What Is Raids?
From publisher Iello, Raids is a breezy, easy-to-learn game for 2-4 players ages 10+ that clocks in at around 40 minutes. Oh, and it’s chock full of stealing pigs, brawling vikings, battling mythic creatures, and collecting runes. Sound like your cup of grog? Yeah, I thought it might.
Known for their bright, family-friendly fare, Iello’s take on the ancient, barbaric Vikings is predictably tame, but that’s not a bad thing. Without losing the teeth that make it a good game, it takes a theme that will appeal greatly to young players and new gamers, and presents it in a crisp, fun package that is likely to please.
What’s in the Box?
Iello makes pretty games that leap off the shelf with their bright color palette and the crisp graphic design. What’s more, they don’t skimp on the contents, either. The most pleasant surprise for me in Raids was that the coins used for scoring were all metal, an unnecessary but hugely appreciated bit of decadence that serves to further draw you in as you play, hefting the coins back and forth in your hands while cardboard chits would have been quickly relegated to the table and forgotten.
The box, in full, contains:
- 4 Wooden longships (in 4 colors)
- 40 Wooden Viking meeples
- 20 Metal coins
- 4 Longship board (in 4 colors)
- 9 Harbor tiles
- 64 Voyage tiles
- 1 Game board
Even without the wonderful coins, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anything to complain about in this box, which features cardboard that’s thick and sturdy and feels like it will hold up to hundreds of plays, making you optimistic about a game that’s inviting that much attention.
Similarly, the contents all fit nicely into a uniquely-well-thought-out plastic insert, facilitating not only easy setup but easy cleanup as well, which lets you breeze through the bookends to get to the game itself. And since the box doesn’t make you wait any longer than necessary, neither will I. Let’s get to it!
How Do You Play Raids?
The core premise of Raids is pretty simple: Over the course of 4 rounds you will all sail your longboats around the board, winding up back where you began. However, over the course of your journey you will strive to gain the most bounty in a variety of different ways.
The tiles for each of the 4 rounds are conveniently split into 4 stacks, marked on the back, which you can set aside until needed. At the start of each round you will take the lowest number stack, shuffle it, and randomly populate the myriad tile locations around the map. These tiles will mark your options for conquest, glory, and gain as you fill your sails and cross the seas. There are a number of different tiles, and they all behave in different ways, so let’s take a quick look at each type.
- Weapons: These slot right into your longship and show either a single or double-edged axe, adding 1 or 2 respectively to your military might when it comes to battling the monsters you’re sure to encounter later.
- Sails: These can be single or double, giving you a bonus of 1 or 2 extra Vikings respectively at the end of each round.
- Mjollnir: Also appearing in single and double form, these give you glory points (aka victory points) for each Viking aboard your ship when the game ends. Grab a few of these, fill your boat, and your points can really multiply.
- Pennants: These provide glory points (shown on the tile itself) at the end of the game.
- Goods: These give victory points as well, but only if you are able to sell them at a port after you collect them. In the meantime they take up space on your longboat, meaning you can’t have as many fearsome vikings onboard.
- Runes: These score points at the end of the game, with their value increasing based on how many you collect. A single rune is worth a single point, but if you collect 5 you’ll earn a whopping 15 points at the end of the game.
- Port: A single port allows you to sell a good off your ship (which you place nearby to remember you’ve scored those points) while a double port allows you to sell 2 goods off your ship.
- Monsters: These scary customers can give glory points if you defeat them in battle (by sacrificing Vikings from your ship equal to the number of glory points printed on the monster tile). Don’t want to tangle with a giant, Odin-killing wolf? You can sail past but it will still cost you a Viking (unless you don’t have any, in which case you don’t have to sacrifice one).
- Visit: These tiles are populated with 3 Vikings at the start of the round. The first longboat to pass by recruits 2 of them while the second longboat gets 1. Any remaining players to pass by get nothing.
- Pillage: Much like the Visit tile, a 3-point and 1-point coin are placed here at the start of the round, being awarded in descending order to the first 2 players to pass by.
