As the nights start drawing in, what could be better than getting together with a few friends and playing some board games? Let’s take a look at some of the better titles available, with a Viking theme of course.
A quick internet search brings up close to 200 tabletop games with a Viking theme. That’s rather a lot! Some of these are simply a standard game with a Viking wash, while others try hard to include Norse mythology and Viking history in a fun and enjoyable way.
If you’re not up to speed with the modern board game revival, you might have memories of endless games of Monopoly, leading to family arguments and hurt feelings. I can’t guarantee the games in this list will completely avoid drama! Even in co-operative games there’s room for arguments if players don’t do what’s best for the team!
It’s always impossible to really say which games are “best”. Different players like to get different things from a game. I’ve tried to provide a wide variety of games here, each using different mechanics and with different goals and gameplay styles so hopefully there’s something for everyone.
As you’ll know if you read through my article on Viking games, our fearless Norse warriors loved to play tabletop or Tafl games. Hnefatafl was the main variant that the Vikings would have played so it rightfully deserves prime position on this list.
Even better, you don’t actually need to buy anything to play the game. It’s a simple strategy game played on an 11×11 grid with 3 types of counters: 24 Attackers, 12 Defenders and a King. You can draw a grid on a piece of paper and use anything you have to hand as counters!
At the start of the game you have a King on his throne in the centre of the board surrounded by 12 defenders. On each edge you have 5 attackers and then a 6th in the middle of the next row for a total of 24. Pieces can move any number of squares up/down or side to side but not diagonally – like the rook in chess.
The Attackers’ job is to capture the King. Defenders have to protect the King and give it safe passage to a corner square. You capture your opponent’s pieces by sandwiching them between two of your own. To capture the King, Attackers you have to surround him.
That’s pretty much all there is to it. But, like with chess, the simplicity of the rules is only the start!
Risk: The Conquest of Europe
Risk is one of the most popular and well-known strategy games of all time. Even people who have never played it, of which I guess there must still be some, have heard of it. Like Monopoly, the makers are constantly seeking to add new life into the idea. But unlike Monopoly where there’s rarely anything more than a new name for the same old properties, with Risk, each new version actually mixes things up a lot more.
As you might expect, this version focuses on Northern Europe. Rather than the traditional world map, we have the British Isles, Scandinavia and France. Each country is divided into several areas, roughly corresponding to the old Medieval Kingdoms.
I won’t delve into too much detail. If you’ve played Risk, it’ll all be very familiar and if you haven’t then you might be better off starting with one of the other games. All I will say is that the way the game is changed brings a new and interesting spin, including Cards of the Gods which can change things up dramatically either in your favour or to your cost!
Fire & Axe: A Viking Saga
Originally titled Viking Fury, in Fire & Axe you’re vying for glory across three epic sagas. Will you choose to trade, raid or settle? Or maybe go for the authentic Viking experience and do a mixture of all three?
The game initially looks a little bit like Risk – there’s a ‘world map’ and you move around conquering territories and hopefully surviving on the open seas. You start in the ‘Wintering Zone’ where you can load your ship up with goods, warriors or a both. Then you set sail, trying to achieve the objectives on your Saga card.
The gameplay can take a couple of turns to get your head around but it’s actually quite straightforward. Suitable for ages over 12, it can accommodate 2-5 players but honestly it’s a game that’s better with more people. 2 players will probably be done in half an hour but for a larger group you’ll find it stretching to about 90 minutes.
There have been a number of editions since its release in 2004 and the earlier ones look much better than the later ones. Of course, these are really hard to find, and you’ll have just as much fun with the newer print. But if you do happen to see one available with the older, more vibrant and colourful map then snap it up quickly!
Named for the mythical tree that connects the nine realms of Norse mythology, Chronicles is a 2019 update of the 2011 game Yggdrasil. You take on the role of one of 6 Norse Gods attempting to defend the realms from nefarious creatures, including everyone’s favourite trickster, Loki.
It’s a co-operative game so players work together against the game rather than each other. Each character has a distinct set of strengths, weaknesses and abilities. You have to have the right characters using the right abilities at the right times to come up with a winning strategy overall.
The gameboard is a beautiful 3-level depiction of the titular Norse tree of life, updated from the previous game’s flat board. One of the best things about Yggdrasil Chronicles is that it offers numerous different game modes. There’s a base game with both Easy and Hard options or if you want to play a few times there’s a campaign mode.
