Raiders of the North Sea Review

Raiders of the North Sea Review

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Josh Look     
 
4.0
243   0
Raiders of the North Sea

The hammer of the gods will drive our ships to new lands.


Ten years ago, when every Euro game had a bored looking farmer on both the front and side of the box, the thought of a worker placement game about fearsome Vikings would have seemed an unlikely pairing. But here it is, we now have several options that allow you place bloodthirsty warriors instead of farmers. Raiders of the North Sea from Renegade Game Studios is another such game to do so. Its innovative take on worker placement and willingness to buck trends of modern Euro games not only sets it apart from games like A Feast For Odin and Champions of Midgard, but it might just come out ahead of those titles.

Unlike other worker placement games where each player has a pool of workers in their color, Raiders of the North Sea has players sharing workers of three different colors that are distributed on the board at the beginning of the game. Each player starts their turn with only one worker and has the option to either build or raid. If building, you'll take the action in the spot you placed and then select a different worker already on the board, pull it off and take that action as well. Raiding follows the same "place one, pick one up" concept, but each raiding space can only be collected from once during the game. After taking the goods in the space you're raiding, you'll collect the worker assigned to that space at the beginning of the game. The worker you used to raid with is essentially out of the game and the one you're taking is always able to perform more advanced actions than the basic ones you have access to at the beginning.

When it comes to player interaction, most worker placement games come across as passive at best, but Raiders of the North Sea is a much more reactive experience. Being able to pull a worker and taking that action might sound like nothing is ever off limits, but that's not the case. You'll often find that there is one action you'd rather take before the other, but since you have to place first, a blocked space still prevents you from doing that. The color of a worker matters, too. Some actions require a specific color or give a better payout. Sometimes you'll need to pull a certain worker just to to set up the action you want to do on your next turn. And of course, the color of the worker you place might give the other players what they need. Going on a raid and bringing back a new worker might open up the more advanced actions to you on your next turn, but you'll be placing that worker and leaving it for someone else to grab on theirs. It's such a fresh take on worker placement and the game is much more dynamic than what the genre usually has to offer.

There's an enjoyable rhythm to the game as you spend time preparing to go on raids, going off to plunder, and coming back to get ready for your next trip out. Building a band of Vikings, represented as a deck of cards, is as close as the game comes to engine building. Each Viking has a unique ability when added to your band, some give you more points for raiding specific locations, some might make it easier to prepare for your journey North. Your Vikings might die while on a raid and choosing which ones you're going to lose can be a difficult choice. Instead of hiring a Viking and adding it to your band, you can play it for a one time effect. The cardplay here can be pretty nasty, adding even more of a"take that" element than that found in Lords of Waterdeep. It's another welcome addition for players who like more interaction in their games.

Where the standard practice of so many current Euro games is to take several familiar systems, find ways to vaguely interlock them, then bury the path to good play beneath layers upon layers for players to puzzle through, Raiders of the North Sea takes a direct approach. Right from the beginning of the game, you know how to score points. You need money to hire Vikings, you need Vikings to go on raids, you need raids in order to score points. Any extra end game scoring is kept clean and to a minimum. The dynamic, reactive gameplay is kept center stage here without any needless layers to clutter it in an effort to lend the feeling of mastering it over multiple plays.

There's a feeling of repetition that starts to set in just as the game winds down, and the satisfaction of building towards something is replaced with moments to race towards, but that's not enough to hurt to overall experience. The core mechanic is so refreshing, utilized to great effect and given the proper amount of attention to really shine. Despite having a theme that has become all too common in recent years, Raiders of the North Sea is absolutely terrific and one of the most unique worker placement games the genre has seen in some time.

Josh Look

Game Reviewer

One night during the summer of 1997, Josh Look's cool uncle who owned a comic shop taught him how to play Magic the Gathering. The game set off his imagination in a way that he could not sleep that night, and he's been fascinated by games ever since. He spent many afternoons during his high school years skipping homework to play Dungeons & Dragons and paint Warhammer minatures, going on to discover hobby board games in his early 20s. He's been a writer for Fortress Ameritrash and is the creator and co-host of the geek culture podcast, The Wolfman's Lounge. He enjoys games that encourage a heavy amount of table talk and those that explore their themes beyond just their settings.

Raiders of the North Sea Review There Will Be Games

Editor rating

Josh Look
Rating 
 
4.0

Summary

Game Name
Raiders of the North Sea
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Posted: 06 Jun 2018 09:08 by Jackwraith #274811
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We played this at our FLGS game event a few weeks ago. One thing I both liked and disliked was that initial resource setup determines a chunk of the game path. We had very limited iron available in our setup, so most of the armor options were difficult to pointless. I realize that it gives replay value, but it was mildly frustrating for some players who ended up with cards that emphasized the armor aspect and had to reset their crew a couple times, which left them behind.

I did like that the bonus VP aspect at the end was both limited and very theme-heavy (bonus points for how many crew members you sent to Valhalla.) That's a great mechanic for people that have been boxed out of regular VP gain and have no real option but to try a couple suicide raids in order to get points at the end.

I liked this game (I won, so that probably adds to it) for many of the reasons you cite. When I was in the store the other day, I noticed that there's already 3 or 4 expansions for it, too. My GF was lukewarm on it, though, and she's the Eurogamer, so it might not ever make it to our place.
Posted: 06 Jun 2018 09:20 by Josh Look #274814
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I’m certainly interested in the expansions. Sounds like that add some really cool stuff without adding too many new rules, which is always the best kinds of expansions.

