Table of Contents
|Raiders of the North Sea (2015)
|Meeple Like Us
We liked Raiders of the North Sea to the tune of three and a half stars. It’s a good game. A fun game. A game that makes no real missteps while also not really putting its feet anywhere particularly risky. It’s a very safe design, doing little to innovate with its design elements. Worth your time, certainly. Worth your money, maybe. I would be hard pressed though to recommend it too enthusiastically as a candidate for anyone’s favourite game in waiting.
Still, the review itself is only part of our analysis. We’re also honour bound here to examine the game from the perspective of its accessibility. You never know – the ‘must have’ aspect of Raiders of the North Sea might be found in this part of the site. Let’s waste no time – heft your axe and let’s start cutting into some accessibility findings.
Most of the cards, board and tokens that you get during the course of the game have their own art or physical form factor.
Colour is only used as the sole channel of information in two locations. The first is when it comes to the score markers. This is a little more problematic for Raiders of the North Sea than it is for many games because each player gets three of these – for armour, for Valkyrie skulls and for actual score. As such, any difficulty in making out a colour will be multiplied.
And since these are designed to stack on top of each other, it’s not straightforward to use different markers for the score, although it could be tracked on paper. The colours chosen are not egregious here – at least, as far as they manifest in the real world. However, there are markers in red, green, blue and yellow and this is a sub-optimal palette. Blue and green are an issue for those with Tritanopia, and the red and green somewhat of an issue for those with Protanopia or Deuteranopia. There’s no real risk that comes from someone inquiring of the table as to which colour is which – it’s just a shame.
The second token that uses colour alone to differentiate is the worker tokens, although the use of white, black and grey as your options limits the problems here.
We’ll recommend Raiders of the North Sea in this category.
There’s a reasonable amount of good news here. For one thing, almost all of the physical tokens you get can be differentiated by touch. Gold, iron and livestock all have distinct tactile profiles. Money and provisions likewise. The dice are d6s, but they have an odd range. There are no 1s and no 6s, but there are two 3s and two 4s. Nonetheless, accessible dice could be used provided agreement could be reached on which faces represent which values. Loot available in each of the plunder points is distributed at the start of the game and players can investigate this by touch.
More problematic is the use of different coloured worker meeples because they’re all the same form factor. Only colour is used to differentiate these and the specific worker you pick up is important. You might wish to take a lesser valued action just to get yourself a meeple of the right colour. While black, white and grey have a considerable amount of contrast between them it’s going to be a major problem for those with total blindness. As long as players can make out some degree of light and colour on the board it’s less of an issue because it tends to be most important in the village and thus scanning across the entire board isn’t especially vital. Nonetheless, it’s a problem.
The costs of individual journeys are printed directly on the board in iconographic format. As such, visually impaired players will be able to tell what the loot associated with particular regions is but not the cost to get there. Inquiring of this from the table can leak important gameplay intention. That is a problem when playing a game that is much a race to the ‘good stuff’ as it is anything else. Someone else knowing what you want is an information asymmetry that you’d prefer didn’t exist. There are a set number of locations on the board which does mean that things will become easier with familiarity but there’s no classification based consistency – as in, one fortress may require more or less of any given resource than another fortress. The amounts don’t change game to game but there’s still a fair amount to remember.
Each player will have a hand of townsfolk that can be recruited to crew. For the most important information (strength and powers) the information is well contrasted. The name and cost though are somewhat more problematic since the white text of the name often blends into the white of the background and the count of coins is in a different place each time because it’s between the name and the top. If close inspection is possible this won’t be a problem, but it’s another reason the game is likely to be inappropriate for those with total blindness. Hired crew are played face-up which means that it’s open information, but that’s not the case for unrecruited townsfolk. You could play Raiders using open information with only limited gameplay impact though. It’s rare that the options you have for recruitment are going to be especially pertinent to other players except in some edge case scenarios.
So, really the key problem areas are the hidden hand of cards and reading the text on the board and there are workarounds or variants for each of these. We’ll very tentatively recommend Raiders of the North Sea in this category for those with minor to moderate impairments but the more severe a visual impairment is the more heavy lifting in understanding game state will fall onto memory.
There’s a fair amount of numeracy required to play Raiders of the North Sea. You need to keep track of accumulated crew strength, modified by armour, and within an uncertainty window defined by a target number and a number of dice rolls. An understanding of probability is stressed as is the economy of using resources of different value – coins versus gold tokens for example. Literacy is important for understanding crew member powers, and while the language used Is straightforward the card effects can be subtle and sophisticated, especially when they work in synergy with other options.
