Review: Explorers 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.

Explorers of the North Sea is the final game in the North Sea Trilogy from Garphill Games and the final game of the Runesaga. It is a tile placement and set collection game for 1-4 players where your vikings are now leaving home and exploring the lands around them searching for animals, raiding villages, and establishing outposts. It’s a pretty light game, but does a lot of things well.

To start, the your vikings will be located on the mainland with one longship. Each turn you’ll place a tile on the map, slowly expanding the world. Then you’ll perform up to 4 actions such as move to another tile, load or unload your ship, or establish an outpost. The map is shared, so you and the other players will be growing and moving around this map at the same time. Which direction you take depends on what you want to do. Each player is given a different captain card at the start that has a unique bonus to scoring, so maybe you want to go after animals for extra points, or enemy ships, or maybe you want to try to claim islands. It’s up to you, which approach you take.

The game continues around with players moving their ships between the various islands as they appear and grow. This growth is also what brings around the end of the game. Once all the tiles have been placed on the table, the game ends. Whoever has the most points wins the game.

I saw a comment on BGG about Explorers that said something to the effect of, “It doesn’t do anything new, but it does everything well.” That’s how I feel about this game tile placement and set collection are enjoyable mechanics, and it does it well. The introduction of captains lets me try something new each game. The tiny animal meeples are adorable and great, though sometimes we have a hard time distinguishing goats and horses on the board. Once again the Mico’s artwork is great and the animals on the board are hilarious little caricatures.

I still have yet to figure out how to build the right size island. I either end up with super tiny islands, or huge landmasses that never complete by the game end. (Islands are completed once they are fully surrounded by water.) That might be just inexperience, or it might be the way the island shapes work out. But I need to spend more time working on this.

One interesting aspect with set up is that no tiles are removed from the game. The game will always take 48 rounds because that is how many tiles there are. No matter how many players you’re playing with, that’s just the number of tiles you use. I think of games like Lanterns that remove a certain amount of tiles from the game based on player count. I’ve only played it with two players so far, but I can’t imagine how little I could get done in a four player game by comparison to the number of rounds I get to take in a two player game. I’m not sure how this works out, because I haven’t had the chance to try it out with four yet, though I’m trying to work on a chance here soon.

Overall, I quite like the game. It’s not my favorite game, but it is one that I find myself wanting to play a lot right now. It’s a clever puzzle of where to place your islands and how to box out your opponents. It can be a good amount of work to get things done, and I still haven’t quite mastered the movement of my vikings around the board yet. Only time will tell how much I’ll grow to enjoy this game, but right now it’s certainly of high interest to me.