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Curt Frantz
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The Game

Like the other games of the ‘North Sea’ trilogy, Explorers of the North Sea is a game about Vikings! In this game, the players will placing tiles and moving their Viking longships in an effort to most efficiently collect livestock, raid settlements, attack enemy ships, and control islands. Let’s see how the game plays!



The Board and Components

The board is comprised of the starting tile (of which there are 2, double sided) and 48 game tiles, one of which will be placed at the start of each player turn.



There are 26 livestock (3 cattle, 3 horses, 4 sheep, 5 goats, 6 chickens, 6 pigs). These will spawn on their respective tiles and will be collected by the players (i.e. there are only 3 tiles with a cow in the stack of 48).

There are 14 settlement tokens. These are randomly placed when settlements enter the game board and indicate the strength of the settlement and how many points are gained if it is raided by a player.

The game also includes 12 enemy ship tokens. These will also spawn on the indicated tiles. 6 of these tiles will indicate one of the attacking Viking players died in the attack (points are gained for dead Vikings) and 6 do not kill the player’s Viking.

Finally, each player will have 1 of the 11 captain cards and one longship, 5 outposts, and 7 Vikings in their color.



The last components are the score sheet (much like in 7 Wonders), and the first player token.

The Gameplay


Each player starts with a longship containing 2 vikings on the starting tile and 3 of the 48 tiles in hand.



Their other Vikings start on the mainland and will be used later. The starting player is chosen randomly. A player’s turn follows this order:

1. Place a tile

2. Take up to 4 actions

3. Draw a tile

Place a tile

The active player must place one of their tiles somewhere on the board. Each edge much match the surrounding tiles. Land must be attached to land and water to water. There are no exceptions to this; all sides of the placed tile must match. Tiles can never directly join the mainland, where the other Vikings reside. Each tile has in illustration of a livestock, enemy ship, or settlement which goes onto that tile. In each instance, take one of the indicated tiles/pieces and place it. Enemy ships and settlements are placed randomly, as some of the enemy ships will kill a player Viking and others won’t, while settlements vary in points.

Take up to 4 actions

The players have a few different actions to choose from those actions are:

1. Load longship

2. Unload longship (and deliver livestock)

3. Move longship (and destroy enemy ship)

4. Move Vikings (and raid settlement)

5. Transport livestock

6. Construct an outpost (takes 2 actions)

For one action, a player may load up to 3 Vikings and/or livestock into their longship. The maximum number of livestock/Vikings a ship may carry at any time is 3. To load a longship, the player’s Vikings and livestock must be on one piece of land and on the same tile as their longship. Livestock cannot load themselves, and require the presence of a Viking in the ship (if being loaded) or must be moved with a Viking.

For one action, a player may unload up to 3 Vikings and/or livestock from their ship onto land. The restrictions for moving livestock are similar. Players will score end of game points if livestock are delivered to the mainland.

For one action, the player may move their longship 1 tile. At least one Viking must be on board to move the ship. Multiple ships may occupy the same tile. If the player’s ship contains at least 2 Vikings, it may move into a space with an enemy ship. If this occurs, the enemy ship tile is defeated, which means it is revealed and then added to the player’s captain card. Half of the ships indicate that a player Viking has been killed in combat (this is why 2 are required to attack; one must be left to captain the ship). Dead Vikings will score VPs at the end of the game.

For one action, the player may move 1 or 2 Vikings from land to connected land on an adjacent tile. This is how settlements are raided. If a player moves enough Vikings into a settlement to meet or exceed the strength indicated on the tile, it is successfully raided. The tile is added to the player’s captain card and will score at the end of the game.

For one action, the player may transport 1 livestock with 1 Viking from one land space to connected land on an adjacent tile.

For two actions, the player may construct an outpost on the point where 3 tiles are joined by land. This will score VPs and will help the player control islands, which will score more VPs. Each tile may only be connected to one outpost, so they can’t be tightly clustered on the board. The player must have 2 Vikings on the land tiles immediately surrounding the outpost being built. Outposts may never be moved or removed and the players are limited to 5 each.

Draw a tile

The active player will draw a tile to refill their hand, and play will pass to the next player in clockwise order. If no tiles remain in the stack, that means the game is nearing its end.

End of game

The end of the game occurs after a number of rounds (12 for 4p, 16 for 3p and 24 for 2p). Ideally it’s when all 48 tiles have been placed, but occasionally a player will forget to place a tile on their turn, and it wouldn’t be fair to allow some players extra actions. Scoring occurs as follows:

1. Delivered Livestock: the players’ goal is to collect a set of different livestock. 1 livestock is 1 VP but a set of 6 different livestock is 21 VP (1+2+3+4+5+6).

