Raiders of the North Sea Review

Gather a mighty crew and set off to sea in search of towns to raid, for glory and Valhalla await only the strongest and bravest warriors! You’ll face many perils and foes on your quest, so having a well-supplied crew is just as important as their strength and numbers.  In Raiders of the North Sea, you’ll have to balance the logistics and power to become the most successful clan!

Check out our full Raiders of the North Sea review below.

Raiders of the North Sea
  • Spiel des Jahres Kennerspiel 2017 nominee (enthusiast game of the...
  • Impress the chieftain by raiding villages!
  • Part of the North Sea Runesaga Campaign Trilogy!

Raiders of the North Sea Review (TL;DR)

If you’re looking for an introductory worker-placement game and a relaxing 1-1.5 hour experience Raiders of the North Sea is one of the best games in the genre. 

High-quality components, well-paced gameplay, and the perfect balance between complexity, replayability, and fun are just some of the reasons why this game might interest you. 

As someone who’s played everything from 12-hour Twilight Imperium to Carcassonne, it takes a lot to impress me, but Raiders of the North Sea has managed to do just that, and earn a spot in my roster of regularly played games.

Brief Overview of Raiders of the North Sea

Raiders of the North Sea Board Game Box and Art

Raiders of the North Sea is a game of medium-light complexity that can be described as a worker-placement, quest completion game. The goals are simple — gather resources to either hoard, spend on raids, or offer to the Chieftain in an effort to earn more victory points.

The game is limited to only two, three, or four players, with a playtime of 60 to 80 minutes. I can recommend Raiders of the North Sea as a palette cleanser or a great introductory board game. The balance between accessibility, mechanics, and replay value makes Raiders of the North Sea a game worth considering!

Unboxing Raiders of the North Sea

The game includes the following components:

  • 1 Game Board
  • 16 Offering Tiles
  • 12 Score Markers
  • 18 Valkyrie, Iron, and Gold Tokens Each
  • 32 Silver and Provision Tokens Each
  • 26 Livestock Tokens
  • 7 Black, 11 Grey, and 12 White Workers
  • 2 Averaging Dice
  • 1 Black Bag
  • 1 Rulebook
  • 71 Townsfolk Cards
  • 4 Ship Cards

Once we take the eye-catching box cover off, the same art can be found on the 12-page rulebook. The first half of the rulebook has some illustrations to help you follow along, but the second half is very text-heavy, but it’s well structured which makes it easier to follow.

After punching out the offering tiles and provisions from the thick cardboard, we get to the double-folded game board. The art on the board is unintrusive to the gameplay but has impressive detail if you care to take a closer look. The bleak color palette combined with the mist and snowy accents emphasizes cold weather. 

The worker meeples and resources tokens are made out of wood in custom shapes and colors – always a huge plus. The two dice have the same color scheme and font as the Armour tracker on the board, which is a nice touch. 

The coins were by far the biggest surprise. I expected an additional layer of punchout cardboard, but instead, I found a bag full of metal coins! Even if they were plain pieces of metal I’d be satisfied, but they’ve got an old silver look and double-sided runic engraving. I only wish there were more than 18 of them so I could utilize them in other board games!

I love the Viking drawings on the townsfolk cards. I cannot put my thumb on what it reminds me of, as I see hints of anime-like facial features, older comic books but also somewhat comedic expressions. The characters on the box art are used on the cards as well, so that should give you a good idea of what they look like.

How to Play Raiders of the North Sea

Raiders of the North Sea Board Game Box and Board

In Raiders of the North Sea, the goal is to have the most victory points that can be gained through raiding, plundering, and making offerings. The rather unique mechanic that is important to remember is that every player starts, but also finishes their turn with one worker in hand. 

Game Setup

You’ll follow the manual to set up the board and distribute different pieces, but what’s important is that each player starts with just 1 black worker. Additionally, no player can hold more than 8 silver, provisions, or cards at the end of their turn.

Taking Turns

The game plays in a clockwise fashion with every playing taking a two-action turn. There are no special rounds or unique turns — the game continues until one of the three game-ending conditions has been achieved.

Raiders of the North Sea has a unique mechanic in which spots on the map can be occupied by only one worker, but unlike other games, this doesn’t prevent you from taking that action during your turn. 

