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878 Vikings: Invasions of England is as a descriptive game title as you could ever wish for.  However, it is not until you play the game tha...

878 Vikings: Invasions of England by Academy Games 878 Vikings: Invasions of England by Academy Games

878 Vikings: Invasions of England by Academy Games

878 Vikings: Invasions of England by Academy Games


878 Vikings: Invasions of England is as a descriptive game title as you could ever wish for.  However, it is not until you play the game that you appreciate the weight that those ‘s’s are lifting.  Yes, there are lots of Vikings, and yes they’ll be lots of Invasions, on most turns as it turns out. 


Incongruously the rule book states that it is the year 865 however there aren’t many people who could split such small hairs or understand the nuance between the years 865 and 878.  I am not one of them despite regularly falling asleep to the British History Podcast (BHP) which covered this period for me about 3 months ago.  (I’ve got quite a backlog).



However let’s get back to the game, which is a team-based game for 2 to 4 players.  One side takes on the two factions of the Angles (thank you BHP): the Housecarls and the Thegn. The other team takes over the Viking Norsemen and Viking Berserkers.  The game plays out over at most 7 rounds or until the conditions are overwhelmingly in favour of one team.


Gameplay


This game reminds me of a simple COIN game; there are asymmetric faction powers and the play order changes each turn and it is a (wait for it) … card-driven game.  Feel free to disagree with me. One of the simplest aspects of this game is how the turn order is decided – by drafting faction-coloured cubes out of a bag.  Unlike most variable turn order games, this is not predetermined completely at the start of the turn but revealed as the first phase of the next players turn.  This is such a simple design choice but adds a delicious amount of tension (and involvement) from the very beginning and it only ramps up throughout the game. If the ‘English’ defenders go first then their opportunity to react to the Viking invasion is stymied.  If the Vikings go first they can deny the English important reinforcements later on. A double whammy of both team factions going before their opponents can be an opportunity for either side.


On their turn each faction will receive Reinforcements, activate their Leaders (this is mostly for the Vikings as the English don’t get a Leader until the 5th Round), Move their armies, Fight in regions where there are both enemy and friendly troops and then draws cards back up to 3 cards. Each player completes that sequence until either the end of the 7th Round, Treaty cards or overwhelming force end the game.  Both treaty and overwhelming force require a certain amount of control markers to determine if the English or Viking team won.


The first Viking Reinforcement phase lands the Great Heathen Army (i.e. the Vikings) into Englaland. And you might be forgiven for thinking that there would be no way the defending factions (normally one or two defenders in a region), could deal with the invading horde of 17 Norsemen and 8 Berserkers during the first turn.  However, it always seemed to be quite finely balanced by the end of each round despite the Vikings having a seemingly overwhelming force.  The wise Viking player will not spread themselves too thin; there is a strong desire to rampage and pillage with their superior forces but they are quickly whittled down.  A good Viking player should prepare and plan for significant reinforcements in later turns.



The core of the gameplay is driven by the cards played by the active faction, which will either be an event card or a movement card.  The movement cards dictate how many armies and how far they can move.  Movement is a simple affair, there is no unit drop off or pick up, and armies must stop when in a region with the enemy.


The battle phase is streamlined and quick to grasp and another area where this game shines with its design choices.  Each faction is colour coded and has its own battle dice.  The controlling player will roll as many dice as they have units available in the battle.  The berserkers are the strongest faction but also the most fragile.  The Norsemen and Housecarl are equivalent and the Thegn are a bit battle shy.  Any time a battle occurs in a region containing a city then the Fyrd are raised which are basically cannon fodder and play an important role in protecting the stronger Housecarl and Thegn from absorbing too many hits early on.



The use of colour to differentiate the battle dice and different factions really help to streamline the battle phase and it can be taught and grasped in a few minutes.  The simple and quick playing battles present a real ebb and flow that you can see across the board as the Vikings invade and are pushed back, a little less, each turn. The event cards may add a little wrinkle here and there to the overall flow of the game but all their game-changing rules are clearly presented on the cards themselves.  


