Full disclosure: A review copy of Shipwrights of the North Sea was provided by Renegade Game Studios.
Surprisingly, and I’m racking my brain to be sure, I haven’t played any viking games before. I guess not. Anyways, here’s one: Shipwrights of the North Sea! I’ll be tackling it along with the Townsfolk expansion and just reviewing them as one entity, as that’s the way I’ve been told to play this one. It’s part of the North Sea Runesaga, a set of related games that can be played from start to finish (sort of like Spy Club, but imagine with more games, or the Daemon Trilogy I / II / III, whenever that gets finished).
Anyways, in this one you’re trying to build the most impressive set of boats that the North Sea has ever … seen. Along the way you’ll have to hire craftspeople and protect your ships from being burned by angry opponents or villagers that don’t quite understand how to be helpful. Will you be able to fill the North Sea with your ships? Or is that just a fleeting dream?
Setup is surprisingly straightforward. Each player should take a player board:
And one of the gold ships:
Put that on 5. Now, give each player 3 Workers:
And give them two goods of their choice of the three types (Oak, Iron, Wool):
Set the Townsfolk Board nearby:
Now, shuffle the various cards:
Place the deck within view of all players. And give the starting player the Pioneer Token:
Once you’ve done that, you’re pretty much ready to start!
Basically, the game is played over several days, each having a Morning, Afternoon, and Evening. As you go through those days, you attempt to construct ships. The game ends at the end of a day in which a player has constructed their fourth ship.
This part’s simple. Essentially, the starting player should draw X + 1 cards from the deck, where X is the number of players. Draft them by taking one, and passing the rest to the player on your left, who takes one, passes them left, and so on. The last player should place the extra card face-down and discard it at the end of the day.
Once you’ve done that, repeat that bit two more times.
Now you have cards, which means you can take actions. You’ll always take at least three actions, since each card is associated with an action but there are some extra actions you can take that don’t require cards. You’ll always take your complete, three-card-and-any-extra-actions turn before another player gets to play a card. Let’s talk about each action you can perform.
You may add one of the four tools to the left side of your player board, provided you can pay the gold required to play it. Three of them essentially reduce a good cost for your next ship to 0; the fourth allows you to gain an extra good of each type the next time you buy a good of each type (see below). All tools are single-use.
Hiring a Craftsperson just involves you placing one of the Craftspeople below your player board:
You may only have four below your board at any time, you may have more than one of a certain type, and you cannot normally discard them. Don’t mess yourself up. These Craftspeople are essentially “goods” that are consumed when you build a boat. Each boat has certain requirements, as far as Craftspeople go.
Call on Townsfolk
As you can see, there are many types of Townsfolk. If you have one in your hand, you may play it to use its effect. Those effects are as follows:
- Assassin: Remove a Craftsperson from any player’s board, including your own.
- Barbarian: Remove a Boat from any player’s board, including your own.
- Conspirator: Move a Craftsperson from any player’s board to your board. You must have an open space below your board to play this card.
- Pioneer: Take the Pioneer Token. You will be the start player, next round.
- Mercenary: Gain 2 Gold. Every other player loses 2 Gold. No player can have more than 12 Gold or less than 0 Gold.
- Raider: Choose a player. They lose 1 Gold for each good they have stored on their player board. You gain none of it. You jerk.
- Berserker: Pay 5 Gold to destroy a player’s tool card. Discard that tool.
- Thief: Steal a good from an opponent’s player board.
- Watchman: Until the start of your next turn, you cannot be attacked. You discard this card at the start of your next turn.
- Chieftain: Draw 2 cards. Discard one and play the other. If you cannot or do not want to play either, discard both.
- Sage: Discard 1 or 2 cards from your hand to draw 1 or 2 new cards, respectively.
- Beggar: Return a Worker to the Supply to gain a good of your choice.
- Labourer: Gain a Worker.
- Merchant: Gain one or two goods depending on the card.
- Trader: Swap a good for any other good.
- King: Gain 5 Gold. You cannot have more than 12.
- Queen: Gain 3 Gold. You cannot have more than 12.
- Navigator: Gain 1 Gold for every player who took a turn before you.
If you cannot or do not want to play a Townsfolk card, you may discard it without effect.
Add Ship to Workshop
You may place any of these fine ships into Workshop A or B (whichever is unoccupied) to begin construction on it. If both are occupied, you cannot add any boats to your workshop this turn.
You cannot normally discard boats, so be thoughtful about what boats you want to build, as constructing them is expensive. More on that later.
You may spend Gold and workers to construct a building, placing it on the right side of your player board. Different buildings have different effects, but you can only build one of each type of building.