On the first action, the standard worker placement rules apply — you can only place your worker on an available area of the board. Once you’ve completed the action of the spot, you’ll pick up any other worker from the board and either resolve the action or ignore it.

This way, players can’t fully block anyone else, but they can regularly disrupt their turn order. This creates a unique dynamic as some tactics rely on gathering enough resources through the first action to successfully execute the second. 

Worker Tiers

It’s important to note that while the game starts with only black workers, players can also acquire gray and white workers which are important for taking certain work actions and raiding.

Work Action

Before you can set out to raid, you need a crew and necessary provisions. You can do this by taking action in the bottom half of the map, in the Viking village. 

Out of 8 available actions, some will be blocked by an existing black worker while others require a grey or white worker to activate. Through the early work actions, players gather crew, gain silver or collect provisions, and work to expand their worker tiers and get greater benefits.

Raid Action

Raiding is a multi-stage process, and first, the player needs to meet the requirements. To make the game more interesting, every settlement has different conditions, and each settlement can be raided only once. 

The raiding requirements include:

  1. Crew size.
  2. Enough provisions (and gold if necessary).
  3. Workers of the right color.

During the raid, victory points can be earned through either military strength, hired crew, or plunder & valkyrie

Military strength is equal to the power of the crew, rolled dice, crew actions, and armor. The power of the crew can be found in the top left of each card, while the dice add a dose of RNG. The crew may also have actions that will increase your power, and armor acts as a permanent buff to your party.

Settlements you raid have two or three tiers of rewards, which you can get if you fulfill the required power military strength requirement. Failing to meet even the lowest requirement will grant you no victory points.

Hired crew can not only boost your military strength but offer extra victory points if the conditions are met, which typically involve raiding a specific settlement.

Plunder involves picking up your new worker, taking loot, and scoring victory points for military strength and the hired crew. Should the raid include Valkyrie, some of the raiding party will die, but reward players with points on the valkyrie tracker.

Game End

The game enters its final phase once one of the following conditions is met:

  1. Only one fortress raid remains in the game.
  2. The offering draw pile has been depleted.
  3. All the valkyries have been removed from the game board.

The player that achieves one of the conditions finishes their turn as normal, with everyone else having 1 final turn to close out the game. 

Players get additional victory points from the valkyrie track, armory track, collected offering tiles, hired crew, and plunder. Sum up all the progress to calculate your game-end score and see who wins. Ties are broken by looking at the valkyrie track, followed by the armory track if players are still even.

Your First Game of Raiders of the North Sea

Raiders of the North Sea is a fairly intuitive game, especially since it starts off with a limited number of available actions. While some games require hours of preparation and solo play to get into shape, you can gather the rest of your group and learn the game together as you go. 

The board has a variable setup meaning no game will be the same, meaning a tactic that works in one game will not work in the next. Half the fun of playing a game like this is discovering your own strategies and moves, which is why I won’t teach you much in terms of strategy

What I can tell you is that Raiders of the North Sea is a game where you need to keep an eye on other players and prevent them from easily snowballing. This mostly comes down to denying a single player too many valkyries, and figuring out what others want to do, and blocking them from taking a spot as their first action.

Pros & Cons

One of the toughest challenges for a board game designer is creating the balance between the complexity of the game and how easily it can be figured out. 

Multiple layers of strategy, dozens of mechanics, and a lot of player interactivity will make every session unique, but grasping the rules and the idea behind the game can take hours and multiple sessions. On the other hand, making the game too simple, and figuring out the best strategy to win can take all the replayability out of it.

Pros:

  • Perfect Balance of Difficulty & Replayability
  • Innovative Worker Placement Mechanic
  • Great Component Quality

Raiders of the North Sea strikes the perfect balance between the two. A player without any prior knowledge of the game can sit at the table and learn as they play. By the time the first game is completed, they’ll already figure out the main concepts and be ready to competently compete in the next one, but also dozens of games to come. 

I believe this is the first time a game incorporated a ‘place one – pick one’ worker placement rule. It’s not a gimmick and works really well. Two actions per turn somehow make the game go by faster even though you should technically be waiting twice as long to get your turn. In a genre that is very saturated, it’s nice to see a developer figure out a new and functional way of making their game stand out.

