The North Sea Saga was originally a Kickstarted project by Shem Phillips and it did fairly well… and then was gone. It might have been forgotten, just a memory of a uniquely themed series of fun-playing games, if the Spiel des Jahres hadn’t taken special notice of one of the games–this game.
The renewed interest in Raiders of the North Sea caught the attention of Renegade Game Studios and they have brought back the entire series, all three games and three expansions, so that all gamers can get to experience the series and, in this game, an extraordinarily good worker placement.
Raiders of the North Sea Components
Raiders of the North Sea fits nicely into Renegade Game Studios line because it approached its Kickstarter project with high-quality components. In the box, you’ll find:
- 1 Game board
- 16 Offering tiles
- 12 Score markers (3 each in four colors)
- 18 Valkyrie tokens
- 18 Gold tokens
- 18 Iron tokens
- 26 Livestock tokens
- 32 Silver tokens
- 32 Provision tokens
- 7 Black workers
- 11 Grey workers
- 12 White workers
- 1 cloth sack
- 4 Ship cards (1 each in four colors)
- 2 Averaging dice
- 71 Townsfolk cards
One of the first things you’ll notice about Raiders of the North Sea is how beautiful the art is. The caricatures of these rough and violent vikings are worthy of a graphic novel and the detail is wonderful to look at. It was done by Mihajlo Dimitrievski, better known as The Mico, (link NSFW) who has also done the art for games like the Valeria Card Kingdoms series, Rise to Nobility, City of Spies, and others. It’s wonderful.
Raiders of the North Sea is GeekDad Approved!
The board is laid out with a score track as the border, but within is the story of the game. At the bottom of the board is the viking village where you’ll gather provisions and recruit crew before heading north to raid. Again, the detail here is off-the-charts good. Little things like the smoke coming from the Silversmith’s shop or the oars extended from the longships create a sense of truth that makes the game feel more like a reality you’re taking part in.
The tokens are all custom, steer heads for livestock, nuggets for gold, banners for scoring markers, and the like. The workers, while in three colors, are made to resemble a Hollywood viking with a double-horned helmet. The silver tokens are metal coins and the provisions are cardboard sacks of food.
Including the Offering tiles, there 91 cards, some repeating, but many of them unique. The Offering tiles simply show icons of the items you need to fulfill them. The ship cards feature unique artwork for each of the four players, but they only serve to track points if a player should happen to exceed the scoring track’s 50 point marker.
The Townsfolk cards are where you get to know your crew. There’s a variety of information on the card and an illustration that perfectly reflects the character of the townsfolk on the card. In the upper left of each card is a red banner with a number, which represents that person’s military strength. Beneath that is the card’s name (think job responsibility rather than proper name) and how much silver is required to hire that card. At the bottom of each card are two actions: on the left is the hired crew action, an action that a character might be able to provide while raiding, and a town hall action, which is an ability that the player receives by using an action to visit the town hall and discarding that particular card.
It’s all really fantastic. When the game is setup and you sit looking at the board, at the journey ahead of you, you can begin writing your story and planning for how your raids will play out. The North Sea Saga is the first game I saw that showcased the Mic’s art, and I fell in love with it. The attention to detail, characters’ looks, and overall approach makes these games a must-buy for me. The fact that Raiders of the North Sea is a great game only makes the proposition sweeter.
How do you play Raiders of the North Sea?
To set up the game, put the board out, shuffle the Townsfolk deck and set them by the board. Also shuffle the Offering tiles and set out three, face-up, by the Long House.
Take all the plunder tokens, gold, iron, and livestock, along with the Valkyrie tokens, and mix them up in the bag. Next, go through the board, drawing and placing from the bag at each raiding spot. Each spot will have a small green banner with a number on it, which designates the number of tokens to put on that space. Extras are set by the board to create a supply. Silver, provisions, and dice can be placed there, as well.
After that, white and grey workers should be placed on the board as indicated by the icons in the upper right of each raiding spot. Three black workers are placed at their locations in the village, at the gate house, town hall, and treasury.
Each player places a score marker of their color on the Armor, Valkyrie, and Victory Point tracks. Each player then gets 2 silver, 1 black worker, and 1 ship card in their color. They also receive 5 random townsfolk cards. All others are placed facedown in a pile. Roll the dice or choose another way to determine the first player–you are ready to begin!
First, you must work
During your turn, you do two things. First, you place a worker and resolve its action. Second, you pick up a different worker and resolve its action. It’s a neat mechanic. With two actions, you’ll always feel like you are progressing. In the beginning, all that work will be done in the village where you gather resources and hire a crew for the coming raids.
On your first turns, you’ll visit one of a half-dozen buildings in your village:
- The gate house allows a player to draw two townsfolk cards (hand limit 8).
- The treasury lets a player discard a card in hand to gain 2 silver or 2 cards to get a gold from the main supply.
- The town hall allows playing of a card from a player’s hand and the town hall action (bottom right) to be resolved immediately. After, the card is discarded.
- The mill allows a black worker to gain a single provision from the main supply, a grey worker can get 2 provisions, and a white worker may take either 2 provisions or a single gold.
- Visit the barracks when ready to hire a crew member. When this occurs, the player pays the silver cost to the main supply and places the character in front of their playing area, face-up. You may never have more than five players, but you may replace at will.
- Stopping by the silversmith allows a worker to gain silver, 3 for a black worker, 2 for grey or silver.
- There are two other buildings in the village, but their actions are not available until a player has a grey or white worker, which comes later in the game. Those two buildings are the armoury and the long house. The armoury allows the visiting worker to sacrifice an iron token to gain two armor or 2 silver to get one armor. When this occurs, the player advances their score marker on the armoury track, which benefits the player’s crews on raids and rewards VP at the end of the game.
