Terraforming Mars (Digital Eyes) – Tabletop Games Blog

Release Date: 2016Players: 1-5
Designer: Jacob FryxeliusLength: 90-120 minutes
Artist: Isaac FryxeliusAge: 12+
Publisher: Stronghold GamesComplexity: 3.0 / 5

We were on Mars. Our colonization team had arrived. The mission of our corporation was to make this planet habitable and do so in the most economical and efficient way possible. There were many challenges ahead, but we had a great mix of engineers, researchers, technicians, managers and construction workers and everyone was fully committed to our goal. We were fully aware that this project would take us a number of generations and we were ready to begin Terraforming Mars by Stronghold Games.

I know that this game has now entered the annals of being a classic game. So, I’m late to the party, but what a party this is.

Before we get too far into this review, I want to explain that I only ever played the Steam version of Terraforming Mars. So I’ve not had to worry about components flying across the table if someone accidentally nudges it. I also didn’t have to deal with housekeeping, such as the setup and breakdown or dealing with the production phase. I also didn’t have to consult the rulebook to ensure I placed my terrain tiles in the correct spaces or remember to take income for placing tiles next to water.

The digital version of the game is definitely beautiful to behold. It’s all very sci-fi-y in its presentation. It feels like you’re looking over the planet from your computer console inside your Mars habitat. The background music is also wonderfully atmospheric. I really want to have a copy of it to play all the time. It has a sort of calming effect, while also being quite mysterious. It’s hard to describe – you have to hear it to understand what I mean.

There are the odd blips and bugs with the Steam version, but it’s regularly updated, and anything we found a problem during our plays of Terraforming Mars had some sort of workaround – like when your hand of cards disappears, you click to display your played cards and then out again and it’s back. So, yes, it’s a bit annoying, but chances are, when you read this article, this bug will have been fixed.

What is nice in the digital version of Terraforming Mars is that you can play online with other people. You can either join someone else’s table, create your own to allow others to join you and you can even set up a private game, if you only want to play with specific people. It’s pretty straightforward, once you’ve created your online account, that is – and haven’t forgotten your password again.

Let me talk about the game itself though. Terraforming Mars is a great mix of resource management, a sort of hand management and area control. It is very much driven by the deck of cards, the “project cards”, that you can buy at the beginning of each round, called “generations” in the game. The project deck is shared, but there isn’t a shared offer row or anything. Instead, each round every player draws four cards, 10 at the beginning of the game, that they can choose from. Every project costs a fixed amount to buy, but to actually use it, you have to pay an additional amount.

Some cards you can’t play until later in the game, others you need to play early on, before the planet has been terraformed too much. So you need to decide how many cards you buy each round, weighing up an early investment for later in the game against having more cash on hand early on for other actions. That’s the hand management element I was talking about. Over-investing early can backfire, but some cards are really special and worth buying when you see them, because they will not come back again later.

It’s a tough call to make and will appeal to people who like a bit of gambling, like myself. Speaking of which, there are cards that will appeal to those players as well. One card, for example, is about finding microbes. You’re basically tasked with finding life on Mars. That is done by drawing a project card and if it has a certain symbol on it, then you get a victory point. It’s a pure gamble, and in one game I had the card right in the first round, but never found anything. So, as far as I’m concerned, there is definitely no life on Mars. Anyway, the point is, it’s nice to see a luck element like this in Terraforming Mars.

The rest of the game is then driven by what projects you decide to play on your turn. Most cards influence your resource production, allowing you to increase the production of one or two, or decreasing one to increase another. You have to balance what resources you want to produce more of to align with your strategy.

The game will also influence what resources you want more of, because you’re trying to increase the planet’s temperature and oxygen levels and create a certain number of bodies of water. Once they have reached their maximum, you won’t benefit in the same way for increasing them and to increase them, you need specific resources, meaning you may want to reduce the production of those resources at this stage in favour of others.

So it’s not just about building an engine that gets better and better all the time, but an engine that adapts to the state of the planet – and the main way of influencing that engine is through the project cards. There are other options, but these are quite costly, but sometimes they’re the only way for you to get ahead and catch up with the other players.

There is also a fair bit of player interaction in Terraforming Mars. Many of the project cards allow you to take resources from other players, but because there are so many of them, it doesn’t feel quite as bad to use them. After all, chances are that you taking from one player will prompt them to take things from you. I think that’s why this game is better with at least three players, otherwise it will feel a bit personal.

There is a problem with being so heavily reliant on your project cards though. If the cards just aren’t going your way, you just won’t be able to do much. You’ve almost lost from the start. It has happened to me in one game and one of my friends in another. It’s frustrating, because there is nothing you can do about it. It’s just bad luck. However, I would expect games to give you more options, so that you can change your strategy based on the cards. Unfortunately, in Terraforming Mars, it does sometimes feel like you have no control and the cards are just too unpredictable.

What is nice though, is that you can control when the game ends by influencing how quickly the oxygen levels and temperature increase and how many bodies of water are placed. You can sit on your cards that help with that, to slow down the process and give you more time to catch up with other players, or you can try and push for a quick end to the game when you’re in the lead.

It reminds me of Scythe in that way. It’s nice that the game doesn’t just end after a certain number of rounds. If you need more time, chances are you can buy yourself some – and if you time it just right, you can scrape into the lead and finish the game at the same moment. It’s a great tactical option that makes the game really exciting towards the end.

Overall, Terraforming Mars is really atmospheric and you do feel like you’re actually terraforming the planet. Plonking down forests or oceans or cities is just very satisfying. The project cards also add to this and allow you to create a unique story of how the planet went from a desert to a livable habitat. It’s really imaginative and the whole game immerses you in the setting and transports you to another planet.

So if you like a bit of area control, player interaction and planet building, then Terraforming Mars is a must buy – at least in its digital form.

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Transparency Facts

I feel that this review reflects my own, independent and honest opinion, but the facts below allow you to decide whether you think that I was influenced in any way.

  • I bought and paid for the game myself.
  • At the time of writing, neither the designers, nor the publisher, nor anyone linked to the game supported me financially or by payment in kind.

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (https://www.youtube.com/audiolibrary/)

Karuba (Digital Eyes) – Tabletop Games Blog

Release Date: 2015Players: 2-4
Designer: Rüdiger DornLength: 15-30 minutes
Artist: Claus StephanAge: 8+
Publisher: HABAComplexity: 1.0 / 5

In the jungle, the mighty jungle, there is no lion, but a bunch of four, intrepid explorers trying to make their way through. The paths they cut into the vegetation will cross each other and wind their way almost aimlessly from the edge of the forest to finally emerge at four different temples and each explorer is trying to get to their specific temple. It’s not clear why each explorer has their heart set on only one, specific destination, but that’s how it goes in Karuba by HABA.

