We've had a few board games sitting on our shelf for a few months waiting for a day to get extra players, and one we wanted to play badly was Explorers Of The North Sea. This is one of the few we've received from Renegade Game Studio, who have a great habit of creating fun games that also seem to have a ton of institutions behind them. I managed to snag three others for a full game to see how this one shaped up.
Explorers Of The North Sea is a four-player game where you and three others play as different tribes of the same Viking settlement. Your goal is to explore the ocean in front of you and forge a new path for your clan. You do this in four different ways: collecting animals, fighting ships, raiding settlements, and claiming lands. At the end of the game, you tally up who gained the most resources of all four areas and declare a winner by seeing who has the most points.
At the start, you each choose a different personality as the leader of your group. Each one has a different kind of bonus to their character sheet, as you see below, the Trader gets additional VP (victory points) for every three livestock they deliver. Other characters get bonuses for ships defeated or lands conquered or other abilities. Everyone draws sea tiles from a pile and at the start of their turn, places a new one down on the board, creating the ocean in front of you to explore. No two oceans will ever be the same as the six sides all have different resources and land masses.
As you make your way out, you'll need to use ships with at least two people on them to take care of the quests. Conquering lands needs multiple people to make it happen while bringing in livestock just requires an extra space on the boat for the animal. You'll have to decide what's more important at any given time, as you only have four moves per turn in order to make things happen. If you fail to make an objective happen in your turn, you'll have to wait untilit'ss your turn again, at which point someone else could have taken your objective from you.
Livestock is probably the lowest end of the spectrum, but the easiest to do as it requires you to only go fetch animals and bring them back. Ships are the second hardest as you just fight them and see whether or not you end up losing a man on your boat. Settling is the third as you'll need to find unoccupied land and claim it first by putting up a home. The fourth is taking over land from already settled encampments, which requires a certain number of men to make it happen.
After a while, the map will become so massive that you'll end up spending multiple turns at sea before being able to return to the homeland with the single boat you have available. This can become disconcerting as the game eventually ends when there are no more tiles to add to the board. You'll need to make a lot of tough decisions and eventually determine what kind of explorer you want to be in order to make great things happen for you and gain the most VP. Once you've determined all of the VPs that everyone has, you can declare a winner.
I really enjoyed Explorers Of The North Sea as it becomes a pretty quick game once you understand the rules. It takes about 45 minutes to play a single game, and can be shortened to 30 minutes when everyone has a handle on how to play it. It's simple enough for event kids to get. The only problem with it is understanding the rules of engagement when it comes to taking turns and land, so the best rule-of-thumb we can give is to appoint someone to always be in charge of the rules and refernece them as you go. We highly recommend the game for casual play, especially if you like the idea of conquering as Vikings.