The quality of components, especially the artwork on the cards is top-notch. I can’t say anything bad about the components as everything is durable and just the way I like it. And of course, I can’t talk about components without mentioning the metal silver coins.

Cons:

  • Maximum of 4 Players
  • The Theme Isn’t Well Executed

The fact that the Raiders of the North Sea can only be played by 2-4 players does limit its value. The solo mode isn’t always necessary, but the maximum of 4 players is often limiting. 

The problem is fixed through the expansions, both of which add an additional player spot and can be combined with the base game for a total of 6 players, but they’re not the cheapest, so take that into the account.

The one thing that really stuck out to me in a negative way is the theme. I’m not much of a story or theme guy, but when you decide to go with the Viking theme which is already becoming overused, you better do it right. 

In Raiders of the North Sea, the goal is to suck up to the chieftain the most. That’s it! You’re not raiding for the title of the jarl or at least a housecarl, you’re not offering gifts to Odin to become his favored clan, you’re just trying to impress your chieftain.

Then you take a look at the map and you can see your Norsemen are… living in the south? And raiding north, into snow-covered regions? I get it’s all about aesthetics, and having the more frequent actions closer to the players, but Vikings primarily raided in the summer and traveled south. 

I know this doesn’t at all for the gameplay, but as somewhat of a history buff, so details like these really stick out to me. I really wish the designers went with more of a sense of grandeur, where you choose a good to appease and fight for their glory, with gameplay remaining exactly the same.

Versions & Expansions

Raiders of the North Sea Board Game Expansions

Raiders of the North Sea: Fields of Fame

Your clan has been a cause of terror for long enough, and enemy jarls have decided to join forces and defend their settlements with swords and axes!

Fields of Fame expands the game to accommodate a fifth player with additional components but also adds a township board, enemy jarl tokens and cards, damage, fame, and new townsfolk. You can use it together with Hall of Heroes to for a six-player game!

Raiders of the North Sea: Fields of Fame
  • Components for an extra player
  • Township board with 3 new raids
  • Jarls bring new strategies and more ways to score victory points

Raiders of the North Sea: Hall of Heroes

The newly built mead hall has been attracting new adventurers, quests, and interesting mechanics! The second expansion for Raiders of the North Sea adds another player spot and can be used with Fields of Fame to increase the player count to six. 

This expansion adds 30 townsfolk cards, 27 quests, 12 reputation tiles, and a new mead hall board along with 40 mead tokens!

Raiders of the North Sea: Hall of Heroes
  • Components for an extra player
  • Mead Hall board with new Village location and card drafting area
  • Quests bring new strategies and more ways to score victory points

Raiders of The North Sea: Collector’s Box

Raiders of The North Sea: Collector's Box
  • Raiders of the North Sea is set in the central years of the...
  • This Collector’s Box contains a plastic insert and can store...
  • Requires Raiders of the North Sea and both expansions: Fields of...

Raiders of the North Sea is also available in a digital edition on Steam, Android, and iOS!

Conclusion: Verdict?

I was really looking forward to trying out Raiders of the North Sea, and even with all the hype, the game still managed to impress me. It’s exactly what I’m looking for in my ‘casual’ games – it’s complex enough that your decisions matter, it doesn’t drag on, and is evergreen.

We haven’t played the expansions yet, but after reading the rules and watching a video or two, I managed to prep three other players in under 30 minutes, and then the first game took just over 2 hours. After that, every game went on smoothly and nobody could really dominate consistently. 

Lords of Waterdeep was my go-to worker-placement game for the longest time, but I think it’s time for a new game to take its place. I’m not 100% sure if Raiders of the North Sea is that game until the novelty factor fades, but for now, it’s definitely my favorite in the genre.

Raiders of the North Sea
  • Spiel des Jahres Kennerspiel 2017 nominee (enthusiast game of the...
  • Impress the chieftain by raiding villages!
  • Part of the North Sea Runesaga Campaign Trilogy!

We hope you enjoyed our Raiders of the North Sea review! Have you tried this mechanically sound board game from Renegade? We’d love to hear your thoughts – so drop a comment below!

SHARING IS CARING

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Stats at a glance

Players: 2-4

Ages: 12 +

Medium

60-80 Mins

Publisher: Renegade Game Studios

Published: 2015