“Again, again, again!” was what I shouted after we had played the game for the first time – and the second time – and the third – and the 13th. A friend of ours had taught us Karuba, which is a wonderful tile-laying, race game for all the family. Yes, we played it 13 times in one evening, that’s how addictive it is.

I know, I shouldn’t put how I felt about the game at the beginning of my review, but leave you to read the whole article and find out for yourself at the end, a bit like the explorers in Karuba start at one end of the jungle and lay tiles to create paths through the thick forest that will ultimately lead each one to the temple matching the explorer’s colour. However, this game is so wonderful, I couldn’t contain my excitement and had to share with you how great this game is straight away.

So, here we have a game that takes something like 15 to 30 minutes play, which is great. It’s also really easy to teach and learn, which is another bonus. I only played Karuba online, but it does feel like it’s also really quick to set up, which is another tick in the “amazing” box. Even though players will carefully choose where they place each path tile, at the end of the day, the whole game is based purely on luck, levelling the playing field for players and making it accessible to the whole family – another tick. The illustrations are also wonderful and there is a lot of excitement as you try and decide when to move your explorers forward, along the paths you have laid for them, and when to place the path tiles instead. So here is one more tick.

I think you get the idea. I love, love, love this game, because it has very few rules, plays quickly and has a lot of randomness, but requires players to plan ahead to some degree.

So in Karuba, every player has their own board, their own jungle, and every player has four explorers, each in a different colour, and a temple for each coloured explorer. You’re trying to connect the explorers to their temples and then move them along the paths. The first player to reach the temple of one colour gets a certain number of points, the second player to reach their temple of the same colour gets slightly fewer points and so on.

So it pays to check what other players are doing and what explorers they have sent into the jungle first. You might fancy a race with them or you might decide to send a different explorer, one that none of the other players has sent off yet, so that you’re the first to reach the temple of that colour.

Even though every player has their own board, all players have the same set of path tiles and even though tiles are chosen at random, everyone plays the same, randomly selected tile at the same time. So in theory, everyone could end up with the same maze of paths as everyone else, but of course, at some point players think they can see a better way of solving the path maze and start placing their tiles somewhere else.

Instead of placing path tiles on your board, you can move one of your explorers a certain number of steps along the already laid tiles. Along the way, they may even pick up silver or gold coins, which are additional points, that often decide who wins the game in the end. So even though you’re all racing to reach the temples first, sometimes it’s worth going a little slower and picking up coins instead. They can give you just enough of an edge over other players.

The game ends when one player has led all of their four explorers to the matching temples and whoever has got the most points wins. It’s as easy as that.

Although the game is a lot of fun, it has a couple of issues. The smaller one is that when you play the physical copy, one player randomly draws a tile from their set, calls out the number printed on the tile and then all the other players have to find the matching tile from their set. That can really slow down the game and take away from the excitement a little bit.

The bigger problem, of course, is the setting. Yes, it’s the Indiana Jones trope of “white man steals relics from another culture and another country to be put in a museum in their own country”. The game’s illustrations do feature a female looking explorer, but everyone is white. Yet, when you play Karuba, none of that really comes through. The explorer meeples are yellow, brown, blue and purple, which is more of a colour-blind issue than anything else.

Your explorers aren’t taking anything out of the temple, let alone try and return those items back to their starting points. Yes, the explorers do pick up silver and gold coins along the way, but that feels a lot more like picking up energy boosts or point bonuses in a computer game.

So even though Karuba‘s setting does reinforce the tired old idea that white people can go to another country and take what they want, it is nowhere near in the same league as games where you trade in the Caribbean. It feels a lot more like a mix of Carcassonne with a classic, 8-bit dungeon crawl computer game. However, if the designer and/or publisher changed the setting or made the game more abstract, it would, of course, be much better.

Useful Links

Transparency Facts

I feel that this review reflects my own, independent and honest opinion, but the facts below allow you to decide whether you think that I was influenced in any way.

  • I played a friend’s copy of the game.
  • At the time of writing, neither the designers, nor the publisher, nor anyone linked to the game supported me financially or by payment in kind.

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (https://www.youtube.com/audiolibrary/)

K2 (Digital Eyes) – Tabletop Games Blog

Release Date: 2010Players: 1-5
Designer: Adam KałużaLength: 30-60 minutes
Artist: Jarek NocońAge: 8+
Publisher: Rebel StudioComplexity: 2.0 / 5

Being halfway up the mountain, in bad weather, the time when we were still acclimatizing at base camp felt like an eternity ago. I knew that “Squiggle” was ahead of me and had erected their tent, but I had to save mine for nearer the top, where we needed the shelter more urgently. I could only imagine the relative comfort my fellow climber was in, while I was hunkered down behind a small collection of rocks to take the brunt of the storm. I kept thinking how dangerous it was, but I also kept reminding myself of the ultimate goal: reaching the summit of K2.

The game is relatively old now, but it’s probably the most exciting and thematic game I’ve ever played. The concept is pretty simple: try and get your two mountain climbers as high up the K2 mountain as possible, without dying. K2 is the second-highest mountain on Earth, or so the game tells us, and also the second deadliest. So, keeping your climbers alive plays a huge part in this game and is what makes it so engrossing for me.

The higher your climbers get, the more points they are worth and the player with the highest combined point score wins. It is fine and actually often desirable to bring at least one of your climbers back down from the summit. They won’t lose the points they have gained when they descend, but they will have a much better chance of survival. What you don’t want, is for one, or even both, of your climbers to die, because then they lose all their points, except one, meaning you’re highly unlikely to win the game.

Saying that, even though K2 is a race game at its heart, it’s also all very relative. After all, if an opponent reaches the summit, but subsequently dies, there is less incentive for the other players to go all out and push for the peak. It might be enough to get their two climbers just high enough, higher than the other players’, to guarantee them the win.

K2 is also a lot about timing. The game ends after a set number of rounds, so if you time it right, you can make the push for the summit right at the end and don’t have to worry too much if your climber has hardly any energy left. If they get there right at the end, then they only need to survive that turn, which is very doable.

The problem is, the higher you go up the mountain, the less room there is for climbers. The summit only has room for one climber, unless you play with five players, so if you’re too late and another player blocks the top spot, then you will never get there. At the same time, hogging the peak is no mean feat. It requires a lot of energy and oxygen and chances are that the weather is worse near the top – even though that’s not always the case.

In fact, the weather is another factor that influences the timing of your ascent. You can always look a few rounds ahead to see what the weather will do. Sometimes, the weather is terrible at base camp, but absolutely wonderful and sunny higher up. So you may be better off pushing for the summit earlier to take advantage of the pleasant weather or at least avoiding the storm that’s brewing further down.

