I travelled on a ferry across the North Sea in 1996. The overnight crossing was rough to say the least. In the cabin, my head lifted off the pillow as the boat listed from side to side. Needless to say I was as sick as a parrot. So too were most of the crew, that’s how rough it was. It still makes me feel ill thinking of the journey across to Sweden today. So I have full admiration for those braving it in longboats many moons ago. Raiders of the North Sea brings the Vikings onto your tabletop without the need for sea legs!
At its heart, Raiders of the North Sea is a worker-placement game. To win you have to have the most Victory Points on the score tracker to prove yourself to the village Chieftain.
On your turn you can only take two actions in the village or one action if raiding. This is resolved in a very neat way. You place one worker Viking meeple (or vikeeple?) and take another.
The game ends when all the Valkyrie are removed from the board, the fortresses have all been raided, or the chieftain’s offering pile has been depleted. Scores are then tallied.
Let me explain a bit more…
The start of the game sees players take a few resources and five crew cards. You choose three of these to start the game and discard the other two. Crew cards can be used in one of two ways. They can be recruited by paying money at the barracks and adding them to your face up cards in front of you (up to a maximum of five). Or, most of them have a one-time bonus that can be activated at the Town Hall. You can gain more cards at the Gate House.
Other options in the village are to gain money, provisions or bolster your armour. You can also visit the Chieftain with offerings to gain victory points.
Instead of milling around the village you can go off raiding. Assuming certain conditions are met, like having enough provisions, a big enough crew and, as the game goes on, gold. You can raid any of the settlements on the board and take the plunder from the region.
Plunder is drawn blind from a bag at the beginning of the game so is placed randomly. An easy place to raid could also offer the best plunder! Raiding gets you Victory Points too and the further the settlement is from your village, the bigger the potential rewards. Generally you will want to improve your armour to maximise opportunities.
Some of your crew can die if a Valkyrie is among the plunder. This advances you up a separate scoring track but you will have to give up a crew member. As there is a limit on five crew this can be a good sacrifice. Some cards are good early on in the game, others work better towards the end, this balancing act adds a little bit of deck-building and hand-management to the game. Oh and there is also a limit for silver coins and provisions, but that’s clear on the player aide ship cards.
What it’s like
This is a game that seems complicated at first. Persevere and you will be rewarded with a highly strategic game that is surprisingly simple to learn. The place one take one mechanic is genius in its simplicity. The iconography throughout is consistent and cannot be faulted in reminding you what everything does adding to the ease of play.
While the game can slow down a bit with more players, you will find that in planning your next move, turns play fairly quickly. That is unless disaster strikes and the two moves you wanted to do can no longer be achieved as both spaces are occupied or empty. A very real problem you will have to solve at least once per game. It’s not a quick game, but it certainly doesn’t drag.
Raiders of the North Sea has a natural crescendo, as you start off in the village honing your crew and gathering the requirements to go off and raid. Only to return to the village and gather more resources and crew to go off again.
The different ways of gathering victory points is clever. You really have to keep in check with your opponent, for example a game can be won or lost on the Valkyrie score quite easily. This is easier to keep an eye on in a two player game for obvious reasons.
The silver coins are metal and astounding. They are the best component I have pulled out of a retail edition of a game since the Big Cheese token in Rats to Riches.
The board is big and beautiful with a nice little home for almost everything. I would’ve liked a home for the Chieftain offering tokens but that is only a minor quibble.
The little Viking meeples and wooden plunder components are great. The cardboard provision bags are absolutely fine, but had these been upgraded this game would be faultless in terms of components.
The artwork throughout is sublimely good and really help to portray the theme. The cards are ridiculously good looking and balance form with function with clear abilities below the Mihajlo Dimitrievski portrayals of Vikings.
The Raiders of the North Sea box is small but dense with contents, not much air in this one and a real delight every time you pull it from the shelf!
Oh and did I mention the silver coins are actually metal!
Final thoughts on Raiders of the North Sea
One of the brilliant things about Raiders of the North Sea is, it plays equally well at two players as it does at four and I would be happy to play at any player count. It has an age on the box of 12 plus and this is probably fair for most. The cards mean there is a lot to interpret and understanding their benefits is crucial. I just feel a younger player would grasp it, but maybe not be competitive playing. I have therefore only played this with my eldest son and he completely understood it. I think I will wait a year before introducing my nine year old, George.
I always enjoy a game that gives you so many options yet so few actions. You feel like you are always chasing the next great thing to do. This game delivers exactly that feeling time and time again. Raiders of the North Sea is an entertainingly strategic game coupled with a brilliant theme brought to life through engaging artwork.
Raiders of the North Sea offers so much: great gameplay, amazing artwork, abundant strategy and tremendous components. All of this culminates in a game that I love, for that reason it has entered into the Board Game Review Hall of Fame.
I have been reliably informed that the expansions add greatness to this game and so, the expansion Hall of Heroes is already in my shopping basket – I will let you know my thoughts at some stage in the future. Then I can look forward to the other two games in the North Sea Saga, Explorers of the North Sea and Shipwrights of the North Sea!
Number of players: 2 to 4
Board Game Review Recommended Age: 11+
Publisher’s Recommended Age: 12+
Playing Time: 80 minutes
Setting Up and Take Down Time: 16 minutes
Designers: Shem Phillips
Publisher: Garphill Games
Raiders of the North Sea is a game that everyone should play in their lifetime. Although only five years old, it already feels like a staple classic that will stand the test of time. It is certainly a game that I will always be excited to pull from the shelf and play.
Artwork and Components
Value for Money
- Brilliant components
- Amazing artwork
- Plenty of options with limited actions
- Great take on worker placement
- Expansions available
- Longer game
- Little bit of dice rolling luck
- Need to be 12 plus (ish)
Buy Raiders of the North Sea
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