Game Buzz: Völuspá

The very best thing that could be said about Bucephalus Games was that they were ambitious.  They hit the market in 2008 with 37 titles on their slate.  In looking at BGG, it looks like only 17 of those made it to market before the company vanished.  The big problem was that most of the games were either mediocre at best, or at the very least extremely ill-advised.  Some had great titles with very poor gameplay (Zombie Mosh and Toboggans of Doom come to mind), while others were a little inexplicable in their subject matter (The Suicide Bomber Card Game, anyone?).  In fact, only one of their games is currently ranked in the BGG Top 5000 – Kachina, a tile-laying game with a Native American theme that I heard great things about.  Unfortunately, with the disappearance of Bucephalus, the game got no support, and the expansion fans were promised never materialized.  But now, White Goblin Games has picked up the game, and released it at Spiel 2012 as:

image by BGG user hoje

Völuspá was designed by Scott Caputo, and is based on his design for Kachina.  However, rather than having the Native American theme, the game now centers around Norse mythology.  It’s essentially an abstract very much in the style of a game like Qwirkle, but with special towers assigned to the tiles.  2-5 people ages 10 and up can play this 45-minute game.

In the box, you get 85 tiles, including 60 base and 25 expansion tiles.  Each tile shows a different character from Norse mythology, which tells you what it does.  There are also 5 score markers, 5 50/100 point markers, and a score track (which only goes up to 50).  At the beginning of the game, each player draws 5 tiles, and one tile is flipped face up in the center of the table (you can’t begin with a Troll).

On your turn, you play or discard a tile, score points, then draw a new tile.  To play a tile, the tile must touch the edge of a tile already on the board, and can’t be placed in a line that already has seven tiles.  If you can’t play, you just discard a tile.  To score, you see if the tile you just played has the highest value in the row/column in which it was placed (each tile has a numeric value from 1-8).  If so, you score as many points as there are tiles in the line.  You can score two lines at once with clever placement.  After scoring, you draw back up to five.

Simple so far.  The strategy comes in with the special powers of the tiles themselves.

  • 8. ODIN: No special powers, just a high number.
  • 7. THOR: Same as Odin.
  • 6. TROLL: No other tiles (other than Trolls) can be placed adjacent to Trolls.
  • 5. DRAGON: May be placed on top of another tile, nullifying its powers.  You can’t place on top of a tile next to a Troll (though you can place on top of a lone Troll), and you can’t place on top of another dragon.
  • 4. FENRIR: This tile has a higher value the more there are – the value is equal to the sum of the values of all Fenrirs in the row or column.  So, if there are three in a row, the value is 12.
  • 3. SKADI: You can play it normally, or swap it for another tile on the board, which goes into your hand.  You can’t capture a tile next to a Troll, but you can capture a lone Troll.  You can also capture a dragon, removing the tile underneath from the game.
  • 2. VALKYRIE: If a Valkyrie is at both ends of a line, you will score the line even if it’s not the high value.
  • 1. LOKI: Any tiles adjacent to Loki have a value of 0.

Also included is the Saga of Edda expansion module, including four new types of tiles.

  • X. HEL: This tile is placed face down on top of any other tile (not another Hel).  You have effectively blown up the tile underneath – basically, you’ve created a gap between tiles, meaning a line of seven can be extended on either side.  You score one point for each adjacent tile (orthogonally and diagonally).  Each player gets one at the start of the game, and it doesn’t count to their five tile limit.  You don’t draw a new tile after playing Hel.
  • 5. JOTUNN: Bump a tile (not Hel) to either end of its line, replacing it with the Jotunn tile.  You can bump a Troll, though you can’t bump a non-Troll next to a Troll.  The bumped tile is not scored, just the Jotunn.
  • 6. SEA SERPENT: You can score either the row or column (not both), and you can cross gaps for this score.  This means the score could possibly exceed seven.
  • 3. HERMOD: You place Hermod, then score, then may play another tile in the same line.

The game ends when every tile has been played.  The highest score wins.

I’ve never played Kachina, but I wanted to.  It seemed like a very solid game.  Völuspá is pretty much exactly the same, but with different art and with the expansion tiles no one ever saw for the original.  The theming here seems pretty interesting, but I kind of miss the Native American theme.  I understand why White Goblin switched it – they are a European company, and needed something to appeal over there.  Still, there aren’t that many Native American games, while there are a bunch of Norse mythology games.

Like Qwirkle, there are very simple mechanisms in play here, and you’ll be setting up a similar crossword style board.  However, the differences between the tiles gives the game a little something extra – more depth, more interest for gamers.  I doubt this will be very difficult for gamers, but it might be a good next step up for people who are graduating past Qwirkle.  I’d really like to give it a try sometime – hopefully it will make it across the pond.  Maybe from Stronghold, since they have been White Goblin’s partners in the US for several titles.  Thanks for reading!

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