There is another element in K2 that has to do with timing. Every player has a deck of cards, which is the same for everyone. The cards define how far you can climb or descend or they are there to replenish the energy of your climbers. Each round, players choose three cards in secret. Once everyone has chosen, the cards are revealed and the player with the highest movement might get an energy penality that they have to either deduct from a climber’s health or by foregoing movement.

That in itself adds a wonderful facet to the gameplay. You have to try and gauge what other players might do. You have to decide whether to go all out and try to go higher and potentially block the route for other players or whether to hold back and wait, increasing your climbers’ health first. Later in the game, this mechanism adds a lot of tension and excitement, because there is more pressure to either get your climbers to safety, if you’re in the lead, or to try and catch up at all costs.

However, with regards to timing, your deck of cards consists of 18 cards, you draw 6 into your hand and choose 3 in secret per round. The chosen cards are put into a discard pile and you draw another 3 cards to have a hand of 6. When your draw deck runs out, your discard gets shuffled and becomes a new draw deck.

So, ideally, you need to look 6 rounds ahead, because you choose 3 cards from the deck of 18 each round. You need to try and plan what you want to do and consider what other players might want to do. You also need to look at the upcoming weather. That’s all fine to start with, but of course, as you have fewer and fewer cards in your draw deck, the situation will be different to what you had planned and the cards you now need you have already played, or they’re still in the draw deck and you just have bad luck and don’t get them into your hand when you need them. Suddenly, all you can do is make the best out of a bad situation.

At the same time, your climbers will lose energy, depending on how high up the mountain they are, if they’re in a tent, as well as the weather and maybe the penalty token you had to take. So you need to play cards that replenish that energy or move the climber down the mountain to regain some health. You hope that your next card draw is what you need and you curse loudly and emphatically when your luck runs out or you realize that the perfect card you need is in your discard pile.

It gets even tenser when your climbers get near the top. Blocking doesn’t just work for going up the mountain, but also on your descent. So if you want to get one of your climbers down from the summit to the safety of a tent that was pitched earlier, but there are four other climbers below you, blocking your route, then all you can do is hope for enough movement value to get past them. Otherwise, your climber will be stuck there at the top and slowly freeze to death.

That feeling of dread and hopelessness is actually really palpable when you play K2. You pray for good cards and better weather, you hope that your climber can survive just one more round, because next round things will just be better. You really feel the cold, the wind, the tiredness and the desperate situation, but eventually, your hopes are brutally dashed and the reality is that your climber didn’t make it and their score of 10 is reduced to a single point.

I’ve seen games where a player would send their second climber to the top, just out of respect for their teammate who didn’t make it. They knew they couldn’t win the game now, but they made the ascend anyway, maybe secretly thinking that they could block other climbers and expose them to the same hopeless situation that their teammate had faced.

So, yes, there is actually a lot of player interaction in K2 and players may intentionally block each other for their own benefit. The strong camaraderie in the game only extends between the two climbers that a player controls – not between climbers from different players. It’s every team for themselves and help nobody else.

Let me finish by saying that I have only ever played K2 online, so I can’t comment on component quality or how it feels playing a physical copy. I do think though that the emotions that the game evokes come from the player interaction, the card draws and trying to time everything perfectly. I doubt that component quality will make a huge amount of difference to the excitement, despair and other feelings you will experience when playing this amazing race game.

Useful Links

Transparency Facts

I feel that this review reflects my own, independent and honest opinion, but the facts below allow you to decide whether you think that I was influenced in any way.

  • I played this game online, but a friend of mine has a physical copy.
  • At the time of writing, neither the designers, nor the publisher, nor anyone linked to the game supported me financially or by payment in kind.

Live Playthrough

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (https://www.youtube.com/audiolibrary/)

Colt Express (Digital Eyes) – Tabletop Games Blog

Release Date: 2014Players: 2-6
Designer: Christophe RaimbaultLength: 30-45 minutes
Artist: Ian Parovel, Jordi ValbuenaAge: 10+
Publisher: LudonauteComplexity: 1.0 / 5

“Hands up! Give me all your money!” you shout at the passengers on this express steam train to Colt City as you wave your revolver from side to side. You’re in for a big haul and already imagine how you’re going to spend all this money and how you’re going to pawn the jewellery and become rich – but you hadn’t expected the marshall being on board, as well as other bandits going from coach to coach trying their luck at getting rich quick at the same time as you. Your carefully planned heist seemed to quickly go off its rails and you begin to consider jumping off this fast-moving Colt Express by Christophe Raimbault from Ludonaute.

Programming games aren’t for everyone. It can be hard to plan several steps ahead and try to predict what everyone else does, while keeping in your head what the game state is going to be based on your calculations. However, the great fun of programming games is that what you’ve planned in your head and therefore the actions you’ve carefully chosen in a specific order will, inevitably, not pan out as you had hoped. As another player goes left, rather than right, your next action will go nowhere and everything else then goes awry from then on.

That’s what makes these games so much fun for me, at least, watching your character punch into thin air or trying to go one direction and running blindly into a wall, while everyone else’s actions end up not being any more successful than yours. At the same time, it’s awe-inspiring when someone’s actions pan out exactly as planned and the whole sequence feels like a highly detailed ballet choreography.

Colt Express fits this bill perfectly and it offers a few extra things that other programming games don’t have. Sure, there is the usual playing of cards in order to lock in what actions your bandit meeple will carry out when. Once all the cards are played, they are resolved in order and meeples are moved around the train accordingly, or loot is picked up to give you more points.

However, cards are played face-up, at least most of the time, so you can much better predict what’s happening and therefore feel like you have more control, even though that’s not completely true. Everything becomes a lot more uncertain when players choose a movement action – either for themselves or for the marshall meeple. There are usually at least two different options for movement, so you do still have to gauge where you think the other player will go, but it’s definitely not a certainty.

More uncertainty is added when in some rounds some of the cards players choose are placed face-down. Now you not only have to try and predict what action the other players will have taken, but if it’s a movement, where they will have moved to.

It’s this uncertainty that creates the moment of suspense in Colt Express. Everyone is pretty confident that they have chosen the correct card for themselves, only to find that someone else has done something unexpected and everything you do from the on is just useless.

You do get some control back though. As cards are evaluated, when your card is a movement card, other than going up or down that is, you can decide which way you will go. So even if you originally planned to go forward, towards the locomotive, you can still decide to go the other way if it’s clear that you’d be heading into a trap if you didn’t change direction. The problem is, your subsequent cards might now not be quite as effective as you had planned, but at least you’ve dodged a bullet – quite literally actually.

Yes, there is quite a lot of player interaction in Colt Express. You can decide to shoot your revolver and quite often you can even decide which other player you want to hit. That player will then get a bullet card added to their deck, which is basically a way of polluting your hand with useless cards, effectively slowing you down. You can also punch another player, at which point they will drop one item of their loot, which you can potentially pick up yourself, if you have timed it right.