They all generally give you points, but the Boat House will give you two points for every boat you have with a non-military symbol on it, and the Market Hall gives you points equal to your Mill’s capacity – 8. Both worth considering.
Buy Goods (Extra)
So you may also buy goods from the Market. What’s the Market? It’s the back of the top card of the deck:
That means you can spend 2 Gold and 2 workers (it’s always 2 Gold and 2 workers) to get 2 Oak, 2 Wool, or 1 Iron from the Supply and add them to your Mill. Don’t worry about capacity, yet; it’s only enforced at the end of your turn.
Use Townsfolk Board
You may send one of your workers to any unoccupied space on the board to perform one of the five actions pictured here. I’ll explain them, left-to-right:
- Treat a Craftsperson as wild, for this turn. You may use a Craftsperson as any other Craftsperson for this turn.
- Discard cards for Gold. You may discard 1, 2, or 3 cards for 2, 3, or 5 Gold, respectively.
- Cycle the Market and gain a good. Discard the top card of the deck and gain a good of your choice.
- Reclaim workers. You may take all the workers on the Townsfolk board and put them on your player board, including the one you just placed. How handy! This is the only way to remove workers from the Townsfolk board. Just so you know.
- Discard a card or gain a Shield. You may discard a Boat or Craftsperson from your player board or take an available Shield token and place it on any Boat or Craftsperson. Any card with a Shield on it cannot be discarded by opponents. That’s handy, too.
You do not have to place a worker here on your turn; it’s extra. That said, you can only do this once per turn.
Construct Ship (Extra)
You may spend goods, workers, Gold, and Craftspeople to construct a ship. There are many different kinds of ships, as you saw earlier, but they will all give you different effects. Most give you points, the number in the top-right corner, but some are Military (Red), which give you a Military Score. Having a high Military Score is good.
Other boats will give you an extra gold per turn, increase or decrease your Mill capacity (allowing you to hold more or fewer goods), or increase or decrease the number of workers you get each turn.
Constructed boats are placed above your player board. When you construct your fourth boat, this will be the last round. After the Evening Phase, the game will end.
The Evening is mostly bookkeeping. Do these steps in the following order:
- Gain Gold. You gain 1 Gold for each worker you have (along with extra Gold you gain from boats).
- Gain Workers. You gain 2 Workers by default, but boats may increase or decrease that number.
- Check Capacity. Your Mill and Village can only hold 8 Goods (by default, though this can change) and workers, respectively. If you have more than the capacity, you must discard some to the Supply.
End of Day
If no player has completed their fourth boat, you keep playing. If no player played a Pioneer, pass the Start Player token to the left. The new Start Player starts again at the morning phase.
If at least one player has completed their fourth boat, move to Game End instead.
The Game ends at the end of a day in which at least one player has four completed boats. First, compare Military Scores (the number below the top-right corner, on the red part). The player with the highest total Military Score gains 3 points, in the form of these handy chits:
If there’s a tie, all tied players gain the bonus. You’re Vikings, not jerks.
Now, add up your Victory Points from Ships, Buildings, and the Military Bonus. The player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
I don’t really have a strong player count preference, though certain cards (such as Watchman) become a bit less useful at two players since only one other player can / will attack you. Generally speaking, the game has a lot more potential for players piling on one player (a thing I generally don’t like) as the player count increases. Technically, there are also more players for all other players to pile on, so, it’s possible that they won’t attack you?
That said, other players does tend to extend the game length, so I’ll probably stick with this at two or three.
- Treasury seems … pretty situational. I mean, you need to spend money to build it and then you still only max out at three points, same as spending all your money on a Fortress (but that’s guaranteed, non-fluctuating money). I don’t know if I’d go out of my way to build this one.
- Non-military ships are great … if you have a Boat House. If you don’t, then I’d just focus on Military ships to at least stay competitive with other players. Even if you have it, that three point bonus might be enough to edge you out of the win if you go a purely non-military strategy. Just something to note.
- Always keep a few workers handy. You don’t want to run out, because then it’s difficult to do things (and it’s hard to get money each round, which can be a real drag). One of the best ways to get more workers is to just take them from the Townsfolk board, as long as you’re not doing anything else that turn.
- At higher player counts, being the Start Player is a huge benefit. You essentially get to sift through 18 cards and pick the best of 6, three times. That’s a LOT of cards to look through. It may not be a bad idea to keep trying to take that Pioneer, if you can, each round. Just remember that there’s only one in the deck.
- You need to build at least one expensive boat. Generally I see scores of 10+ in the winning area, so if you’re only building small boats and trying to rush the end of the game, unfortunately, friend, you’re not going to have enough points by the end. Someone will always get a least one big boat before you get four small boats, and then you’re really stuck. As you might guess from a strategy section, I do not recommend ending the game if you’re positive that you’re going to lose. That’s … not good strategy.
