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Disclaimer:
I’m going to try to cover the rules pretty well. However for purposes of learning the game’s rules correctly, please read the rulebook.

Introduction:
Raiders (of the North Sea) is a light-to-medium weight (depends who you ask), 2-4 player worker-placement game. It plays in about 90 minutes. Whoever has the most VPs (victory points) at the end is the winner.

Summary:
Everyone is a Norse raider, and you spend your time either preparing your crew in the village or raiding across the sea. When you’re not raiding, you take two actions in the village, and here’s where Raiders is different from other worker placement games. The village starts with three of the eight spots in the village occupied with a worker, and each player starts with one worker in their hand.

On your turn, you first place your one worker on any of the five empty spots, taking the action associated with it, and then you pick up one of the three workers that was previously there, taking the action associated with their spot. You can’t pick up the worker that you just placed.

When I first heard this idea, my response was simply, huh? Sounds odd. And the first couple turns was odd, but then I quickly got the hang of it. It’s simple really: every turn, you start the turn with one worker, then you place the worker in one of the empty spots, and then you pick up a worker from one of the filled spots. You start and end every turn with exactly one worker in hand.

The actions:
In the village, several of the actions have to do with crew members, which are cards with really neat artwork, by the way. There are actions to draw crew members (cards), discard these cards for one-time effects, hire crew from your hand to get a permanent effect, and discard cards for silver or gold if you’re really strapped for cash.

Some crew cards:

There are also actions for acquiring silver (the currency of the game, mostly spent on hiring crew), provisions (which are required for raiding), armor (made from iron), and make offerings to the chieftan, earning you victory points.

Raiding:
When you raid, you only take that action that turn, instead of the usual two. Here are the types of raiding locations, in order of increasing difficulty: harbors, outposts, monasteries, and fortresses. All of them require a certain number of people to be in your hired crew, and a certain number of provisions (the little bags).

The harder ones require more crew, cost you 1-2 gold, and require your crew to have higher and higher levels of strength, but have higher and higher payouts of victory points. With the exception of harbors (which always get you 1VP), they all have 2 or 3 different tiers of strength requirements, so you get more VPs for having a stronger crew.

If you’re analytical and want to see all the differences here’s a grid for you:

Loot:
The loot will be varying amounts (randomly determined in the setup at the beginning of the game) of these four things: gold, ore, cattle, and black skulls (valkyries). All of these (except skulls) are used to make offerings to the chieftan, but each have a unique use in the village as well. Gold is used to pay for the harder missions, ore is used to make armor, and cows can be transformed into provisions. All of them are also work VPs at the end, but cows are only 2-for-1.

The loot adds a lot to the game because 1) they aren’t just cubes, but actual fun little shapes,  2) you’re picking which mission you want to go on based on what you will get. Ooh, this harbor has a lot of ore, and I really want to get my armor up. Haha, say goodbye to your ore, peasants!

arrrh

There are always 3 offering tiles face-up on the board that you can spend your loot at to turn them into victory points.

Valkyries:
Oh yes, and then there’s valkyries. These black skulls work differently from the other types of loot. A valkyrie represents a formidable foe in battle. The foe kills one of your crew members (you pick which), but you also gain honor (move up one on the valkyrie track). The first valkyrie kill gets you nothing, but additional kills get you more VPs on a kind of exponential scale. If you kill 7 throughout the course of the game, you get 15 VPs at the game’s end, which is a big bonus.

cool

There’s an interesting strategy to the valkyries. You can only have 5 people in your crew at any given point in time, and certain crew members have abilities that are better in the early game, and some are better in the late. And they have varying degrees of strength. So basically, you can strategically take down a valkyrie at a time when you wanted to get rid of some crew members anyways (although you don’t have to use valkyries to boot people from the crew).

Also, once all the valkyries run out, the game ends, so if everyone goes for them in a 3-4 player game, you’ll have a quick game ending.

Worker types:
One more twist to how this worker-placement game works: there are three different types of workers. You start off the game with only black workers, but as you raid you start to get some of the greys into the mix, and then late in the game the whites. So are the whites the best? Well not exactly, it actually depends on what you want to do. The best raiding spots at the end of the game require white workers, and many of the other spots require grey workers, so there’s that.

In the village, only white or grey workers can go to the armoury or the longhouse (where you make offerings). So you need them for that. Also, whites and greys get you more provisions and/or gold at the mill. But at the silversmith, blacks get you more money.

So basically, whites and greys are completely superior in every way EXCEPT in the getting of money at the silversmith.