The long house allows a player to do one of two things. The player may either give up a livestock to gain 2 provisions or offer goods to fulfill an offering tile. These tiles provide VP at the end of the game.
Put your backs into that oar, we are raiding!
Once you have a sufficient crew and the provisions to feed them, you can take to the seas in search of bounty. The first raids are simple and require only crew and provisions, but as the game progresses and you explore deeper into unfriendly territory, you’ll be required to provide stronger and more vicious crew.
A raid is dictated by the number of crew, shown on the board as grey cards, and a number of provisions, also shown in the same area of the raiding icon. Later, monasteries and fortresses will require gold, as well. If you have those satisfied, off you go. Time to plunder!
Raiding is completed by placing the required worker at a location—black or grey at first, then only white—and paying the required provision and, possibly, gold. At first, when you are in the harbor, that’s all you need. But as you venture inland, you’ll be forced to face off in a show of military strength.
Vápnum sínum skal-a maðr velli á feti ganga framar*
Strength is calculated in a few ways. The crew you’ve assigned to the raid all have a strength number they provide, indicated by a red banner in the upper left of the card. Additionally, in the lower left, there may be an additional benefit that member provides during a raid. If you’ve beefed up your crew’s armor value on the armor track by visiting the armory in the village before your trek north, you can add that too. Finally, all the locations inland that you’ll be raiding offer one or two dice rolls that will give you an augmented strength number. Compare your final sum to the banners shown at that location and, if you exceed the requirement, you receive not only all the plunder from one of its sets, but you also get victory points for the strength number you exceed.
At the end of the game, gold and iron plunder are worth a victory point (each) and you also get a victory point for every two cattle you’ve taken. Some raids may also give you Valkyries. True to Norse mythology, they will take some of your crew from you, however, this time around, you get to choose which ones instead of awaiting their judgment. For each Valkyrie you plunder, send a crew card to Valhalla (the discard pile). There is an upside, though. For each slain crew member, advance your tracker on the Valkyrie track, which will reward a scaled number of VP at the end of the game. Valkyries are then put in the main supply.
Play continues until one of three conditions apply. If there are no more offering tiles in the draw pile, no more Valkyries on the board, or only one Fortress stands unraided, each player gets one last turn. Scores are added by adding VP from the armoury and Valkyrie tracks, tallying plunder, any end-of-game crew bonuses, and offering tile bonuses that you may have collected. These are added on the victory point track and the player with the most points wins.
Why You Should Play Raiders of the North Sea
I was at Geekway to the West earlier this year, looking for a game to play when a guy I know walked up and asked if I wanted to play Raiders of the North Sea. Sure, why not? I love worker placements and I recognized the art as being by the awesome and talented Mihajlo Dimitrievski because I had backed Shipwrights of the North Sea on Kickstarter. We bungled our way through a round or two and then really got going. When we were finished, I was in love. Raiders of the North Sea was almost everything I wanted in a worker placement.
Before I even got up from the table, I immediately looked to see if I could pick up a copy. I saw that awful three letter acronym that we all dread: OOP, out of print. Devastating. I wanted to play again and again. Apparently, I had earned Odin’s favor because it wasn’t but a week or two later when Renegade Game Studios announced they would be reprinting the entire series. I raised a horn of mead and counted the days until the game’s release at Gen Con. (It immediately sold out.)
Raiders of the North Sea is great because it’s squarely a middleweight game, so you can just sit back and tinker with your strategy, as opposed to wracking your brain for a couple of hours or not truly being engaged. (I will add that, for a game of this level of challenge, it can run a little long. I think it would be even better if it were 20 minutes shorter, but whatever. More vikings!) What’s more, the theme on Raiders of the North Sea is so tight, so on point, it’s absolutely engrossing. Everyone who I’ve played with loves being able to recruit and build a viking crew before sailing out to raid lands and take bigger (and more rewarding risks).
Every time you play, it will be a different game because the distribution of plunder is always going to be different. The townsfolk that make their way into your hand will guide your strategy and that is key. With the exception of strength rolls, which don’t play an enormous part in outcomes, there’s little luck in this game. The game’s limits—8 cards in hand, 8 silver, 8 provisions, and 5 crew members—make it a challenge to figure out what you will do each turn.
And then there’s the brutality of vikings. Yes, it’s a game given to the modern, pop culture conception of vikings, meaning it’s as much of a caricature of the culture as The Mico’s evocative illustrations. But thanks to that perspective, these vikings are opportunistic, which gives the game a fair amount of take-that. There’s nothing like preparing for a raid over a few turns and then having your opponent come in and take your provisions. I’m not a huge fan of take-that mechanisms, but it works in this game and isn’t as blatant as some games that use similar elements in gameplay. Plus, if you’re not a fan of that type of play, I have been told that you can remove those cards from the game and still have a fun (and balanced) experience.
And then there’s the visual experience. The artwork on Raiders of the North Sea and all of the games in this series is just so jaw-droppingly wonderful and enjoyable, it absolutely enhances the game. All of the details on the board—in the village, on the water and further north—do such a great job of creating an immersive world, you can almost feel your beard growing as you become a viking. The townsfolk cards present these funny and frightening pastiches of what we imagine the vikings to have been like: berzerk marauders, intent on pillage, murder, and mayhem. And there’s a huge variety within those cards—men, women, young, old—they are a joy to hold.
Raiders of the North Sea is a great game and one that is the complete package of theme, art, and gameplay. It has appeal for all kinds of gamers, a theme that draws newer players in, and enough strategy to hold the attention of more serious players. It is immensely enjoyable and, not only is it available now, it has not just one but two expansions on the way.
Raiders of the North Sea is available now and retails for $50.00.
* A proverb from the Hávamál, roughly translated as: From his weapons on the open road, no man should step one pace away.
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.