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You are a Viking sovereign. Secretly plan the movement of your Vikings, then execute your battles and sieges. Capture treasure and build the best stronghold to win the game.
Dirk Henn returns to his homegrown publications following the Queen production of Wallenstein. Eketorp is a Viking-inspired game that uses a blind-bid and card-based system for players to collect enough stones to build their stronghold. As typical for Henn, the card play is well designed but the blind bidding each round results in a game that has more than the usual amount of luck but with plenty of strategic options.Each player is trying to build a stronghold made of stones. The value of the stronghold is based on the number and quality of stones used: there are four types of stones valued one through four, with the green stones (the 'ones') being the most available and the greys (the 'fours') the least available. A stronghold is complete when it has 18 stones in a three-level structure. You don't need to have a complete stronghold to win; you just need the most points, but each completed stronghold earns a five point bonus. The board shows seven places to hold the currently-available stones. Each round, a card is revealed to show how many new stones will be added to the board in each of the four types. The board areas are labeled with letters, with A, B, and C dedicated to green stones, D and E for brown stones, and a single spot each (F and G) for tan and grey stones. The stones on the board are available for capture by the players, and any stones not captured in a round stay on the board to keep the stocks building for future rounds. Each player gets a small 'stronghold' mat (a place to build their structure), and a set of Viking markers. Fighting cards are used to resolve battles for the stones whenever there are more Vikings than stones in a given location, and each player starts with four cards which are numbered from one to six each. In each round, players secretly determine where they will send their Viking markers. Vikings can do one of three things each turn: they can be sent to a specific spot on the board to get one of the stones there, or they can be sent to an opponent's stronghold to try to dismantle part of it and take one of the stones for themselves, or they can stay back to defend your stronghold against aggressors. When there are enough stones in a board area to serve each of the Vikings placed there, there is no battle and each Viking will take one of the stones at the end of the round. In all other cases, the number of Vikings must be reduced until there is one stone for each Viking. In turn order, a player can choose which battle to fight. He picks a competing player (one who also has Vikings in that area), and each lays a fighting card face down. They are revealed, and the player with the higher card wins, forcing the losing Viking marker into the 'Viking Hospital' (apparently the Vikings had a better healthcare system than most of us realize). Their stay in the hospital is determined by how badly they were beaten: the difference in the cards correlates to a room in the hospital. Since Vikings in the hospital only move toward discharge by one room per turn, losing a battle by a large amount can keep your marker out of play for up to three full turns. In a tie, both Vikings go to the hospital and this can give good fortune to others in the same area but not involved in the battle. After the battle is resolved, the players swap cards and place the cards used on their mat face down. For the next battle, then, they will have only three cards to choose from. This is a good use of this mechanism as the winner of the battle by definition weakens their hand for further play. Vikings sent to an opponent's stronghold battle in the same way, except that only an attacker can initiate a fight and if the defender loses he is placed into the hospital at one level lower than normal (closer to the discharge spot). If an attacker wins at an opponent's stronghold, he can remove stones equal to the point value of the win. For example, if I win by a score of five to three, I can remove two points worth of stones adjacent to the spot where I attacked the stronghold. This could be two green stones or a single brown stone. If only tan or grey stones are available (worth three and four points respectively), I may claim victory in the battle but get no stones. Only one stone removed in this manner can be taken back to the attacker's stronghold; the rest are put back into the general stock. This set of mechanics creates a series of interesting strategic decisions. First, of course, is where to send your Vikings. In a six-player game, each player gets only five Vikings so the choices are limited from the start. Typically it will be easier to get cheap stones since more are available, but when everyone thinks this way a single dissenter can get a three or four-point stone with no battle. Each stronghold can be attacked from one of three spaces, so when choosing to attack an opponent you must specify the entry point. If you are unlucky enough to choose the same point as someone else, you must fight them first since only a single Viking can attack a stronghold from a single spot. Since you can only take stones adjacent to the spot where you attack, you must estimate where you can get the most value given your relative card strength at the time. Leaving Vikings home to protect your stronghold becomes very important once you start building, since an undefended stronghold will easily lose valuable stones. The second set of decisions comes in the hand management. It is of course best to battle someone with fewer cards if possible or even better to keep track of where the strong cards are at any time. One way to rid yourself of a low value fighting card is to play it in battle and likely lose, but this can have the penalty of a long hospital stay associated with it. At the beginning of any battle, a player can discard their entire hand for new ones at the cost of one 'amulet' per card. Since each player begins the game with only five amulets, this action is limited and is most useful when left with only a single low card (the other three will be face down on your mat). You must play all four of your cards before taking up the cards from your mat into your hand. And of course, the cards you take up will be the ones you received in the exchange at the battle. The third set of decisions comes in the battles themselves - who to attack based on relative value, and which card to play in the battle. It is important to evaluate the board and the turn order to see which battles will likely be resolved before your next turn. Since the game ends in a round where anyone completes their stronghold, the stronghold sieges pick up as the game progresses. This makes it a bit easier to get stones from the board and can allow those who are behind to catch up more quickly. The battles also determine how many Vikings you'll have to deploy in the next round, since losing a battle sends you to the hospital. The final strategic aspect comes in how you build the stronghold itself. Each floor of the stronghold is six stones in a hex-pattern, and three levels can be built. But only exposed stones can be won by an attacker, so covering high value stones with lower value stones offers some protection. And, since an attacker can only win stones from one of the two spots adjacent to his attacking point, balancing stone value throughout your stronghold can be a good diversification strategy. Eketorp plays fast and the battle system is nicely balanced. Often in games, though, the initial blind placement of the Vikings creates unbalanced situations where a single player gets good value stones unscathed while others fight for lower value and lose fighting resources for future rounds. There is a premium to finishing your stronghold given the bonus points, and also the fact that the game end can be hastened with a quick build. The result is a game that gets repetitive in play and ends up feeling like something less than the sum of multiple interesting decisions. A few variants suggested in the rules can change the game slightly, including limiting the number of good on the board and allowing a defender to initiate an attack. The production is typical db Spiele. While the blind bidding adds significant luck to the game, this won't overly disappoint Henn fans.