All of this adds a little bit of dilemma in how you do your turns. Sometimes you really want to make sure the worker you pick up is a white one, or you don’t want to go to the silversmith now because you would rather do that with a black one, etc. It’s not complex but it adds just enough to make planning out your two actions interesting.

So how do you win again?
The end-game is usually triggered when there is only one fortress left to raid. It can also trigger if there are no valkyries or offering tiles left, but I have yet to see either of those happen, and am baffled as to how it’s possible to run out of offering tiles, since they all require a certain number of loot, which adds up to a huge amount.

I forgot to mention that during the game, when you make offerings you take the tile and put it face-down without tallying up the points. That way there’s a little tension at the end because you don’t know what the final VP total will be, although you have a general idea of how people are doing, but it could be misleading depending on what strategy someone was employing.

ninja

At the end you add onto your VPs the bonus from the valkyrie track, a small bonus from the armor track, and some of the crew members have VP bonuses for the end as well.

So what do I think???
Yes that is the point, right? It’s a little hard to contain myself, because I really love this game. I own many worker placement games and this is my favorite. Right off the bat, I immediately loved the component quality. It has REAL METAL COINS, and the loot pieces are phenomenal—thank you so much for not being cubes. Then the artwork is literally beautiful. The cards are really neat, and the map is literally the most beautiful map I have ever seen on any boardgame.

All the components; the little viking workers (grey/black/white) are on the left:

 

Add that to the setup of drawing loot randomly from a bag and setting it in all the places to raid, and this game is really good at drawing you in. This is the perfect worker placement game to teach new people because it’s so easy to get into. Who doesn’t want to raid all these places and get all this loot?

Gameplay/rules:
I really love how much strategy and meaningful decisions are packed into this relatively short game. I went over all the rules in this review because I wanted you to see how well they were designed, but I have a feeling that may be difficult to pick up from just reading about them. For how many neat rules this game has, it’s amazingly easy to remember them all. There’s iconography on the map that is very easy to understand and consistent. The icons even make setup a breeze too—this is probably my favorite game to setup (all the loot…).

Strategic variety:
There are three main ways of getting VPs and lots of ways to mix these into one strategy. The abilities of your crew members really shape a strategy, but you also aren’t locked into any strategy by the cards you draw because 1) you’re going to draw quite a few cards and 2) you’re going to put some in your crew, but others just play them for their one-time-use ability. And sometimes discard them for money/gold. So basically, with one hand of five cards, you could go several different directions strategically.

Replayability:
The variable setup of the loot and offering tiles gives a little variety, but again the meat of this game is in the crew members. I like that there are a lot of different crew members, and I think only two copies of most of them. I forgot to mention earlier that there are four heroes in the game, which are crew with awesome abilities, but the caveat is that you can’t have two heroes in your crew. This give you a different feel as well but I wish there were a couple more heroes.

Player counts:
I also really like that this game plays well with all player counts. This is actually the best worker placement game I’ve ever played for two players. With two players it’s actually very interesting; you’re able to plan ahead in the village a little better, because there’s not as many people who are going to mess around with the workers in it before it gets back to your turn. With 4 players you definitely can’t look ahead in the village at all, but that hasn’t made the game less fun for me, because then there’s more competition and you tend to carve out a more particular strategy. So there’s pros and cons of all player counts, and 3 is pretty balanced, as is to be expected.

How much of a role does randomness play
in determining the winner? I don’t think very much. There is some randomness to which crew you draw, and that’s really the only thing. If my crew doesn’t seem to jive together at the beginning of the game, I just draw more for a couple turns and usually something pops out at me as a good idea. But with that being said, not all crew are created equal, and if you get several crew members at disadvantageous times, then that will drag you down a little.

With that being said, when I consider how short this game is, that level of luck is totally fine with me. Actually I think the game scores well in this category.

Player interaction:
I love the player interaction in this game. There’s not only the workers in the village, but also you’re trying to guess where other players are going to raid, because that directly impacts what you can raid! Each location can only be raided once. And of course you’re trying to find your niche in the point-salad ecosystem.

There are also a few crew cards that have “take that” effects. This bothers me in some games but not in this one because 1) none of them are devastating, over-the-top, which means you only have incentive to play them occasionally if the timing is right. 2) At most, one of the two effects is a “take that” effect, so players can simply not do that at all if you don’t like confrontation.

Are the strategies well-balanced?
As best I can tell, yes. If you want to get really granular though, the crew cards are not “balanced,” but all of them have their uses for sure.

Is this game truly original or innovative?
Completely original, no. But I think it is innovative. It has taken worker-placement and added two simple elements that were implemented very well and make it stand out. Outside of the worker placement, pretty much everything had been done in other games before, but it was put together in an extremely streamlined package.

