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Valhalla review

Quick Look:

Designer: Łukasz Woźniak
Artist: Barbara Gołębiewska
Publisher: Go On Board
Year Published: 2019
No. of Players: 1-6
Ages: 13+
Playing Time: 30-60 minutes

Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com

WARNING: This is a preview of Valhalla. All components and rules are prototype and subject to change.

In Valhalla, you take on the role of Jarl trying to get his buddies into Valhalla before Ragnarok hits. Build a team, equip them with weapons, and fight like Odin's watching. You don't want to spend eternity eating tofu and watching Friends reruns with Loki, do you?

Seriously though, even if you hate battle games, hate dice, or if there's anything else that would dissuade you from checking this out, keep reading. Valhalla has a level of craftsmanship that transcends taste. Every aspect of this is beautiful.

I knew I was in for a treat as soon as I opened the package.

I can't tell for sure if the note is handwritten, but they took the time to burn the edges and spatter it with blood. That's how dedicated they are to quality. I had very high expectations for this game, and it did not disappoint.

Valhalla isn't your usual brawler. It doesn't really feel like a battle game. You are fighting, but it's not mean. The winners go to Valhalla, and the losers get to keep fighting. Being attacked isn't a bad thing, it's just another chance to send guys to Valhalla. 

The game ends when the draw deck runs out or when any player has been attacked and defeated four times. This is tracked with shield tokens. 

If you attack and win, you take one of your opponent's four shields. You don't gain a shield for a defensive victory. Either way, the winner sends their activated Warriors to Valhalla. You win by having the most points at the end. Points come from your dead Warriors, shield tokens, and a few other things depending on what modules you use.

The Polish Kickstarter campaign unlocked about thirty stretch goals. The American campaign will include all that stuff, plus a ton of new upgrades and expansions. Some of the materials in these pictures contain deluxe expansions.

Rules and Setup: < 5 min
Valhalla is quick to set up and teach. The cards feature clear iconography. The rule book is is laid out well. White symbols in the top right of expansion cards make it easy to sort out different modules.

This  has a ton of modules that will affect setup, but the core is simple.

  • Shuffle the 120 Warrior and Tactics cards.
  • Each player draws 3 Jarls, chooses one, and discards the rest. This will determine your active and passive abilities throughout the game.
  • Give each player a player board, 4 shields, and 6 dice in their chosen color.
  • Select the Points Card picturing the correct number of players, and the appropriate reference card (depends on expansions).
  • If playing with fewer than 6, discard the appropriate number of cards from the draw deck as noted on the setup chart.
  • Determine first player (default is the longest beard) then deal Warriors from the deck equal to the number of players +1. If Tactic cards are drawn, shuffle them back in and keep going. Starting with the last player, everyone chooses one of those Warriors to take into their hand. The remaining card is shuffled back into the deck.
  • Everyone draws 7 cards and discards 2. So, you have a starting hand of 6.

Basic setup looks like this:

  • Set up the Odin board and fill it with Blessing cards.
  • Get out the appropriate King of the Kill card.
  • Shuffle Thor's support cards into the draw deck.
  • Shuffle cards from the Valkyrie, Dwarves, or Fire Giant expansions into the main deck. (You can only use one at a time.)
  • Draw a Loki card.

Theme and Mechanics:

A player's turn has 2 phases.
Phase A: Take one of these 4-5 actions.

1. Play a Warrior in your hand to your player board.

2. Play 2 Warriors to your player board with a total attack value of 3 or less.

3. Attack another player. Roll 6 dice and play them on your active Warrior's weapon slots to activate them. Active warriors add their strength to the fight. Whichever side has the highest strength total wins the fight. Tactic cards can also be played to modify strength, rolls, or affect player abilities. You can discard a die to reroll as many of the others as you like. Do this as many times as you can afford. When you are done, your opponent defends by taking all those same steps to arrive at their strength total. Whoever has the highest total wins.

Their activated Warriors go to Valhalla (to the right of their player board). Losers and unactivated Warriors stay on the player boards. If the attacker won, they also take one of the Defender's shield tokens. Shields are worth points at the end of the game.

4. Draw two cards. Keep one and discard the other.

5. Gain an Odin card by paying the discard cost shown on its space on the track.

Phase B: Draw 2 cards. Keep one and discard the other.

Play passes to the left.

Dice: Each d6 has a weapon on 5 of its sides and an x on the 6th. All dice have the same sides.

Jarls: This is your team captain. His effects stay in play the whole game. There is a big stack of these with a lot of variety. They are all self-explanatory.

Warriors: These are your fighters. They have weapon symbols on the top left. Once on your board, they can be activated with dice that you roll. Many have bonus abilities when activated. This one requires two sets of the same weapon to activate (i.e. 2 spears and 2 shields). He adds 6 power to your attack and reduces the dice rolled by your opponent by 1. The triangles in the bottom left show how many points he's worth in Valhalla.

The guy below only requires a spear to activate. He adds 1 point of power, or 4 if your opponent has a red guy on their team. He is also worth 1 point in Valhalla. Some warriors are worth more.

Tactics: These cards are played during your attack action to bolster your strength or hinder your opponent. Some add strength. Others allow you to re-roll, negate your opponent's abilities, give you extra dice, or change die results.

Odin's Blessings: In this module, players have a fifth option in phase A. As your action, take one of the Blessing cards from the Odin track and slide it under your Jarl card. This grants you a new power for the rest of the game. There are 45 different permanent abilities in this deck. You can have up to three. The one on the far left is free. The middle two slots require you to discard one card. The far right card requires you to discard two.

From left to right these abilities are:
1. Place an ax die on this card to draw and play a random Warrior to your field.
2. Draw a card before battle.
3 and 4 each allow you to add 2 strength to one of your active Warriors of the corresponding color during a fight.

