Or – a wargaming family’s journey into a true Eurogame.
The RockyMountainNavy Boys love Vikings. Not long ago we were in our local FLGS, Huzzah Hobbies, and my youngest saw Raiders of the North Sea (English 2nd Edition, Graphill/Renegade Game Studios, 2017) and it caught his attention. I eventually ordered it and the game arrived on Halloween and we slotted it for play on Saturday night. However, the Boys got done with all their homework and chores early enough on Thursday that they asked to learn the game.
According to BoardGameGeek rankings, Raiders of the North Sea is a very strong game with an average rating of 7.8. At the time of this post it was ranked 104th overall and 73rd in the strategy category. The publisher’s blurb certainly makes Raiders of the North Sea sound interesting:
Raiders of the North Sea is set in the central years of the Viking Age. As Viking warriors, players seek to impress the Chieftain by raiding unsuspecting settlements. Players will need to assemble a crew, collect provisions and journey north to plunder gold, iron and livestock. There is glory to be found in battle, even at the hands of the Valkyrie. So gather your warriors, it’s raiding season!
Raiders of the North Sea is a Eurogame using a worker placement mechanism. Every turn players use their worker (err…Viking) to Work or Raid.
Workers Vikings come in three colors and not every action space is accessible by all colors. Players start with the black Viking which is the most common color. A white Viking is is most powerful with access to the best spaces. There is also a gray Viking that is more versatile than the black Viking but cannot access the better spaces like the white one. Each turn players get two actions; the first uses the Viking in their hand which is placed on the board and the second is from another Viking taken from the board into their hand.
Like so many Eurogames there is little actual player interaction. A few cards have a “take that” effect on another player but it usually is limited to taking a few items, trading
cards Townfolk, or at worst swapping a worker Viking on the board.
Raiders of the North Sea is rated at 60-90 minutes. In our first game, which took nearly 2 hours as we learned, we quickly discovered the game can drag. The turns may be quick but the game is not. I think this is because there is a limit to the number of cards, coins, and Townfolk/Hired Crew you can have in your hand or on the table. This means your “game engine” has a governor on it. It takes a few rounds to assemble
your team Hired Crew and gather Provisions to make a Raid. That assumes you get the right color worker in your hand at the right time….
After playing the game and considering it, I have two major problems with Raiders of the Lost Sea. One is the game, the other is me.
First, Raiders of the North Sea appears to hit the Viking theme to a T. The artwork is highly evocative of the theme (even if it is a little cartoonish). However, the use of the worker placement game mechanic doesn’t fit what I expected in a Viking game. Sure, the reality is that Vikings needed to do more than just raid and plunder (i.e Work) but I want to Raid! In the end, the Viking worker placement mechanic actually doesn’t support the theme. The players are nothing more than a Chief Operating Officer (COO) of a unit trying to organize their
workers Vikings by Working in the town and occasionally getting out of the office Raiding. Indeed, the players are not really in charge as they need to make offerings to the CEO Chieftain!
Secondly, Raiders of the North Sea shows me that the RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself are more waro-gamer than Eurogamer. Truth be told, I am a wargamer first and a waro-gamer second. There are a many thematic Eurogames we like such as Ticket to Ride, Scythe, Firefly: The Game, or Battlestar Galactica: The Boardgame. Given our druthers playing a good waro is the most satisfying. Unlike 878: Vikings – Invasions of England (Academy Games, 2017) the core game mechanic in Raiders of the North Sea fails to create a compelling gaming narrative of Viking raids that we can immerse ourselves into and enjoy.
Now, I am not ready to trade away Raiders of the North Sea just yet. I think it has a place in our collection, just not the prominent role that I was expecting given the ratings and hype around the game. Our reaction to this game does make me worry about another game I have on pre-order, AuZtralia (Stonghold Games, 2018). There is alot of buzz about that Martin Wallace title and I jumped at it because it was described as a waro. I certainly hope it is.