Raiders of the North Sea — Hand Axe

As if some mystical, heavenly floodgate has opened recently (all hail the great God Dire Wolf Digital and their vast riches) there has never been a better time to be a fan of video game adaptations of great board games. The Nintendo Switch, in particular, seems to be the target of affection for many of these digital reimaginings. Up until recently though, the board games being converted have been pretty tame. Stand up, Raiders of the North Sea

First released in 2015, Raiders of the North Sea was the forebear for a whole series of games from designer Shem Phillips and co-publishers Garphill Games and Renegade. In fact, we’ve actually reviewed one of the later editions to the series, known as Shipwrights of the North Sea, which, shock/horror, we didn’t actually enjoy that much. 

Where Shipwrights of the North Sea is a pretty mean game built loosely around card drafting and engine building, Raiders of the North Sea is a much bigger and more exciting affair that lives up to the promise of its title. The players will use a classic worker placement and retrieval mechanism to place viking meeples and in doing so, gather supplies, build a crew and ultimately plunder their neighbours in search of victory points.

Visually, Raiders of the North Sea is a relatively easy game for Dire Wolf Digital to convert, since it already benefits from some excellent, cartoonish artwork that really comes to life with a few frames of animation. The board itself could use slightly easier panning and zooming controls, but once you understand the icons and locations, it’s very easy to view and assess what is happening from turn to turn.

This visual simplicity works well with the fast paced turns of Raiders of the North Sea, which simply have the players placing the one meeple in their hand, then picking up a different meeple. With each of these actions, the player will perform whatever task is associated with the location on which their meeple was placed or picked up from.

As an example of a normal turn, a player might place a basic black meeple onto the silversmith space and take three coins, then they might pick up another black meeple from the barracks, which allows them to add one of the townsfolk cards from their hand to their crew, assuming that they can afford the cost. 

As the game goes on, players will occasionally spend their whole turn by raiding a harbour, outpost or fortress (which reside high up on the main board) and in doing so, they’ll take the meeple there. This, essentially, uses both halves of their turn, but by raiding they’ll score victory points and claim rewards like gold, livestock or iron. 

At most of the locations where raiding takes place, the meeples will be a different colour, either white or grey. These meeples have slightly different effects when used in certain locations, but are still placed like the black meeples, meaning that they go into the normal circulation and can be picked up or placed down by anyone. Deciding where to place your more powerful meeples (or when to block a space that your opponent might use one on) becomes a small but important part of the expanding decision tree.

In the Nintendo Switch version of Raiders of the North Sea, this all works pretty flawlessly, with only occasional glitches (such as the GUI locking up) affecting me across about ten hours of play. The game features two tutorials that are functionally OK, but fail to properly explain the spirit of the game. Then you are presented with a campaign that is long enough (with several variants on the base ruleset) but nowhere near as vast as that of Catan, for example. 

The most interesting aspect of the game for many players will likely be the multiplayer mode, and beyond the campaign, it may also be of interest to know that several skirmish variants of the single player mode against one or more AI opponents are available. Multiplayer, as you would hope, is solid enough. I didn’t have any technical issues with it, although as with most Switch based board games, matchmaking and game setup isn’t as good as I would have hoped. 

Despite this minor issue and that of the less than perfect tutorial, I am pleased to report that Raiders of the North Sea is pretty much a perfect conversion of an already excellent board game. If you do like the original, then you’ll find nothing to dislike here, whilst if you’re unsure on the cardboard version, then you could do worse than to give this cheaper digital version a try in order to cut your teeth. 

Either way, it is perhaps the most solid digital interpretation of a board game to reach the Switch yet and it just so happens to be an excellent game to boot. Well worth a look. 

Raiders of the North Sea is available now on Nintendo Switch, PC, Mac, iOS and Android 

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