Disclaimer: I was provided with a prototype copy of the game. Artwork and component quality do not necessarily represent the finished product.
So you’re a Viking. And you’re dead. You’re a dead Viking. That’s where Langskip starts off, in this light, small box game from Crab Studios. It holds the unusual honour of being the second Viking-themed race game I’ve played, along with the excellent Odin’s Ravens. In Langskip , as a dead Viking you were hoping to make it to Valhalla, to eat and drink with the gods, but due to some kind of clerical error, you’ve ended up in Helheim.
Luckily for you, and up to three other players, you’ve got a plan! In the middle of the table is a long, thin track, which represents the journey from Helheim back to Asgard, to tell Odin there’s been a mixup and that you really ought to be living it up in Valhalla. To move along that track though, you’ve got to get help from the gods, and cause a little bit of mischief along the way.
Liar, liar, pants on fire
If I had to describe Langskip’s gameplay loop to you in a sentence, it’d have to be “Cockroach Poker meets Love Letter”. That’s a good place to start from if you ask me, as both are brilliant examples of bluffing and player power card games respectively. Card powers range from moving a space, to moving many spaces and getting a look at someone else’s cards. There’s a good mix of powers, and unusually for me, I didn’t find there was a card I dreaded drawing because it’s awful. On your turn you’ll play a card from your hand of two, but you play it face-down and tell the other players what it is. That sounds simple, but because that card is face-down, I suppose you could lie about which card you played. But you wouldn’t do that… would you?
And that’s where the whole game of Langskip takes place, in those moments after you play a card. Everyone has a reference card which explains what each card does, and also the number of copies of that card in the deck. So I can confidently slap a card down and tell you it’s a Valkyrie, which lets me move one spot further along the track. There’s a good chance I might be telling the truth, as there are five Valkyrie cards in the deck. But what if I tell you I played the powerful Thor card? Or better yet, suppose I told you I played Thor, but you’re holding the only Thor card in the deck?
Or more accurately, mischief! If you think someone is lying, you can shout out ‘Mischief’. If you’re right, and they’re a sneaky little liar, you get a mischief token, and they don’t get to perform their action. However, if you’re wrong and you’ve just tarnished their reputation with your slanderous accusations, you move back a space on the track. So you’d better be pretty darn sure when you call someone out.
If nobody accuses you of mischief – and this is the bit I really like – you get to take the action of the card you claimed to have played. It might not be that card, you might have put down something nowhere near as powerful, but if no-ones going to call you out on it, well, that’s their loss. This is a great hook, and it really comes into its own when you’re playing with people you’ve known a long time, especially near the end of the game. When there’s only a couple of spaces between someone and victory, making the right judgement call is so important.
Those mischief tokens I mentioned before have an important role to play too. Some of the gods on the cards can use them to increase the benefit of playing them, and this is something I also like. It means you’re encouraged to bluff, and that even the goodest-of-good people are usually forced into telling an untruth or two.
My son is eight, and he loves Cockroach Poker. He’s a strong reader too, so I wasn’t worried about the writing on the cards. The names on the cards caused a couple of issues though. There are three gods whose names all begin with an ‘F’: Frigg, Freya and Fenrir. He (and I in fairness) found it hard to remember which was which sometimes. It doesn’t help your poker face when you say ‘Fenrir – no, Frigg!‘. He struggled with ‘Jormungandr’ too, but I also know plenty of adults who would.
That on its own wouldn’t be so bad, but the writing on the reference card is so small that it can give you away at times. If you want to bluff and pretend you’re playing a card you don’t hold, you’ve got two real options. Either learn the card names and powers by heart (which you will do after a good few games), or look at the reference card. But when you’re squinting at the reference card, it’s a real giveaway that you’re fibbing. Hopefully this is just a prototype issue that’ll get resolved for the full release, because it did take a bit of the fun out of the game at times.
Despite my small moan above, I really like Langskip. I’m a big fan of the games which have obviously influenced it, like Love Letter and Coup, and it does a good job of adding new things into the mix. Choosing whether or not you let someone get away with what you suspect might be a lie is really reminiscent of The Sheriff of Nottingham, which is another game I really like.
As with all socially interactive games, especially ones involving bluffing, you need to make sure you really know the preferences of the group you’re playing with. I know some people who absolutely hate bluffing as a mechanism in a game, and if someone is new to the group, asking them to lie to and accuse their new friends can be a bit much. It’s pretty good with two, but the game properly comes alive with three or four players.
If you play a few games to get really familiar with the cards’ names, and don’t need to rely on the reference card at all, then Langskip is a great game. I could see myself playing this in a beer garden, or at the start or end of a games group night. Games never went longer than about 25 minutes in my experience, which is a good length. Longer than that and some bluffing games start outstaying their welcome, in my opinion.
If you and your family or group like these short, sweet, bluffing games, with a nice little gameplay loop that plays fast, I think you’ll like Langskip. Providing the price is right on the Kickstarter, I’ve got no hesitation in recommending it, it’s a solid game.
Designer: Neil Crabtree
Publisher: Crab Studios
Playing time: 20-30 mins