King of the Hill:

This is a module where the first player to win a fight becomes King of the Hill. The King card/mini is placed on the first slot of the Hill card. When a player starts their turn with the King in front of them and at least one Warrior on their board, they move him one slot up on the Hill card and gain the point bonus on that slot. The caveat is that opponents get a bonus 1-2 dice when fighting the King.

To win, you have to carefully draft fighters and skills that compliment each other so you can mitigate your rolls while keeping point values in mind. If you have four warriors that use spears, it's going to be hard to equip them all. If you can turn spears into other weapons, you probably don't want to draft Warriors that use spears. If you send ten guys to Valhalla who are all worth 1 point, you can easily lose to somebody who sent 5 guys who were each worth 3.

It's kind of odd that the winners of the battle die and the losers live. It makes it feel more like sports than war. While the theme might not fit the feel of play as snugly as some others, it is done very well. There is a lot of great thematic flavor in the modules. Valkyries modify the points you get from sending Warriors to Valhalla. Loki opposes the gods, so he provides bonuses for losing battles. Thor can intervene in other player's fights. Dwarves can be recruited to block the opponent's attacks or points. Ice Giants freeze your opponent's dice. Fire Giants are cheap powerhouses who make other Warriors run away. Odin will bless the faithful with additional permanent player abilities. With King of the Hill, these give you points, but makes you a target. Brothers in Arms allows players to team up. In the solo variant, you are trying to kill one giant monster. I have Fenrir, but I think there are going to be others.

I'm leaving out a lot of details. There is a lot to this game, but it's all modular, so you can mix in however much you want and learn it a bit at a time. Some of the expansions are incompatible or only for use with a specific player count.

The implimentation is excellent. It's easy to add in new things. Each module significantly changes the strategy without adding a lot of rules.

Game Play:
Play passes quickly. Games take more like 45-90 minutes until you get it down. The choices you make on your turn are interesting, especially if you're laying with Odin's Blessings. That's my favorite module becasue you can have up to five abilaties to help mitigate your rolls. 

My group has diverse taste. Each of us has about twenty percent overlap with two others in the group, so consensus is rare. Valhalla is one of those few that appeals to everybody. We have several players who dislike dice, direct confrontation, or card games. Everybody enjoyed this. It's easy to see why it has an 8.9 on Board Game Geek. It's not "the best game ever," but it's fun, and so solid that just about anybody can enjoy it. It's fighting where nobody gets mad. It's an engaging strategy without analysis paralysis (AP). It's as big or as simple as you want it to be. Plus, it plays 1-6, so it's always an option.

Artwork and Components:

I don't have finalized components for the American release. These comments are on the Polish first edition and prototype materials.

The artwork is beautiful. The components are all excellent quality. The only negative thing I can say is that the base-game cards are of a lower quality than some of the expansion cards. They're not bad by any means, but the expansion stuff has linen finish and generally feel like they could take a lot more abuse without wearing out. I assume one of the stretch goals in the American campaign will be linen on all cards.

The dice, art, playmat, player boards, card art, and King mini are all fantastic. The King mini is add-on bling, but totally worth whatever they're charging. There is a King Card that can be used in his place, but look at this guy.

The box and insert are also top-notch. It fits everything--including the player mat--really well, and even has some room for future expansions.

The Good:
  • Basically, everything.
  • Every mechanic is very well thought out.
  • Play flows smooth and fast.
  • Crowd pleaser.
  • Plays 1-6.
  • Oodles of Modules that add variety to the gameplay without adding a bunch of rules.
  • Gorgeous art.
  • High-quality components.
  • Clear iconography
The Bad:
Cards could be a tiny bit better quality, but probably will be in 2nd edition.

The Relative:
It doesn't feel like a big, bloody battle. Plays more Euro than Ameritrash; I don't think that's a bad thing, but I know there will be a few people who play this and say, "This isn't Blood Rage!"

Final Thoughts:

Definitely consider backing this one. It's a keeper.

A few months ago I played another dice-placement battle game that felt like mean Yahtzee. It was like having children beating on us with sacks of nectarines, in that kids are too small to hurt you, but it's annoying and degrading, and I don't really want to do that again.

If I were teaching a game design class, I'd have them play that on day one and Valhalla on day two. I can't think of a better way to convey how important the implementation of a mechanic is to the gameplay experience. That other game was a slog. Every round you try to do something, but the dice say no. Getting an engine going in that game was grueling. At the end everybody was in a bad mood.

On the other hand, Valhalla is a strategy game. You feel like you can do stuff. Sometimes the dice are going to be hateful, but you generally feel in control. You have options. Most importantly, it's fun.   

For Players Who Like:
  • Dice mitigation
  • Point-driven games with a combat theme
  • Variable player powers
  • Modular gameplay
  • Card drafting
  • Hand management
  • Set collection
  • Take-that mechanics
  • Lots of card variety

Check out Valhalla on:

    https://www.facebook.com/valhalla.thegame/     https://www.instagram.com/valhalla.thegame/   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R2iiQSnQh4o 

Coming to KICKSTARTER October 18, 2018.

Stephen Gulik - Reviewer

Stephen Gulik is a trans-dimensional cockroach, doomsday prophet, author, and editor at sausage-press.com. When he’s not manipulating energy fields to alter the space-time continuum, he’s playing or designing board games. He has four cats and drinks too much coffee.

See Stephen's reviews HERE.
Valhalla review Valhalla review Reviewed by S T Gulik on October 11, 2018 Rating: 5

1 comment

  1. What’s the size of the wooden shield tokens? I’ve pledged for this game and I wanted to make my own wooden shield tokens to add into the game to add a personal touch!