Summary and rating:
This is one of my favorite games and I don’t know how this designer ever pulled off a game that was this well-balanced. In fact, what don’t I love? Only a couple things:
1) the first few turns of every game are always the same. You have to get provisions and silver and hire crew so you can go on your first raid.
2) the component quality of everything was amazing except the provisions. I wish they would have done those awesomely as well to make it feel complete.
3) that I hurt my brain trying to think of anything else to complain about.

I rate this a 9/10 easily, and have been strongly considering upping that to 10.

Other notes:
This is a very solid stand-alone game and I don’t feel it will ever need an expansion.

The rulebook is written very well and I’ve had zero problems with it. That’s really saying something.

This is part of a series of games by the same designer. They all have the same theme of artwork and are supposed to go together in a Runesaga series. The idea is that you can play one session of each game and the player who does the best overall is the overall winner. I can’t speak to this since I don’t own any of the other games in the series, but it does sound cool.

I said that this is my favorite worker-placement game, but that doesn’t mean it is the end-all of WPs. This is lighter than other WPs like Puerto Rico or Kraftwagen and Stone Age. Not a whole lot lighter, and it does have a lot of strategy packed into it…but those other games do offer me something else, a feeling of a more robust economic engine and more mechanics and etc. So I’m certainly not saying I’m done with other WPs; not in the least.

Here’s a game setup for 3 in all its spendor:

Compounded boardgame cover.

I got to play Compounded at the International Tabletop Day hosted in Nashville by Emma / Meeple Mountain.  It was one of the play-to-win games so I was super stoked to get a chance at playing it, and even stickered the discs and taught myself the game from the rules.

It took a while to figure it out and then teach everyone else, but once we got going was lots of fun.  Basically the game is all about researching compounds.  Everyone has access to the same compounds in the middle of the table which you can claim and put the correct elements on to complete them.  When they are scored you not only get points, but some of them give you pieces of lab equipment and some have chemical reactions which you use to your benefit.

Depending on whether the compound was a solid/liquid/gas it moves you up on a different one of your research experiment tracks, which are basically the economy of your game.  I found it very beneficial to try to balance these tracks—drawing a lot of elements every turn doesn’t do you very much good if you have to discard the excess, for instance.  So it felt a lot like an economy management game as well.

The rules with claiming compounds were a little confounding; there’s a way you can claim them at the last minute if you score a compound that was unclaimed, and I kept having to re-explain the differences to people.  It felt like something unnecessary that the player has to mess around with and just unnatural.

Overall we really enjoyed the game; it’s very visually appealing and satisfying to take these neat element tokens (odd-shaped jewels of different colors) and place them on the different slots of the compound cards.  The compound cards show you the chemical formula/bonds, so it really feels like you’re learning about chemistry.   The lab equipment was a nice touch as well, as all of these things really enhance the theme: lab goggles, graduated cylinder, pipette, lab book, bunsen burner (to ignite other player’s experiments on fire), etc.  For the most part, the effects of these pieces of lab equipment has nothing to do with the theme at all though.

One player was a runaway leader and there really wasn’t anything to do about that.  No catchup mechanisms (which I’m fine with) and no way to bring him down (which I would have liked).  Most of the game feels like playing solitaire…the only interactions are A) in claiming compounds in the middle, others can’t claim them, and B) with using the bunsen burner to ignite other people’s experiments strategically.  If you can get a bunsen burner.

Overall the theme feels kind of like candy.  Everything looks great and that’s what enhances the theme.  However most of the mechanics and rules don’t feel like they have much to do with what it would be like to be a chemist at all.

Nonetheless, it satisfied two very important things: it was fun to play, and you felt a sense of accomplishment in building your compounds and learning something in the process.

Also the strategy of it was fairly fun.  Although it didn’t feel like there were vastly different strategies you could employ…just different ways to tweak your economy.

So, it was fun, and I would certainly pick it up if I found it for a good price.  And I’ll definitely want to pick this up when I have kids of high school age…hopefully it will help instill in them a love, or at least like, of chemistry.

Introduction:
This game scratches the chess itch, but it’s so much better IMO. This has several advantages because it doesn’t have chess’s set start-up, rigid openings, always the same pieces, and (most importantly!) having to think a lot about each turn, looking forward 2-3 moves on each possibility (if you want to be competitive against people who have played a lot), which results in long games and long downtimes waiting for your opponent.

the duke cover

How It Works:
You start out with three pieces and the game is about capturing the opponent’s Duke. But–and this is the best part–every turn you can choose to bring a new piece onto the field (in lieu of a normal move). And there are a bunch of pieces in a bag, so you never know which one you’re going to get, and each game you find yourself in a new situation, thinking about how to get these pieces to work with each other.

