Radio Review #28 – Voluspa

voluspa_cover

(2012 – Stronghold Games, White Goblin Games)

 

“The hammer of the gods will drive our ships to new lands….to fight the horde, singing and crying ‘Valhalla, I am coming’….”

 

In 2009, designer Scott Caputo released Kachina, a Native American themed tile-laying game, where individually numbered tiles contained unique special abilities that could affect surrounding tiles, similar to mechanics found in games such as Hive. Within a year (after a lack of royalty payments from its original publisher), the rights to Kachina reverted back to the designer and with it, the opportunity to seek a new publisher. Enter White Goblin Games, who agreed to republish the game, working with Mr. Caputo to tweak some of the rules and quantity of certain tiles, while introducing a new Norse Mythological re-theme.

Voluspa, as it has been renamed, also includes an expansion (the Saga of Edda) out of the box, that was originally in the works for Kachina. The expansion contains 4 new character tile types, and provides an additional amount of depth to the various strategies. Stronghold Games has agreed to publish Voluspa stateside, starting July 2013.

 

 

Components:

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– Voluspa Score Track

 

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– Score Markers (1 for each player)

 

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– 50+ and 100+ Score tokens

 

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– Voluspa character tiles (Loki, Valkerie, Skadi, Fenrir, Dragon, Troll, Thor, and Odin)

 

 

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– Saga of Edda expansion character tiles (Hermod, Jotunn, Sea Serpent, and Hel)

 

 

Encompassing characters from Norse Mythology, Voluspa is a tile-placement game in which players will score Victory Points by controlling rows and columns using these various characters. A specific number is listed on each type of tile, and as such, if this number is the highest amongst the other tiles in its row and/or column, a player will score 1 Victory Point for every tile in that row/column including the tile just placed. In addition, character tiles in Volusa are comprised of various special abilities that will affect how tiles can be placed, where they can be placed, and how they may modify other tiles around them.

 

 

 

Setup:

 

Since the Saga of Edda expansion tiles are included with the base game, I’m going to cover setup and gameplay of Voluspa with these tiles included.
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Players will separate the 5 Hel character tiles from all other character tiles. These are easily recognizable as they have an alternate face-down illustration than all the other various character tiles. Each player begins the game with 1 of these Hel character tiles (unless it is a 2-player game, in which each player will receive 2 Hel tiles a piece). Any leftover Hel tiles are placed into the box and out of play.
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All remaining character tiles are turned face-down and placed into 1 large draw pile. These are where players will gain new character tiles into their hand throughout the game.
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Each player chooses a player color and places the corresponding colored Score Marker on the Scoring Track.
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Each player then Draws 5 character tiles from the draw pile and places them in their hand. Players will always start each turn with 5 character tiles in their hand, however note that the extra Hel tile does not count towards this 5-tile hand limit.
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Finally, 1 character tile is randomly selected from the draw pile and placed into the center of the play area. This tile represents the starting point for the game. After setup, everything should look something like this:
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Note that the game does not come with tile stands. If you are an owner of Memoir 44 (if not, you should be!), the card stands included in that game work great for Voluspa, and are shown in this setup photo. Any type of card stand will do. I would recommend using them if you have the ability to do so, as it makes viewing all of your tiles a bit more manageable.

 

 

 

Gameplay:

 

Rules for Voluspa are pretty straightforward, with a few restraints on how tiles can be played. Players will take turns, placing 1 tile on their turn and then drawing a new tile from the draw pile as a replacement. Once a character tile is placed, the tile’s special ability will resolve, and any corresponding Victory Points are immediately scored. The player will then draw a new tile from the draw pile before ending their turn. Players will take turns, back and forth, until all character tiles have been played out into the central area. The player with the most Victory Points at the end of the game is the winner.
There are a few stipulations on how a tile can be placed:

 

 

– When placing a tile into the central area, that tile must meet at least 1 side of another tile already in play.

– Any individual row and/or column may not exceed a total line of 7 tiles.

– If it is impossible for a player to place a tile, that player must discard

1 tile to the box (and out of the game) and draw a new tile.

 

 

 

Scoring:

When a tile is placed into the central area and it contains the highest numerical value amongst the other tiles in that row and/or column, 1 Victory Point is scored for every tile in that row and/or column. If the placed tile ties another tile in value, the row and/or column is not scored. Only in the case where the tile is the highest, is when Victory Points are scored.

