The Longships are coming

Hi everybody! My name is Krzysztof, I’m the designer of In the Name of Odin, and I’m here to tell you a few things about me – and about how Odin came to be.

Vikings have fascinated the modern world for years, but only relatively recently did they really go mainstream, with the popular and really cool TV series, as well as a few video games taking on the theme. This had its impact on board games as well, obviously, though I think that the trend is only just beginning.

Egil, a Viking Hero by Victor Perez Corbella

What makes Vikings such a cool theme for a game? It’s definitely the long-present idea of the berserk raider, long-haired, bearded, seaborne warrior with an axe or sword in hand, descending on helpless villages and monasteries. But that’s not all that the people we call Vikings were.

In fact, “to go Viking” meant to go on a raid, and it obviously wasn’t all that the people of northern Europe did before being converted to Christianity. Their culture has left a deep print in Europe’s nations, languages and, to a degree, politics. Norsemen also reached places as far away from continental Europe as Greenland, Canada and the Byzantine Empire.

If that rich background wasn’t enough, one element that always stood out to me was the aesthetics of everything that Vikings surrounded themselves with. Starting with their weaponry and armour, through longboats which have since been intimately connected with the vision of those exact people, down to the architecture and design details like runic inscriptions – the imagination of many people was moved by these cultural artefacts, and the vision of a much different society than the one we live in now emerged.

After seeing Beowulf in the cinema years ago, I created a cooperative game inspired by that movie, and that was my first proper foray into creating a game with this particular theme. Fast forward to 2013, the year when In the Name of Odin, the board game (back then called simply Jarl), comes into play.

When I set out to create it, I already knew what I wanted it to be – a game about Vikings, but not just about raids or combat. Personally, I tend to dislike strategy games that are heavy on combat, as those systems tend to be very random and often dice-driven, while I prefer more skill-focused mechanisms. So, instead of focusing on combat, I started from a much different game then the final version of it: a sort of inverted worker placement title, that put a heavy emphasis on upgrading your village, so that you gain more and more options to choose from. The idea was okay, but I couldn’t make the game work well, so I decided to keep some elements of it, while massively overhauling the basic game flow. It was a good decision.

Enter the card-action mechanism! It’s the main driving force of the game, and it allows you to play each of the  cards you begin your turn with to either gain a Viking of a given type, or use the alternative symbol which, in conjunction with other symbols you added to your tableau, allows you to pick different actions. So, say you need to recruit a Viking Hero to lead your men on a Raid you want to complete – it’ll cost you a few Recruit symbols. Don’t have them in your hand? Don’t worry, you can exchange one card each turn with what’s on the table. No card that you need? Maybe you should try to Build instead, so you can get some advantage over the other players and add more special abilities and symbols to your Village?

That simple mechanism introduced an element that I really like in all board games – hand management. Personally I find it to be one of the more fun mechanisms to have in a game: a constant risk/reward consideration to have from turn to turn. You do have long-term goals, but you have to make choices and decisions in the short-term as well.

With In the Name of Odin I think I was successful enough to also make that process not too stressful. If you don’t  get what you need this turn, next turn you probably will. Especially in the beginning, when you’re learning the different building, longship and Viking Hero cards, your decisions will not make or break your entire strategy. Have a plan, but be ready to modify it at a drop of a hat.

Krzysztof presenting a prototype of his game in Essen, Spiel 2015.
Krzysztof presenting a prototype of his game in Essen, Spiel 2015.

As a player, I don’t really have a very strong need to compete, and while I do like games involving direct conflict, I prefer it when they are two-player and when that’s all (or at least most of) what they do. Since In the Name of Odin was never meant to be a cutthroat game, I decided that the right amount of player interaction would come from trying to be the first to get your economy going (have options for card exchanging, symbol exchanging, get discounts on recruitment, shipbuilding etc.) and the first to get exactly the cards that you want.

Hence In the Name of Odin became a game of interestng decicions. Do you want to build that cool ship before someone takes the opportunity away, or do you want the Viking Hero that’s perfect for your current plan? Which do you value more? Which will be the most useful? Do you want to risk giving the other players the chance to take the card you wanted, or do you make sure it ends up in your village? Play your cards right, and… you’ll probably still have to make the same painful decision, but perhaps you will set yourself up for a strong followup.

A designer ready to take the fight to the enemy.
A designer ready to take the fight to the enemy. Photo by Bartek Pigulski.

Does it mean you’ll get no chance to directly butt heads with other players? Don’t worry, you will. As each raid is resolved, you get a chance to up the ante for the active player with your action cards. With a little bit of luck, you’ll deprive them of some glory earned on the seas. With a little less luck, you’ll allow them to score an extra point. Win or lose, you’ll get to exchange one of the cards in your hand – which may be the exact thing you need for your next turn.

Everything you do in In the Name of Odin has one goal in mind – taking the longship to sea and completing quests. You always need a Famous Viking to lead the crew, which you need to recruit, and obviously you’ll need a longship to start with! Developing your village will allow you to speed up the process of acquiring those resources, or give yourself a better chance of doing exactly the actions that you need this particular turn. There’s always something to do in preparation for the next journey, whether it’s recruiting more warriors, traders and sailors, or repairing a longship that came back from a mission in far-away lands.

Focusing on raiding will give you glory much needed to become a Jarl. Your rivals will envy you, your enemies will fear you, and your name shall be spoken with respect. Gather your kinsmen, ready the longship, and make sure the greatest of heroes visiy your mead hall – it’s time to go Viking!

Do you want to know more? Visit the In the Name of Odin website, and read the rules of the game. Also, the Kickstarter campaign for In the Name of Odin is approaching fast: we start on Ferburary 16th. If you don’t want to miss out on its beginning, you can go to Odin’s Prefundia page and sign up for a notification.

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