Each piece is a flat tile, and has a small grid on it that illustrates the ways you can move the piece. This is very handy, as you don’t have to memorize how the units work.

Another twist is this:
Each piece has two sides. On one side are some movement options. But on the other side are different movement options. And each time you move, you flip the piece over and have to use the other side next. So your movement pattern is going to be two different sets of options woven together, 1-2-1-2-1-2. It’s very interesting to plan accordingly and figure out possible patterns.

Here’s what it looks like halfway through a game:

the duke gameplay
Types of movement/attack:
Also, there are different types of movement, each of which is represented by a different symbol in the grid diagrams on the pieces. There is simple movement, which requires that nothing is between you and the place you are moving to, and then there is hopping, which doesn’t require that. Then there is sliding, which allows you to move as many spaces as you want in the given direction, and jump-sliding. Then there’s striking, which allows you to attack a piece without actually moving there at all!

There’s also fear, which paralyzes enemies, sauron but it’s not used much. And there’s also commanding, which moves friendly units around you.

There are also a few units which have unique abilities.

Here’s the movement reference card:

the duke movement reference

What I Think:
Even without the two sides, most of the pieces would be more complex than the average piece in chess. For example, one piece might be able to move to four different squares and hop to two other squares. And then you flip it over, and the other side is different from that. Some units are pretty simple, but that’s not the rule of thumb.

Having two sides which are both complex doesn’t feel very elegant to me. I wish that there weren’t quite as many options on each piece. That makes it hard to conceptualize, between the two sides, exactly how this piece is meant to be moved around. I REALLY LIKE the two different sides AND the different types of moving/attacking. I just wish that each side didn’t have as many options in general–that feels overwhelming and not elegant.

Aside from that one thing, I like everything else about the game. The components are high quality (wood pieces, thick board, and BONUS: a couple of blank pieces with stickers that allow you to make custom pieces). The design & art is minimalistic but I think that fits for this game.

Also I’ll mention, it has some alternate ways to play, with the flag or dragon or mountain. I’ve played with each once and they’re okay–not a way I want to play all the time, but definitely felt different and worth doing sometimes.

Rating:
This game is one of the best strategic 2-player games in existence. I love playing this with my brother. We both used to play a lot of chess and don’t really anymore. This game is short, and feels really fun because you don’t know what pieces you’re going to be dealt every time. For all the reasons listed above, and because of only having 1 thing I don’t like, I rate this game a 9/10.

My Chess Story:
I stopped playing chess years ago because I didn’t have the patience for running through all the possibilities, looking 2-3 turns ahead every turn. And that was the only way I’d be able to beat my brother or dad, and if I can’t ever win, forget it. I used to miss chess quite a lot because nothing else quite scratches that itch. But now I’m happy to say that that itch has not only been scratched, but I really can’t think of a better way to scratch it.

Gratuitous picture of the pieces:

the duke pieces

Summary:
If you love chess or if you’re post-chess, definitely buy this game. If you just need a really good 2-player strategy game, you probably want to buy this game, although there are other good options with totally different feels–like Summoner Wars, or Go. It just depends on what kind of flavor you want. Personally I like having multiple flavors.

Disclaimer: this wasn’t meant to be a rules reference, but a review; I’ve abbreviated some of the details for conciseness. Please read the rules for accuracy.

Stone Go Boards

Engraved 17x17 go board

Gretchen and I have been working on stone Go boards.  For some reason, no one is making Go boards on stone.  So she made me this one for my birthday.

go board with a few stones

We did multiple processes to get the final product, starting with a tile, and then cutting it to the right dimensions, cutting the grid into the stone, and then painting a silvery color on the lines.  One of the most interesting things we discovered about Go boards is that the tiles are not perfectly square–there’s actually an optical illusion to overcome in order to make them appear square.

go board close

Anyways, as you can see, the final product was AMAZING, so we’ve been looking into making them to sell as a product as well.  It’s really a refined furnishing; a functional piece of art.

We posted this ebay add to see if there was interest, and there is–in fact one person said he would buy it if it were at a lower price–so we’re going ahead with this.  The current process is quite expensive, but we have plans for lowering the cost to make it more accessible.  Stay tuned, and you too could have one!

We also have plans for using different kinds of tiles for the boards.  The above picture is our favorite slate tile, but it would be really fun to have a marble line, jade line, and others we have in mind.

With that being said, we’re still gauging interest.  Can you help us by taking a one question poll below?

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