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For instance, Player A places a Dragon (value 5) character tile next to the Skadi (value 3) character tile. Since the placed tile (Dragon) is higher in value than both of the other tiles in the row, Player A will score 3 Victory Points; 1 for each tile in the row.

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Once a player reaches the end of the 50 point space on the Scoring Track, he places the +50 token in front of himself to show that he has reached that mark, and then would continue along the 0 space of the Scoring Track. If/when he passes it again, he can flip the +50 token to its opposing +100 side.

 

 

Character Abilities:

While the placement and scoring rules for Voluspa are pretty simple, and would make for an interesting, light game in of itself, the individual character abilities are what introduces an extensive amount of strategy to the game.

Let’s take a look at what each character can do when they are placed:

 

 

Loki

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– Loki holds a value of 1, and being the destructive, annoying villain that he is turns any tile adjacent to himself, to a value of 0.

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Player A places a Loki tile next to a Thor tile. Even though the Thor tile has a value of 7, the adjacent Loki tile changes this Thor tile to a 0, thus Player A would score 2 Victory Points for this row.

 

 

Valkyrie

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– A Valkyrie holds a value of 2, however when a Valkyrie is placed on one end of a row and/or column where the opposing end also contains a Valkyrie, the entire row and/or column is scored. While Loki tiles will change a Valkyrie tile’s value to a 0, it does not prevent it from scoring with its special ability.

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Player B places a Valkyrie to the far left of the row. While there are higher valued tiles in the row (5,7, and 8), the entire row is scored since another Valkyrie sets at the far right. In this case, Player B would score 5 Victory Points.

 

 

Skadi

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– Skadi holds a value of 3, and can be placed onto a space with another character tile, by exchanging that character tile for Skadi. The exchanged tile is added to the players hand. This is a strategic way to score points with Skadi as well as being able to choose specific tiles to add to your hand. The only tiles that Skadi can not be used to replace is a Troll tile and a placed Hel tile. Since a player only draws up to 5 tiles to their hand at the end of their turn, players will usually not draw any new tiles after using Skadi.

 

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From the previous example, Player C decides to replace an Odin tile with a Skadi tile. Though he won’t score any Victory Points for this turn (because the Skadi tile is not the highest value in the column), he will have an Odin tile in his hand for remaining turns.

 

 

 

Fenrir

 

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– Fenrir holds a value of 4 by itself, however if any other Fenrir tiles are included in the row and/or column, this tile holds a value of the cumulative values of Fenrir tiles.

 

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Player A places a Fenrir tile into the play area that connects a row and column. The column that it is connected to contains another Fenrir tile, therefore the placed Fenrir tile has a value of 8. The row contains 2 other Fenrir tiles, however one of them is adjacent to a Loki tile, therefore the placed Fenrir tile only has a value of 8 instead of 12. Since the placed Fenrir tile is part of a row and a column, and its value is highest among both, Player A will score 9 Victory Points (4 for the column and 5 for the row).

 

 

 

Dragon

 

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– A Dragon holds a value of 5 and can be placed on top of another tile in order to negate it. A Dragon tile can not be placed on top of another Dragon tile, nor on top of a tile next to a Troll tile.

 

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Player B decides to place a Dragon tile onto a Troll tile, therefore negating the Troll’s value of 6. Since the Dragon tile’s value of 5 is now the highest amongst the column, Player B would score 4 Victory Points.

 

 

 

Troll

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– A Troll holds a value of 6 and after placed, no other type of tile may be adjacent to it. Other Trolls however, are allowed to be placed beside adjacent Trolls.

 

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Player C places a Troll into the play area. Since it contains the highest value in the row, Player C would score 6 Victory Points. No other type of character tile other than another Troll tile may be placed adjacent to this Troll.

 

 

 

Thor & Odin

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– Thor (value 7) and Odin (value 8) have no special abilities other than their high values. Being the highest values of tiles in the game, these characters will normally score players Victory Points when placed.

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Player A places Odin into a space that connects a row and a column. Since it is the highest value amongst all tiles in both the row and column, Player A would score a total of 12 Victory Points (5 for the column and 7 for the row).