There is also a marshall meeple in the game, which every player can control by playing the relevant card. You can then move the marshall and if they get into a carriage where other players are, their meeples have to scarper onto the roof of the train, thereby really messing up their plans. They will also get a bullet card added to their deck.

So, yes, you can create a lot of havoc in Colt Express, but if you can predict what other players are likely to do and if you are good at bluffing, you can pull off the perfect sequence of actions to give you the most and the most valuable loot.

To add further to the fun, the game comes with a number of different characters, each of which has their own unique ability. Ghost, for example, always plays their first card face-down, giving them the advantage of surprise. Cheyenne‘s punch not only forces the other player to drop an item of loot, but that item is immediately snatched by Cheyenne to add to their stash. None of these abilities are super powerful, but they add just enough variability to make the game just that extra bit more interesting.

I only played this game online, but I was assured that the little 3D cardboard train, where the game’s actions take place, really looks amazing on the table and lifts the game experience to another level – quite literally. Sure, you could play without, but it’s clearly much more fun to take your little wooden bandit meeple out of one of the carriages and make it climb onto the roof. It’s so much more visual and much easier to follow the action as the cards are resolved. Well, at least, that’s how I imagine it. I’m still looking to get my own copy of Colt Express and I will make sure it comes with the cardboard train.

Other than the element of chaos that the programming in Colt Express creates, the wonderful 3D cardboard train and the custom wooden meeples, it’s also the playing time that I love. Games usually take around the 45-minute mark, depending a bit on player count and how fast people play. That’s the perfect length for this game and is just short enough to get two or maybe even three games played in short succession.

As I said, I’m looking for my own copy of Colt Express, which I think shows you how much I like this game. It’s really easy to teach and quick to play, making it ideal to play with pretty much anyone. So, shoot your bullets, take your loot and avoid the marshall as well as the other bandits and become the best train robber in history.

Useful Links

Transparency Facts

I feel that this review reflects my own, independent and honest opinion, but the facts below allow you to decide whether you think that I was influenced in any way.

  • I played a friend’s copy of the game.
  • At the time of writing, neither the designers, nor the publisher, nor anyone linked to the game supported me financially or by payment in kind.

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (https://www.youtube.com/audiolibrary/)

Dune: A Game of Conquest and Diplomacy (Digital Eyes)

Release Date: 2021Players: 2-4
Designer: Bill Eberle, Jack Kittredge, Peter Olotka, Greg Olotka, Jack RedaLength: 30-60 minutes
Artist: Casey DaviesAge: 12+
Publisher: Gale Force NineComplexity: 3.0 / 5
Plastic to Non-Plastic: n/aAir to Components: n/a

Spice, the final frontier. These are the adventures of the Houses Atreides and Harkonnen and the Imperium their five-round mission to explore Arrakis, to seek out new territories and new Spice Blows, to boldly go where no Fremen has gone before. This is Dune: A Game of Conquest and Diplomacy by Bill Eberle, Jack Kittredge, Peter Olotka, Greg Olotka and Jack Reda from Gale Force Nine.

Forgive me for using the very popular introduction to a now-classic 1960s science-fiction TV series to set the scene for this re-make of a re-make by Gale Force Nine of the 1979 epic game Dune from Avalon Hill. I just couldn’t resist using the famous prologue of a long-standing TV and film franchise that has survived several decades, reinventing itself multiple times to try and keep with the times, and apply it to a game that itself was reinvented a couple of times and whose story is based on a book that was adapted for TV and film, most recently for an epic two-part film, the first of which was released in 2021 and which is a great spectacle that fans of the books and lovers of great cinema absolutely lapped up the last drop of.

Gale Force Nine followed Hollywood’s example, but instead of creating a two-part film, they first remade the original 1979 game Dune from Avalon Hill into a much more streamlined version of the game which they released in 2019, forty years after its original release. That version of Dune by Bill Eberle, Jack Kittredge and Peter Olotka is amazing and I reviewed it a couple of years ago. It’s epic, like the book and the films. You can feel the sand under your feet and smell the Spice as you play it.

However, the designers clearly felt there was more they could do to make the game even more streamlined while keeping its essence. So instead of a 1 to 2-hour game, we now have a 30 to 60-minute game, which means it will appeal to a different audience. I reckon there are more people in the hobby who are happy to sit down for a 1-hour game than there are people who love 2-hour games – but I might be wrong.

In any case, Dune: A Game of Conquest and Diplomacy or Dune 2021, as I will call it from here on in, is basically the same Dune from 2019, but with all the complexity removed so that you can play it in half the time. Not only that, teaching it is a lot easier, not only because people are happier to give it a go because it is a quicker game, but also because the rules are actually a lot simpler.

The bidding phase from the 2019 version, where you blindly bid on a card that might be absolutely game-changing or could be completely useless, is gone. Movement is a lot simpler, because there are no ornithopters: everyone just moves a fixed number of territories. Battle is also a lot simpler and actually really sleek, while keeping the 2019’s mechanisms of battle strength, leaders, weapons, shields and, of course, traitors.

The game length is now also compressed from 10 to 5 rounds – or should I say, a maximum of 10 rounds down to a maximum of 5. Even though you can still win by holding a certain number of strongholds, the focus really is much more on collecting as much Spice as possible and being the richest at the end of the game. It is rare that a player can control three strongholds until the end of a round. Other players will swoop in and flush them out to prevent a victory, after which the player who was hoping for a military win will be in too weak a position to have any chance of coming back.

So the pace in Dune 2021 is really fast and you have to really get a move on: blink and you’ll miss the game. At least that’s how it feels for me who has played the 2019 version a lot and enjoys the long, drawn-out game where you slowly build up control and carefully advance into new territories. However, the quicker game is really appealing to people who are put off by longer games. As a friend of mine put it: Dune 2021 is the game to get people started on before tempting them with the longer and more involved 2019 version. So, owning both copies can be a good choice, if you can afford it, and you may be able to convert your games group to enjoying longer, more complex games.

Dune 2021 is quite a different beast and even though the essence of the 2019, and consequently 1979, version is there, it does feel really different. At no point did I feel grains of sand in my mouth nor did my nostrils fill with the sickly sweet scent of Spice. It was very much about dropping troops, heading towards the nearest Spice Blows, killing your opponents in the process and harvesting as much as possible. It was a lot more about battle and market cards.

There is no strategy to worry about and while the 2019 version of Dune is also quite heavy on the tactics front, the 2021 game really puts the focus on putting out fires and responding to the situation on the board when it’s your turn. There is no planning really, but even more crucially, there is no diplomacy at all, even though the game mentions it in its name – and that’s probably what I miss the most in the latest version of the game.

