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Explorers of the North Sea» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Review of the game with 3 and 4 players rss

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Mauricio Montoya
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Explorers is the third game of the North Sea trilogy by Garphill Games, all three games sharing similar components, art and the theme of vikings building, expandig and doing what vikings do best beyond the shores of their small village (but with different mechanics and bigger scope on each successive game). If you have played one of the previous two games you already know what to expect in terms of high quality production and colorful art, and this third offering comes packed with nice cardboard tiles, animal meeples, houses, strength tokens for the villages and viking meeples all of it made of wood, plus a small plastic longship for each player to explore, raid, and move their vikings and loot around the North Sea archipelago.

The gameplay feels a bit lighter than Raiders, possibly the lightest and more family-oriented game of the trilogy, but the multiple mechanics and scoring options in play give you enough stuff to consider, and the rounds move fast and with very little downtime even with three or four players.

On your turn you always start by placing a tile on the map and it has to coincide with the territory around it (Carcassonne style). Each tile brings into play some animals to steal, ships to sink or towns to attack, so you have to place the corresponding meeples or counters on it. Then you have up to four actions between moving your vikings by land or by boat to raid towns or steal animals, load or unload vikings and animals to and from your longship, or build settlements on the islands (it costs two actions and has special requirements) that will score by themselves and also count towards your control over the islands at the end of the game.

Points are earned by the sets of different animals that you manage to steal and bring back to the mainland, for each completed island that you conquer by having more meeples/outposts than the other players on them, for the amount of outposts built, ships and settlements raided, for the amount of vikings that died in combat, plus a personal bonus that is awarded by fulfiling your captain's objective (the game comes with 11 different captains, each wich his/her own objective).

There's not much direct player interaction but you can prevent the others from completing islands by placing your own tiles on strategic spots, steal their animals if they don't reach the boat fast enough (once in the boat, the animals are safe), and build your settlements or deploy your vikings to steal their control of an island.

We liked the game very much after a couple of plays with three and four players. It's not a complex and long game, but it has enough factors to consider and keep you busy when you are looking for for a light strategy game that is also fast and relatively short (1 hour more or less). Playing it with just two gives every player more turns to act (the game always ends at 48 turns), and the opposite is be true with four players, making it more tight and with less chances for everyone to do a bit of everything because you only have 12 turns overall.

On successive plays we also found that having four players increases the amount of interaction around the table, because you often have the chance to build an outpost or raid a settlement when another player is just preparing to do it, forcing them to change their plans. There are also more opportunities for stealing animals and more competition for the control of the completed islands at the end. With just two players (or even three sometimes) there is enough space for each to go exploring their own way and your paths don't need to cross that often unless you're really trying. However, our scores have been pretty close so far over 6 or 7 games with different player counts, because there is a nice balance between the objectives that are easy to achieve but don't give much points (settlements, ships and controlling smaller islands), and the stuff that can potentially score high (cattle, building outposts and dead vikings) because those take a lot of movements and actions to complete, or hinder your ability to control more islands in the end, so there doesn't seem to be a single most powerful strategy.
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