Kickstarter is changing the way gamers purchase games and altering the expectations of what is an acceptable level of quality and content in a game. Lucky Duck Games’ recently published Kickstarter release is at the forefront of this sea change. In this review, we’ll explore what that means for Kickstarter fans and those who are used to more traditional publishing models. In addition, the review will cover what this title offers having borrowed its theme from the mobile app (similar to Clash of Clans) of the same name.
Vikings Gone Wild is a deck building game for 2-4 players that takes about 20 minutes per player to play. It plays best with 3 or 4 players.
Vikings Gone Wild is a game that straddles two deck building design paradigms. The “river” based deck builders similar to Ascension are present, as well as the static card pile deck builders akin to Dominion. With this combination, Vikings Gone Wild adds the additional concept of “attacking” and “defending” as a victory point mechanism.
Players can play cards to acquire two main resources in the game: gold and beer. These resources allow players to buy the four primary card types in the game: buildings, attacking units, defending units, and river cards.
Building cards are purchased and remain in play while all the other types go into a player’s deck. Building cards represent permanent reusable actions in the game such as storing cards between turns or storing gold or beer. Players will be unable to purchase a large number of these cards unless they upgrade their Town Hall, a starter building that defines how many buildings they can own.
Attacking and Defending cards are played to damage or defend buildings. Players will normally want to purchase defense cards before buying too many buildings as defense cards are played on opponent’s turns and generate victory points for successfully mounting a defense of buildings. However, successful attacks also generate victory points for the attacker and do not destroy the defender’s buildings. This creates a tense balance. Defense cards in hand without an opponent attacking just take up space without adding value.
Finally, River cards occupy a variety of roles. They can aid in attack or defense. There are some that generate bonus beer or gold. These are the most random and situational cards in the game.
Overall, the main goal of the game is to acquire victory points, the amount depending on the number of players. Besides Attacking and Defending, points can also be gained from completing Mission cards kept on a player’s mat. These typically require the purchase of cards or making attacks. They also auto-refresh, so players will always have objectives if they’re interested in following them.
Once a player reaches the victory point goal, the round is finished and end-game scoring cards are also evaluated. There are a variety of these and they award 6 bonus victory points to the player who has the most of the comparative game component it scores. For example, having the most beer or the most of one type of unit could be two comparisons in the game.
One of the publishing strategies that immediately redefined mobile app gaming was the concept of in-app purchases. The idea here is that players would receive a basic playable game for low cost or free, but in order to enhance the game, speed up game actions, or to unlock new areas of the game, additional money would need to be spent.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the tabletop experience of Vikings Gone Wild. The main question is the perceived value of what comes in the version received by gamers. For some Kickstarter backers, this may be a tremendous amount of content due to the Kickstarter components and extra exclusive cards. For the retail version, the box offers little more than a couple of plays before new experiences are demanded. The game offers, at best, minor replay value and so the vast empty space in the box just pushes players in the direction of their store of choice for expansion purchases.
As a customer, this reviewer thinks this tactic isn’t necessarily shady, but it has the feeling of a carnival hawker trying to upsell a customer. Showing a solid amount of content in the core box would be much more appreciated for a first release. The expansions include some great content, and feel like they would be an immediate purchase just to extend the game’s life.
But assuming gamers understand the purchase model and are prepared for that, the question then becomes, is the system itself good? The answer here is mixed.
First, the building cards offer something uncommon in other deck builders: the chance for permanent effects from purchasable cards. This brings some interesting strategy around purchases, especially due to the Town Hall’s building limit.
Another aspect of play that offers a wealth of strategy is the balance of attack and defense cards purchased. Players who go attack heavy can rack up a lot of victory points, but only if there are buildings to attack. Since a player can only attack one other player on their turn, they’re limited to the amount their opponents have expanded. It’s rare to see a game with this duality. Although this makes for a tight point scoring experience, it also seems like a speed limiter placed on an engine.
Couple this with the defense cards which are also a viable purchase for point generation. Players will only score points from these when another player attacks them. This continues the thread of the requirement of opponents to drive a strategy in order to succeed.
The result of the above two mechanisms and the comparative end game victory point cards is that core box games feel very much the same from play to play. Decks end up being balanced across attack and defense or every player takes a similar strategy. There is only a modicum of imaginative, creative strategic choice even with the wealth of cards to choose from. When expansions are added in, the game opens up to a more broad system that rewards finding interesting combinations.
What the core box lacks in strategic depth it makes up for in “fun” choices coupled with theme. “Vikings Gone Wild” branded beer and pretzels could be another expansion for this title because they feel necessary to embody the theme contained herein. The lightness of the experience enhances the fun only to the degree that smack-talk and braggadocio are allowed at the table. Even though buildings are never permanently destroyed, having a deck that occasionally can pump out 15 points from successful attacks is indeed entertaining. Rubbing that in your opponent’s face feels worthwhile, for a Viking anyway.
Ultimately, the value inherent in a game is where the real review lies. Overall, there is less value in Vikings Gone Wild unless players are huge fans of the theme, light play style, or the original mobile app. Without expansion content (in other words, in-app purchase), there are more rewarding deck builders to play.
Publishers can take many lessons from the experience of Vikings Gone Wild. The concept of the game sounds good on paper. The mechanisms have high interactive qualities. Unfortunately, when these are coupled with a publishing strategy that requires additional purchases, the result is at best an average experience. Other deck builders demonstrate more content on initial plays. With expansions, the game shines. However, for the core box price point, Vikings Gone Wild is underwhelming.
Final Score: 2.5 Stars – A decent system, but is only repeatedly enjoyable when coupled with expansions.
• Shallow strategic depth
• Overly balanced gameplay
• Requires expansions for replay value