Speaking of synergy, crew members don’t have effects of exploding complexity like we might see in a deck builder but we do have numerous crew powers that work especially well together. Building a solid crew is partially about how their passive abilities combine and partially about the active effects you are losing as a result of their recruitment. Knowing that you can chain together certain powers is an important part of getting the most out of each turn. Since this is a race to the most lucrative prizes it’s important to make personal progress at a rate roughly equivalent to the rest of the table.
The game rules are not especially complicated but the game state does escalate in complexity as more and more crew effects come into play. The effects and intensity of these can be wide-ranging, and occasionally will have implications for other players around the table. For example if you are stacking cartographers (pay one less gold when raiding a fortress) other players will know it’s less costly for you to to hit certain locations than it is for them. They also know that comes at the cost of martial capacity. Knowing you don’t need to accumulate gold means they may wish to either strike earlier than they would like or look to other prizes in preference.
Similarly, crew effects can have a big impact on how valuable plunder ends up being. Valkyrie skulls are pretty poor rewards under most circumstances except when you have crew members that have skull related powers. For example, grave diggers give gold when they die so it’s perfectly feasible someone may throw them to their death just to reap the rewards. Knowing when to do that, when to not do that, and whether you should build your crew in that manner requires an appreciation of a number of interlinking systems along with an awareness of the impact it has on the odds, costs and probability of everything else.
Game flow is consistent, with each player placing a worker and then picking up another meeple. However, managing this flow of activity is a skill of some sophistication. Having specific colours of meeple in hand is important for later stages of the game – such as when you want to raid a fortress and require a white worker as opposed to a grey one. You want a combination of actions that gets you the best outcome while still ending up with the necessary worker in hand. It’s a nice mechanism but it does add a cognitive load to the worker placement aspect of play, and that’s not an especially simple part of any game. It’s especially true here because this is a kind of decoupling action from outcome. If you place a white worker you’ll want to work out how to get it back in future turns.
Scoring comes from a range of different areas in the game, and players need to work out where to go deep and where to cut their investment when it ceases to be cost effective. Optimal strategies will require players to work towards complementary goals. For example there’s less value to be had in stacking armour if you’re not raiding aggressively. It’s possible to pursue goals at cross purposes and still win, but knowing how to allocate your activities is important.
For those with memory impairments alone, the only aspect of the game likely to be specifically problematic is in the draw deck for crew members. Different roles have different distributions and as such if you’re looking for specific cards to appear it’s important to have an idea how many are left to draw. Nothing on the cards shows probability of the roles, and the manual doesn’t list the cards or their numbers. That said, you can do a good job in Raiders of the North Sea by building a crew based on what you have and there’s only a limited benefit to come from trying for something more strategic or bespoke.
For those wondering about how to interpret some of the actions too, the manual does provide some clarifications but is not a comprehensive document of record regarding current and future options.
We don’t recommend Raiders of the North Sea in our fluid intelligence category but we recommend it for those with memory impairments alone.
There are some crew powers that explicitly target other players, but not all that many. They do however occasionally force a player to discard crew or money or other resources. That’s the only bit of direct PvP in the game, with the rest of the competition being for access to the plunder spots on the board. Getting your supplies up and running quickly enough to attack with a reasonable chance of success sometimes involves launching before you would under ideal circumstances. The result of that can be to get sub-par rewards. Those ‘rewards’ also often include crew deaths, and that can be frustrating if a crew hasn’t been set up to benefit from it.
This said this is a game that actually does a number of innovative things in this category. You can never be blocked off from taking an action because one of the things you get to do is claim someone else’s worker and use the action associated with the space. That’s neat, and really dials down on the passive aggression that often characterises games of this nature. Similarly the fact you can build a crew that really benefits from Valkyries takes the sting out of raiding settlements that result in death. Some crew powers too help mitigate some of the randomness in the game, as does the armour system which lets you bulk up a crew while also earning points.
We’ll recommend Raiders of the North Sea in this category.
Each player will have a hand of up to eight townsfolk cards, and these will need to be fully visible to show their passive and active powers. As such, multiple card holders are likely to be needed. Once crew are recruited from your hand though they are played open, which means that you’re not trying to work between multiple sets of cards at a time.
Physical interactions with the game are:
- Place a worker in a space and activate it
- Collect a worker from a space and activate it
- Collect up plunder from a raided location
- Roll dice
- Draw townsfolk
- Play townsfolk to your crew
The spaces for each of the locations are reasonably generous, but there are often a large number of things that need collected and, as you might imagine, it’s an absolute bastard of a game to actually set up. Every space needs several randomly drawn tokens along with a worker of the correct classification and it can take a fair amount of time to make it happen. Plunder is small and fiddly, but coins are at least satisfying chunky metal and easy to work with.
