The story behind the creation of Vikings Brainstorm

Raf Peeters, January 2013

Personally, I think “Vikings Brainstorm” is one of the better games I designed. It looks beautiful, it’s original and “different”. It’s not as difficult as Titanic or Temple Trap. But it’s also a mechanical puzzle with sequential movements and most of all ... fun to manipulate.


The object of the game is simple: navigate one or more viking ships to the the right location (indicated by arrows that can be clicked on the border of the game board). But the boats move in a surprising way: they move forward by rotating! When you start a challenge you place the 9 puzzle pieces of the sea, the boats and the arrows on the right place. After this setup, you are only allowed to touch the boats. There exists other puzzle games with rotating puzzle pieces. Douglas A. Engel amongst others explored a lot of possibilities of puzzles with circles and intersections. But Vikings is very different for a couple of reasons:

1) Every sea puzzle piece has only 2 cutouts (the space of the intersection). This way you can only rotate a puzzle pieces when the cutouts of neighboring puzzle pieces are facing the puzzle piece you want to rotate. In most cases puzzle pieces are blocked by other puzzle pieces. In a way, this part of the puzzle functions more like an 2D version of “Planets” (a brainteaser invented by Oskar van Deventer).

2) The viking ships are the parts that fit in the intersection between the circles. But not all intersections are filled with boats. There are challenges with one, two, three or four boats. 

3) In most puzzle games with circles you solve them, by rotating the circles on the sides or in the centre. In Vikings you are not allowed to touch the sea pieces, but only the ships. So you don’t move the intersections (=ships) by rotating the circles, but you rotate the circles by moving the intersections. This is an important difference, because it means that you can’t rotate any sea pieces if they don’t contain a ship. The ships act like a key to unlock the puzzle pieces.

4) The object is not a to bring all circle segments to a specific end state, but to bring all boats to their right end position. How the sea pieces are orientated, when the puzzle is solved, doesn’t matter.

5) And of course you have different challenges (60 in total) depending on where the boats and sea pieces are placed during setup and where their end position is.


It takes a while before you get used to the mechanics of this game. It’s not that hard, once you understand how it works. But people are often misguided by the fact that it seems so simple and think that the right order in which you do something doesn’t matter. Another reason why people get stuck is that they want to leave boats close to their end position and only focus on the boats that are still on the wrong place. This way you often can’t solve the challenges, because boats need to help each other in order to get unblocked.

There are a few challenges with only 1 viking ship. These are quite simple. All other challenges use more boats. Challenges don’t become harder by using more ships. There are JUNIOR challenges with 4 boats and MASTER challenges with only 2. This was unexpected when we tested the game. Something that does influence the difficulty level is the numbers of moves. The hardest possible challenge has 32 moves (shown in the booklet), although I always need more moves than the computer program calculated (btw, thanks John for your help by writing the algorithm for this game). It’s one of the reasons why the box says 6-99 and doesn’t have a WIZARD level. 

But most older children and adults will find it more then difficult enough and the fun of manipulating this game compensates for the lack of very hard challenges. When I was developing this game I was a little afraid that it would not function very smooth in reality. But the first preproduction samples worked already flawlessly. Every time you move a boat, you hear a “click” when the sea pieces are rotated 90°. Even my 5 year old son, can do this (although he can’t solve the challenges with more than 1 boat of course).


My colleague Hans (who did the nice artwork) and I wanted to name the game “Malstrom” or “Drekars”. But apparently these words are very uncommon for people without any knowledge of Scandinavian myths and legends, so we settled for the slightly more boring name “Vikings”.

The first designs had islands with viking houses on it. This looked nice, but they hindered when you wanted to move the boats. So in the final product, the end positions are indicated by more abstract arrows. But the ships are like real viking ships and I think they look cute.

The sea puzzle pieces were also a point of discussion. Two versions were made, one with spirals on the puzzle pieces the other one with concentric circles. Although I preferred the spirals (which would make more sense in a whirlpool) we eventually choose the other one (that looks more like the waves you get when you throw a stone in a pool) because that one looked simpler.

UPDATE 2022: There is now a new version with a similar mechanism but with different game rules and challenges, named Grizzly Gears.

top: example of a solution in 21 steps of a challenge of Vikings with 3 boats


1) Choose a challenge and place the ships and 9 puzzle pieces as indicated. Clip the colored arrows on the right place on the border.

2) Move the ships towards their end position (= arrow of the same color as their sail), by rotating the water puzzle pieces:

• Puzzle pieces should always be rotated gently, exactly 90°. 

• Most puzzle pieces are blocked unless their neighboring puzzle pieces are turned in the right orientation. 

• You can rotate puzzle pieces that are "empty" or puzzle pieces with one or more boats. You are not allowed to pick up any boats or puzzle pieces after the setup. 

3) You have found a right solution when all ships are next to their corresponding arrow on the border. You can find the shortest solution at the end of the booklet.

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