Designed by: Shem Phillips
Art by: Mihajlo Dimitrievski
Published by: Graphill Games
Playtime: 60-120 Minutes
Review copy provided free of charge by Asmodee UK.
Ah, the Vikings. According to my beloved Champions of Midgard these infamous folk loved to fight trolls and slay various other beasts, but Raiders of the North Sea paints a slightly more realistic portrayal of them. Here they don’t fight monsters, they just raid presumably innocent monasteries and assault fortresses for fun. Yup, like any good Viking who has been raised properly your main task in life is to gather a crew and then raid the various outposts, villages, and monasteries at the top of the board, all in the name of glorious loot and glorious victory points.
But before I go any further I should point out that Raiders of the North Sea is part of a trilogy of sorts, and while there’s no overarching story or anything there will be a small box called RuneSaga which will link Shipwrights of the North Sea, Raiders of the North Sea and Explorers of the North Sea into one epic series where the final victor will be whoever scores the most across all three games.
Let’s get back to this one, though. You start the game with a single basic Viking worker and like pretty much any standard worker placement game you plop it down on a space in the village and perform the action shown. You then get to pick up a worker from somewhere else in the village and do that action as well, placing the newly earned worker in front of you for your next turn.
Underpinning this is the fact that you can only place your Viking worker on an empty space within the village at the bottom of the board, and you can only grab a worker someone else has placed previously. But that’s not all because many spaces require one of the three different worker colors, and since everybody starts with the basic black worker certain action spaces and raids might not be accessible until the grey and white workers start appearing, and they won’t show up until some of the initial raids are completed.
What this does is twofold; firstly it creates a nice pace to the game where newer, better options and more challenging raids become available over time. The other thing is how it affects your long-term planning. It isn’t that you can’t have a long-term strategy because you most certainly can, but as other players take the spaces you wanted or suddenly swap out the available workers you need to quickly rethink what you’re doing. This worker system defines the game, and I love it.
Most of what you’ll be doing is getting a crew and supplies together at your village to go raiding in order to capture victory points and bountiful loot, although it should be said that while pillaging the locals might be satisfying the ultimate goal is to please the chief and that doesn’t always mean having to steal everything, rape whatever is moving and then setting fire to the rest.Although let’s be honest, that’s exactly what you’re going to be doing because why wouldn’t you? So, yeah, to get raiding you’ll be needing some basic stuff like provisions from and some silver coins from the Silversmith to pay your crew of misfits.
Now we come to the Vikings themselves, though, as represented by a pretty chunky deck of Townsfolk cards. By going to the Gatehouse you can draw two new Townsfolk cards, each of which has a dual purpose in life. The first is used by sending a worker to the Town Hall you can discard any card currently in your hand in order to activate its listed effect, like stealing some cash from another player, letting you draw more cards or instantly get a small pile of supplies.
But these cards also represent the various Vikings you can take on raids. To get them on your crew you need to head to the Barracks and pay the amount listed on their card, then you place them in front of you, adding folk like towering berserkers to your little army. All Townsfolk cards have a second ability that only activates when they are part of a crew, including giving bonus victory points when raiding certain locations, being able to leap back to your hand instead of dying, providing more supplies when visiting the Mill and much more. There are even a few heroes to bring aboard who offer a lot of strength and some great bonus abilities, although you can only ever have one in your crew at a time, and a max of five hired Vikings at any one time.
To actually go on a raid you simply plop your worker down on the free spot, provided it meets the color requirement, a sentence that sounds amazingly racist now that I think about it. You also need to meet any other requirements in terms of food and gold, discarding them to the general supply because Vikings obviously need a lot of food in order to maintain those impressive physiques, and gold so that they can inevitably gamble it all away. Your crew will also have to meet the minimum size needed. You then need to calculate your total attack strength, done by adding up the amounts shown on your crew cards plus any armor you have, and then finally some locations let you roll one or two dice as well. The first number listed on a raid is the minimum strength you need to pull off the attack and it will net you the smallest amount of victory points, but if you meet or exceed the second or even third number you can score more points, so it pays to go in with a crew full of chunky Vikings itching for a fight. Finally, you claim the gold, metal and livestock that was randomly placed in the raid space at the beginning of the game. The catch is that once a raid is done it’s gone forever, so it’s sort of a race to grab the best spots before anyone else.
This loot can be used in the village to get some extra food or in the case of metal be used to forge new armor at the Armorers, although you can always spend some cash instead, albeit for less impressive results. Visiting the Armorer increases your rating on the armor track, giving you a boost to your total attack strength as well as extra end-game points. As it turns out wearing actual armor rather than running around topless all the time is a good idea. Who knew, right?
The other thing loot is good for is completing the Offering tiles down at the bottom of the board. Visit the appropriate space in the village and you can hand over the resources shown on one of these tiles to claim it as your own, pleasing the Chief and thus earning more points in the process.
The final type of token you can pickup when happily pillaging the local landscape is Valykrie tokens, and for each one of these a crew member is killed in action and thus discarded. Now, at first you might think these tokens encourage players to race for the safe spaces, but in reality a glorious death can be a good thing because for every Viking killed in action you progress up the black track on the left of the board, which will earn you points toward the end of the game. The first few steps aren’t worth a heap of points, but before long it can be quite valuable to throw a few Vikings to their death. They’ll be fine in Valhalla where I’m sure there is an abundance of sheep to pillage. Or set fire to. Or…let’s not go there.
Everything comes to a close once three of the fortresses at the top of the board have been raided, at which point it’s time to tally up the scores with additional points being doled out for livestock and gold that you have.
As you can tell Raiders of the North Sea is not a hard game to learn. Indeed, that’s its strength, letting just about anyone get in on the pillaging action. This does lead to what I would call the game’s biggest failing, though, which is staying power. The truth is I adore this game, and yet it’s fair to say that after a few games it can begin to feel stale since there aren’t many options for gaining points aside from racing other players to the best raiding spots. You can chase after the Offering tiles, but they need resources that you can only reap from raiding, and progressing up the Valhalla track also means having to go on raids as well. But then again, it’s a tad unfair to complain about raiding being the central idea when the game literally has raiders in its name.
Two expansions are available that could solve this issue, but I’m obviously just reviewing what is in the core box for now.
before we close out this review I need to talk about production quality, namely the fact that this is one beautiful looking game. The board is colorful and eye-catching, and its bolstered by some stunning artwork on the cards courtesy of Mihajlo Dimitrievski who simply knocks it out of the park. His character design is gorgeous. I also really appreciated the worker pieces who are shaped to have horned helmets. But the truly best aspect of the production is the inclusion of metal coins that clink together with such a spine-tingling, satisfying sound. It’s almost sexual, I swear.
Raiders of the North Sea is a superb little game that looks beautiful on the table and, at least for me, sits in that Goldilocks zone between being easy to learn, fun to play yet still needing some burning of the brain matter that makes it an outstanding choice for a fun night with friends and a few beers. The only drawback is longevity due to the fact that most games of Raiders will feel largely the same, but that also makes it a good game to bust out every few weeks or months rather than constantly plopping it onto the kitchen table while screaming something about Valhalla and it being a good day to die. In other words, this one is easily getting a recommendation and is one of my most favorite games in recent memory. I’m looking forward to reviewing Explorers of the North Sea, now.