Review: Raiders of the North Sea
Designer: Shem Phillips
Artist: Mihajlo Dimitrievski
Publishers: Garphill Games, Renegade Games
Category: Medieval, Nautical
Price: $34.99 Coolstuffinc
Raiders of the North Sea is the 2nd installment in the North Sea series from Garphill Games. Other games in the series include Shipwrights of the North Sea, and Explorers of the North Sea. Garphill Games is owned by Shem Phillips, which has also published Linwood, Cibola, Bethel Woods, North Sea expansions and more.
Raiders of the North Sea was successfully funded on Kickstarter on April 29, 2015. Since production and release, Raiders was picked up for larger distribution through Renegade Games. In early 2017, Raiders was nominated for the coveted Kennerspiel des Jahres, losing to the EXIT: The Game series.
In a historical sense, vikings are known to be vicious raiders. However, the artwork here is purely character-driven with no real depictions of pillaging and destruction. Raiders does have many layers of “take that” actions, so one might find some areas of the game particularly cutthroat.
Raiders of the North Sea is a 2-4 player worker placement game where players vie for the glorification of their chief, anxiously hoping to be the most excellent and efficient viking warrior in the tribe.
Players will spend time in the village assembling a motley crew of warriors, annoying their fellow players, and gathering supplies for raiding. Looking across the sea from the viking village, players will see loads of randomized plunder, points-a-plenty, and vast opportunities to raid settlements.
Players must juggle resources carefully, while also managing their hand of viking cards wisely. Viking cards can be purchased with silver and hired on as crew for future voyages. This not only grants strength for upcoming raids, but also provides special abilities depending on the viking. Vikings are multi-purpose and may instead be played as a one-time action. This results in discarding the card but utilizing a skill that can steal loot from enemies or better prepare you with resources or extra actions.
Raids require specific numbers of crew members, provisions, and sometimes gold to attack locations. Early raids will grant a new worker but only 1 point. As you progress onto land, you’ll need stronger vikings and an occasional attack die roll to enhance your totals. The name of the game is higher totals, so players work towards increasing their armor and hiring big bads to smash foes and gain points. Plunder is obtained from these raids, which can be used for more raiding and giving offerings to the chief for end-game points. Sometimes players will take valkyrie tokens to kill off a crew member, but by sending many men and women to Valhalla, you’ll score extra points for the deaths of your brave warriors.
One of three end-game conditions will eventually be met: all valkyrie tokens are removed from the board, all but one fortress has been raided, or too few offerings remain to fill the longhouse space. All players will receive one final turn, including the current player, after which players tally their hard work and a winner is crowned.
Raiders of the North Sea is a pleasure to see on the table. The game is vibrant and glowing. Each piece of artwork, every card, and even the box is easy on the eyes. You’ll find yourself ooh-ing and ahh-ing over the green and blue landscape ahead of you. From the wooden buildings of viking sanctuary, to the well-defended stacks of foes across the sea, every ounce of the board is fine art. Graphic design is simple to pick out. Iconography goes down easy and you won’t need to ask what any spaces do more than once.
Once you’ve finished gawking at the board, you’ll realize the game also has cards and components. Mihajlo Dimitrievski is an illustrator of excellence. Few games create interesting characters comprehensively, yet Raiders of the North Sea does it flawlessly.
Some vikings are long-haired barbarians with no apparent appreciation for hygiene or civil decency. Others are fat-necked jewelers covered in gold, thematically boosting your silver production when played or hired. You’ll spend as much time deciding how to spend your cards as you will admiring the artwork. While you’ll see repeated characters in card art, most playthroughs will show off characters you never noticed in previous plays. Some are heroes offering extra strength, or powerful bonuses to your crew at the high cost of silver, of course.
One thing that’s quite appealing to me is Dimitrievski and Phillip’s appreciation for women. Pick up Blood Rage, Kemet, Terra Mystica, or Conan, and you’ll quickly notice a pathetic misrepresentation of women as human beings. It’s a sad high-schooler fantasy from 1982, where heroic women prance about with only the strands of their long hair covering their private areas and nude bodies. We’ve all seen this in board games, movies, and video games. It’s an unfortunate mistake our culture has made, turning beautiful women into sexual creatures to do the bidding of players around a table. While I might love some of the games I’ve listed above, the artwork is misguided and disdainful.
Women in Raiders of the North Sea are anything but succubi for the eyes of men. No, these are strong women, covered in protective armor. I’d argue these women would slay those from the above titles, mostly because these women are reasonably armored. They steal gazes of wrathful fury on their foes, swords raised and ready for combat. Furthermore, the men aren’t portrayed as dolts. There is an equal respect for gender in Raiders. The female characters are not weaker in strength and their abilities are powerful, indeed. You won’t find misrepresentation here, and it’s an excellent stride taken by the design time. Bravo.
In other terms of components, players sling heavy metal coins back and forth as they pay for vikings and appease the chief. There’s nothing better than metal with your cardboard. Provision tiles are thick and pleasant, and each resource token is defined and interesting. Colored flags represent your positioning on various tracks.
While outstanding on all fronts, it’s not solely the art design that keeps me returning to Raiders.
I’ve neglected the mention the most fascinating mechanism in Raiders, which sets it apart from typical worker placement flair.
Players begin with a single black worker meeple. On your turn, you’ll place this meeple onto an action space and take the action—this is standard. However, after you’ve taken your first action, you’ll pick up an existing meeple from another space and take that action as well. This not only means two actions on each of your turns, but you’ll quickly notice an increase in activity on the board. Something about getting multiple actions keeps the game flowing beautifully. By raiding, you’ll be given gray and white workers, unlocking different skills and allowing you to plunder further onto land. Pacing and positioning are key to victory, so you’d be foolish to discount where you take from and place.
There’s not much to dislike in Raiders. I’m not a fan of “take that” mechanics in games. Playing viking cards for actions typically grants a nasty “take that” action. Sometimes you’ll steal provisions, other times you’ll take silver. In general, they feel cheap and force players to spend another full turn getting the goods they need to raid. This happened to me in my previous game, and I lost out on two massive turns of raiding in a row, putting me quite far behind on the scoring track.
One point of strategy that makes more sense thematically and less sense tactically is the valkyrie track. By losing crew, you’ll gain end-game points, but the advantages of keeping your crew seem far more beneficial than having to replenish them. You’ll lose a crew member (or two or three), and in order to continue raiding, you might need another 4-6 turns to get enough silver to hire more crew. This is counting on players placing their workers appropriately for you to be able to visit the silver mill and hire workers on the same turns. I like the idea of losing vikings for glory, but it sets you back too much. You’ll get more points building up a strong army and increasing your armor strength.
Raiders of the North Sea is excellent. It is absolutely deserving of the Kennerspiel nomination, and though it didn’t win, it does enough interesting things to make it worth your time. If you want a great worker placement title with great presentation, look no further.
A review copy of Raiders of the North Sea was provided by Garphill Games for a review of the game.
The Bottom Line
Raiders of the North Sea is fun, fast, and beautiful. Raiders spins worker placement in an exciting way which should bring it to the table time and time again.