Since each player has only one worker in hand at any one time, actions can be verbalised very simply – simply state a location and there’s only one meeple that can fulfil the request. Things get a little trickier when dealing with raiding locations since they share names, but they have other qualities that make them unique. ‘I want to attack the monastery that gives two gold and two iron’ or ‘I want to attack the monastery that gives four points for a twelve strength attack’.
We’ll recommend Raiders of the North Sea in this category.
There’s a blend of male and female characters in the deck, although it’s very much slanted towards men. There are six characters that are coded as women or potentially non-binary. That’s in comparison to twenty male characters.
The cover of the box also has a seven to one ratio of men to women. Other characters are shown on the sides but only one woman (the one from the cover) and a pile of other men. The manual though makes use of gender neutral pronouns.
Also… you know, I’m sure there is zero intent in the decision to have black workers be the weakest and white meeples being the best. I know that sounds sarcastic, but it’s not – I don’t believe for an instant that this is intentionally or even unintentionally putting forward a racist message. It’s just… it’s not a great choice of colours when you’re dealing with best versus worst. I know most people won’t read anything into it, and I’m sure they shouldn’t… but making use of other colours would have completely side-stepped the issue entirely. Gold, silver and bronze would have been a choice less likely to have unfortunate implications.
Also, I imagine in some circumstances the specific theming of this is going to be a little problematic. You take on the role of Vikings sent to plunder monasteries and while that’s exactly what Vikings did it’s also difficult to feel like the ‘goodies’ in this scenario. Attacking fortresses is fine – you know, it’s a military target and all. Monasteries, while soft targets for Viking raids, makes me feel a little uncomfortable when playing the game. It might just be that on the other side of the North Sea named on the box is my own country of Scotland. I’ve read enough about what happened in those monasteries to feel uncomfortable with this theming. It’s probably just my hang-up, but I assume there will be others too.
The RRP of Raiders of the North Sea is a beefy £50 and supports only up to four players. That makes it an expensive prospect for a game library for a family on a budget. It does come with some lovely metal coins, but it’s hard to say that’s enough to justify the price in comparison to other two to four player games you could get instead.
We’ll tentatively recommend Raiders of the North Sea in this category.
A reasonable amount of literacy is required to understand crew powers. There are twenty-six separate classifications of crew – it’ll be a while before they’re all internalised, and there is no manual index to ease in this. There is otherwise no formal need for communication.
We’ll recommend, just, Raiders of the North Sea in this category.
A communication impairment, primarily vocalisation, that intersected with a physical impairment would make the indication of plunder targets considerably more difficult. Not impossible, just difficult. A memory impairment intersecting with a visual impairment would undercut much of the compensatory strategy we discussed in the section on visual accessibility. It would thus invalidate our recommendation, tentative as it is, in both categories. There are otherwise no specific intersections that come to mind.
Raiders of the North Sea plays reasonably briskly but you’re still likely to be talking 20-30 minutes per player, without taking into account accessibility compensations. For smaller player counts it’s unlikely to be a problem in and of itself but it can take a while with the full set of four.
Dropping out is possible but it’s not optimal because the number of plunder points available will change depending on player count. It would be possible though to workshop a solution where some of these were cleared away once a player leaves the table but it wouldn’t be an ideal solution given how some of them may have been claimed already. Some suitable house-rules would need to be put in place but there’s otherwise no specific reason why a player that starts need stay to the end.hree and a half stars
As is often the case, we have here a series of ups and a series of downs. The only category where we actively don’t recommend the game is in fluid intelligence and that’s common for game that incorporate a worker placement mechanism. That’s always an effortful system.
There are some interesting and innovative elements here though with regards to how Raiders of the North Sea handles the emotional accessibility part. I like that nobody is ever blocked from doing an action – all that really changes is the order in which things are done. It’s a more collegiate system and I’d be interested to see how it works in other games of this ilk.
We liked Raiders of the North Sea. It’s a likeable game. Three and a half stars. It’s a good game. It’s just not a game that gave us much about which to be excited, and that middle-of-the-road design is carried through to its accessibility profile. Many people will be able to play Raiders of the North Sea, and many of them will have a fine time with it. Perhaps that should be enough for all of us.
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Meeple Like Us is engaged in mapping out the accessibility landscape of tabletop games. Teardowns like this are data points. Games are not necessarily bad if they are scored poorly in any given section. They are not necessarily good if they score highly. The rating of a game in terms of its accessibility is not an indication as to its quality as a recreational product. These teardowns though however allow those with physical, cognitive and visual accessibility impairments to make an informed decision as to their ability to play.
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