I really enjoyed all the subtleties in the 2019 Dune, how some factions have access to certain information that other factions don’t and how the rules even say that one faction can take notes and make the most of the information they gather, while the other factions aren’t allowed to write anything down. Additionally, being able to form an alliance with another faction and be able to use some of their special powers adds another really exciting level to the 2019 game that makes for uneasy pacts that both sides know will eventually be broken, because ultimately, there can only be one winner.

One last thing to note: I only played Dune: A Game of Conquest and Diplomacy in digital format. A friend of mine has the physical copy, but I’ve not seen that yet. So this review focuses purely on the gameplay and not the components, table presence or anything else that a physical board game has to offer. I also found it hard to play online, because the cards have a lot of text on them, which isn’t easy to read on a computer screen. However, if you have the physical game, you will find it a lot easier and I don’t think it will be a real problem.

So Dune: A Game of Conquest and Diplomacy will appeal to people who want to play a game set on Arrakis and whose artwork is taken from the latest film and who want something quick and… well… dirty. Just don’t expect any diplomacy and instead prepare yourself for brutal conquest.

However, for me, the 2019 Dune is still my favourite and even though I’ll always be happy to try the 2021 game, if I have the choice, the earlier Dune is what I will always choose. I just need the extra depth that the element of information gathering and brokering presents.

Transparency Facts

I feel that this review reflects my own, independent and honest opinion, but the facts below allow you to decide whether you think that I was influenced in any way.

  • I played a friend’s copy of the game.
  • At the time of writing, neither the designers, nor the publisher, nor anyone linked to the game supported me financially or by payment in kind.

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (https://www.youtube.com/audiolibrary/)
Second Intro Music: Theme from Star Trek by Alexander Courage

Biblios (Digital Eyes) – Tabletop Games Blog

Release Date: 2007Players: 2-4
Designer: Steve FinnLength: 30-45 minutes
Artist: Steve Finn, David PalumboAge: 10+
Publisher: ielloComplexity: 1.5 / 5
Plastic to Non-Plastic: n/aAir to Components: n/a

You were proud of your large library and your hard-working group of scribes was continually adding new tomes, with wonderfully decorative lettering and illustrations. However, you only had so much gold and the best scribes weren’t cheap, but you had to somehow continue growing your collection of books to keep the bishop happy and outdo other abbots who were vying for influence. So you persevered and did what you could to have the most Biblios by Steve Finn from iello.

Sometimes, older games are the best, especially if they are really well designed and do one or two things exceptionally well. Biblios is such a game. It’s now over 14 years old, but it still stands proud among the large number of other modern card games. It cleverly distils a mix of hidden information, card drafting, push-your-luck and bidding into a game that becomes more and more interesting the more you play it. Luckily, it’s really easy to explain and plays fairly quickly, so it’s no problem playing it several times in one evening and watching how the meta of the game develops amongst your games group.

Biblios is basically divided into two phases.

In the first phase, you take turns drawing a certain number of cards, depending on player count, keeping one of them in your hand, putting another face-down onto the bid pile, which comes into play in the second phase of the game and placing the rest face-up, so that the other players can take one each. You have to draw each card one by one and decide what to do with each card as you draw it. You can only ever keep one card and only ever place one card on the bid pile.

So the decision is tough. The first card you draw may seem pretty good, but if you decide to keep it in your hand, you will kick yourself if you draw a better card later. Sometimes you might want to defer your decision by putting the card on the bid pile and as long as you have enough money in the second phase of the game, the bidding phase, you will still be able to acquire the card.

However, you may also push it too far and end up having to take the last card you’re allowed to draw on your turn. You may be lucky or you may not. It’s the usual conundrum of push-your-luck games. Chances are, you will get it wrong eventually, but every time it’s your turn again and you have to make your decisions again, the tension and the excitement rise. You cross everything and hope for the best.

Of course, there is a lot of luck involved in this phase of the game, but because you decide what to do with each card, it does feel like you have at least some level of control over the luck. It is possible to be really unlucky, but that’s where the second phase comes in.

Let me elaborate this a bit further, because the main aim in Biblios is to collect cards of five different colours. Each colour is worth a certain amount of points at the end of the game, recorded by a dice of the same colour. If the values of your cards of a certain colour add up to the highest number compared to all the other players, you get the points that the relevant dice indicates.

The dice all start with the same value, but there are cards that allow you to manipulate them, increasing or decreasing their pip value by one. So if you think your hand is quite strong for certain colours, you will want to increase the dice values of those colours. Of course, other players will see what you’re doing and may do their best to lower the values of those dice or they may decide to try and get better cards of that colour, so they end up winning the points at the end.

All of that already happens in the first phase, but it continues in the second phase. That’s when you go through the bid pile and you start auctioning off the cards that were placed there during the first phase of the game. If a colour card or a dice manipulation card is up for auction, you spend money cards to bid on them – and that’s where I was going when I was talking about having no luck at all in the first phase.

If you end up only ever getting money cards in the first phase of Biblios, then in the second phase you’re in a very strong position to outbid everyone and get the cards you want from the bid pile. Of course, the bid pile is likely to contain less powerful cards, but at least in the second half of the game you have a better idea of what colours everyone is going for, so you can choose wisely and still win.

Once all the cards have been auctioned off, everyone reveals their hands and counts the values of their colour cards. The person with the highest value gets the points indicated on the relevant dice and then once that’s done, the player with the most points wins. It’s pretty simple really.

That alone already makes for a wonderfully exciting and fun game, but Biblios gets even better if you play it multiple times with the same group of people. Now, the meta of the game starts to develop. You may have realized that one player tends to go for money cards in the first phase, to give them a strong hand for the bidding phase. So you now do all you can to stop them from getting those money cards. You will also start to be able to read other people’s poker faces as they draw cards and put them either in the bid pile or keep them in their hands. You will know if they got a great card and you can potentially do something about that.

I certainly had a lot of fun playing Biblios with my games group multiple times and even though we played online, I started to see the sort of strategies they were going for and tried to formulate my counter-strategies. I know that I want to get myself a copy of this amazing card game, because I know my family would enjoy playing it. Sure, there is player interaction in the bidding phase, as players will try and artificially increase bids to make others pay over the odds for a good card – but of course, as the group plays the game more, they will get wise to that and will call their bluff.

So, if you want a great card game that plays quickly, is easy to learn and gives you enough to think about and allows a wonderful meta to develop, then Biblios is for you. It certainly is for me.

Transparency Facts

I feel that this review reflects my own, independent and honest opinion, but the facts below allow you to decide whether you think that I was influenced in any way.

  • I played a friend’s copy of the game.
  • At the time of writing, neither the designers, nor the publisher, nor anyone linked to the game supported me financially or by payment in kind.

