Publisher: Garphill Games
Designer: Shem Phillips
Artist: The Mico
Players: 1 to 4
Time: 45 – 60 mins
Explorers of the North Sea is third game in the North Sea series of Viking themed games from self-publishing designer Shem Phillips of Garphill Games. As with the other two games in the series, Shipwrights and Raiders of the North Sea, the artwork is gloriously handled by returning artist The Mico, though in this one the artwork is a little more subtle with only tiles and player boards rather than decks of cards to showcase his talents.
Explorers sees players charting undiscovered territory via placement of hexagonal tiles, giving opportunities to score points through collecting livestock, raiding settlements, defeating enemies at sea and controlling islands they discover. To do this each player has seven vikings, five outposts and one longship.
On each turn player have a hand of three tiles from which they will choose and place one. On these tiles will be a mixture of land and sea elements which need to match up exactly to existing tiles on the board. By doing this players are aiming to create islands and make land elements, such as herds of animals or settlements, available for plundering.
Once the tile is placed the active player then has exactly four actions to play from a range of options. These are:
- Load longship (place as many vikings and/or animals as you like into your longship – max 3 total)
- Unload longship (remove as many Vikings and/or animals from your longship as you like)
- Move longship (one action per tile moved) – bonus, you get to attack NPC ships on the board when you move onto those spaces
- Move Vikings on land – one action per tile and you can move one or two Vikings at a time – bonus, you can raid a settlement on the board if you move enough vikings onto that settlement space
- Transport livestock – you can move one animal with one viking one tile for one action
- Construct outpost – this costs 2 actions, but you can place an outpost token on the board where three land sections meet and you have at least two vikings present. These outposts are worth 2 infuence when coming to decide who has control of a given island.
After the player has completed their four actions they draw another tile from the draw deck and play continues to the left. The game ends when the draw deck of tiles is empty and every player has finished playing all their tiles. Scores are then totalled up on the nice little score sheets provided in the box (a la Five Tribes) and the player with the most points wins.
I make no secret of the fact that I love the North Sea games from Garphill Games. Not only has Shem Phillips consistently delivered his Kickstarter projects (almost) on time and totally to spec, but the games themselves are very good. In my book he’s the New Zealand version of Ryan Laukat/Red Raven Games… the only bit he doesn’t do is the artwork himself!
How does Explorers stack up against its predecessors? It is by far and away the simplest, mechanically, of the three games and some might think it is too simple and lightweight, but that would be doing the game a disservice, I think. While the mechanics are simple there are plenty of choices to make and it is sometimes agonising to make them. Should you place a tile where one of your opponents might benefit or make animals easily accessible or place it somewhere where you’ll have to spend more actions to benefit alone? Do you focus on one scoring element or try and do a bit of everything? Due to the speed of the game (limited turns due to number of tiles) it’s tricky to do everything you might wish to.
Each player does have their own captain board, which gives some specific scoring bonus too. I had the Archer last night, which gave me a bonus VP for every tile between my farthest outpost and the mainland. That adds further indecision to the mix as you try and balance all the different ways you can score points.
Overall, it was a very pleasing first play of Explorers of the North Sea. It definitely stands up nicely with the rest of the series and that was very much the opinion of the two other players, one of which immediately asked where he could go about purchasing a copy!
I’m looking forward to giving this another play, particularly with four players to see how the game varies when there is a reduced number of turns and more competition for resources. I’m also looking forward to trying the Rune Saga expansion which adds a bit of continuity between the three games and makes it appealing to chain plays together.