The Cardboard Hoard: Review of Raiders of the North Sea expansions
In 2015, Shem Phillips Kickstarted Raiders of the North Sea, a thematic sequel to his Shipwrights of the North Sea design from the year before. While the Raiders of the North Sea campaign was a success, with almost 2,000 backers, in 2017 it got even more attention for three very different reasons. 1. It was nominated for the Kennerspiel des Jahres award. 2. It was picked up for English distribution by Renegade Game Studios. 3. Phillips designed not one, but two expansions for the game -- Fields of Fame and Hall of Heroes.
I’ll go into detail on both expansions in this review, but I’ll assume you are familiar with Raiders of the North Sea. If you are curious about the base game -- which is an all-time favorite of mine -- you can find my review here.
Fields of Fame
The Fields of Fame expansion adds an additional board that slots in seamlessly next to the main board. This extension adds three new raiding spots called the Township, as well as a track for accumulating Fame -- which gives players victory points at the end of the game, similar to the Armor and Valkyrie tracks. It adds two Valkyrie dice, which can be used instead of the dice that come with the base game, and add the risk of crew deaths during every raid. It also adds components for an additional player -- the orange player.
But the most notable addition is the Jarls. They are a separate deck of powerful warriors that are randomly assigned to the raiding spots during set up, represented by blue wooden tokens. When raiding a space with a Jarl, a player has three choices. They may kill the Jarl if their strength is high enough, which will earn them fame but wound their crew members. They may subdue the Jarl if they have enough silver, which will add that Jarl to their crew. Or they may flee, allowing them to raid the space, but losing them fame in the process.
This adds a nice layer to the decision-making process of which spaces to raid, when to do it, and how to handle the Jarls. One nice combo that players can situationally use is dumping wounds onto a crew member fighting a Jarl, and then immediately sacrificing them to a Valkyrie on that same raiding space, using a neutered crew member to gain points on the Valkyrie track instead of being saddled with them in their crew.
Pros: The Fame track adds an additional path to gaining victory points. Jarls add a fun new “boss” mechanism to raiding, and the choice to kill, subdue, or flee from them is rewarding and thematic. The three extra Township spaces give more raiding options early in the game. The extension board art seamlessly blends with the art on the main board. The expansion raises the player count by one.
Cons: The player reference tokens for facing the Jarls are a bit unintuitive, but are actually necessary due to some scoring bonuses involving the Jarls. The Valkyrie dice punish the lowest roll on the dice, killing a crew member if a two is rolled. This punishes players that are more likely to have earned less victory points on their raids. I would have liked to seen the Valkyrie icon on the face with the highest roll of five instead, creating a counterbalance against a player that scored more victory points on a raid.
Hall of Heroes
The Hall of Heroes expansion adds components for an additional player -- the purple player. It adds the Mead Hall extension board that slots in seamlessly below the main board. The Mead Hall allows players to recruit crew from a selection of three face-up cards, instead of top decking off the crew deck. While players will only get one crew member this way, as opposed to two cards off the deck, they also get Mead tokens, which can be spent in raids as “liquid courage” to boost strength. The expansion also adds player boards, which let players organize their crews, resources, and offering tiles, and gives them a place to store their completed quests.
Wait, Quests? Yes, the biggest addition to Hall of Heroes is the addition of Quests. Whenever a space is raided, instead of remaining empty, a Quest tile is placed on it. When a player goes to the Mead Hall, they may choose to complete a Quest instead of hiring crew. They then need to discard strength from their hands equal to the number on the Quest, and will get the resources on the Quest, as well as the Quest tile, which is worth victory points. There are three types of quests, and if a player completes three of same type, they get a Reputation tile, which gives them more resources and victory points.
This mechanism allows players that missed out on raiding spots to pursue a different strategy by scoring points via the Quest track. It also gives players another use for the cards in their hand, which can become worth less after a player’s crew is already at capacity.
Pros: Completing Quests unlocks a new point scoring strategy via card play and set collection. The Mead Hall removes the randomness of top-decking crew cards, while the Mead tokens help boost strength and can mitigate the need for rolling the dice well. The player boards are a welcome addition for organizing player components during the game. The extension board art seamlessly blends with the main board. The expansion raises the player count by one.
Cons: The upkeep of Quests tends to be easy to forget. The Mead Hall can get filled with zero strength characters that no player wants to draft, causing it to stagnate.
Final Thoughts on the Raiders of the North Sea Expansions
Both expansions add interesting mechanical changes that fit perfectly with the theme and feel of the game. While the expansions do add to the set-up time, take up more table space, and make the game less streamlined experience than the base game, the additions more than make up for that by increasing the decision space and adding multiple different paths to victory.
The Fields of Fame expansion will excite players that enjoy the raiding aspect of the game, and will like the challenge of defeating or subduing the powerful Jarls, while the Hall of Heroes expansion will cater to players that prefer the card play, set collection, and resource management aspects of the game. Also note that both expansions can be played together, allowing all these elements into one giant game that can play up to six players.
I highly recommend both expansions for anyone that enjoys Raiders of the North Sea, and am happy to have added both Fields of Fame and Hall of Heroes to my collection.
Full disclosure: I received review copies of both expansions from Renegade Game Studios. The base game I backed on Kickstarter from Garphill Games back in 2015.