 

The following character tiles are included with the Saga of Edda expansion:

 

 

Hermod

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– Hermod holds a value of 3, however after a Hermod tile is placed into the play area, that player may place another tile on the same row and/or column. Scoring takes effect immediately after each tile is placed individually.

 

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Player B places a Hermod tile onto a row. Since this is the highest valued tile amongst the row, Player B scores 4 Victory Points. Since he played a Hermod tile, Player B is now allowed to place another tile on the row.

 

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He places a Thor tile that is connected to this row and another column. He would then score another 5 Victory Points for the row and 3 Victory Points for the column.

 

 

 

Jotunn

 

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– Jotunn holds a value of 5, and is able to bump a tile to either end of its row and/or column. The bumped tile is then replaced with Jotunn. On top of this, the bumped tile is not scored. A player is able to bump a Troll tile, however is not able to bump a tile beside a Troll.

 

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Player C places a Jotunn tile in order to bump a Loki tile to the other side of the row.

 

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Since the Loki tile is now set beside the Thor tile, the Thor tile’s value of 7 is negated. Player C will score 4 Victory Points for this row, since the bumped tile (Loki) is not scored when Jotunn’s ability is used.

 

 

 

 Sea Serpent

 

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– A Sea Serpent holds a value of 6 and is able to score across gaps, although a player may only score for a row OR a column, not both. For the purposes of scoring across gaps in this way, a row or column may exceed 7 tiles.

 

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Player A places a Sea Serpent into play. He chooses to score the row instead of the column. Since there is a gap of 4 spaces between the Seas Serpent tile and the Fenrir tile, he will score 6 Victory Points (1 for each tile and 4 for the 4 empty spaces in the gap).

 

 

 

Hel

 

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– Remember, at the beginning of the game, each player receives a Hel tile. Hel is a unique tile that can be placed on top of another tile, and is treated like a new gap in the play area. Therefore, new columns and rows of 7 tiles can form off of a Hel tile. When a Hel tile is placed, it is placed face-down on top of another tile. For each tile that is adjacent or diagonal to a Hel tile, the player scores 1 Victory Point. Since the Hel tile does not count as part of a players hand, no tile is drawn to replace it after it has been played. No other tile can be placed onto a Hel tile and a Skadi tile is not allowed to use its special ability with a Hel tile. In addition, a Hel tile is allowed to be placed onto a Troll tile.

 

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Player B places his Hel tile onto a Jotunn tile.

 

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This means that the previous row of 7 tiles is now split into two individual rows of 3 tiles. Also, the previous column of 4 tiles is split into a column of 1 tile and a column of 2 tiles. Player B would also score 6 Victory points since there are 6 other tiles adjacent and diagonally connected to this Hel tile.

 

Once all tiles have been played into the play area and no tiles remain in a player’s hand or in the draw pile, the game ends. If there is a tie, the player who reached the tied score first, is determined the winner.

 

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Thoughts:

Voluspa is quite simple to understand and learn, yet the underlying strength of strategy that can be found amongst its gameplay is what will drawn in gamers the most. Although each tile has a separate and unique ability, players shouldn’t have a hard time memorizing what each tile does and preplanning strategies around their uses. There are enough unique special abilities included (especially with the expansion) that should be sufficient enough to plan around multiple moves by an opponent. The addition of tiles such as the Sea Serpent in the included expansion can really score an abundant amount of points for a player. As such, there’s a degree of attention needed to defensively plan against such possible scoring scenarios as much as there is to simply place tiles for scoring purposes only.

While Voluspa plays up to 5 players, the amount of strategic planning can spread quite thin when 4 or more players are involved. A large amount of strategy in the game comes from being able to preplan and arrange tiles for high-scoring combos on your next turn. When 4 other players are placing tiles in between each of your turns, it can negate a lot of the setup and preplanning that goes into the game. Having said that, Voluspa is quite appealing as a 2-3 player strategy game, and one that can present quite a challenge to master.

The back and forth play and tile placing special abilities will appeal to those that enjoy games such as Hive, For The Win, and Neuroshima Hex. Fans of Ghost Stories will also recognize the brilliant and stunning artwork provided by Piero. Voluspa provides a nice balance of straightforward mechanics and in-depth, strategic gameplay, which should interest those that enjoy elements of hand management and have a consistent gaming partner.

 

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