[During this pandemic, many of us have found the time to renew our acquaintance with games from the recent past that, for one reason or another, did not appear in our pages. Such is the case with this review as we plunder and pillage in lands of the north!]
Reviewed by Andrea “Liga” Ligabue
RAIDERS OF THE NORTH SEA (Garphill/Renegade Game Studios, 2 to 4 players, ages 12 and up, 60-80 minutes; $55)
Shem Phillips has designs on Vikings. In Raiders of the North Sea, this first installment of the series, players are engaged in leading a group of raiders to ports, outposts, monasteries and fortresses, bringing home loot, fame and distinguishing themselves in the battles against the Valkyries.
Each shipment must be prepared and requires a crew, provisions and sometimes, for those to the innermost territories, even gold. Loot can consist of gold, stone, cattle, or a glorious death in the fight against the Valkyries. Victory points can also be earned by converting loot into offers to the village chief. The game takes place on a map representing the village to the south separated by a narrow stretch of sea from the pooled lands of the North. At the start of the game, 2 to 4 loot tokens randomly drawn from a bag are displayed in each area to be raided. The game ends as soon as all but one of the Fortress area are raided or as soon as the pile of the offering tiles to the village chief is depleted.
The game mechanism is very simple but, in my opinion, brilliant. In each turn, the player can decide whether to raid or to stay in the village to prepare. In any case, in his turn, the player will do 2 actions, one by placing one of his workers in an empty space and the other by taking one from a space.
At the village, the player will be able to draw new cards from the crew deck, hire a crew member by paying its cost in silver coins and playing the corresponding cart in front, collect supplies or silver coins, use resources to obtain supplies or to improve the armor of their own ships or make an offering to the village chief.
What I like about this mechanism is you have to plan your turn with the restriction that the first action must be done in an area not yet occupied by workers while the second can only be done in an area already occupied at the beginning of the turn. This strategic setting constraint is one of the most interesting aspects of the game.
Workers appear in three different colors, black, gray and white, from the weakest to the strongest. At the start of the game, each player has a single black worker; the gray and white ones come into play when raids are made in inland territories. Anyway, since the turn is just play a worker and retrieve a worker during the game, every player will have just one worker in front of him. In many areas, there is no difference in the use of workers of one color or another but to carry out the most important raids, gray and white workers are needed (like raiding the Fortress).
As the game progresses, crew cards (up to a maximum of 5) and supplies will be played and, at some point, the player will be able to carry out his first raids.
Each raiding area is characterized by a cost in supplies (and possibly gold) which must be spent to complete the raid and by a minimum number of crew cards required. At this point, it is necessary to evaluate the fame obtained for the raid. Every raid location, except for ports, has one or more challenge values to reach with associated victory points. For example, a raid on a Monastery could give you 4 victory points if you have at least a strength value of 14 and 6 points if you have at least 22. Your strength value is given by the sum of the values of the cards that make up your crew, generating 0 to 4 each, plus the value of your armor.
In any case, the raid will always provide the loot present, from 2 to 4 elements randomly extracted at the beginning of the game between gold, cattle, stone and Valkyries, and one worker. Improving your armor value at the village is something you have to do in order to be able to successfully raid the richest area.
Conquering an area containing Valkyries causes the death of one of the crewmen (you have to discard one of the played crew cards) but increases the value on the Valkyrie scale which can go from 0 to 15 victory points at the end of the game.
Crew cards vary in cost and military value. Each card is also associated with a particular power that will be given to the player once the card is part of their crew. Some powers are useful during raids, others can improve some actions in the Village. Each crew card can also be discarded directly from the hand as an action in on of the village buildings to activate a particular disposable power.
There are actually several ways to score points and which one to focus on is an important strategic choice. Certainly we cannot ignore the raids that are the basis for obtaining the various resources and creating the right crew; planning the raids to do is very important. Places to loot can be chosen based on the resources required to make offerings to the chief or you can invest more in supplies and crew needed to attack well-defended fortresses. Scoring points by killing Valkyries is another type of strategy which, however, involves the loss of crewmen and therefore slows down the ability to attack the richer places where a larger crew is needed. So, you can focus on raiding (raids are the engine for getting points and resources) or have a more balanced strategy, upgrading your armor and making some offers to the village chief. The combination of possibilities and different strategies of this game is amazing.
With Raiders of the North Sea, Shem Phillips inaugurates an absolutely spectacular series of worker placement and resource management games, both in terms of elegance and depth, a first step before starting the adventures in the Western Kingdom series. – – – – Andrea “Liga” Ligabue
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