2. Constructed outposts: 1 outpost is 2 VP, but 5 outposts is 20 VP (2+3+4+5+6).

3. Destroyed enemy ships: each is worth 1 VP.

4. Raided settlements: the players total their points gained on settlement tiles gained during raids.

5. Viking deaths: the players gain points equal to their number of Vikings killed squared. 1 death is 1 point, while 3 would be 9 points.

6. Controlled islands: a controlled island is one in which a player has more presence than any opponent. Each Viking counts as 1 for control and each outpost counts as 2. For each controlled island, the player will score 1 point per tile that adds to the island’s area.

7. Captain cards: each player may score a couple extra points for their respective captain ability. Some may require the players to destroy enemy ships, control multiple islands, etc. They’re pretty straightforward.

The player with the most points wins!

Final Thoughts

Strengths:

Variability – The tile placement leads to very different maps from game to game, altering play. Each game will feel very different.

Artwork – This, like the other ‘Explorers’ games, is beautiful! Very colorful and well designed.

Weaknesses:

Scaling – More players increases the play time. It shouldn’t, because the number of tiles is the same, but 3 or 4 players pondering strategies rather than 2 leads the game to bog down a bit more. More players also increases the randomness. If you’re digging for certain tiles, there’s a much greater chance you’ll get the cow or horse you need in a 2 player game, where you see 24 tiles, than in a 4 player game (12 tiles). That leads me to my next point. It also decrease the number of actions you’ll take. In a 4 player game, you only have 12 turns, which is hardly enough to feel like you’ve done anything cool. For example, overtaking a 5-point settlement (depending on location) will likely require 4 or 5 turns!

Randomness – Some strategies are very much in your control, others are very reliant on the deck and tile placement and location of other players. Gaining points dead Vikings is a neat idea, but losing a Viking isn’t that bad. If a player is lucky enough to lose 3 or 4 vikings during attacks, well you might as well chalk up a W for that player just because their fingers had better dead Viking sensors. Other things come down to randomness too; the tile draw, settlement points, livestock location, etc.

Captains – I’m glad the rules allow you to choose from 2 of the captains, but I don’t like that some of the captains have strategies that are always within the players control (scoring islands far away, scoring 2nd largest island, etc.) and others are completely reliant upon gaining the correct tiles or having players help you out (extra points for defeating enemy ships, for example). In a game with a relatively low number of VPs, this lack of balance concerns me.

Tile placement – Usually I find it fun to place a tile and throw a meeple down on it. In this game, I was often placing tiles on the other side of the map just so they didn’t clutter up the small part of the board that I was interacting with. In a 4p game with only 12 turns, you probably won’t actually get much accomplished or interact with a large part of the board.

Player interaction – There’s not much of this and the interaction is only indirect. You might take a sheep that someone else wanted. When it comes to island control, there are so many islands, that they will rarely be contested (although possibly sniped during the last round). Why would I fight for one island, when I can head over to a vacated portion of the board and spread myself thinly on 2 or 3 islands?


If your group of players isn’t at all interested in winning and things like balance, randomness, and interaction aren’t concerns of yours, then this game might be very fun for you! However, it’s long enough that I find myself pretty invested in the strategy, which leads me to be let down. So little of the game is in my control (less and less with more players), that I feel like it’s almost more of a simulation than a game. The mechanics are really pretty simple. It’s a very basic pick up and deliver game with a couple wrinkles. Most actions are spent moving, loading, and unloading; not particularly exciting if you ask me. I was very optimistic when we got this one out, but for me and my friends, the gameplay didn’t live up to the theme, artwork, and hype.

How easy is the game to learn?


It’s not difficult to learn. You place a tile and take 4 actions. Very straightforward, and players will pick up on it quickly.

Will it be easy to find players?

The art alone makes this a huge ‘yes’. The artwork is phenomenal and the theme is also one that will draw new players in. I’m not sure how keen players will be to play a 2nd or 3rd time though…

Is the reward worth the time spent?


I really don’t feel that it is. Strategies are so heavily reliant on not only the tiles that you draw, but where other players place their tiles. With only 12 turns, you won’t be zooming across the board to do various things; movement is simply too costly. You’d better hope the points show up near you. I don’t feel like I have much agency in the outcome.

How much fun is defeat?*


It’s not great. Mostly because I [likely] don’t have much opportunity to influence the winning players’ score. If someone is playing well, what can I do about that? Clog up their area with tiles they might not want, I suppose. But if my ship is in a different area of the board (which, really, it ought to be), there isn’t much I can do to influence the other players’ successes or failures. Without much agency, I don’t find losing to be very satisfactory. There isn’t much excitement in this game either; it’s very methodical.

