The Nordic Shuffle - Raiders of the North Sea
Published by Garphill Games - 2015
Designer: Shem Phillips
Head Artist: Mihajlo Dimitrievski
2 - 4 players ~ 60-90 minutes
Review written by Luke Muench
The worker placement genre is rather crowded these days. With titans like Agricola, The Manhattan Project, and Viticulture towering over the competition, it can be hard to make any newer titles stand out from the pack. So when Raiders of the North Sea hit the scene with a recently overused theme of being vikings (they’re totally the new zombies), one couldn’t blame anyone from passing it by. In fact, most people did until Renegade Games recently re released the title under their banner, providing it with some much needed buzz.
Which is a good thing, because this game is not only polished, not only beautiful, not only well-paced, but this elegant design may be one of my favorite worker placement to date.
Your goal as a would-be viking is to pillage as many villages with the spillage of much blood… age. The victor is whoever gathered the most glory, but this can be obtained through a few avenues, which we will get to… But first!
There is much work to be done, young Norse childling, for you have barely two silver pieces to your name and a gaggle of crewmates unprepared for the voyage. So how does one go about obtaining such important wares?
On your turn, you place a meeple and remove a different meeple, taking both actions in order.
This simple loop is the crux of this game, making every move a dance to try and figure out how to do the actions you want, in what order, how to stymie your opponents in the process, and gather what meager scraps you can find before racing to the seas to take on whatever awaits on the other side.
What adds to the puzzle as that there are three meeple colors that do not indicate player ownership, but rather the actions they can do. Later in the game, you may find yourself taking a sub-par move if only to get that grey or white meeple you need for a specific move on your following turn.
When placing a meeple, each location either earns you resources or allows you to spend resources for even better stuff. In other words, this is a game about hoarding as much as you can before spending it all on a single grand voyage:
The Gatehouse allows you to draw two cards from the deck of crew members, allowing you to use them at either the Town Hall or Barracks.
The Town Hall let’s you have access to a card’s one-time ability, allowing you to steal from others or potentially change the board state, before being discarded.
The Barracks, on the other hand, let’s you recruit said card as a member of your ship for (for a nominal fee of silver upfront), providing a passive buff for being on board.
The Silversmith earns you silver pieces, the Mill bags of food, and the Treasury let’s you discard a card for two silver or two cards for a piece of gold, a rare and useful resource.
For once you have enough crew members to pilot the ship and food to feed them, you can spend your entire turn taking your meeple and placing it on a location across the sea, gathering points through your military might, collecting various resources, and earning a meeple of varying color to use on your next turn.
Yes, there are different meeples, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. The black meeples you start with can gather silver pieces more easily from the silversmith and are required for some of the lower level raids, but the gray and white workers will help you earn more food, cheap gold, and even give you access to standard spots in town you couldn’t otherwise reach.
The first of these is the Armory, the sole way of earning victory points on the red points track, representing military might. By spending silver or iron, you can make your way up the track, earning both end-game points and strength to add to your dice rolls when on raids.
Depending on the location you raid on a given turn, you may be able to earn a variable amount of point dependant on the strength of those you’ve brought to the fight. Each crew member contributes anywhere between 1 and 4 strength naturally, while some may have abilities that help the process along. In addition to this, you’ll be forced to roll dice (dependant on the location you are raiding) during the more trying tests of viking-ness. This allows you to potential hit higher and higher strength values, earning you even more points. Lastly, every point of armor you’ve acquired is added to your total, potentially providing the last few points needed to gain the bigger bonus.
The other of these two exclusive locations is the Long House, providing two options. The first allows you to spend a cow to gain two food; simple enough and an efficient use of one of the weaker (albeit tastier) forms of loot you can obtain on a raid. The other let’s you spend an assortment of silver and loot to earn Offerings, which are tucked away and add to your score at the end of the game.
There are a few different kinds of loot one can earn:
Cows are worth ½ a point a pop if saved until the end (and can only be cashed in as a pair) but can, as mentioned, be slaughtered for some quick (and yummy) food.
Iron is worth 1 point is saved and can upgrade your Armor.
Gold is worth 1 point but must be spent to reach some of the grandest and most daunting of raids.
Valkyries are not collected, but rather fought, defeated soundly in battle but killing one of your own crew members in the process. Each defeated Valkyrie adds to the black victory track, gradually earning you up to a whopping 15 points.
The game concludes when either two of the three Fortress areas (the most difficult of them all) have been emptied, all the Valkyries have been fought, or the Offering pile runs out, making it an experience that ramps and slows down just as it needs to, feeling like a natural progression.
All of this is accompanied by a gorgeous, cartoony art-style, metal coins that come in the box, and a sprawling board to race across, making each game a joy to look at as well as to play. The rules are succinct, only a few pages long, and help explain the game well enough. The box is smaller than most, allowing for it to fit nicely on the shelf without it feeling like it takes up too much space. All in all, production quality is high, and it makes the game feel that much more rewarding.
Now, when I first came across this, I wondered to myself, “Do I reeeeeeeeally need to buy this? I already own Champions of Midgard after all.” There have been a number of comparisons made between the two titles; both are viking-themed worker placement games with great art and production, and each have two expansions that were released on Kickstarter at the same time.
But beyond those superficial attributes, these games feature dramatically different takes on worker placement, with their own unique mechanics, visual identity, and overall game cadence. Ultimately, they each scratch different itches in a way that leaves me happy to keep both on the shelf.
If there was a complaint I had for Raiders of the North Sea, it would be that some games can drag a bit. If people are building slowly or trying to capitalize on as many raids as possible, it may take some time for anyone to gather the resources to tackle enough Fortresses to trigger end-game. Additionally, some of the cards have take-that mechanics that can put a sour taste in one’s mouth.
This is only compounded by the random nature of the crew deck, with each card having between 3, 2, and 1 copies contained in the deck, the highest rarity attributed to heroes that, while only one can be equipped, provide tons of points that can feel kind of unfair. This can easily be remedied if it bothers you, though; I’ve personally removed the heroes from the crew deck, which greatly reduces the luck-factor of what you draw into, as there are duplicates of every other card in the deck.
Raiders of the North Sea is, in my eyes, a must-own game for any fan of worker placement games, far outpacing predecessors like Stone Age while doing enough different from its competition to feel wholly unique and exciting each time it hits the table.
Who Should Get This Game: Those who appreciate an elegantly designed, visually beautiful, and well crafted worker placement game.
Who Shouldn’t Get This Game: Those who will grow tired of the repetitive nature of the game after an hour or so.