By Jon Manker (Stockholm, January 2022)
The viking era ended some 1000 years ago, and the game Pax Viking is set in this period of turmoil. I have had several ideas on different themes for an expansion for Pax Viking, even before it was released, as you tend to have as a game designer. What made me interested in focusing on the Vendel period was that it is a relatively unknown part of the history but still very important in shaping the much more well known Viking era. So thematically, the expansion game “Vendel to Viking” is a prequel.
I like expansions that stand on their own feet. So I knew early on that I wanted Vendel to Viking to be a game that you can play standalone. At the same time I wanted it to be linked to Pax Viking, both in theme and gameplay. So the ambition is to make a game that shares many of the actions, the general art mood (tweaked to Vendel period style) and the format where you build your strength somewhat like an engine, via a common map. Since it is a prequel, the ambition is to link the gameplay so that the end state of a game of Vencel to Viking can affect the starting state of a game of Pax Viking.
The first challenge, for me at least, in a project like this is to stay focused and contain the design so that it stays similar but not the same as Pax Viking when it comes to actions and gameplay. One important change is that it will span a longer time. Pax Viking is set to represent a couple of years, loosely each turn is 1 year making games represent 10-20 years or so. In Vendel to Viking I want to portray a longer development so the plan is to make each turn a generation. In reality the Vendel period lasted for roughly 250 years and the game currently has 11 turns.
Another initial decision, (which can later change in the design process of course) is who you represent as a player. One important thing to me when designing games is that not only the fluff texts, the art, the text content and the components are inspired by reality; I also want the mechanics to be designed based on the reality the game is set to portray. I find the player role to be important as a starting point in this process. For Vendel to Viking my plan is to link the player role to the player role of Pax Viking. In Pax Viking you play a Jarl so in Vendel to Viking you represent a family, and thus there should be one per playable Jarl in Pax Viking.
I have done the first rules concept of the game, meaning several parts still do not have fully constructed rules. A few things that are still falling into place is the overall pace of the game. My intention is to have a similar market as the Saga track of Pax Viking. But since the game is longer in scope I want it to be more about collection strength than making a victory grab. A market can probably handle this but I am testing different variants where the deck of cards in the market is switched out, typically one per century. And in doing so I have been playing with the idea of having the game last 300 years, making each pile be a century. This will portray the history progression better but it adds potentially fiddly moments and down time.
Speaking about time, the goal is 90 min for a 4-player game when you know the rules. Relatively similar to Pax Viking. And speaking of player count, it will for obvious reasons be the same as Pax Viking, 1-6.
I am fond of making solo games that differ clearly from the multiplayer gameplay. This is a matter of taste and this is what I did in Pax Viking. During 2021 I worked extensively together with Benjamin Schmauss and my ION colleague Robin on the solo version of Stationfall. There we made a solo version with the ambition to mimic the multiplayer experience, using scripted bots. Honestly, we put far to many hours into that but it was fun and I think the result is excellent. The plan is to do a similar approach for the Vendel to Viking approach. A benefit is that it can easily be used for coop play as well. If it turns out well I may do a similar thing for Pax Viking as a mini expansion in 2023, but that is by far too early to make any promises about.
Apart from the segmented market deck, things in flux and testing at the moment are the family boards (player board), how members in the family bring benefits/problems to their reign as well as their lineage affecting future turns and which role tech- and/or ability trees may replace the Follower mechanic from Pax Viking.
This is the state of Vendel to Viking right now. Your interest in the game makes me happy since you’ve read this far :)