There are plenty of good Viking themed board games out in Tabletop Land these days. Champions of Midgard, Blood Rage, Fire & Axe, Thunder & Lightning, and Raiders of The North Sea are all great games that I have played over the last year. Now I can add Explorers of The North Sea to the list. Part of the three-game trilogy comprising The North Sea Runesaga, Explorers takes 1-4 players on a quest to explore new lands and boldly go where no one in their village has gone before. The game is cleverly designed by Shem Phillips, colorfully “artified” by Mihajlo Dimitrievski, and published by Renegade/Garphill Games. Phillips and Dimitrievski also collaborated on the other two games in the Runesaga series, Raiders and Shipwrights (both of the North Sea).
The gist of Explorers is that each player gets one long ship, seven Viking meeples, a unique leader with an end game scoring bonus, and three randomly drawn map tiles. Players take turns that start with placing a single map tile to the game board, placing any livestock, enemy ships, or settlements shown thereon. Tile placing is then followed by four actions of the player’s choice. Actions include building one of your five outposts, picking up or dropping off livestock and vikings, raiding settlements, and destroying enemy ships (possibly – hopefully? – sending a meeple to Valhalla in the process).
Players’ turns should be lightning quick and by the third game, ours certainly were. There is really no combat, in the sense that you can’t lose. Enemy ships are chits that get turned over when a player’s ship enters their space. The flipped chit either reveals a victory, or a victory with the loss of one of your Viking meeples for the rest of the game. Killed meeples score points for you at the end of the game, possibly a lot of them. Settlements have a value of 2-5 and that dictates how many meeples must be in that space at one time to raid the settlement. At the end of the game, raided settlement strength equals victory points for the conquering player. For an excellent how to video, see the best, Rodney Smith:
The main strategies involved in Explorers are action optimization and tile management. On every turn I wished that I had more actions and more space in my ship (it only holds three of any combination of Vikings/livestock at once) not to mention more tiles to extend the game, as it often felt like we were running out of time. It’s a race to collect victory points and the game can be cutthroat if players wish. I like that about the design. You CAN play a peaceful game, but a timely tile or outpost placement can swing the tide of the game, as players score points for islands they control at the end of the game. Area control is determined by the most points of strength on any island (one per meeple and two per outpost). This makes for an interesting cat and mouse game that could benefit a player who is able to hide her intentions long enough to force another player’s mistake.
And that is where this game shines. There’s lots of interesting strategy underneath the pretty art that is Explorers Of The North Sea. The game did not overstay its welcome, clocking in at under an hour each time. The components are well made and the tiles play as active a role in the strategy as any tile laying game I’ve played to date. There is enough tension to keep it exciting, but not so much as to be considered even close to intense. I have played Raiders and this game is a good compliment to its heavier sibling. I have not played Shipwrights Of The North Sea yet, but I’m about to. I will also give a look-see to the Runesaga expansion that overlays competitive objectives when you play all three games in succession. It seems sort of like a Viking nerd-Olympics.
Definitely check out Explorers Of The North Sea. Thanks for reading. Nerd on.