Guest Article by Ricky Royal (Box of Delights)
We know them as the Vikings, those Scandinavian pirates who ravaged the northern seas, famously from the 8th century up until the high-middle-ages, and from North America to the west, Russia to the east, and Africa to the south.
Here in the UK we know them as raiders, responsible for the sacking of Lindisfarne, murderous marauders with horned helmets and fierce beards. But, of course, everyone now knows that this view is a false one. That these Danes, these Norsemen, these Northmen, came to seek new lands, and did indeed settle here, ultimately to become part of our ancestry and rule as Kings.
All manner of popular culture romanticises these Vikings, with tales of Ragnar Lodbrok, Eric the Red, or the most famous of all, his son Leif Eriksson. But did you know that Leif Eriksson swept onto the American shores 500 years before Christopher Columbus? I didn’t, until a recent Norwegian friend, who I have “met” through BGG and this hobby, told me so.
I’ve just finished watching the 2nd series of the History Channel’s “Vikings”, where we came closer to the truth of the adventures of that viking Ragnar and his band of raiders. It has been a fantastic series, and it whets the appetite for games set in this world of Nordic heroes and villainous English kings.
No theme is excluded from the world of hobby board games, and the Vikings are a theme most relished. As an Englishman, as an enthusiastic amateur historian, as a hobby board-gamer, there is nothing better.
But our games do not always portray them as we would like. Is it more thrilling to play them as the nefarious pirates, or as men of song, poetry, and as skilled craftsmen?
But not only do the Vikings give us their narrative as explorers, raiders and warriors, they also offer us a wonderfully rich story in the legends that are their gods and giants; in tales of Thor’s hammer, the fertility giving siblings Frey and Freya, Loki the trickster, and their most powerful, warlike, god – the one-eyed Odin.
We have games that touch all of these themes, and there is room for plenty more. So, let me give you a sample of some of my favourites, and go explore, go adventure, go vikings!
In Yggdrasil we explore the afore-mentioned gods and giants. Yggdrasil was a giant ash tree, central to Norse mythology. The game brings these gods and giants to life in stunning beauty and eligance of design, with the tree taking center stage. It can be tough, it can be unforgiving and relentless, but pulling off a win can be a solitaire or co-operative triumph.
In Asgard’s Chosen we are those explorers and settlers, seeking to control lands and dominate as a powerful king. Once more the viking mythology is well represented, with players seeking to win favour with the gods by appeasing their demands. This solitaire or competitive euro/deck-builder, a satisfying duality, has some of the most enjoyable game mechanics in one place, but there is also a duality in its presentation. The board and pieces seem bland, but the cards and theme are rich and beautiful. A wonderful under-rated game, and one I encourage you to explore.
Finally, for those who love miniatures and love the idea of commanding armies across this period of history, and coming from a gamer who avoids miniature table-top gaming as an alien and left-field experience, Saga is very approachable for a board-gamer. The rules are streamlined, the game is inexpensive, the theme is deeply immersive, and a number of really great factions are supported – alongside the Vikings are the Welsh, Normans and Anglo-Danish, and expansions offer rulesets for other favourites like the Anglo-Saxons.
I’d love to hear about some of your favourites, and if there are any Viking stories you would love to see get a representation in board-game format, so do share!
Rick, Box of Delights
This article was previously posted on BoardGameGeek.com.
Images taken from BoardGameGeek.com
“I would love to see a game that covered this period, in an epic way, something like Twilight Imperium but with the kingdoms of what would become England instead of the races. Not just a simple re-theme, but something that manages to convey just how turbulent this period was and how important it was in our (English) history. It would be great to take control of the Kingdom of Northumbria and see if I could do a better job than Alfred and the Kindgom of Wessex…” Brian Hunt, Angry Imp Games
“I find this story about Orm the Viking interesting… On one of his excursions to Scotland, the Scots were better prepared and came out upon the sea to give battle. The Scots were getting the best of the fight when the old Viking called his crew together, together, asked them to fight harder, and promised to make that particular one the ruler of captured territory who should be the first to set foot on Scottish soil. During the fight which ensued Young Orm had his leg severed just above the knee by the broad sword of the Scots. He tied it up. The Viking won, and as they neared the Scottish soil Young Orm suddenly arose, picked up his severed leg and threw it overboard onto the land and claimed the reward as being the first to put his foot on Scottish soil. He finally recovered from his wound and the Viking kept his word making Young Orm the ruler of the captured territory.” Martin Swift.