One of the first Euros I ever played was the classic Carcassonne. I think it's why I have a soft spot for tile-laying games. So I was excited to try Völuspá, a Norse-themed tile-laying game from our friends at Stronghold Games. So is it hot as Dragon's fire, or will I give it the cold shoulder...? Let's find out.
Players take turns playing tiles with the Norse gods on them, and scoring points. When the tiles run out, the player with the most VPs is the winner.
Title - Völuspá
Designer - Scott Caputo
Publisher - Stronghold Games
Number of players - 2-5 (Don't play with more than 3. Trust me on this.)
Ages - 10 and up (This seems about right--though I think kids 8 and up could probably do alright with some help.)
Play time - 45 Minutes (In my experience, it's closer to an hour.)
Category/Genre - Tile-placement/Hand-management
Review copy from Stronghold Games.
- Easy to teach.
- Terrific and evocative artwork.
- Meaty game that plays in an hour.
- Room for smart and clever play.
- Very tactical, so games take a while, even with fast players.
- Which also means you don't want to play this with AP-prone people.
- Which also means you don't want to play this with more than 3 people.
- Theme of Norse gods might put some people off. I don't mind the theme, but some might.
Family? Yes! But again, only with 2 or 3, unless you don't mind looooooong games.
Youth Group? No! Maybe a very small group, but there's no reason to bring this out at youth group.
Gamers? Yes! It's a meaty filler with interesting choices.
Nongamers? Yes! It's definitely a step up in complexity from Carcassonne, but would be a great next-step game to sucker in people who have played the former.
* Firestone: 8
Völuspá isn't groundbreaking or genre-changing. But I've enjoyed every game I've played.
60 tiles in the base game
- 6 Odin
- 8 Thor
- 6 Trolls
- 8 Dragons
- 8 Fenrir
- 9 Skadi
- 9 Valkyrie
- 6 Loki
5 Scoring markers
5 +50/+100 tokens
1 Score track
The game also comes with a 25-tile expansion module, called the Saga of Edda. I'll go over the expansion tiles and gameplay at the end of the review.
- 5 Hel
- 8 Hermod
- 6 Jotunn
- 6 Sea Serpent
Shuffle all of the tiles facedown and place them in piles on the table. Each player draws five tiles as a starting hand. Draw one tile and place it faceup in the middle of the table. If it's a Troll, draw a new tile until you don't get a Troll. You'll understand why when I go over the powers. Each player chooses a color, and you randomly choose a start player.
In clockwise order, each player takes the following actions in this order:
Play One Tile
Choose a tile from your hand and play it to the table. It has to touch at least one side of another tile. Each horizontal or vertical row of tiles can never exceed seven.
If you can't play one of your tiles, you can discard a tile out of the game.
If the tile you placed has the highest value in a row and/or column, you'll score that row and/or column. Ties don't allow you to score, and a row or column has to have at least two tiles in it. You score as many VPs as there are tiles in the row and/or column.
Draw a Tile
Refill your hand to five.
And that's it. The game ends when each player has no tiles left. Ties are broken by whichever player got to the winning score first.
These tiles' special powers are active throughout the game.
Odin--Value: 8--He has no special power, but is the highest-valued tile.
Thor--Value: 7--Also no special power.
Troll--Value: 6--No tile (except another Troll) may be placed adjacent to a Troll once it's been placed.
Dragon--Value 5--You can place the Dragon on top of another tile and nullify that tile's power. You can't place it on a tile next to a Troll, but you can place it on a Troll. And you can't place a Dragon on a Dragon.
Fenrir--Value: 4--The value of the Fenrir tile is the sum of all Fenrir tiles in the same row or column. A lone Fenrir is worth 4. You check rows and columns separately, so the same tile might be worth 4 in a row, and 12 in a column.
Skadi--Value: 3--You can either place this tile as normal, or exchange a tile on the table with Skadi, adding the tile to your hand and ending your turn. You can't capture a tile next to a Troll, and you can choose to capture a Dragon. (Any tile underneath it just goes away.)
Valkyrie--Value: 2--If you place a Valkyrie on the end of a line, and the other end of the line also has a Valkyrie, you score the row or column--regardless of the value of the Valkyries.
Loki--Value: 1--Tiles adjacent to Loki have a value of zero--except other Loki tiles.
Völuspá comes with a small expansion called Saga of Edda, which consists of four new tiles. IMO, once you've played the game once with the standard tiles, there's no reason not to add these to every game.
Hel--No Value--Each player gets one Hel tile, and the rest are put out of the game. The Hel tile doesn't count toward your five-tile hand limit, and you don't draw a replacement after playing it. You play it facedown on any tile--including one next to a Troll. The power of the covered tile is nullified, and the Hel tile creates a gap for the rest of the game that can never be covered or removed. When you play it, you score one point for each tile adjacent to it--vertical, horizontal, and vertical.
Jotunn--Value: 5--You can bump any tile (except a Hel tile) to either end of its row or column, and then place Jotunn in the bumped tile's place. You don't score the bumped tile. You can bump a Troll, but you can't bump a tile next to a Troll.
Sea Serpent--Value: 6--These tiles score when they're the highest-value in a row or column. What makes this different is that you can also count across gaps, and the score is based on all tiles and gaps in the row or column. As such, your score can exceed seven, but you must choose to score either a row or column.
Hermod--Value: 3--When you place a Hermod tile, you may immediately place another tile in he same line Hermod was placed. You can play multiple Hermod's in a single turn. Score each tile as it's placed.
I really like this game. I generally like tile-laying games, so I was inclined to like this anyway, but it really is clever and interesting.
Every turn is a puzzle where you're taking the tiles you have, looking at the state of the board, and making the best play you can. That can cause some problems. For one, you can sort-of plan your moves ahead of time, but you still won't know what the board will look like until your righthand opponent plays her tile. So it can slow the game down, even with fast players. Don't play this with AP-prone people. And I wouldn't play with more than 3 players. My first game was with 4, and it didn't take that long, admittedly, but I still wouldn't choose to play with that many. You gain nothing but time by adding more players.
Speaking of that righthand oppoenent, like most games of this sort, you want the worst player sitting to your right. If he or she makes a less-than-optimal play, you can benefit. But that also makes you feel that your points weren't earned.
But enough about the small problems. The artwork is great. The game is easy to teach. It could be overwhelming to nongamers, but it's really not that bad. The tiles all have iconography that helps you remember what they do. The fact that you always have five tiles really mitigates the luck of the draw.
It would be helpful if there were pieces to help you keep track of values that have changed, or when a line has reached its max of seven. Thankfully, the recently released expansion, Order of the Gods, has just that! (You can read our review of the expansion on Thursday.)
Firestone's Final Verdict--Völuspá takes the "simple" genre of tile-laying and adds depth, strategy, and clever tactics to create a meaty game in a filler time-frame. Definitely recommended.
Check back Thursday when we'll review the expansion, Order of the Gods. And this week we'll also have an interview with designer Scott Caputo. Thanks for reading!