Welcome to the captivating world of Explorers of the North Sea, the final installment of the North Sea Trilogy. As an avid explorer, this game on Kickstarter caught my attention and led me to discover the other games in the series. What sets this trilogy apart is the unique nature of each game. Explorers of the North Sea grabbed my interest with its intriguing tile placement and exploration mechanics. My wife and I are always on the lookout for engaging exploration games, but we haven’t found one that satisfies our craving. Let’s dive into the depths of Explorers of the North Sea and see if it fulfills our desire for an exceptional exploration experience.
Setting the Stage
In this game, you find yourself in the waning years of the Viking Era. Having built your fleet in Shipwrights of the North Sea and raided your opponents in Raiders of the North Sea, it’s now time to venture even further into unknown waters. As you explore the vast North Sea, you’ll conquer settlements, gather livestock, and battle enemy ships. Expand your clan by constructing settlements and employ a combination of pick-up and deliver, set collection, and area control strategies. Designed by the talented Shem Phillips, this Garphill game offers an exciting adventure. The player with the highest score at the end of the game will emerge as the victor.
A Journey Begins
At the start of each game, every player receives a boat, Vikings of their chosen color, and a player aid. The initial tile is placed on the table, leaving ample room for future exploration. Each player has three starting tiles while the rest are stacked to the side. Position your boat, with two Vikings aboard, on the shore of the starting tile, and place the remaining Vikings on the shore.
Embarking on Your Turn
Similar to the other North Sea games, your turn in Explorers is delightfully straightforward. Follow these steps in order:
- Place one of your tiles on the board.
- Utilize your four Action Points.
- Choose a new tile.
Tile placement follows the standard rules of matching terrain: water with water and land with land. Some tiles may have additional features when placed. For instance, if a tile bears a livestock symbol, you’ll place an animal meeple on the land. There are seven different types of livestock to encounter. If a pirate symbol appears in the water, draw a random Pirate token and place it facedown. Settlements require you to take a facedown flag tile and reveal its strength by placing it face up on the settlement.
After placing your tile, you can take various actions. Despite the multitude of options, you only have four Action Points to spend. First, you can move your Vikings or your boat. Moving a Viking costs one action point, and when on land, you can typically move up to two meeples on the same tile, whether that be two Vikings or a Viking and a piece of livestock. However, if you wish to move two livestock, you’ll need two Vikings. Remember, you must leave at least one Viking on the boat to steer it, as no more than two livestock can accompany them.
Several outcomes may arise during movement, without consuming action points. For instance, if your boat encounters an enemy ship, you can destroy it by having two Vikings aboard. Failure to meet this requirement prevents you from passing through that tile. On the other hand, some tiles may result in the loss of your Vikings, sending them back to your player board, unable to be used again during the current round. On land, you also have the option to destroy settlements, which possess randomly assigned strength values. Destroying a settlement rewards you with points at the end of the game, provided you have enough Vikings to match its strength.
Another action allows you to load or unload livestock, also costing one action point. To load livestock, your Viking must be on land. This means that you can dock your boat at the island’s edge, disembark, load your livestock, and still have one action remaining to move your boat. It may take an entire turn to load just one piece of livestock.
Furthermore, you can use two action points to build an outpost on an island. By constructing an outpost, you claim that island as your own. Two Vikings are required for this action. Position your outpost at the connecting corners of three tiles, effectively prohibiting other players from building settlements that touch those three tiles. While multiple outposts can exist on a single island, it would require a particularly large island.
Continue playing until the final tile is placed, then tally your points. Score points for collected settlement tiles, destroyed enemy ships, gathered livestock, eliminated Vikings, controlled islands, and bonuses from your starting Viking. The player with the highest score emerges as the victor.
Journeying with Eye-Catching Components
The components in Explorers of the North Sea are truly splendid. The boats are a personal favorite, and I adore how everything fits perfectly inside them. Loading and unloading boats is a delightful experience. The various livestock are beautifully crafted, although it can be challenging to differentiate between horses, goats, and cows. The game surprises with its larger-sized tiles and stunning artwork. The player boards, however, are just made of cardstock, and sometimes, the imagery on the livestock pieces may be hard to discern. Overall, the components are satisfactory, but there’s nothing overwhelmingly extraordinary—except for the first player token, which is undeniably awesome!
A Familiar Experience
In terms of game mechanics, Explorers of the North Sea doesn’t necessarily break new ground. It follows the standard conventions found in similar games.
This game offers ample strategic depth. It all begins with the choice of your starting Viking, which determines your preferred strategy. However, there are additional strategic decisions to make when selecting and placing tiles. For instance, you could place a tile with an enemy ship to obstruct an opponent carrying two livestock, forcing them to either drop one off or find an alternate route. Alternatively, you could position a crucial piece of livestock far away from another player in need, or place the final piece near your current location to ensure you can acquire it before anyone else. These decisions enrich the gameplay. Be prepared for a variety of scoring avenues—dead Vikings yield significant points but hinder your future actions, while gathering livestock may take longer but offer alternative benefits. Every choice presents both advantages and disadvantages, resulting in a balanced gameplay experience.
The diverse strategies available in Explorers of the North Sea contribute to its high replayability. The array of starting Vikings provides an additional layer of variability, ensuring that each game feels distinct. Additionally, the islands will differ from game to game. The number of players also influences the gameplay experience, which can range from casual to intense. While the two-player game might seem vast, it offers a relaxed experience. Overall, I anticipate playing this game frequently due to its captivating nature.
A Memorable Adventure
Explorers of the North Sea has certainly earned its place in our collection. I appreciate the game’s quick turns and ease of understanding and playing. The multitude of strategies and paths to victory keeps the game fresh and exciting. If I had to choose, Raiders would probably be my top preference, but Explorers comes in at a close second. Each aspect of the game works harmoniously, contributing to an enjoyable experience, although no individual feature stands out remarkably.