The Cardboard Hoard: Review of Raiders of the North Sea digital app
Raiders of the North Sea, the hit worker placement game designed by Shem Phillips and published by Garphill Games and Renegade Game Studios, was recently adapted to digital by Dire Wolf Digital. It is available on Steam, iOS, Android, and the Nintendo Switch. I’ve already reviewed the board game here, as well as its expansions here, so I’ll be focusing on the digital adaptation below. Note that as of now, only the base game is available digitally.
For anyone unfamiliar, the hook of Raiders of the North Sea is that it’s a worker placement game where players all share the same workers that are placed on the board at the beginning of the game — each turn players place one worker, taking that action, and pick up another worker, taking that action — in order to acquire the resources necessary to build a raiding party, and race to raid the finite number of locations available on the board.
The game has a tutorial, but the gameplay was so intuitive — considering I already knew how to play — that I didn’t need to use the tutorial to figure out how to play on the app. However, I asked Patrick Hillier for his take on the tutorial, as he had never played the game until trying it on the app.
I had never played Raiders of the North Sea before, so I was learning how to play from the tutorial. There are only two tutorials — I wish there had been more, and that they were a little more clear. The first one more or less covers the basics of a worker placement, which is probably necessary, but really didn’t cover the nuances of the game. The second tutorial goes more into details about how to go on raids, including hiring raiders and getting supplies. What was not really made clear to me in the tutorial was the costs and requirements of the raids, and how you transitioned from one type of raid to the next. I do think the information is present in the tutorials, however, because they made more sense when I watched them again later. After going through the tutorials, I played a few games against the AI and felt a little lost, so I revisited the tutorials and then things fell into place.
The digital version of the game maintains the aesthetics and artwork of the board game, but adds bits of animation that help boost the game’s immersion. Animations are shown when you raid, which include the vikings in your raiding party giving different rallying cries in speech bubbles when they attack, such as “This is what I live for!” and “Blood!!!”. The adaptation does a nice job highlighting which spaces you can and cannot visit with the different vikings, and considering whether you have the required resources for certain raids.
At the time of writing, there is only one difficulty level for the AI, but I found it to be challenging enough to play against. There is also a campaign mode that has special rules and must be played in order, and there are challenges that you can aim to complete each game that will level you up within the game — which I found to be uninspiring, but also easy to ignore.
Pros: The adaptation plays well on both smartphones and tablets. It is easy to set up a multiplayer game, and allows you to either play with anyone that wants to join a game, or set a password if you want to play with specific people. The multiplayer mode has options for real-time and turn-based. The app alerts you when it is your turn, with notifications both on your device and in the app. There is an icon in the corner that brings up a map showing all of the raiding rewards available on the entire board, so you don’t have to scroll to see the entire board every turn.
Cons: I have one minor quibble and one major issue with the adaptation. The minor quibble is that you do not get to choose your player color. While this is less important as the worker placement meeples are shared, it still irks me. My much more important issue is the length of time the game takes to load, and that it needs to reload every time it is my turn in a turn-based game. While it is not a deal-breaker, it is a noticeable frustration every time I want to make my move.
Overall, I think this is a really well done version of one of my favorite games, despite the loading time, and I am thrilled I can now get a fix even if I can’t get it to the table. I hope to see the expansions added to the digital version in the future, as I think they add a lot of variety and replayability to the Raiders of the North Sea experience, similar to Lords of Waterdeep and its expansions.
At its current price of $9.99 on mobile and $14.99 on Steam, I’d recommend it for existing fans of the game, and those that think they’d enjoy it from what they have already heard about it — especially those that are fans of worker placement games. While, as Patrick noted, it is possible to learn the game via the app, it does not seem ideal, so some outside preparation may help there. Otherwise, I’d suggest waiting for it to come down in price, as these digital adaptations tend to drop in price within a few months of release.
Update: I’m happy to report that, in the two days since I published my review, Dire Wolf Digital has released a Patch that makes some improvements to the game, such as adding pass-and-play and allowing players to speed up the animations of their opponents’ turns, and fixes some minor bugs. They also added that the response to the digital implementation “has been incredible so far!” So hopefully this bodes well for them eventually adding the expansions to the digital version.