Thank you for checking review #61 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.
An Overview of Raiders of the North Sea
Raiders of the North Sea is a game designed by Shem Phillips and was published by Garphill Games, and later by Renegade Games. The box states that it can play 2-4 players and has a 60-120 minute play time and a BGG weight rating of 2.57.
Raiders of the North Sea is set in the central years of the Viking Age. As Viking warriors, players seek to impress the Chieftain by raiding unsuspecting settlements. Players will need to assemble a crew, collect provisions and journey north to plunder gold, iron and livestock. There is glory to be found in battle, even at the hands of the Valkyrie. So gather your warriors, it’s raiding season!
Aim of the Game
The aim of Raiders of the North Sea is to impress the Chieftain by having the most Victory Points (VP) at the game’s end. Victory Points are gained primarily by raiding Settlements, taking Plunder and making Offerings to the Chieftain. How players use their Plunder is also vital to their success. The game ends when either only 1 Fortress raid remains, all Valkyrie are removed, or all Offerings have been made.
Gameplay differences for 2 Players
There are no differences in setup or gameplay on this game based upon player count. The end game triggers also remain the same, regardless of player count.
The first thing that I fell in love with in this was the use of worker placement. You will never have more than one worker. You place a worker, execute the action, then remove a different worker from the board and execute the action on the space it left. That mechanic right there is sheer brilliance, allowing you to plan ahead and to react tactically to moves your opponents make. This functions so differently from the standard “place all your workers then bring them back” approach that it feels genuinely refreshing every time I play it. I hope more games find ways to use this approach, because it is a really fun and interesting twist on the genre.
Three colors of workers are in the game, each one capable of going to specific spaces on the board. This aspect works really well with the above worker placement mechanic, allowing you to swoop up that white worker they just retrieved from a raiding space (for you, no doubt) and placed down in the bottom section. I like the progression here, and that the black starter workers have a benefit with the money generation space. It almost is enough to tempt me to keep one around all game. Almost. I like the approach taken here, and the fact that they don’t have powerful abilities is perfect. This approach is just right, opening up higher spaces on the board that require more resources to raid.
Artwork by the Mico is so fun and uniquely his that I absolutely love the life he brings to the games. It is a flavor all of his own, and it is stamped firmly upon this game. I couldn’t tell you if I prefer him or Beth Sobel, but they both are guaranteed to catch my attention with their artistic work.
Valkyries are the best resource I have ever seen in a game, hands down. Not only are they thematic as can be (okay, I wish they weren’t a black skull but I get it needed to be a similar shape to the other resources to help randomize drawing from the bag in setup), but they provide a big struggle for the player in terms of when to take a space with a Valkyrie (or worse, multiple ones) since it will cause them to lose some of the cards they paid to recruit. But those Valkyrie can be worth a lot victory points at the end of the game, and there is quite the swing in points if one person gets them and another ignores them. This can especially happen in a 2-player game where there is less rush to compete for spaces on the board.
Multi-use cards are always a thing I enjoy. In this game, most of what you’re likely considering is the cost to recruit them and the ability they can provide for your group. Since you’re limited to 5 in play as a maximum, there comes a point where you need to be selective. Thankfully, those Valkyrie can help you cycle out cards that lose usefulness (such as ones that might provide benefits from raiding Harbours) so you can modify your group strategically as the game progresses. However, don’t underestimate the value of playing a card at the Town Hall location! Some of those abilities, although one-time use, can really help you get ahead or catch up to your opponent.
Dice are a negligible component in the game. You can recruit a team of people with really high strength, and complement that with a lot of time pumping up the Armory, to where you are going to get points when raiding the higher spaces regardless. Or you can play it a little riskier, going through with just enough to get the space and hope the dice help you get a few additional points along the way. I appreciate it being able to cater to both crowds there, and that there are higher rewards in VP for those who can hit really high attack values.
I haven’t done it yet, but this game can be played in sequence with the other two in the North Sea Trilogy to make an overarching gaming experience. How cool is that? I can’t report on how it works or how well it plays, but I plan to eventually. Regardless, more games should have something like this, to where you can string them together in a small campaign of sorts that can be completed in a single game day.