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (https://www.youtube.com/audiolibrary/)
Additional Music: Predator by Purple Planet Music (https://www.purple-planet.com/)

Digital cheats – practising against AIs (Topic Discussion)

Since the lockdown, many board games have now also been released in digital format. Some of these implementations are just a representation of the physical game on your screen. You still have to move everything by hand and do all the housekeeping. Other solutions enforce rules and carry out all the actions for you. You just need to point and click. Some games also come with AI opponents, allowing you to create a competitive game even when you’re by yourself or add additional, digital players to a multiplayer game. In this article, I want to look at using these computer players to help you improve your game.

AI Teacher

I have previously talked about how some apps teach you the game by starting with a specific sequence of actions, but then let you finish it by playing against artificial players. Personally, I think these tutorial modes are one of the best ways of learning a new game. I don’t mind reading rulebooks or watching rules teach videos, but nothing compares to actually playing the game to really understand it.

As the old adage goes, you learn by doing. The more often you do something, the better you’ll get at it, at least up to a point. Theory is definitely important, but it’s not until you actually apply that theory in practice that you properly absorb it. In the case of board games, theory is the rulebook or even a rules teach video. Practice is you playing the game.

So when you have the opportunity to learn a game by actually playing it, you’re properly starting to learn and understand it. That’s another reason why teaching as little as possible about a game’s rules, but getting to playing it as quickly as possible is often the best way forward.

Teaching goes beyond just learning the basics, though. Once you understand the rules and know how to play, the next step will be to improve your game. Usually, that’s about getting better at winning. So you have to work out what actions you need to take to get more points or whatever the game’s victory conditions dictate. Your first step is probably going to be to play the game over and over again – and that’s where AI opponents can help.

Patient AI

It’s great if you have a games group that enjoys playing the same game repeatedly. It’s probably the driver for you wanting to get better at that game in the first place. However, digital opponents will be much more patient and they will be available whenever you want them to be. There is never a clash of schedules.

So if a game offers the option to play solo against a number of artificial players, then you will be able to play it as often as you like. That means you can try out different strategies and see how they fare. Pure repetition will definitely allow you to get better. You will make the same mistake only so many times until you realize you need to try something else. If the game allows you to undo actions, you can even see how specific choices lead to different results.

At some point, you will be ready to watch what the AI players are doing. You can see how they respond to different situations and work out why they took a specific action. You can try and adopt their strategies to get even better at the game. By following their lead, you can improve your game and if you can adjust the digital players’ difficulty level, you can start on easy mode and slowly work your way up to ultra-hard.

Limitations of AI

Of course, AI opponents don’t always behave like human players would. There will be occasions where they will make moves that you would not expect and that seem very odd. Chances are, these actions are the best options in a given situation, if you were to play through various scenarios in advance. They are often purely based on scoring different game states and choosing the action that leads to a better outcome over the next so many turns.

Sometimes these weird behaviours of digital players can teach you something about the game. Other times they are just random and actually never lead to victory. They are always worth investigating further though, either to decide that they’re really clever choices or that you, as a human player, can do much better. That’s one of the limitations of artificial players.

a laptop on a coffee table showing the digital version of the game Root, next to a small tea pot and a mug (Photo by Goran Ivos on Unsplash)
(Photo by Goran Ivos on Unsplash)

Another limitation is that they don’t actually actively teach something. A person is able to explain why a certain action is beneficial or why another choice is most likely to lead to a loss. They can talk you through a turn and help you understand what’s going on. An AI will never tell you that you’ve made a bad decision and offer you a takeback. There is no dialogue.

Digital opponents have another issue. Once you’ve worked out how to beat them, you will only have learned how to defeat those AIs. Playing human players is quite another thing. Artificial opponents always respond in a specific way. If you take a certain action in a particular situation, the AI will respond the same each and every time. It becomes quite formulaic after a while, but hopefully, that’s only after dozens of plays.

The Human Element

So at some point, you will want to go back to your games group and play the game together again. Hopefully, you will be able to teach them a few tricks and they will show you your AI blindspots. Together you will be able to take the game to the next level. Just make sure all of you talk through your moves and openly discuss the game afterwards.

I think learning a game together with other people is ultimately the only way to improve up to a level where you will really excel. Practising with digital players is important, for sure, and one of the tools you should use, but eventually only a person can take you further.

Also, playing with other people is what the board game hobby is about for many of us.

What About You?

Now, I completely understand that you might not care about getting really good at a game. I’m not usually very competitive myself, but there has been at least one game that really bugged me. I was unable to get better at it until I played against an AI. So, if you’ve felt similarly in the past, what game was the one that got under your skin? How did you manage to get better at it? Did you just keep playing it over and over with your friends or family? Is there a game that you learned using a digital tutorial mode? Did you then practice the game against the AIs? As always, please share your thoughts in the comments below. I’d love to hear about your experiences.

Useful Links

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (https://www.youtube.com/audiolibrary/)

The following music was used for this media project:
Music: Buzzkiller by Alexander Nakarada
Free download: https://filmmusic.io/song/5820-buzzkiller
License (CC BY 4.0): https://filmmusic.io/standard-license
Artist website: https://www.serpentsoundstudios.com/

Digital analogues – synergies between board and video games (Topic Discussion)

There seems to be quite an overlap between people who love playing board games and those who love playing video games. Many actually enjoy playing both. There also seems to be a growing overlap between the hobby and video game industries themselves. So in this article, I want to look at what synergies there might be between the two and how both can benefit from each other.

The Differences

On the whole, the hobby and video game industries are often still distinctly separate entities. Even though that’s slowly changing, it is still usually true that the economics in the board game industry work quite differently from those in the video game market. It’s not uncommon that video games create a huge amount of revenue, often resulting in a large amount of profit. For hobby games, on the other hand, margins are small and so are sale volumes. There is also much more investment in the digital game space than there is in analogue games. Many video game projects command the same sort of multi-million dollar budgets that only Hollywood studio productions are known for.

The process for creating video games is also very different to that of board and other hobby games. Creating a virtual product that people can download over the internet and making a physical game, which needs to be manufactured and then shipped to people around the globe, have very little in common. The logistics for both are really quite unlike each other.

There are also differences in video and hobby game communities. People who play video games often have quite different motivations compared to people who play board games. Video gamers often love real-time action and video-quality graphics. They want to simply load the game and play, without having to set up a game or learn rules. Many people in the hobby game community on the other hand want to switch off from digital devices and screens that they otherwise spend most of they’re living hours using or sitting in front of.

The Similarities

However, there are also similarities between the two communities. Both groups of players often want to escape from the day-to-day into another world. They want to occupy themselves, often for hours on end, with something that is as far away from their daily lives as possible. They like to solve puzzles and spend time with friends. Both communities often also enjoy beautiful illustrations and artwork. Neither enjoys spending lots of time setting up the game or learning rules.

