In a previous article, I discussed different strategies the Vikings can use in 878 - Vikings. While the English are forced to defend after the Vikings decide where they will invade with their huge armies, there are several ways that you as the English player can mitigate and sometimes even control which strategy the Viking players use.
The English get to choose where to place extra units before the game starts. This allows you to give extra defense to the cities you think will be important. In reality, nothing you do is going to stop the Vikings from taking a city at the start of the game. The real advantage you have is that the Vikings will most often invade an area where you did not place extra units. While some Viking players will be set on invading somewhere specific, the English are often the ones who determine where the first invasion happens.
The Viking’s greatest advantage is that Leaders of large armies can continue moving after a battle in order to take multiple cities in a single turn. The English units are spread out so that you most likely cannot stop the Viking Leaders from winning their initial battles and taking your cities.
However, the Viking Leaders do have a major weakness that you should always try to exploit. During battle, the first Hit the Vikings take from the first English roll must be a Berserker, which are the best units in the game. The Vikings want to lose as few Berserkers as possible, so generally only one dies in each battle. The largest Viking armies have 8 Berserkers and the smallest have only 4. The number of Berserkers in the army is usually the number of battles that army can effectively fight, so I think of the Berserkers as the Viking army’s Hit Points. You want to find ways to eliminate Berserkers without losing too many units or cities.
Although the Vikings lose a movement if a battle lasts more than one battle round, I generally care more about killing as many Berserkers as I can. This means that I want the Vikings to fight as many battles as they can with me as the defender. Don’t worry about limiting how many cities they try to take at the start of the game. You want the Vikings to overextend themselves and weaken their Leader.
As the English, I command-decision move units to adjacent spaces a lot more often than I do in the Birth of America Games. The Vikings will often get 4 or more Hits when they roll, so unless I have a lot of Fyrd left after my first roll, I will command-decision anyone I can to fight another day. I do this so that I have a better chance of killing a Berserker in a future battle and to make the Vikings nervous about my armies having enough men to take back my cities.
The English can move more individual armies than the Vikings and are initiating fewer attacks at the beginning of the game. You will often have extra moves to use. One thing you can do with these moves is to move reinforcements from the rear towards the front. This is not a bad idea, but in the end, you are just leaving the rear area vulnerable to a surprise Viking sea movement. Further, whatever you reinforce will probably still not be able to stand to a strong Viking army.
I prefer to use these extra moves to block the paths of the Viking armies and force them to fight extra battles in areas that may not have cities. You will not stop them from moving through, but you can kill one Berserker as they go for their real target. Moving units to non-city spaces also has the added benefit of allowing you to command-decision there, since you may only command-decision to a Shire already occupied by your units. Keep in mind that you will not get any Fyrd when defending these non-city spaces, so I never leave more than 2 units there and command-decision out when I don’t Hit.
The English only have 20 blue Housecarls to place. It is fairly easy to reach your max, especially if you control Wessex for the first Rounds of the game. You will not easily reach your 40 Thegn unit limit, so even though the Housecarls are stronger units than the Thegn, don’t be afraid to choose to lose some Housecarls. You will easily get them back. I usually use Housecarls for my roadblocks, since they have a better chance to hit.
A full game usually lasts at least 5 rounds, so you should not be too concerned about losing cities at the start of the game. Instead, you want to focus on keeping and taking back your reinforcement cities. You have to be careful because you will not get Fyrd Cards when attacking and you have to weigh how many troops you will gain compared to how many you and the Vikings will lose.
The guidance so far is assuming the Viking player is playing well. However, it is really easy for the Vikings to make mistakes and overextend themselves. The Viking players often get greedy and will attack too many cities in a Round, resulting in the loss of too many Berserkers. When an army has two or fewer Berserkers left, ATTACK! Killing one more Berserker will result in the Vikings rolling fewer than 2 Berserker dice, which can mean doom for a Viking leader. If you can prevent the Vikings from having more than one leader on the map, you are in good shape.
While the Vikings are all about overwhelming power and taking cities as fast as they can, the English need to be patient and choose their battles wisely. It is harder to make mistakes as the English, but they require more strategy to win in the end. When playing as the English, I always feel dread as I see the huge Viking armies taking city after city, but also anticipation as I see opportunities constantly presenting themselves. For me, this makes the English very exciting and fun to play.