There are three ways for the game to end, something I really like. However, in a 2-player match, it has only ever ended when 5/6 Fortress spaces were raided. The same was true in a 3-player game we’ve played of this. We’ve come close on Valkyries before, as we both tend to try and max out those points (me moreso than her in the early game) but have never cleared them all. And we haven’t even come close to wiping out the stack of tiles, since you need to trade in resources to get those and sometimes those resources are better used in other places. So while I like the idea of three ways to end the game, I imagine that those other two really come into play with the full player count rather than with 2-players.
The game can feel same-y after multiple plays on the board. Sure, there are small things that change: the resources on each space, the tiles you can gain at the Long House, and the cards you’ll draw into your hand. But, ultimately, you’re doing the exact same thing every time with minimal variance. That is the biggest downfall in so many worker placement games, where it becomes repetitive. If you like a fresh experience every play, this isn’t going to provide that (at least the base game alone). However, even within this weakness of the genre there is enough in the game to where you can make strong tactical plays to squeeze out points more efficiently than your opponent in order to win the game.
The game as a whole gets repetitive within a single game experience, too. Get money to recruit cards. Gain provisions. Go on a raid and pay provisions/resources/cards. Repeat, this time needing more of everything to go higher on the board. While the game is fun and exciting, there is a lot of repetition even as you get further into an individual game. That is its biggest weakness, as the spots that you go to outside of the town are all one-shot spaces. So you’re spending about 75% of the game cycling through the same handful of spaces in order to go to a single space up above.
There should be no surprises about my thoughts if you saw my Top 25 Games. This game appears there, and I see no reason why it won’t be there for the long-term as I gain expansions for this game and add the rest of the North Sea Trilogy into my collection. The unique approach to worker placement in this is a refreshing change from the others, and I’ll admit I love the theme and the artwork enough to give this game a slight boost beyond what it might otherwise earn.
The base game here is really good. There’s no way around that. I’m excited whenever I get this game to the table. I’m even more excited to pick up the solo variant at some point so I can play (and revisit in a review!) the solo experience for this game. I’m looking at the various expansions out there and trying to determine which one I should pick up first to expand and enhance the experience…knowing full well that my wife is almost never a fan of expansions. I’m thinking Fields of Fame, since it adds enemy Jarls which should make things more interesting in trying to raid.
The progression arc in this game is enjoyable, even if it is predictable. How you approach building your engine is what makes this game fun, just like any deckbuilder or engine optimization game out there. The wrinkle comes with those Valyries, a resource that you shouldn’t completely avoid because of its end-game point potential but comes with a heavy cost in losing part of your team of Raiders. This is the aspect of the game that really shines, even moreso than the worker placement aspect, because it is where you gain some variety.
Do I want more people to recruit? Yes, so that the deck dilutes and you can’t count on getting 2-3 of X in order to reap a ton of benefits at a certain part of the game. The team you choose to hire, and the raiding spot sequence you choose, can make or break your chance of winning this game. The game’s mechanics are balanced on the edge of a knife, as you’re going to earn a lot of the same points in the same places. The difference comes in those smaller details. And that is something I really, really appreciate. It enables a veteran to be able to see that ideal path while also allowing for newer players to keep it a close game and potentially spoil the best-laid plans and steal a win.
If you like worker placement, you definitely need to try this game. If you like engine building, you should try this game. If you hate optimization games, where the more efficient player will win more often than not, then it might not be quite right for you. But this game I definitely cherish having in my collection, and I look forward to getting all of the North Sea line of product eventually on my shelves.
Hopefully you found this article to be a useful look at Raiders of the North Sea. If you’re interested in providing support for Cardboard Clash so I can continue to improve what we offer, check out my page over on Patreon: http://www.patreon.com/CardboardClash.
Check out more of our reviews at the following Geeklist and be sure to let me know what you thought of this game.
Bonus: Renegade Games is generously providing a giveaway for a NIS copy of Raiders of the North Sea. Be sure to enter to win!