It is also true that the video and hobby game industries are slowly growing closer together. Not only have we seen video games being converted into board games and board games into digital games, but we’ve also seen the use of apps in modern board games to a smaller or larger extent. The Embracer Group, a conglomerate of businesses that mostly focus on PC, console and mobile games, clearly also saw similarities when it bought Asmodee, a giant in the tabletop gaming world, back in 2020.

It seems quite clear that video and hobby games have something in common. There is potential for synergies that combine the strengths of both industries. New games could be created that incorporate the best of both worlds.

Game Synergies

For example, the hobby game industry could combine its experience of creating games that are easy to learn but difficult to master and that are highly replayable with the video game industry’s experience in creating captivating and engaging games. It’s something that some of the recent app-driven board games seem to have tried to achieve. The apps come with professionally narrated storylines, soundtracks and other functionality which create much more immersive and exciting gameplay.

We have also seen apps that teach the rules of a game, very much like video games do. You follow the on-screen prompts and start taking actual turns. Learning how a game works as you play has been very common in video games for a long time, but is still very rare in hobby games. It’s certainly another possible synergy between board and video games.

There is also the potential of digital solutions offering more people access to hobby games, regardless of their physical abilities. In its simplest form, an app could read out card text and help identify the meaning of icons. It would make games more accessible to blind or visually impaired people.

You could also take the concept of online gaming, which is widely found in the video game industry, and apply it to board games. Imagine a digital solution that allows you to take turns whenever you can, even remotely, while others have the game set up physically on their table. It would somehow blur the boundaries between the physical and digital worlds.

the digital version of Terraforming Mars
the digital version of Terraforming Mars

Economic Synergies

There are clearly also possible economic synergies between board and video games, as the acquisition of Asmodee by the Embracer Group shows. One possibility is what we talked about already: converting video games into board games and vice versa. If a company has an influence on both markets, it can reach a wider audience. If a company creates a digital version of a physical board game, it’s also not a huge amount of extra work. Going from video to board game is a bit different of course.

There is also the potential that people who own a board game want to buy its app version. It’s certainly something I have done. I love playing against AIs on my phone. It’s similar in the other direction. I know quite a few people who couldn’t wait to buy the board game adaptation of their favourite console game. So however you look at it, the shared audience of both industries creates a huge potential for growth. That potential is increased even further when both industries work together as closely as in the case of the Embracer Group.

I also wonder if board game companies could take advantage of tax breaks or other financial incentives that are offered to video game companies. In the UK, companies can claim video games tax relief, for example. There will be similar opportunities in other countries, I reckon. I don’t know the ins and outs of this or what hoops businesses might have to jump through, but if a board game company decides to release their next game not just in physical format but also as a video game, they might be able to benefit from these tax breaks.


So I would argue that there is a lot of potential for synergies between board and video games. It is hard to tell exactly what that would look like, but it seems that there is already a trend that blurs the lines between the digital and analogue worlds. Both industries share a common audience. They have the potential for innovation and accessibility. Ultimately, they can benefit from each other’s expertise in different areas of game development. By working together, the hobby and video game industries can tap into new markets. They could create new and exciting products and increase revenue. Working together can be a win-win situation, not only for both industries, but also us as customers. After all, I think we’re all looking for a diverse and engaging gaming experience.

Useful Links

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (https://www.youtube.com/audiolibrary/)

Background Music: Inspirational Flight by AShamaluevMusic

Digital Supplements – a look at digital accessories for board games (Topic Discussion)

Mixing digital tools with analogue games isn’t for everyone. Many of us in the modern hobby games community prefer to switch off our smartphones, get away from our computer monitors or otherwise “disconnect” and instead spend some quality time with people face-to-face, playing together. Some of us are happy to compromise and allow apps or other digital tools to take part in game nights, at least to some extent. In this article, I want to look at some of this new technology and what it can add to the playing experience.

First of all, let me say that I’m not going to talk about digital versions of board games, which I think is obvious. I also don’t want to discuss games that come with some sort of app or other smartphone integration out of the box. That’s for a different article or maybe even a full-blown review. That leaves digital board game tools that have no direct connection to the game we’re playing, but that we happily use nonetheless.

Supporting Tools

One app I now use all the time is BG Stats. The app is available on most modern smartphones and many much older ones too. It not only allows you to keep track of your board game collection, synching with Board Game Geek if you want it to, but also record plays. It’s pretty easy to use and works offline, synching everything back to BGG or cloud storage when you have internet again.

You can quickly check how many games you played recently, who scored the highest for every game, with whom you played and who wins the most, see if you’re beating your own high score, look at charts and just generally nerd out on all the stats. BG Stats can also randomly decide the first player or choose a game from those you haven’t played in a while. It’s incredible how much this app offers without you having to pay a dime. However, once you do pay, you get access to a lot more functionality.

If you want to balance cold figures with something warmer, then why not add a fitting soundtrack to your game night experience. Melodice is a search engine where you look for a game and it returns a suitable playlist. I don’t know how many games the website contains, but so far I have not been disappointed. Don’t expect the latest games to be there, but you can always add more.

Some playlists are a bit odd, but the majority are really atmospheric and help you immerse yourself a little bit deeper into the game’s setting. Even if you don’t like some of the songs, there should be enough there for you to enjoy. Just skip those tracks you don’t think fit the game.

Learning and Playing

If you’re the sort of person who likes to start playing as quickly as possible and with as few rules overhead as necessary, then Dized is one to check out. It’s an app which walks you through the setup of a game and then gets you to start playing, while teaching you the rules. It’s very much like how digital adaptions of board games work. You’re asked to take certain actions and the app explains what happens next. You basically learn the game as you go along. Once all the rules have been taught, you can finish the game without the need of the app. It’s really easy and a great way to teach a game to friends or family, especially if you’re not confident in your own teaching abilities.

The app also requires a subscription and I’m not sure how frequently or quickly new games are added. So you probably want to check the list on their website and then go from there so you can be sure it’s for you and offers tutorials for the games you want to play. However, Dized is certainly a pretty hassle-free way of learning a new game or introducing it to others.

the Teburu board overlayed with a game map and some figures, a Teburu dice in the foreground and a tablet with an app running in the background
overlay Teburu with your own game map, add figures with bases that transmit information and use Teburu’s dice to track results

If you’re after technology that intrinsically integrates with your games, then Teburu is a contender. At its core, it is a blank board with embedded technology, onto which you place the game’s map, tiles or other things that represent the central playing area. The board tracks figures, which have RFID chips and magnets in them. It can also track dice, which are wireless and contain their own circuitry to transmit the rolled results back to Teburu. You can even add custom bases with LEDs to the figures and then the game can relay important information in real-time.