Now you have an idea of the bits and baubles you’ll see as you travel, let’s get into what makes Raids fun: the player movement.
Taking a Turn
Player order is randomly chosen, with their wooden ship tokens being slotted into the starting dock in a row. Then, as will be a pattern for the rest of the game, the player who’s farthest back takes their turn first and advances their ship as far along the board as they want.
Certain tiles (Monsters, Visits, and Pillages) grant effects when you pass by, but you ultimately have to choose another tile to land on and this is where the going gets good. You don’t actually collect that tile until the start of your next turn, and that can be a very long ways away.
If another player is equally keen on that Mjollnir tile you stopped on, when it’s their turn they can land on the same tile and start a fight (as Vikings do). They do so by discarding a single Viking from their longboat. If you want to stand firm and claim that Mjollnir, you will have to discard two Vikings to do so. The other player can choose to discard three to continue the fight and so on in that fashion until someone blinks. The first player to decide it just isn’t worth the carnage will then advance their longboat forward along the board until they find somewhere else they want to land.
Unlike other, similarly-structured games, however, if a player gets left behind they don’t have the option of dawdling along collecting tiles at their leisure. Instead, at the start of each turn all tiles between the active player (who will always be the farthest back) and the next closest ship are discarded from the board, forcing them to at least go as far as the next ship and, unless they want to start a fight, farther.
This keeps the rounds moving briskly and also provides the opportunity to use that mechanic to disadvantage your opponents. If you see a tile ahead that you know the next player badly needs, and you’re the only player between them and it, you might be able to go just far enough ahead that that tile is discarded before they even get their oars in the water. But be careful, Vikings hold grudges and they might just start plotting their revenge as soon as they’ve filled their longboat with bloodthirsty barbarians.
Ending the Round and the Game
The round ends when all ships have returned to the starting port, which both grants bonuses and populates the next round’s turn order. Each port tile (the first is always the same and the other 3 are randomly chosen from a selection at the start of the game) has an objective and a reward. The first round merely rewards coins (worth 6, 3, and 1 point) to the Vikings who return to the port the fastest, with the first player back getting the largest reward. But remember, the last player back will get to go first next round, which gives them first crack at where they want to go. Subsequent rounds award coins based on different factors–sometimes sails, or Vikings, or goods–meaning that you have to keep an eye on what ports are coming up if you want to make sure you meet the requirements.
The game itself ends when all players have returned to port for the fourth time. Rewards are handed out and glory points (based on coins, defeated monsters, runes, goods, and Mjollnirs) are totaled with the most glorious Viking being declared the winner and bathed in wines and fine cheeses. Okay, maybe just the “declared the winner” part, but still…
So, Is Raids Good?
Raids succeeds at exactly what it set out to, and no more. Its play-it-safe framing of what could be an extremely violent and edgy theme (see: Blood Rage) may be a turn-off to some while conversely making it a perfect game for younger players or those new to the hobby. Because while it may tone things down on the narrative side, it’s as mechanically sound as they come.
There are multiple paths to victory in Raids and it’s tempting to focus solely on your own strategy and achieving your own ends at all costs. You quickly realize, however, that if you focus only on yourself that you’re ceding all manner of goodies to your opponents. Focusing on goods and monsters? You may look up halfway through and realize that an opponent has a monopoly on runes, which have put them far in the lead.
The beauty of Raids’ relatively simple ruleset is that it challenges you to keep tabs on simple things, but a lot of simple things. You need to balance out your own needs with foiling your opponents. You need to weigh the benefit of getting back to port first with the penalty of perhaps not claiming as many tiles as you wanted. You have to note the upcoming bonuses granted by the ports and factor your ability to win those bonuses into your mid-round strategy.
No one of those things is even remotely difficult, but the combination of all of them (and more) makes it a nearly-perfect gateway game. So while it isn’t something that I see myself revisiting often, it’s likely something I’ll keep on my shelf for when I need it.
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.