Review: Shipwrights of the North Sea

In honor of the Kickstarter running right now for the expansions to Raiders of the North Sea, I’m looking at all three of the North Sea Trilogy of games this week. I’ll also be giving my thoughts on the overall semi-game the North Sea Runesaga as well. If you enjoy these games like I do, head over to the Kickstarter and check it out.

Shipwrights of the North Sea is a drafting and ship building card game for 2-5 players from Garphill Games. It’s the first of the North Sea games that Garphill put up on Kickstarter. It’s also the first game played in the North Sea Runesaga.

You play over a series of rounds where the lead player draws a number of cards off the top of the deck equal to one plus the number of players. They then select one of these cards to play or discard this round, passing the remaining cards to the left. This way everyone chooses a card they’ll have this round. Then the lead player does this twice more so that everyone starts with a hand of three cards. There are a few card types that arrive in the deck. There are ships which will be your largest method of earning points. There are craftsmen which are required to construct ships. Townsfolk that effect the game for your benefit. Tools let you manipulate the goods you’ll use to construct ships. There are also buildings that you can add that give you points based on certain in-game criteria.

You win the game by having the most points at the end, and you earn those points largely from the ships you construct. Each player will spend their rounds gathering goods (wood, wool, and iron) as well as gold and workers in an effort to earn the resources needed to construct ships. Each ship you build will likely effect something with your player board, from giving you less or more workers each round, changing how many goods you can store, or giving you more gold at the end of each round.

So each round you’ll take those three cards you drafted at the start of the round and either play or discard them. If you can’t do anything with it, you’ll discard it, otherwise you play them for what they do. You are limited by the number of cards you can have in play at a given time, so you’ll need to plan which cards you play and when. It can be really easy to get stuck trying to construct a ship, but your board is full of craftsmen that you can’t use to construct the ship you want. So planning when to play cards and when to discard them can be a big part of the decision-making.

I also want to point out there is an expansion to the game called the Townsfolk Expansion. This is a simple expansion, just a board and five tokens. But it changes the game for the better in such a way that I can’t see playing without it. This board has five locations that you can send one worker per round to in order to do something you normally can’t do. Sometimes it’s discard cards for gold, or use one craftsmen in place of another, or just remove an unbuilt ship or unused craftsmen from your board freeing up space for something better. It’s such a simple addition that really makes the game better. We’ve played it with and without the Townsfolk, and I don’t think I’ll ever play without it. The options it gives you on your turn let you really plan and adapt as you play through the game. Without it, I often felt either stuck from round to round or just going through the motions until I got the cards I needed. This board lets me adjust some of the luck of the draw and let me make a few more decisions.
Overall, Shipwrights is probably my least favorite of the North Sea games. That’s not to say it’s a bad game in the least bit. But it is the one of the three I’m the least excited to play at a given moment. Once I get more into it, my interest might pick up. It’s already picked up a bit over time already, but it’s still at basic interest. Playing with more players might change that view, but with two players, it’s largely straightforward. The Townsfolk does give you some more decisions, so I highly recommend you get them both if you’re going to play Shipwrights.

This is the first part of the North Sea series. Look for more reviews of the series later this week, as well as a revisit of this game on Thursday as it relates to the North Sea Runesaga.