Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de



Martin Otzmann, Mario Arhur

Tetrahedron Games

No. of Players:



G@mebox author Lutz Wildt writes about the game:

I'm sure a lot of you are familiar with that. You spend a convivial evening with a few friends, and for some unknown reason it gets later than you planned. The next morning you wake up with a big hangover, and you don't remember all details of the night before. In most cases this won't be a problem. The next day your friends will tell you the one ore other harmless story of the evening, and everything else will be as usual. At least that are my experiences. Not that such situations occur frequently (after all, I am not 20 any more, married and have three children). However, if we turn back the clock, the results of a convivial evening can change considerably.

So, let's imagine that this cosy evening is an overflowing celebration of the Vikings. All of them childless and unmarried, mid-20s! In this case the drinking vessel with the honey wine would have been definitely emptied too often in one sip. As a result, your awakening would have been like that: A squirrel appears and tells you the one or other story of the past day (that's still comparable to our days). But this time the consequences are, how can I say it, more serious! As a result of your drinking you might have felled the holy tree, and thus lost the favour of the gods. So, the way to Valhalla is blocked for you! How you still would have got back the favour of the gods, we can learn in the game Valhal from the young German publisher TETRAHEDRON GAMES.

In this 2 - 4 player game each player takes on the role of a Viking Jarl who directs the destiny of his village on the island of Fjörnheim. The aim of the game is to win back the favour of the gods by looting villages and towns on the mainland. At the start the village of each jarl is already equipped with all the necessary buildings to promote plundering. There is a shipbuilder, a training place for Nordic warriors, a sacrificial site and a nave. That's already enough to make your way to the mainland. But there are also building sites for other, more sophisticated types of buildings. These include the dry kiln, the smithy and the storehouse. By erecting these buildings, you gain advantages during the course of the game in supplying the inhabitants, training warriors, constructing buildings and ships.

The whole thing only works, of course, if there is enough food for the villagers throughout a year. And a year in the far north of Valhal consists of three seasons. Summer, winter and spring. Winter in Fjörnheim is so hard that it includes the autumn. A Chuck Norris winter, so to speak. For this reason, winter must also be particularly well provided for. This means that you, as the Jarl, must collect twice as much food as in the other two seasons to feed your people. Food is of particular importance in this context, as the building and manufacturing functions of the village's institutions only will be available if enough food is available in the respective season. This is where another decisive element comes into play: players can't just erect a building if they haven't the matching resources to do so. Moreover, constructing a building and training warriors takes several rounds (and therefore several seasons). A precise planning of the use of your resources is therefore crucial. For each development a resource such as money or development tokens must be available on the respective building as well as food on the assigned food field. In this context, it should be noted that the almost sole source for income (plundering) is only available in the summer season.

Of course, plundering is not really politically correct in our days. For the old Vikings, however, it seemed to be part of their normal livelihood. Therefore, we take a closer look at the course of the summer game of Valhal. On the mainland, depending on the number of players, there are more or less villages and cities with various defences and different treasures to plunder. A roll of the dice decides which player is the first to choose a target for his looting of the round. The player then decides which of his armies he sends for the plundering. To do so he simply assigns Viking units to his available long boats. Each boat can load two units. After that each of the remaining players repeat this step clockwise. After all players have selected their targets (it is also possible to attack several targets if the army of the Jarl is big enough) the attack on the respective town or village is fought by rolling the dice.

I have to admit that this fighting mechanism with a lot of dice rolls suits my taste, but I had to learn that it is a bit difficult to teach to new players. Besides it has not met with approval by all of my test players. But it is actually not difficult to learn. First the strength of the city map is determined, then the strength of the attacking units. The number of battle dice according to the town cards and the Viking units is then rolled, all battle points are added up for the attacker and defender, and the difference between the two values is subtracted from the strength points of the loser. This is repeated until either the city is defeated, the attacker is destroyed, or the attacker retreats. In case of victory, the attacker receives the treasures shown on the town card. These treasures may be lesser, large or greater loot. Of course, in this case the Jarl also receives fame, which again can be exchanged for the favour of the gods during the course of the game. Loot cards can also be used to grab more resources, and if you are lucky, they will also let the Jarl rise in the favour of the gods directly.

If, however, your Jarl hasn't successfully completed his conquest, he most certainly will loose warriors and ships, but worse still, he won't get the resources he desperately needs to develop his settlement in the coming seasons. As said, in summer, as in the other two seasons, the resources can be used to build helpful buildings and necessary ships. And the training of warriors also takes place with the need of resources. However, sacrifice also gives you the oportunity to draw a favour from the god card, which in most cases gives a player an advantage. In addition to that, sacrifices to the gods require resources, too. All this actions will be quite difficult to carry out, if you have failed plunder. The only other way to get new resources outside the summer is to hope for the right result of an event card that is drawn at each change of season. However, you cannot really bet on a positive event. To the contrary you must hope not to lose your last money.

As already mentioned, the goal of Valhal is to be the first Jarl to win back the favour of the gods. On the one hand this favour can be obtained through the large or greater loot cards. Another way is to expand your sacrificial altar: then you can exchange your fame won in battle for the favour of the gods. 7 glory points let a player rise one level on the favour bar. And the first Jarl to reach level 7 wins the game. A last possibility to win back favour of the gods are the 7 achievements in the game. One example for that is the first player who captured 8 coins. As a result of an achievement you will get the matching token and increase a level on the favour of the gods bar.

At the start of Valhal you can't imagine how to climb a level on the favour of the gods bar at all. Everything seems to be extremely painstaking and different. But after the development of Fjörnheim the possibilities of a Jarl increase, so that you have more options to survive in battle and to rise in other ways in the favour of the gods. Then the game gains pace and the players see their armies and their power rise. For most part of the game, this is quite entertaining. However, I have to note that in the various test game rounds, there have been rule ambiguities and problems in the balance of the game from time to time. Especially if a player doesn't get enough resources in the early stages of the game due to a failed plunder, it is almost impossible to get back in touch with the other Jarls. Overall, the dependency on luck in Valhal is very high which can be frustrating, if you are the unlucky one. This depending on luck concerns the combat situations, but also the drawing of new cards. This makes it very difficult to implement strategic plans for your development and target achievements.

On the other hand, I think that the basic game idea with the many game details is fairly good. Also, the realization of the graphical art as well as the whole game material is really well done. In this context, I must particularly emphasize the interesting and detailed text on the various playing cards. A lot of effort was put in to immerse the player in the Viking theme. I think that the game fun will still increase considerably in consequence of just some smaller rule variations that slightly reduce the luck factor and balance the game.

I am curious to see whether any changes or additions will come in this respect. Until then I will try not to cut down a holy tree. I am now aware of where this can lead...

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