ever perilously toward the end of the dock. If you’re brave enough to face it, you may be able to stop before you tumble into the water. Otherwise, well, your opponents will gain at your expense (in more ways than one). Will you be able to bowl them over with your dexterity? Or will you find yourself all washed up?
Setup is surprisingly simple, after you’ve punched and built everything. Assemble the board:
You’ll need to randomly place the barrels in the four marked locations in the center:
Additionally, shuffle the flags and place one in each flag-shaped hole at the top:
The player tokens just go to the left of the dock. Use all of them, even if you’re not playing with four players. Set the bat and ball nearby:
And set out all player ships, even for players not in play, as well.
Place one coin in each, and make a supply for the remainder:
Once you’ve done that, you should be good to start! Choose a player to go first.
So, Valley of the Vikings is a game of dexterity. Every turn, you’re going to hit the ball with the bat to knock over some barrels, forcing that player to advance towards the end of the pier. Should they move off the edge, splash! They’re in the water and all other players score. That happens until the money runs out, and then the player with the most money wins!
On your turn, wind up and hit the ball with the bat from your corner of the board. When you do, it should move towards the center and hit at least one barrel. If you miss, you can re-tee and try again. Once you’ve knocked over at least one barrel, those player tokens move. Each space on the board may only be occupied by one player token, so player tokens skip over any occupied spaces. If you knock over multiple barrels, you choose the order in which the players move. That can be exciting; see Strategy for more thoughts on why that matters.
At any point, if a player needs to move ahead and there are no more unoccupied spaces, they go off the edge of the pier! Straight into the water, as you do. While they’re drying off back at the start of the pier, the other players score for the flags above the space they’re on:
- Coin space: Gain that many coins into your ship. Start with the player closest to the edge of the pier and work backwards.
- Another Viking’s flag: Steal one coin from that Viking and add it to your ship.
- Your Viking’s flag: Steal one coin from every other Viking and add it your ship. That’s fun.
Again, note that you still perform these actions for Vikings that aren’t in play. That should worry you. Once you’ve done that, you replace the barrels anywhere in the center that you want before the next player starts their turn. Don’t move any barrels that weren’t knocked over.
The game ends immediately when the last coin is taken from the supply. The ship with the most coins wins! Note that that means that it’s possible for no player to win. If so, better luck next time!
Player Count Differences
There aren’t really any, since you always play with all players active. The one thing to note is that the out-of-play players don’t actually hit on their turn; they just move and are affected by your shenanigans. It means you’re dealing with the agency of the other player trying to use them as a cudgel against you at lower player counts, and dealing with the threat of higher entropy / barrel shenanigans at higher player counts. Either way, it’s an extremely silly experience, so I’m not opposed to either. I do really like the way it plays out at two, since you would want to place the NPC on the four-coin space to block your opponent taking it, but if you do that too many times, the game’s going to end and you’ll both lose! It adds in some interesting strategy around the blocking, which I’m greatly amused by. At any player count, though, I think you’re going to have a blast with it, and I don’t have a huge player count recommendation beyond a slight preference for two players.
Asking for strategy tips for a Viking bowling-themed game is a dangerous game all its own. There’s only so much I can tell you beyond “hit the ball well in the places you want the ball to go”, but I’ll do my best. I just wanted to start by clearing the air with that one. For full disclosure.
- Keep in mind that the player to your left hits next. This should impact your decision about where to place your barrels at the end of your turn. Usually, if I want them to move an opponent around, I place the barrel I want hit most as close to them as possible. Sometimes they can hit around it, if they’re skilled, but I haven’t seen it happen much. I wonder if there are trick shots in this game? Would love to find out.
- The ordering of player movement matters a lot. Use it to your advantage. You can move people into place such that you can skip four spaces ahead if you really want to. The major advantage of this is that you can often catapult people off the edge of the pier if other players are lined up properly, which can be awesome for you and soaking wet for them. You can also use this to move people out of spots you want to claim before you claim them. Just make sure you hit the right barrels when it’s your turn so you have the option.
- You don’t have to and shouldn’t knock every barrel over every time. This can make the game move in a way that’s not terribly strategic, so, don’t do that. Messing with the ordering can be good, but there’s often valid strategy to not moving yourself (you’re on a high-value space, for instance). Plus, you don’t want to force yourself off the pier.
- If you are going to force yourself off the pier, take someone with you. Send them over first and then immediately follow after. Neither of you score, but at least it’s not just you not scoring, which is nice.
- Don’t let the NPCs sit in the valuable spots. Remember, you can lose the game to them, and that’s deeply embarrassing for experienced players. You want to move them to the spots where they steal from your opponent(s) or from each other. Either one is funny, honestly.
