Thank you for checking review #100 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.
**Note: A review copy of the solo variant expansion was sent in exchange for an honest review.
An overview of Raiders of the North Sea: Solo Variant
Raiders of the North Sea: Solo Variant is an expansion for Raiders of the North Sea, designed by Shem Phillips that is published by Garphill Games. The rules state it plays 1 player.
This is a solo variant for Raiders of the North Sea. It is also compatible with Hall of Heroes, Fields of Fame and all promo materials. This variant includes 23 scheme cards which drive the decision making process of the AI opponent.
You will always take your turn first, followed by your opponent. Your turns function just as they would in the standard game (with the exception of 1 Village location being blocked each turn). Your opponent’s turns operate differently. On their turn, reveal the top Scheme Card from the Schemes Draw Pile and follow its instructions. Your opponent will always attempt to Raid if they can. Otherwise, they will Work.
Raiders of the North Sea has been one of my favorite games since it entered my collection. It is relatively thematic, has great art, and I love the Viking theme of the game. I enjoy the innovative worker placement mechanic. Yet like any game, it is restricted on how many times it hits the table based upon the number of players required. That is why, when I heard a solo expansion was coming, I got excited. Very, very excited. A new player count to play with means this game is going to hit the table more often, which is definitely a positive in this solo gamer’s books.
The solo AI is relatively easy to pilot, as it involves flipping a card and either having it raid the space shown if it has the resources, or have it gain the resources shown instead. Like a player, it spends resources every time it raids which, unfortunately, means you need to track some of what it gains. But ultimately it is a simple process, most of which is done on the three tracks marked on the board and the other being via provisions. If you know how to play the base game, you can learn to use the solo variant in under five minutes.
The solo AI is not a “beat your own high score” sort of solo variant for the game! It pushes me to play better and plan better, churning out parties as quickly as I can to raid the spaces I need before they are gone. It takes a strong enough balance of all things that it scores pretty well and, so far, I’ve been lucky in some late game situations where it would miss opportunities to raid by a single resource and then spend the next few drawing Harbor spaces that were long empty. But other times it swoops in and takes spaces that I can’t touch yet, raking in points at a good clip. All in all, it forces me to play better, which is what you want from a solo system.
Not only does this deck give the solo AI some actions to execute, it also blocks a space for the player turn. Sometimes that blocked space is perfectly acceptable, something that leaves you to your plans. Other times it’ll take the exact space you need, preventing you from getting provisions or crew members when you need them for that next raid. The best (and worst) is when it delays you that one turn and the next card has it scoop up the space you were hoping to raid yourself. That perfection doesn’t happen often against you, but it certainly makes it feel like that deck is totally playing against you.
Okay, I understand the “optimal” idea of putting the rules on the actual tuckbox that the variant comes in. I’m all for being creative and saving on costs and whatnot. But what happens when that tuckbox rips? As a gamer who doesn’t usually hang onto boxes for expansions unless they are needed for storage (which is rare), this makes the solo variant an anomaly in my collection. It isn’t a bad thing, but at the same time a small rulebook to flip through rather than box folds to move around would have been nice.
This game is only available through Garphill Games’ website that I am aware of. And while this is 110% worth it, I’m not so blind as to believe it won’t deter some from picking it up. For what its worth, if you already enjoy Raiders then I’d just commit to picking up the solo variant, the 5-Year Anniversary Promo Pack, the Jarl Promo Pack, the Mico Promo Pack, and probably even the Raiders Collector’s Box and just go all-in. At the very least, snagging the promos (especially the 5-year promo pack) to make the shipping costs seem a little more worthwhile.
There is not much to say other than this little box of cards took one of my favorite worker placement games and added in a solo mode that is smooth and exciting. That elevates the game higher in my collection, as now it can hit the table even when I do not have someone willing and able to play against. It can be a challenge to get a good solo system integrated into a game after it has already been published, but I found that Shem did an excellent job here of designing a seamless deck of cards.
The solo system could have been far simpler here, blocking X spaces each turn and generating pure VP regardless. But I really like the system here, even though it requires giving it provisions, moving it along several tracks, and spending provisions as necessary. Some might deem it fiddly to do that bit of bookkeeping, but I never found it to be cumbersome. The AI turns are relatively quick, allowing you to see how it impacts the board, its score, and then get things back to the next player turn.
I like how it blocks a space from being used each turn, although I sometimes forget and have to backtrack my turn when I go to flip the next card. It is a small thing, one I have always caught after the fact, but easy to overlook during the gameplay since it does not have you place a worker out there to block it like you would in a game like Viticulture. I love how it opens up the possibility of a Valkyrie end game trigger, depending on how those get distributed, since the AI is likely to clean up all of the Harbor spaces by the end of the game. It still feels like the AI has to ramp up in order to get their own engine churning, needing enough provisions and Armor in order to raid those more valuable locations. But every time it does manage to break up there sooner than I can, motivating me to stop building an engine and to start raiding more seriously. Which emulates the same pressure I would get from a multiplayer game.
In short, my thoughts on Raiders of the North Sea are still as strong and positive as they were when I reviewed the game. You should definitely check out my review if you want to hear more about the game experience itself. The solo expansion adds nothing to the game outside of the solo AI deck, but it made a great game into a permanent part of my collection because it offers such a fun and challenging solitaire mode into the game. It avoids the “beat your own high score” trap of most worker placement solo modes, and it provides a dynamic opponent whose scoring will fluctuate and who will actively remove resources from the board as the game progresses. That makes this stand out as a very unique solo experience among other games of its type.