I don’t think there’s a ton of iron in the game period, so not getting enough on the board at setup can certainly make armor a useless feature. I know some of the Vikings can collect plunder from the reserve, but I’d like to see one more smaller option to do so.

We had a similar situation last week where the offerings were all low points that required money. Nobody went for them because the 2-3 points didn’t seem worth it. One player went for one in last few turns which kind of opened the flood gates for the rest of the game.
Posted: 06 Jun 2018 09:23 by Gary Sax #274815
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This sounds great! I love more aggressive worker placement (eg Argent The King).

I have this weird thing where I miss euros I would really like because I can't navigate the ugly morass of questionable "pro" reviewers, I'm so happy we're doing tons of reviews again!
Posted: 06 Jun 2018 09:32 by Josh Look #274816
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Gary Sax wrote:
This sounds great! I love more aggressive worker placement (eg Argent The King).

I have this weird thing where I miss euros I would really like because I can't navigate the ugly morass of questionable "pro" reviewers, I'm so happy we're doing tons of reviews again!

I have the reputation with the CT crew as the “closet Euro fan.” I used to deny it, but yeah, I guess I do like them. I only own 3 worker placement games now, all of them about Vikings, so now Al jokes that I have the largest collection of Viking worker placement games on the East coast.

I wouldn’t say that RotNS is necessarily aggressive, though it does have that option, but it’s almost entirely driven by what players do and not by the game adding anything. The player turns feel very connected. Where you leave the game on your turn is where I pick it up on mine, which is true of most games, but here it’s more literal.
Posted: 06 Jun 2018 10:17 by ubarose #274819
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Well, here’s my minority report on Raiders of the North Sea. Out of the four of us that played it, I was the only one who wasn’t crazy about it. But Josh knew that would be the case going into it. I liked that it was straight forward and didn’t have layers of mechanics obfuscating the actual game. However, I would rate it as “mostly harmless and not particularly exciting.” If I were at a game day and my only choice was this or the typical stacks of convoluted Euro worker placement games that have been usually showing up; I’d go with this one. But, for worker placement, I’d rather go with Argent, Village, Waterdeep or even Agricola. Maybe the expansions will add something to make it more worthwhile.
Posted: 06 Jun 2018 10:27 by Sagrilarus #274820
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I'll spend a moment to compliment you on your exposition. I don't prefer reviews that speak to the rules of a game, and don't prefer worker placement games at all (in fact I hate 'em), but your writing had me eagerly reading through to the end. Don't do that much, don't know how you did it. Need to look into that.

So the question is this -- are the thematic elements tied to the gameplay at all? This should be an empire-building/conquering sort of game, but I don't see how worker placement (spit!) can support that. The setting and theme are fine, but it would be nice if the action on the table makes sense. From the sounds of it there's a map of some sort that is appropriate to the era.

Given the nature of the game I think it's inevitable that this shows up at my game group, purchased by somebody else, and that I'll get a shot at it. Here's hoping the worker placement (spit!) part of it isn't too intrusive to wreck the game for me. If what you wrote is true, it may not be. That will be a nice change.

S.
Posted: 06 Jun 2018 10:38 by Josh Look #274822
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I don’t think it’s going to convert anyone who isn’t into the genre. Mechanics relating to theme is rather loose. All the Vikings are coming from one village, so I guess it would make sense that they’d be shared rather than individually owned. The pacing of the game, that’s a different story. You spend some time preparing for a raid before you go, and when you do raid, you’re not going to go too far North out of the gate. You need to work your way up.

For what it’s worth, Champions of Midgard is by far more thematic, but aside from adding dice combat, it’s not doing anything new.
Posted: 06 Jun 2018 14:42 by Jackwraith #274857
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ubarose wrote:
Well, here’s my minority report on Raiders of the North Sea. Out of the four of us that played it, I was the only one who wasn’t crazy about it. But Josh knew that would be the case going into it. I liked that it was straight forward and didn’t have layers of mechanics obfuscating the actual game. However, I would rate it as “mostly harmless and not particularly exciting.” If I were at a game day and my only choice was this or the typical stacks of convoluted Euro worker placement games that Have been usually show up. I’d go with this one. But, for worker placement, I’d rather go with Argent, Village, Waterdeep or even Agricola. Maybe the expansions will add something to make it more worthwhile.

This is almost exactly my girlfriend's reaction. She was OK with it, but not really interested in playing again. I wasn't crazy about it, but liked it and was interested in playing again.
Posted: 06 Jun 2018 16:47 by ecargo #274873
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Regarding the expansions:

They are good, but mostly just add more. If you like the base game, the expansions are fun, but likely won't do anything to change your mind if you're meh on the game already. They also add a decent amount of time to the game, especially when played all together.
Posted: 06 Jun 2018 18:12 by Josh Look #274878
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I’m all for getting at least one, probably not both. I’m never really into throwing every expansion into game, it’s a surefire was for me to not like the game anymore.
Posted: 08 Jun 2018 13:27 by engineer Al #275020
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Great review Josh! Enjoyable reading and really gets to the essence of what this game is all about. I not only had fun playing "Raiders", but more importantly have not stopped thinking about it. I would love to play again and try some different strategies now that I've played it through once and get the overall concept better. Fascinating new take on Worker Placement, and I never felt like I was "pushing cubes". I was preparing troops and going on raids!
Posted: 09 Jun 2018 07:17 by Josh Look #275045
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We’ll definitely have to play again!