Overall score

*I think one of the best ways to evaluate a game is to consider how much fun it is to lose. The goal is to have fun whether I've won or lost!


If you enjoyed reading this review, feel free to check out my other game reviews HERE
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Harv Veerman
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May I hesitantly draw the conclusion that you actually like this game best with two players?

Would you recommend this with two players?

This has been on my radar for a while, but I will almost Always play 2P games, UC...
 
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Curt Frantz
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Mad Math wrote:
May I hesitantly draw the conclusion that you actually like this game best with two players?

Would you recommend this with two players?

This has been on my radar for a while, but I will almost Always play 2P games, UC...


It's definitely a better game with 2 players. I'm the opposite of you; I don't often play with just 2, so that definitely factored into my rating.

With 2 players, the strategy goes up and the randomness goes down. Unfortunately, the player interaction will always be fairly low.

Even with 2 players, this would fall into the 'try before you buy' category for me, but it would be worth playing
 
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Harv Veerman
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tribefan07 wrote:
With 2 players, the strategy goes up and the randomness goes down. Unfortunately, the player interaction will always be fairly low.


Thanks, this is exactly what I hoped to hear. I will definitely try before I buy, now I will just try harder to try, before I buy.

Great info altogether, keep it up!
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Scott Allen
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I've played this with 2, 3, and 4 players, and I disagree with the OP. With 2 players, there is so much space each player is basically playing their own game and there is very little interaction.

With 3 and 4, there is much more interaction and tougher decisions to make - do I complete another island or keep an extra viking on this island to discourage someone else from trying to take it over? Building outposts (I think a key to the game) is tougher because there will be 3 other players looking to build outposts, so it's harder to sneak one in.

With 4 players, yes you only get 12 turns, but there will still be 48 tiles worth of islands, livestock, settlements, etc. So, I'd prefer to play with 3 or 4 players.


We played a couple 4 player games last night and they took almost exactly 60 minutes each.

As for contested islands, if there is a big enough completed island somewhere (we had an 11 tile island), it is certainly worth contesting.

So, I think this is a great 3 or 4 player game.
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Curt Frantz
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Narrow Gate Games wrote:
I've played this with 2, 3, and 4 players, and I disagree with the OP. With 2 players, there is so much space each player is basically playing their own game and there is very little interaction.

With 3 and 4, there is much more interaction and tougher decisions to make - do I complete another island or keep an extra viking on this island to discourage someone else from trying to take it over? Building outposts (I think a key to the game) is tougher because there will be 3 other players looking to build outposts, so it's harder to sneak one in.

With 4 players, yes you only get 12 turns, but there will still be 48 tiles worth of islands, livestock, settlements, etc. So, I'd prefer to play with 3 or 4 players.


We played a couple 4 player games last night and they took almost exactly 60 minutes each.

As for contested islands, if there is a big enough completed island somewhere (we had an 11 tile island), it is certainly worth contesting.

So, I think this is a great 3 or 4 player game.


You're very much free to disagree with me, and I respect your feedback and experience. A couple points, though:

Your point about about each player in a 2 player game makes me cringe a bit. Unfortunately, I agree that it feels a bit like 2 player solitaire. Also unfortunately, I very much feel the same way in 3 and 4 player games.

Is an 11-tile island worth contesting, when you may commit your resources and get nothing for them? That would certainly result in a loss. Especially when there are likely 4, 3, and 2 tile islands with no presence nearby that you could take? Islands that probably have livestock and settlements waiting for you, uncontested?

Contesting islands in this game just makes little sense when there are so many settlements, islands, livestock, ships, etc. to go around. Why risk gaining nothing? I've found that the most successful players are usually the ones who stay away from the limited, indirect interaction that exists and simply settle as many islands as possible in their own corner of the board. 48 tiles for 3 or 4 players is still a lot.

I do agree that one of the few more interesting aspects to the game is the spacing of outposts. There is a sense of tension in the race to build outposts, as they are very important to the final score.
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Scott Allen
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Im not arguing with you. Just sharing another opinion.

It was the second last turn of the game and I was able to drop my Vikings on the 11 point island while my opponent was far away - so she couldn't do anything about it.

So WHEN you do things is important in the game. When you take on enemy ships is important, etc.

Like I said, not arguing, just sharing a different opinion.
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Big Tom Casual
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Would a 2p game feel more competitive if you only played with a portion of the tiles thus reducing the space to spread out?
 
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