The active faction player is allowed to ‘command’ the pieces of their teammate and move them and battle with them freely.  However, any decisions where to apply the hits and, I would argue where to move them, should be freely discussed and agreed upon within your team.  It is this discussion space with your other team member that allows this fast-paced game to breathe and enhances the overall experience. I have played it with 2 players (with my son) and with 4.  Despite my son enjoying the game and asking to play it again, I am a bit disappointed that he has not experienced it with 4 players yet.  When lockdown eases hopefully I can remedy that situation.

Components

This review was written with the recently published second edition of the game.  The artwork across the cards and throughout the game is lovely.  I am also a sucker for maps, especially ones of England, and this one is beautifully uncluttered and functional. 



The rules are excellently written, and there is an abundance of examples and colours that at first glance looks confusing, but which are extremely useful when you’re reading to learn the game for the first time.  Because of its relative simplicity and presentation of the rules, I imagine returning to the game after a few months or more will be a very quick affair.


The leaders in the game come with Standees that tower above the army units.  They really serve to focus your attention, particularly for the English factions where there is a concentration of force, if it is not abundantly clear by the sea of black and red plastic surround them



My favourite part of the components has to be the Historical Overview at the back of the rulebook. I love Academy Games (and any other publisher that does) for allowing designers the space to add some context to the game they’ve designed.  There is also a line or two of flavour text on the cards themselves which is interesting to read. 

Criticisms

Academy Games have provided tiny miniatures in 15mm scale on little round bases.  Keeping these upright (and in line with my OCD tendencies) is more trouble than it’s worth.  At 15mm you can tell that they’re soldiers carrying axes and spears but beyond that, the detail is a bit lost.  The size isn’t the issue, any bigger and the map would drown in plastic, but I would have preferred simple cubes which can be easily formed into a good looking shield wall, but this is a minor complaint.



Another minor complaint is around the card art – I’ve already said that the art is lovely but I would have liked to see more unique examples of it.  Event cards with the same function and title have the same art.  Again, this is a very minor criticism and arguably it may be a design choice to keep consistency across cards that have the same effects. 


The most significant criticism I have is that the game feels quite different with just two players.  This is a shame because that is the only version my son has played. There is an added level of ‘je ne sais quoi’ with the full complement of four players.

Conclusion

I have read this game described as Risk+ but I think I would prefer the term COIN-lite. I understand the Risk+ comment but this is so much more than Risk.  If someone can handle the rules-complexity of Risk and enjoys the direct conflict in that ‘game’ then 878: Vikings can provide a much more rewarding experience in a much shorter time with marginally more rules.  I think that non-gamers suggesting a game of risk is pretty much apocryphal these days, but if you ever find yourselves in that situation, say no, go out and buy this (or any of Academy Games’ Birth of America series – 1812, 1775 or 1754) and insist that they try this instead.  However 878: Vikings is probably easier to get hold of due to the recent reprinting.


Although the rules are simple there is enough in here, especially with 4 players, to keep even the most experienced of Grognards entertained.  Even if they consider it as a simple 60-minute filler – my game of this went closer to 90 minutes plus a bit., I guarantee that they will enjoy it.  As will anyone else who has experienced any type of modern hobby games, or dare I say it again, Risk… 


With the almost constant Viking invasion forces, each turn really does feel like a battering against a meagre force of defenders that somehow seem to keep things on a knife’s edge throughout the entire game.  The game is finely balanced and seems to always come down to very small deciding factors that decide the entire game.  Being on the right side of that decision is where the best player (with wit and a small amount of luck) will find themselves.


I’d like to thank Asmodee UK for sending this review copy. You can use this link https://www.asmodee.co.uk/contentpage/find-your-game-store to find your Friendly Local Game Store; which need all the help they can get at the moment.


Designers: Beau Beckett, Dave Kimmel, Jeph Stahl
Bgg page: https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/204516/878-vikings-invasions-england
Playtime: 60 mins - 2 hours
Players: 2 - 4



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