The Best Viking Strategy Games20 May 2020 0
Ok, I’m not going to lie: I was actually pretty excited about the Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla reveal back at the end of April. I’ve dabbled in those games in the past but not really stuck with them before. Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey did seem quite interesting in terms of the new design direction, but the Ancient Greece setting didn’t really do it for me.
Valhalla though? Vikings? Saxon England!? Yes mate. And while I was busy fan-boying over Alfred the Great, it made me realise that this period or theme has actually been well covered by strategy games.
So, if you’re also like me and looking for a way to get your Viking fix whilst waiting for the new Assassin’s Creed game (or just generally like Vikings), here’s my summary of some of the best Viking strategy games on the market.
The Best Viking Strategy Games
- Crusader Kings 2: The Old Gods
- A Total War Saga: Thrones of Britannia
- Expeditions: Vikings
- Bad North
- The Banner Saga Trilogy
- Raiders of the North Sea (Board Game)
- Explorers of the North Sea (Board Game)
Crusader Kings 2: The Old Gods
This was the fifth expansion released for Crusader Kings 2, and it’s honestly one of our favourites. This DLC pack introduced an earlier start date than the vanilla game’s traditional 1066 start. The Year of Our Lord 867 was a far more volatile and dynamic place. Christianity didn’t wholly dominate Europe, and plenty of Dark Age Kingdoms were still knocking about.
More importantly, it’s the year of the Great Heathen Invasion of the British Isles. A large pagan army of Vikings took over most of the north of England, and would have taken the rest of it had Alfred of Wessex not held them back. It’s these events that set the scene for Assassins’ Creed: Valhalla, and Crusader Kings lets you play out this setting in intricate detail as either a Viking lord or even the Saxons themselves.
The base game of Crusader Kings 2 is actually Free-to-Play now, if you want to give it a go first, but you’ll need to buy the Old Gods DLC pack in order to be able to actually play as any of the pagan civilizations and access the 867 start date. Check out our CK2 DLC Guide for more information.
Total War Saga: Thrones of Britannia
The much maligned Thrones of Britannia is similar to CK2 above in that it is also set during the great Viking invasion of Britain. It’s set slightly later in the time-line - the Norseman have already taken over the North of the country and East Anglia, and King Alfred has just won the battle that made him famous at Edington in 878.
From here, you can choose to play out a ‘mini’ Total War game as either the Saxons or the various Danish and Norse factions and fight for control of the British isles. Thrones of Britannia was the first official ‘Total War Saga’ game, and got just as much right as it did wrong. I quite liked it, but then I’m a bit biased towards the setting - many other Total War fans couldn’t get on with its reductive (and in some ways, recycled) design.
Still if you’re looking for a grand strategy game with a bit more personality, then this is an equally good choice to recreate the setting for AC: Valhalla. You can read our Thrones of Britannia review for more insights.
This is a tactical RPG vs. a more traditional strategy game, which brings it more in line with Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla’s design. Set slightly earlier in the Viking age in 790 AD, (nearly a hundred years prior to the great heathen invasion), you play as the new leader of a Norse settlement in Scandinavia who’s forced to go to England to seek wealth, fame and allies, lest you lose your lands to the political machinations of local Lords. So a bit like Vikings Season 1 then, just with a lot more time in the British Isles.
You get to create your main character from scratch, and then you can find and recruit more characters as you travel through the story - from Denmark, to England and beyond. It’s a mixture of RPG sections, where you can walk around towns and other locations, and turn-based tactical battles. There’s a hand-drawn style campaign map that lets you travel between important locations by sea or by foot.
It’s a bit rough around the edges as TRPGs go, but it was still pretty fun and well worth a look if you’re looking for something new with a bit of strategic bite to it. Read our review for more information.
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The Banner Saga Trilogy is a set of three tactical RPGs set in a fantasy world with heavy Norse/Scandinavian inspiration. It’s designed differently to Expeditions but is in the same realm, with the key difference being the lack of historical context.
Still, these are pretty decent Strategy RPGs, with a grid-based tactical combat layer, resource management over your people, and world-class story. We have a review of the final game, Banner Saga 3, if you’re interested.
Civilization 6: Vikings Scenario Pack
The first piece of DLC released for Civilization 6 not only was the only one to just feature scenarios, but also featured some of the best scenarios released to date. It contains a 100-turn scenario set at the height of the Viking Age, allowing you to play as Denmark, Norway, or Sweden on a map that spans from Newfoundland to Constantinople. The map is huge and there are many paths to victory. Each of the three viking kings you can play as offer the potential for a different experience.
A bit of a strangely specific recommendation I know, but like the Old Gods expansion for CK2 this is an excellent piece of content that caters to a very specific theme, and it’s worth highlighting. Check out our Civ 6 DLC Guide for more info.
One of the more popular RTS games to come out in recent years, with Northgard we veer away from history and more into thematic fantasy. Choosing one of a broad selection of Viking clans (with more available via DLC), you must lead your people to new lands. You start with a small settlement on the coast of randomly generated islands, and you must explore and expand your way via multiple victory routes.
Other Viking clans will have settled on the Island as well, and you can make friends with them or fight them, and the Islands themselves will be full of dangers you must overcome. Above all, you must make sure you’ve saved up enough food for when Winter comes. It has a very robust story campaign, as well as some highly competitive multiplayer modes as well. Read our Northgard review for more details.
Another Viking-themed game, this is a minimalist strategy experience that shares little in common with Valhalla, but it’s still a pretty cool Viking game. Bad North is a rogue-like with unlockable abilities and trinkets. You must go from island to island and defend it from waves of Viking attackers seeking to plunder and pillage.
All you have to defend yourself is a handful of units, such as Swordsman, or Archers, and you must use them as efficiently as possible. Positioning is everything, but so is having the right counters for your foes. The game gets progressively harder as you go on, and more varied enemy types will appear. Conversely, as you win battles and get coins, you can upgrade your nits with new abilities, and even find new units and items. This is a game about knowing when to push your luck, and knowing when to back down and you should definitely check it out if you haven’t already. We’ve got a review on it, if you want to know more.
Viking Board Games
Viking-themed games aren't just the purview of videogames - the table-top board game world is also pretty taken with the theme. There’s actually quite a few more suggestions we could add here, but we’ll settle for two of our favourites for now.
Raiders of the North Sea
First up we have an excellent board game where you play as a Viking lord who needs to raise a crew to go out and pillage foreign lands. This is an elegant and simple worker placement game that involves several routes to victory, and a progression-based board. This means you’ve got to work your way to the bigger prizes.
This is the second entry in what is known as the ‘North Sea’ trilogy of board games, all created by designer Shem Phillips. The artwork is incredible, and while the set-up involves a lot of bits the ruleset is lean and simple.
Explorers of the North Sea
Next is the third game in the ‘North Sea’ trilogy. Explorers is a different game to Raiders, although it contains some of the same themes. Instead of the ‘raiding’ and ‘pillaging’ beats of the Viking Age, this final entry instead focuses on how the Scandinavian people explored much of the world - even getting as far as North America.
Again, this is a victory point that’s largely asymmetrical: you’re both exploring in your own directions, and so the strategy here is to follow your chosen victory path more efficiently. You can build outposts on new lands, or find resources and animals to take back to your home. You can even raid any settlements you find, if you really want.
Got any Viking-themed strategy recommendations of your own? Are you also looking forward to Assassin's Creed: Valhalla? Let us know in the comments!