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Way back in 2015 vikings were the new black. A fresh era was ushered in with the arrival of Blood Rage, Champions of Midgard, and a new edition of the classic Fire & Axe. Hell, I’m stilling enjoying the History Channel’s Vikings in a post-Ragnar Lothbrook age (#TeamLagertha). We haven’t quite reached saturation yet, so let’s welcome Endless Pass: A Viking Saga onto the scene with a drink from the horn and a stroke of the beard.
Even if you are of the bonkers opinion that we have too many ancient Scandinavian titles being pushed, this one’s a bit different. Endless Pass is less a two-hour epic and more a 25-minute war-cry. It’s a design influenced by the side-scrolling video games of yore with a central mechanism built around running past enemies and leaving them behind to trip up opponents. It’s clever in its own way and it offers a snappy bout of conflict.
Each player assumes the role of Viking warrior. In the basic game you’re all identical, however in the advanced mode you receive asymmetric abilities and slightly altered stats. It’s just a touch of mechanical identity that helps impart a degree of personality and separation from your primitive peers.
The idea here is that Ragnarok is coming and there’s a whole host of serpent-people monstrosities hidden in the Endless Pass, awaiting the call of the beast Jormungand. Since it’s been foretold Midgard will be annihilated, you have nothing to lose by taking to the snake-gorge and felling some critters, old school style. Thus, we dine on glory! (No, we don’t call them victory points, because putting exclamation points after victory points makes no sense.)
You have a speed rating, which is naturally how fast your dudette or dude is running through this rocky Tatooine scenery. This is how many cards – typically 2 or 3 – you’ll draw from atop the pass deck. The vast majority of these are those dark snake-people, although a few items like fire bombs and runestones can be discovered in Beggar’s Canyon.
Then you work out the different ways you can spend the two or three action cards in your hand to cleave the critters or perhaps avoid their jagged teeth. If you can’t block, dodge, or kill every single enemy, you will take damage from the remainder. Damage is bad because Endless Pass doesn’t pull any punches and you can be eliminated; this baby has fangs.
This is one of the rough spots in the game as the majority of your decisions are determined by a random draw of cards. Pretty much everything is useful, but you may lag behind in earning glory(!) if you don’t luck into enough attack options. This is compounded by the penchant for smaller hand-sizes on the asymmetric-side of the player boards. You do acquire more options due to those items you can find in the pass deck, but this is never a game with deep strategic concerns. It’s quick and brutal and it’s fine with that.
The enemies you don’t slaughter get passed to the next player clockwise, which they’ll add to with their own draw. This is where the juiciest bit of the game emerges as you can sometimes purposely choose to avoid the killing blow merely to toss the cobra onto your neighbor’s lap. It’s humorous and backed up by tactical relevance.
What’s most gratifying about this mechanism is that it does manage to feel as though you are gunning past a group of shadow lizards and clawing your way through in a hurry. That feeling of blowing past a crowd and leaving some as a speed bump for the drunken neck-beard sitting adjacent is sweet like a swig from an ale-filled goat bladder.
The game is an overall race to a 10 glory(!) threshold with a side dose of player elimination. I really enjoy how it follows through on its violent concept by not taking the soft route of allowing players to respawn or simply become exhausted. This is further enhanced with the ability to challenge other players at the end of your turn and play attack cards on them. These small bouts of blood require you of course save cards from the lizard-folk part of your turn, but they allow you to hack at another player’s flesh or even steal glory(!) from them. This is wonderful because it integrates well thematically in addition to providing a way to catchup to those who are winning.
The meat that exists on the bones of this design are centered mainly here. That choice of taking a bit of extra damage yourself by holding back some cards, cards you intend to use offensively against your neighbor – that’s a meaningful and interesting decision point. It’s particularly noteworthy when you chop at your neighbor simply to weaken their hand and leave them vulnerable to a pile of upcoming Endless trucking their way.
Endless Pass is an extremely solid entry from first-time designer Núria Casellas and veteran publisher WizKids. It works as a replacement for the classic (in age) Bang! that we’ve all played countless times. This may still feel overly random occasionally due to an unshakable feeling that card draw bears significance, but it’s short and light enough that this doesn’t take away from the joy this little conflict engine creates. It may not be the year of the Viking any longer, but Endless Pass doesn’t really care.
Have you played Endless Pass? Let us know in the comments! And be sure to join host Becca Scott on Game the Game every Thursday here on Geek & Sundry to watch the best boardgames played with fantastic guests!
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Image Credits: Charlie Theel
Editor’s note: A sample of the game was provided by the publisher