In fact, Teburu evaluates dice results, tracks player health and other stats and generally does all the housekeeping in real time. It can explain the setup and teach the rules as you play, similar to Dized. With the right software, it can even become an AI opponent.

What About You?

That’s all the digital board game tools I can think of. I hope I have offered a good variety, even if I only covered each one very briefly. Have you used any of the tools I described in this article yourself? What did you think? Are there any others that you can think of that I didn’t list? As always, please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you.

Useful Links

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (https://www.youtube.com/audiolibrary/)

The following music was used for this media project:
Music: Afternoon by DreamHeaven
Free download: https://filmmusic.io/song/6242-afternoon
License (CC BY 4.0): https://filmmusic.io/standard-license
Artist website: https://www.patreon.com/dreamheaven

Raiders of the North Sea (Digital Eyes)

Release Date: 2015Players: 2-4
Designer: Shem PhillipsLength: 60-75 minutes
Artist: Mihajlo DimitrievskiAge: 10+
Publisher: Renegade Game StudiosComplexity: 2.5 / 5
Plastic (by weight): n/aAir (by volume): n/a

We were a band of feared Viking warriors of Borg on the Lofoten islands. Our chieftain had tasked us with assembling a cunning and mighty crew, collecting provisions and journeying north to plunder gold, iron and livestock from foreign lands. We would find glory in battle and the Valkyrie would lead the fallen to Odin’s Valhalla. We were the Raiders of the North Sea by Shem Phillips from Renegade Games Studios.

Now, I don’t know much about Viking history, other than the stereotypical idea that these were people who used their expert sailing skills to explore new lands and plunder them for precious resources, burning and killing as they went. However, just looking at a map I can see that the Vikings were most likely heading west on their voyages, not north, as the rulebook says. However, some of them were indeed travelling across the North Sea. So the title of the game is absolutely fitting.

As the game’s title suggests, Raiders of the North Sea solely focuses on sending out longships to foreign lands, attacking and pillaging, bringing back riches and honouring the dead who lost their lives along the way. All players live in the same Viking village and want to be the one who impresses the chieftain the most. It’s a game of one-upmanship really. You earn your chieftain’s respect in a number of different ways: attacking and raising foreign settlements to the ground, as well as offering your battle spoils to the chieftain who will reward you accordingly.

Viking Workers

Ultimately, Raiders of the North Sea is a worker placement game, with a bit of resource management and deck building thrown in. There is a bit of a twist though. Nobody owns any workers, even though everyone starts with one. On your turn, you place a worker on one of the available action slots in the village, then take back a different worker. You carry out both actions in that order, which leads to an interesting puzzle.

Sometimes you really need to activate two specific locations, but neither has a worker on it. That means you can only use one of the two worker spaces. Not only that, if you keep an eye on what everyone else is doing, you can create situations where the next player won’t be able to do what you think they were planning to do. It’s a twist on worker placement I hadn’t seen before.

There is another twist though. Workers come in three levels: basic, medium and skilled. Depending on which one is placed in an action space, the action will potentially be more powerful. Some actions are also only available to medium or skilled workers. Now, everyone starts with a basic worker. After a raid, you could return with a medium or even skilled worker. When you place your medium or skilled worker in the village, there may only be basic workers left for you to take. The next player can then take the medium or skilled worker you placed. After all, all of you live in the same village. It’s a simple, but really clever mechanism.

the townsfolk cards, offering tiles and other components from Raiders of the North Sea
the townsfolk cards, offering tiles and other components from Raiders of the North Sea (Photo courtesy of Garphill Games)

Raiding the North Sea

Your ultimate goal is to raid harbours, outposts, monasteries and fortresses and bring back rich spoils, while also collecting glory along the way. To do so, you need to hire a crew, have enough provisions to last the voyage and sometimes also bring gold along the way.

Your crew comes from a shared deck of townsfolk cards. Each townsfolk has different abilities, effects and battle strength and costs a different amount. Sometimes you want to employ townsfolk in the village to give you one-off effects, but most of the time you want to add them to your crew, where they not only add to the battle strength, but also provide additional effects. For example, some crew give you extra glory when you successfully raid certain locations. Others force your opponents to discard a card from their crew, if they die in battle. It creates another level of interest.

You can collect your provisions from certain locations in the village. The same is true for the money that you need to pay for your crew.

The spoil you bring back from your raids can then be used as offerings for the chieftain. However, you can’t just offer anything you like. There are three tiles available at any one point that show the combination of spoils you need and how much glory you will get in return. As soon as a player has completed one of these tiles, they get the points and the tile is discarded, being immediately replaced with a new one. So you have to be quick or you’ll miss out on points.

Quick and Dirty

Raiders of the North Sea can seem a bit overwhelming at first, but it is really quite easy. Setup in the physical game can be a pain, but I’ve only ever played it digitally. So I never had to worry about placing all the loot onto the board and seeding everything. I just had to click “play” and off I went.

Once you’ve taken a few turns, it’ll quickly all make sense and you can learn additional things as you go. In fact, I think the game does lead players along the way. There is not a lot you can do at the beginning of the game. You will try to collect provisions, earn money to buy crew and keep an eye on what places you can raid and how many points you’re likely to get. On your turn, you will be further limited in your choices based on what action spaces are free. So it’s not really overwhelming to play and it slowly ramps up from round to round. It’s almost like an engine-building game, but not really.

Raiders of the North Sea is really quite addictive. Every game does tend to feel very much the same, but you still want to give it another go. Maybe next time you can outwit your opponents and get the better loot. It’s quite weird. You feel like you have a lot of agency in the game and there is a fair bit of player interaction in the way that you all share workers. At the same time, there is also a lot of luck in what cards you draw and how the loot is distributed on the board. It’s a good balance though.

Happy Raiders

So, at the end of the day, Raiders of the North Sea is the sort of game I happily play any time. In fact, it’s on my wishlist of games to buy in physical form. I love playing against the AI in the digital version, but playing against real people face-to-face is certainly a lot more fun.


Transparency Facts

I feel that this review reflects my own, independent and honest opinion, but the facts below allow you to decide whether you think that I was influenced in any way.

  • I bought and paid for the game myself.
  • At the time of writing, neither the designers, nor the publisher, nor anyone linked to the game supported me financially or by payment in kind.

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (https://www.youtube.com/audiolibrary/)

The following music was used for this media project:
Music: Frost by Alexander Nakarada
Free download: https://filmmusic.io/song/10542-frost
License (CC BY 4.0): https://filmmusic.io/standard-license

The following music was used for this media project:
Music: Stöðvar by Alexander Nakarada
Free download: https://filmmusic.io/song/4753-stodvar
License (CC BY 4.0): https://filmmusic.io/standard-license