It’s not easy being a Viking. Healthcare hasn’t been invented yet, so your toothache probably won’t go away any time soon. It’s cold. Horns are in short supply this season so you don’t look very cool this year. Hmm, I wonder if those settlements up north have some cool stuff that they ‘don’t need’? Why don’t we gear up, and go up there for a bit of a look around! We’ll bring back some loot, have a bit of a recharge and then go at it again! After all, that’s what Raiders of the North Sea do best. And if we happen to get into some strife, Valhalla awaits!
2-4 Players| 1 Hour | Designed by Shem Phillips
Raiders of the North Sea was originally published via Kickstarter in 2015 by Garphill games, who are based in New Zealand. It is a sequel of sorts to the 2014 title Shipwrights of the North Sea, and has enjoyed somewhat greater success. Raiders of the North Sea has become the defacto flagship game of the series, which now also includes 2016 title Explorers of the North Sea. The game has been added to with expansions Fields of Fame, and Hall of Heroes. There is even a campaign expansion The North Sea Runesaga which takes all three games and combines them into an epic multi-chapter experience. The game’s artwork is provided by superb artist Mihajlo Dimitrievski, whose distinctive style has a really good fit with the theme and brings the whole series to life.
How does it work?
Raiders of the North Sea is a worker placement game that has elements of engine building included. The aim of the game is to gather resources to hire crew members, and then go on raids in order to gain points and plunder. Points can also be gained via fulfilling offerings, and by sending crew to … Valhalla. The game concludes when most of the raids are completed, and the player with the most points will become the next Chieftain of the village.
At the beginning of the game players start with a hand of cards, a single worker and 2 silver coins. On your turn you have two options, perform worker placement actions in town, or go on a raid. Since you need provisions and crew members to perform raids, the first few turns will be spent in town gathering resources. Raiders of the North Sea uses a unique ‘place and pick’ worker placement system. You place a worker at an empty location and gain the action (gather resources, hire crew etc) and then you pick up a worker somewhere else to perform another action.
Once you’ve gathered enough crew members and provisions, you can set out and raid locations on the board. Each raid has a requirement of crew, and you must spend provisions to perform the raid. Raids can never fail, but to get points at the farther locations you will need a strong crew to overcome the location’s defences.
There are several ways to get points in the game, so strategies can be varied somewhat between players. Play continues until one of three end game conditions is met, at which time players tally points and see who is the most glorious!
What do I think?
I’ve played the base game several times with varying player counts and I’ve enjoyed it a lot. One of the more notable things about the game is it’s fairly meaty, but despite the box listing the play time as 60-80 minutes, 2 player games can be as quick as 40 mins and 3-4 player games are typically under an hour. As the amount of available resources/raid spaces in the game is fixed for all players, larger player count games don’t actually go for much longer.
The Good Stuff
- Raiders of the North Sea‘s gameplay is very streamlined. It is obvious that lots of effort has gone into development and testing, with all actions feeling intuitive, and the whole game flow being very quick. After finishing up your turn you barely have time to plan the next before it’s time to take another action.
- The place one and pick one worker placement system is an interesting mechanic. It limits options, which serves to reduce decision space. This helps potential analysis paralysis by essentially hard-ruling out options each turn.
- It takes 3 minutes to explain how to play the game to new players. I can’t think of another game of this weight that you can get to playing so quickly.
- There are several varying strategies available that can lead to victory. Players aren’t obliged to follow the same path every game, and it’s hard to get blocked as you can generally choose another option.
- Raiders of the North Sea has lovely production values. The print quality and paper materials are amazing to look at and touch. The pieces are all top notch and everything fits nicely into a smaller than usual form factor box which is great !
- While the gameplay is quick it’s not one of those games that is suddenly over before you get into it. You get to have several satisfying turns before the game is over.
The Bad Stuff
- When you’ve spent a few turns gathering resources for a specific raid, it can be annoying for another player to swoop in before you and take it. While this isn’t a disaster as there are a lot of options, it can put a chink in your plans as you need to pivot to another raid.
- Occasionally Raiders of the North Sea presents you with what is essentially a null turn. If an action you need to do is impossible take, you are forced into doing things that have no net positive effect for you while you wait until your next turn. This can be especially frustrating if you can’t even gain resources that might be useful later as an alternative.
- I’ve found that Raiders of the North Sea has a bit of an annoying ‘stuttering engine issue’. The way the game works, you build up an engine of crew and resources, but since all parts of the engine can be consumable in raids, you find yourself regularly in a position where you need to rebuild. There is no feeling of ramping up your power, when you get knocked down it’s almost like starting the game from the beginning.
- Some games can have a trail off ending where you don’t have much to do. If you anticipate the game ending and go on a few big raids where you burn through your crew and resources you might have to end up taking inconsequential turns for the last few rounds of the game, with no hope of reaching a point where you can do something productive before the game is ended by another player.
- My version of the game has a misprint on the board where all the arrows for the town actions are missing. It can be a bit confusing for new players as it looks like actions where you need to spend something to get something just give you stuff. Apparently this issue affected a large chunk of Renegade Games printings.
- Raiders of the North Sea has some issues such as low variability, lack of depth and limited content in the base game. Thankfully these are addressed with the expansions. The base game is a ‘complete’ game, but the expansions really make for a mid weight, highly variable and re-playable experience. This could be a detractor for people who don’t want to have to buy expansions if they find the base game a bit lacklustre.
As a new-to-me game, I’m very impressed with Raiders of the North Sea. Is it such a streamlined, easy to teach and easy to learn game that I hadn’t really heard of until recently. The game deserves a lot more credit for creating an entry level worker placement experience that can be enjoyed by all levels of gamers. It is widely available now, with several publishers printing it in various languages and distributing in different regions. If you are on the look out for a light-medium worker placement game that has a lot of options for expansion, check out Raiders of the North Sea, I don’t think you will be disappointed!
See The Boardgame Detective’s thoughts on Raiders of the North Sea expansions Fields of Fame and Hall of Heroes here.