- You can use the Berserker, I guess. I’ve never seen anyone use it, though I suppose it’s helpful if you really want to wreck another player’s boat construction turn. It’s just never been that situationally useful for us, especially since there’s only one. Your mileage may vary, here. Let me know in the comments if you’ve ever managed to wreck someone with it.
- To counter, Tools are really useful if you’re building high-value ships. You usually can’t hold that many goods, so being able to ignore that requirement for building can often get you the points you need to really turn the game around.
- If you’re going to play a Watchman, playing it when you’re Start Player is pretty good. It essentially buys you two rounds — one where every player goes after you, and then one where every player goes before you. It’s definitely solid if you’re worried about boats.
- The Townsfolk board is useful. Utilize it. Being able to swap Craftspeople means you should probably be using Conspirators less (unless you just want to be a jerk), for instance, or you can use that market manipulation to hopefully set yourself up for a better purchase (or use it to block and wreck your opponent who was clearly depending on taking that space or buying goods based on the old market).
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- The art is super cool. It’s very striking and colorful. I quite like it! I generally like heavy use of blues, but the high-saturation and bright colors works well with my photography aesthetic, as well.
- The insert is solid. It holds the cards very well, which I really appreciate, and all the pieces can be slotted in as well. Is it the best insert I’ve ever seen? No. Does it get the job done nicely? Yes, I’d definitely say that.
- I really like the market mechanic. Having to deal with the backs of the cards is nice. I’m slightly worried that some enterprising player who doesn’t care about the spirit of the game may try to use that to narrow down what cards are in other players’ hands or something, which is annoying, but I’d like to think that nobody would actually do that.
- It’s … not terribly complicated to learn? The actual mechanics of the game aren’t particularly complicated; it’s the details that kind of drive players down. I usually gloss over most of them for a player’s first game, which helps.
- A lot of the game’s pace feels slow because things are very expensive and it’s tough to earn resources at a steady pace and hold on to them. It can feel like not much is happening, which makes the game feel like it’s longer than it needs to be, at times. I think I would enjoy the game a bit more if it were shorter.
- The symbology is a bit inconsistent. It seems like it would be worth modifying the +Gold symbol and the +Worker symbol to be consistent (since right now the +Worker and +Mill Capacity / -Worker and -Mill Capacity symbols are consistent with each other, which confuses new players because they think that a +Worker boat increases the Village Capacity, not the number of workers they get each turn).
- Bad luck can make the game a bit frustrating. We had a few rounds at the start of a couple games where we drew literally 0 boats. Since the point of the game is building boats, this left some of us vaguely irritated because we didn’t really get that many Buildings, either. That’s how it goes, sometimes, but still, meh.
- The Player Aids are not particularly helpful. It says what the boats are and what Craftsmen you need, sure, but it doesn’t say how many goods you need for them, making it useless to try to plan ahead with that information. Also, it would be nice to have a like, quick reference of some kind for Townsfolk / the Day on a card somewhere so that players could see it? It’s kind of odd that the Player Aids have blank back sides.
- There are so many Townsfolk. I tried explaining them all to a group once and it stressed them out, so I didn’t do that again. I usually just tell them that Townsfolk can affect every part of the board and let them check it out when they see the cards. It means they’re not prepared for everything, but it also cuts a solid 5+ minutes off of my rules explanation time. It would be nice if there were just … fewer of them, for practical explanation reasons.
- A bit too aggressive for my tastes. I don’t like spending a ton of time building up my boat only for my tool to be burnt right before I construct it, meaning that I get set back a turn or three. It just feels like a way to brew frustration at the table rather than enthusiasm. If you have a group that’s cool with that, go for it, but I like Sol’s approach of allowing it but requiring explicit opt-in from all players rather than making aspects of that conflict a core part of the game.
Overall: 6.5 / 10
Overall, Shipwrights of the North Seas is a decent game, in my opinion. I really think the art style is quite striking and the market mechanic is super interesting, but I find some aspects of the gameplay frustrating, as you spend a fairly long time building up resources only to have them burnt down by other players. If you make a serious mistake, you could get hit with a major setback or get ganged up on. Unfortunately, that’s a major component of the game; you need to burn a ship or assassinate a Craftsperson if you want to be able to stave off your opponent’s fleet. As a result, I think that this is a great game for people who enjoy a lot of head-to-head combat and trying to plan a strategy amidst some aggressive player actions, and I still think it’s solid enough to occasionally play (the extra actions from the Expansion board help), but I wish it were a bit quicker to gain resources so that the game didn’t last quite as long. That said, if you’re looking for a neat game with a cool market mechanic and you like the art style, this might be worth checking out!