- Landing on your own space rules. It allows you to take a coin from everyone, which is really helpful. It’s essentially a major swing in coins, if you play it right, since you’re hitting all other players at the same time. Try to make sure you either get that or the four coin space at least once during the game, if you want to have a shot at winning, in my opinion. I imagine you can win the game without doing that, but it’s going to be expensive, time-wise.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I mean, it’s a pseudo-Viking tabletop bowling game. I feel like this could be both the entire Pros section and the whole review. When, in any universe, would I not like this game? I don’t really feel like that would be on brand for me at all. I pretty much loved it the first time I played it.
- Pretty fast setup. You really need to be able to solve a 7-piece puzzle, but, I believe in you.
- I have a very soft spot for dexterity games. If you haven’t guessed by now. I cover a lot, I think they’re all very good fun and extremely silly, and I’m very into both. Plus, I feel like it helps cement my image as a Serious Gamer when I just kind of smack penguins or do Viking Bowling or attempt to build Stonehenge while managing a wrecking ball.
- The actual strategy of which barrels to try and knock over elevates the game to a very good spot, in my opinion. If it were just Viking bowling, that would already be a blast for me, but having to decide if I want to try and push a player towards the edge of the pier or try to move myself so that I can insulate myself against later players attempting to knock out my barrel is a surprising amount of decision for a game that appears to be as simple as it is. The best part is that it doesn’t super matter unless you’re trying to play to win. If you’re just here to have fun, slap the ball and see what happens. That will be enough for a lot of players, as well, which is great.
- Seems like it could be expanded with additional flags that you could swap out or some conditions that affect how you hit the ball. I would love an expansion for this that adds things like obstacles or different barrel placement spots or like, conditions like you can only hit the ball with your off-hand or something to spice up the dexterity element. It’s pretty simple right now, which I definitely don’t mind, but more complicated dexterity games are also extremely up my alley, so I have to at least petition for it. Though at a certain point if a dexterity game becomes too complicated it becomes sports.
- Very forgiving gameplay makes this great for gamers who aren’t quite as dexterous. I appreciate that if you miss, you don’t lose your turn. Not every game is quite as forgiving in that area, which is a nice relief. Plus, it’s not always easy to tell where the ball is going to go when you hit it, so, it is good to have multiple shots if you miss.
- An insert might help manage the stressful situation that is the box. It can be tough to put away. Not impossible! Just difficult.
- I’m conflicted. On one hand, losing to the game is hilarious. On the other, it feels a bit cruel for a kids game, which is also kind of funny. Maybe I’m a monster. But you can lose to the game if things go poorly enough and the out-of-play Vikings get more gold than any of the other players, which is kind of surprising for a game for kids. I think it’s funny; your kids may not. Be aware of this before you play, I guess?
- It would be nice to have some barriers around the play area to avoid launching the ball into low-Earth orbit. People can smack that ball with a ridiculous amount of force. That’s not good! It just kind of keeps going, which is also extremely bad. I usually ask someone to keep their hands on the other side, just in case, like Stonehenge and the Sun.
- A surprisingly labor-intensive first-time setup for a game targeted at kids. There’s a lot of cardboard involved in building the boats. I was pretty surprised, and I wouldn’t necessarily say in the most positive way. It happens, but, yikes, there are a lot of pieces to it. Just be prepared, if you buy this for any Upcoming Seasonal Holiday, it may benefit you to go through the box and do the initial unpacking so it can be played straight away. It’s trivial to set up once you’ve done the initial work, in my opinion. It’s just helpful if you can get it to the table right away. It’s kind of like a video game console; if you get one for someone as a gift, generally open it up and connect it to the internet so it can get all the relevant game patches.
- It’s not … I mean, Vikings didn’t traditionally look like that. I’m all for fun, but I have a friend who’s very steeped in this sort of thing and the representation being inaccurate was a real bummer for her. I understand adhering to a simplified representation to make the game simpler for younger players, but, there’s no real reason this had to be a Viking-themed game; Animal Upon Animal doesn’t really have a logical and consistent theme to it either. It might have been worth using a different theme.
Overall: 8.75 / 10
Overall, I think Valley of the Vikings is an absolute blast! It’s easily one of my favorite games of this type that’s come out this year (people keep telling me 2019 was a drag for games, but I’ve given out a lot of high scores this year while my average score has been slowly dropping, which I track). I think it does the exact thing a good “kid’s game” is supposed to do, which is offer something fun for younger players while still being appealing to older players. The older players get the strategic component of it, which is a simple-in-theory movement puzzle that works really well if you’re the only person messing with it, but once you start to involve other players starts to get exactly as silly and hard to track as a good dexterity game should be. It’s sort of weird how much initial setup there needs to be, given this game’s target audience, but if you can successfully power through it I think you’ll end up with a super good time, pretty much every time you play. I’ve actually had a blast with this one, and I’m definitely going to see it pop on my 30 x 10 before the year’s over. Only two more plays? It’s a shoe-in. Actually, I need to review that before the year ends and see what trouble I can get into. Either way, Valley of the Vikings is a game I’ve really enjoyed, and if you’re looking for a game the whole family can get into, or you’re not worried about a ball flying off into the night inside of your home, you’ll probably have a great time with it, too!