[BGG: aaron belmer]
I have about 20 games under my belt from BSW, and have a few things I've learned, although I certainly wouldn't call myself an expert, however I do have a decent win percentage.
I do love the game, and it's taken my about 10 games before I finally 'get' how to win and what needs to be done.
I like the 'how to lose' format of strategy articles, so here are some thoughts on how to lose at Vikings:
(1) Not paying attention to blue fisherman. Fisherman are cheap, get them, and get them fast, because if you don't your opponent will. For an optimal strategy, you need at LEAST 1 for every 5 of your total vikings. But count on trying to get more than that.
(2) Not taking 'starting' island pieces. As far as island tiles go, starting islands (left side) should be valued much higher than middle or right side pieces. These are primo. Premium. Start islands > middle islands > end islands. Don't be afraid to pay extra for these, or get one with a viking that you 'don't need'. They're valuable, they start new islands, they're valuable in your first front column, and they give you lots of options.
(3) Don't monitor your mainland people. Be aware of who you have, and where you're going to park them. Optimally, you want to have 1 of each color, and a place to put them, so when you finally do use a grey boat dude, you can place them all nice and neat. example: If you have 2 red guys in mainland, and no green guys mainland, look at your board. Why do you have 2 open green spaces, and no open red spaces? Plan for this. This is just as important part of the game as taking tiles/vikings and placing them immidietly. Sure we'd all like to take them and place them immdietly, but doesn't always happen that way, and really you shouldn't be trying to force that anyway. Build smart. Boatmen are your friends.
(4) Leaving no options to build, taking all end pieces. It's very easy to do, but don't leave yourself with no options to build out. Completing islands is very important, but so is leaving options. Between being able to build up and down, and leaving open ended building situations, give yourself options.
(5) Taking money ships over points ships. It's the end of the round, and your staring at various ships. Which one do you take? The cheapest right? That's right (if you want to lose). Take the ship with the points, as the color is pretty irrelevant. You have warriors right (black vikings)? Well use them to block ships with points. 2/3 points are much > than 3/5 coins a the end of the game. And actually having little money isn't really THAT bad in this game. What's worse than being broke, is your opponent blocking 15 points worth of ships per round, and your blocking 8 dollars. Guess what, you lose.
(6) Not valuing warriors (black vikings). I've seen folks take warriors early game (9/10 cost), and I've seen folks waiting around until they're dirt cheap. The ones that take them early win games. Of course much of this depends on how many are available, the laws of supply/demand are in full effect, but basically if there is one black warrior on an island piece, you probably want to grab it. If there is a warrior on a STARTING island piece. Whoa buddy, grab it quick, cause it's not lasting long.
(7) Make things cheaper for your opponent. Taking the cheapest thing when you make everything else cheaper isn't (always) the best option. In a game like this, it's so dependent on the situation, however just becuase something is cheap and attractive, doesn't mean it's the right pick. Now if it's towards the end of the game, and you're low on blue guys, probably want to grab it. If it's a starting island piece, snatch it up. But just because it's cheap, look at your options. Where can you build that maybe the 2-3 range could benefit you. Are there green/red middle-island piece that would snag you some points, and help continue your ability to build out? Let yahoo take the cheap one, and make the better stuff cheaper for you.
(8) Don't look at your opponents board. Don't do it, who cares what he has, not effecting you right? We're trying to lose remember! Always look, always be aware. Be JUST as aware of what your opponent is doing as what you're doing. What does he need? What is he going to take next round? Anticipate and block his move. If he already has 3 warriors, and only 2 spots to place them, you can value warriors cheaper. If he needs starting island pieces, snatch em up even early than you normally would, they're never a wasted piece. Monitor his ability to block, to ship, blue fisherman, everything. Know thy enemy. Or don't if you want to lose. Also know what his 'last round strategy' is. See #9.
(9) Try to have AT LEAST two things you're better at than your opponent. And monitor what HE'S going for so you can help shape your strategy. Some talented players go for building the biggest island. Look, if he's already got a 6-7 space island going, forget it and move your strategy to MORE islands than him. And go for hoarding the fisherman strategy. And for hoarding boatmen. The player that wins will most likely have 3 of the 4 main end strategies (fisherman, most islands, longest island, boatmen). If you aren't working towards at LEAST two of those, you lose. Again, monitor, block, and be stronger in at least 2 of the 4 strategies. These aren't 'bonus points'. This isn't extra credit for high school. This is required reading, get em or you lose.
(10) Grey boatman on island pieces? No way. These are hot. But don't pay any attention to em. We're trying to lose.
(11) Placing of the first piece. You know, this is one area where I still struggle with, so instead of 'telling you how it is and what to do' I'm going to request some discussion from the community. My instinct is to say that your first piece strategy is dependant on what is immedietly available. For example, if there are cheap/decent starting island pieces, I'm usually tempted to snatch it up, and place the 2 starters in diff. places. But let's take a look at our options:
a. Going for the gold (build out yellow). You need money early right? 1st round is money round right? It would seem only natural to take a cheap (1-2) middle island yellow piece. Then place your first starting piece in yellow, and build out yellow. This is good for a few reasons. First, you now have dependable income for your engine. Second, you can 'build up' with all those cheap red and green points, which gives you lots of building options.
b. DE-FENSE. DE-FENSE. I notice a lot of folks will buy a starting island piece (cheapest, doesn't matter color), and then put their first initial piece on blue or yellow, and their purchased piece on black warriors. This is a defense strategy, don't want to be caught not being able to defend, plus gives you options of building out and down to red. I dabble in this, and usually to good success. Blocking ships is good.
c. Goin fishing. Some folks I play SWEAR by going blue fast and furious. The whole don't be caught without fisherman' strategy is usually right on. So starting strategy would be buy the cheapest blue, and then place your start piece in blue and build out. That way you can build up to yellow, still 'get paid', and hope to snatch a starting piece for black or red soon. In fact, if you see an excess of starting pieces for later in the round, this may be the best option so you don't have to 'worry about blue' later. If you don't see many starting pieces, I think I'd lean more towards starting off warriors, but I just don't know.
d. ? I don't know, what are your thoughts? Start out red to give you options to build out/up/down? Never really tried this. I tend to go a mix of the three.
I encourance others to post their thoughts, tell me what works and what doesn't. Very underrated and underappreciated game. Who gives a crap about the theme really. I'm usually Mr. Theme, and rarely play a game without it, but this is an addictive well designed abstract game, and it's amazing. I also think this is the type of game that really shines on BSW.