Gameplay can be quite complex, but the makers have done a good job of making it as easy as possible. You have a character card which summarises everything you can do if you find yourself in each of the different zones and levels on the board. Things are nicely tied together with Runic symbols to make it simple to keep track of where you are.
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So, whether you want to grab a couple of friends for a quick game or get a group together for a whole series of games over the course of a campaign, you’ll fill up 60-90 minutes each time. You’ll want to avoid playing with children but early teens and above shouldn’t have any problems.
Vikings takes a decent dive into the day to day lives of Vikings. Over the course of six rounds you have to gather tiles to build up your personal gameboard and fill it with different types of Vikings – fishermen, goldsmiths, warriors etc – who can help expand your empire and fend off any attackers.
In terms of gameplay, this is similar to games such as Catan where you have to contend with other players for resources. There’s a little randomness thrown in with a ‘pricing wheel’ that can alter the price of tiles and characters over the course of the game. So, you have to decide whether you want to risk wasting money early on, or risk losing out if it becomes cheaper on someone else’s turn!
Vikings is pretty fast, taking 2-4 people of age 10+ around an hour to get through. The original print from 2007 is hard to get hold of but the Z-Man reprint from 2014 is widely available from all good gaming retailers. There’s no expansions to the game at time of writing so unlike some you won’t be tempted to keep paying out!
A game that always rates highly among gaming enthusiasts is Blood Rage. Ragnarök is approaching…but before you can ride gloriously into Valhalla you have to steer your clan through three ages of gameplay to pick up God’s Gift cards that will hopefully help you charge on to victory!
The gameboard is divided into 9 provinces, split into three regions – Manheim, Jotunheim and Alfheim, plus Yggdrasil as its own region in the centre. It’s a beautiful board and has a ‘Glory Track’ running from 1-100 around the edge.
Blood Rage is effectively a card-drafting/deck-building game. You play through three ages building your deck and positioning your pieces, hoping you’ll have the strength to beat your opponents and gain the most glory. There are cards that dictate different strategies – for example if you have Loki on your side, you’ll get extra points for losing!
As you’d expect from a Viking game, the only real losing strategy is to shy away from battle and the chance of a glorious death! 2-4 people of 14+ will get through a game in around 90 minutes. There’s an expansion to add a 5th player and others that add new characters, cards and monsters and help keep the gameplay fresh.
A Feast for Odin
As the name suggests, A Feast for Odin is basically about food. You have to keep your clan fed as you work to build your society. Basically, it’s Viking economics as a game. And what a game it is! Opening the box and laying everything out, you’ll see that it’s massive. It’s sumptuous and complex and yet it doesn’t take long to get your head around it.
You start with a personal gameboard representing your own Viking society. Through 6 or 7 rounds you have to feed your people and build up the strength and prestige of your empire. There’s space for ships and animals and luxury tiles that you get through trade or plunder to build up to a winning position.
If you’ve played any of the Uwe Rosenberg ‘worker placement’ type games before you’ll have a head start. Released in 2016, the game has been nominated for many ‘Game of the Year’ awards and already has a few expansions to mix the gameplay up a bit. 1-5 players of age 12+ can take anywhere between one and two hours to enjoy this fully.
Champions of Midgard
Do you reckon you have what it takes to become the Champion of Midgard? There’s only one way to find out! Earn glory and the favour of the Gods by defending an embattled harbour town from monsters, trolls and draugr. Win your battles and you gain resources but lose and you could be wiped out.
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The beautifully designed board, at first sight similar to the one in Blood Rage, is split into a number of different areas. The gameplay involves worker placement to gather resources to build armies or gain food. There’s also dice rolling to battle the invading monsters.
The game this most reminds me of is Lords of Waterdeep, so if you’ve played that then you’ll pick things up straight away. It’s not too complex to get your head around and it should be fine for anyone aged 10 and up. You can play with 2-4 but it’s definitely a better game with a full slate of players. Give yourself up to 90 minutes to get through it though this will speed up with experience!
There are a couple of main expansions for the game, adding new elements, sideboards and cards. There are also promo cards that have been made available at various points. Manufacturer Grey Fox Games introduced Reavers of Midgard in 2019, which has similar gameplay but rather than defending, the aim is to go on the attack against surrounding villages.
That’s a taste of what you can expect of some of the best rated Viking themed games. Have you played any of these? Are there any others you love that you’d recommend? Let us know in the comments.