Beer & Vikings – of course I had to review this new Italian boardgame, the follow-up to 2011's Sake & Samurai in the “Spirits & Warriors” series. Let me say at the outset that the game art shows little influence from actual Viking Period material culture and the text shows little influence from Old Norse literature. This is a humorous game about Conanesque barbarians with beards and a mighty thirst. I accept this point of departure and will look at the game's qualities within the given parameters.
The game is played with cards and tokens. The winner is the player whose character drinks the most beer from the communal barrel (i.e. collects the most tokens from a pot). If two drink the same amount, the tie is resolved by who kills the most opponents (by draining all their hit points). But designer Matteo Santus has built interesting checks into the twin goals of drinking and manslaughter: each beer token usually disables one of your abilities, and the ghosts of the slain form a team that can also collect beer tokens and perhaps beat you. So in a way this game teaches barbarian moderation. It's not a long game once you've learned the rules. It plays 3-8 people and takes ~10 mins per participant.
My group enjoyed the game quite a lot. The four of us each graded it a 6 or 7 out of 10. Regarding game design, we found that the minions do little and might be taken out without lessened enjoyment – they're basically walking hit points. And the option to throw your axe past an opponent's defences is overpowered. Particularly if axe-throwing happens as a third action in addition to the two cards you are allowed to play each turn. The rule book certainly allows for such an interpretation but does not make the matter clear. People with little to middling experience of boardgaming will be confused by the fact that each card can mean at least six different things depending on which part and side of the card you choose to use. But seasoned players of e.g. Carl Chudyk's popular card games with their steep learning curves will take this in their stride.
The game art by Jocularis is fun and attractive. It's basically caricatures of Vallejo's and Frazetta's barbarians plus beards, with absurdly oversized axes and muscles and bosoms that could never be used in real life. We laughed at the rotund and muscular valkyrie Blenda Småland who appears to be wearing a pair of Obelix's striped pants pulled up to her armpits.
With finicky rules covering eight pages of fine print, this is clearly a game aimed at gamers rather than the general public. It's a fun filler for people who like beer and Vikings, and that fits almost every hobby gamer I've ever come across. It has strategic depth but is not too long, and after your first game I believe your group will want to give it another go pretty soon.