Board Game Review: Bottlecap Vikings – Procedure to the Max | Giant Fire Breathing Robot

Board Game Review: Bottlecap Vikings – Procedure to the Max

I’m often quite skeptical of small box games. Often, the title sacrifices too much game on the altar of “accessibility,” but Bottlecap Vikings held a lot of promise. Players take the role of viking chieftains sailing and gaining glory for their tribe. Unfortunately, the game does little to evoke that theme and it plays highly procedural.

The Basics. Bottlecap Vikings is a rondel game where the rondel is randomized. A rondel is an action selection mechanism. There are eight spaces around which the players will travel. Each space has an associated action. However, at the beginning of the game, the double-sided pieces are randomly distributed. Once set, each player takes a ship and places it on a point around the rondel.

Each player also gets a village board that will keep track of their Glory and resources. As player’s take actions, they will try to increase their glory and upgrade their village. Generally, getting to 10 Glory is an immediate victory, but a fully upgraded village also bestows a win. So players will be competing along both tracks.

This village is ready to be upgraded

On a turn, a player can move 1 to 3 spaces clockwise along the rondel. Wherever they stop, players can take the associated action. Many of the spaces allow you to trade wood for gold or vice versa. Some allow you to trade resources for glory or upgrade your village. One space even allows you to remove damage.

Every time you move around the rondel and end on the same space as an opponent, both you and the opponent have to draw one Valkyrie tile as damage. Valkyries come in red and gray. When four (of five) red tiles have been pulled, everyone loses resources according to how much damage they have. One damage is OK, but beyond that you can lose wood, gold, and glory. Then all players’ Valkyrie tiles are returned.

The first player to 10 Glory or a fully upgraded village wins!

When fully formed, these disconnected trapezoids become a fully functional rondel

The Feel. Despite some interesting elements, like a randomized rondel, Bottlecap Vikings is hum drum. There’s no thematic hook or soul. As someone who loves euro games, I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but the game really feels like nothing more than moving chits back and forth until somebody wins.

There are only two resources in the game – gold and wood. You simply accumulate them, and then turn them into glory or village improvements. Gaining glory requires a little bit of both resources while getting improvements requires a lot of just one. While this might seem to open up alternate victory paths, that choice is largely ephemeral. When the rondel is set up, it will usually be a little more efficient to go one way or the other – making that the “winning” path for that play.

And the “combat” system is really strange. It isn’t really combat or “damage” at all. Instead, it’s simply a penalty for taking one of the more popular actions. I guess I understand why some kind of penalty might be necessary. With a randomized rondel, it’s only natural that some spaces are going to be more sought after than others, but the penalties are harsh – especially when you have to lose Glory. It doesn’t feel fun or like someone executed an awesome tactical maneuver. It feels random especially when there’s only one space where you can give back Valkyrie tokens.

Bam! Fully functional rondel.

So Bottlecap Vikings is definitely not for me. I find very little to recommend it over other games. It has a brief play time, but so do better games. It has resource management, but so do better games. It has a randomized rondel which is relatively unique, but the negatives are just as strong as the positives. That said, I definitely think there is an audience for this game.

Which is a little unusual for me to say. Usually, I like any fun game, and if I can’t find the joy in it, I have a hard time seeing how others might. But in this case, I can see it appealing to family or very casual gamers. The rules are light. The “take that” element is present but not overbearing, and the gathering and using of resources might seem more novel to those without deep experience in the hobby. Plus, while seasoned gamers will look at the rondel and figure out optimal paths quickly, very casual players will have a better time working through it and exploring the possibilities of each randomized rondel. As a result, I can see this game going over well with that crowd.

I’m not exactly calling Bottlecap Vikings a gateway game. I think it might be a little dry to fit in that role (although the classic gateway games would be similarly thematically unexciting, I suppose), but I do think it would be a hit with the right crowd. It just is unlikely to be a hit with hobbyists.

The player boards are all identical on one side, and all different on the other

Components: 3.5 of 5. Bottlecap Vikings is a small box game and is meant to be light on components. Nevertheless, it does a good job with what it has. The player boards are sturdy enough for their purpose and the chits are clear. One complaint is that as you improve your village, you keep the bonuses permanently. But, there’s no tracking system to remind you what you took, and your current position is actually entirely covered by the chit. Little square borders that stay on current and previously obtained abilities might have been a better choice than a single opaque chit.

Strategy/Luck Balance: 3.5 of 5. Other than the combat, the title is without luck at all. You decide where you go, you figure out the strategy you want to implement, and then you do it as fast as you can. While the combat sort of provides a press-your-luck element, you can be given more tokens simply by having others land on the same spot. This does give it a slightly more arbitrary feel and the loss of Glory (victory points) can be especially brutal.

Mechanics: 3 of 5. Bottlecap Vikings has some neat ideas. The randomized rondel is good in theory, although it ends up kneecapping the alternate victory paths envisioned by the game. Beyond that, though, it’s fairly simple resource gathering and converting to points. And the way combat can steal away your efforts, while perhaps necessary, certainly doesn’t bring the game much in the way of fun.

Replayability: 2.5 of 5. I think that the right group will see a lot to love here. The randomized rondel will give new opportunities to explore. If you’re already an experienced gamer, the optimal path shows itself quickly. And, if you’re looking for a stepping stone or gateway game, I’m not sure this does much that other existing titles don’t. The right group will see a lot of replay, but most groups will quickly pass on this.

Spite: 2 of 5. There are no discards or targeted effects that would ordinarily reveal spite. That said, there’s often nothing stopping you from simply landing on another player and making them take combat damage (although you will take one as well). In fact, if two or three other players can gang up on one player, they can easily cause some point loss before he even has a chance to take another turn. And, unfortunately, this behavior tends to arise if the potential victim is approaching victory.

Damage tokens. The gray ones are rather benign until the red ones show up

Overall: 2.5 of 5. Bottlecap Vikings isn’t a bad game, but it isn’t a particularly good one either. You have to stretch a bit to find the unique selling points that make it rise above other, similar titles. While the right group will find enjoyment, most players are better off passing for something else. With so many good titles, Bottlecap Vikings is simply lost in the crowd.

(A special thanks to Tasty Minstrel Games for Providing a review copy of Bottlecap Vikings)

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