Even Medieval Vikings couldn’t escape life’s rat race. I mean Scandinavia had but two seasons: Raiding Season and Living off Raiding’s Spoils Season. I mean, right? Each Raiding Season they’d pile into their longboats, sail off to another’s place to take their stuff, and return home to survive the long cold months of Living off Raiding’s Spoils Season. Oh, sure, they might do some trading and slay epic monsters along the way. But they usually hit up all the same haunts along the usual routes. Round in circles, year after year. Talk about a rut.
How To Play
In Raids players go a viking. They’ll ply familiar trade waters in their longboats seeking commerce and renown by picking up spoils, goods and glorious adventures at various ports along the way. Where you stop is up to you and while no other Norse bands contest your locales, the rewards can be bountiful, indeed!
The central element in Raids is a communal rondel that represents the sea lanes you’ll sail for goods and adventure. Each Jarl begins at the old home place and there are sixteen locations circumnavigating the board, leading right back to port, sweet port. These spots are randomly seeded with voyage tiles to begin a round. Each player starts their journeys with a number of vikings on their longship boards, as determined by player order, and then the raider in the back of the pack always moves next.
At the start of your move, you first take the voyage tile at that location, which means no other players contested you for its spoils. Then any remaining tiles in port locations between you and the next player (except at the start of a new round) are discarded. This prevents stragglers from freely cherry-picking and racking up all the goodies. Your boat would probably sink under all that weight, anyway, right?
Then you may move. Simply pick any port in front of you that still has a voyage tile. It might be the next location. Or you could sail all the way around back home. There are some spots you cannot land – three of them permanent locales, while some are actual voyage tiles themselves. In either case, these are designated by arrows. Instead of weighing anchor (or the Viking equivalent), you must pass on. However, there is still some action to resolve as you sail by – you either receive something nice…or must prepare to fight!
When you land at a port, finishing your move, you do not yet take the tile located there! You only earn it if no other raiding parties behind you decide to muscle in and contest your for it. Any time two or more longboats occupy the same port, a fight ensues. The instigator begins by discarding one viking from their longboat. If the other party wishes to continue, they will discard two warriors. Then the original aggressor must spend three and so on, back and forth, until one combatant can no longer afford the casualties, or doesn’t wish to spend any more. The loser then must sail on to a new location. Of course the victor may not immediately win the spoils there. If anyone is behind them, there’s a chance a new battle could rage there very soon!
If you do gain a tile, there are two places it can end up. Gathering runes uses no space on your boat…just set them aside. The more of them you collect, the more points you earn. As for most of the other tiles, you’ll need to make space in your boat and you only have five sections. Sails (which garner more Vikings at the end of the round), axes (which help you defeat monsters), Mjolnir banners and goods all take up room. Some of them decrease the number of your longboat’s shields, which limit the number of warriors that can sail with you. You begin the quest with two per section, so a maximum of ten Vikings.
Aside from their currency in battling opponents, you’ll also need them to defeat beasts. When you pass a monsters tile, you must either sacrifice one warrior (if you have any) to move past it. Or you can spend a number of viking meeples equal to the beast’s strength (less one per axe you carry aboard) to take the tile and earn that number of points at the end of the game. It’s value is equal to its strength.
Then there are goods. These remain in your boat and take up lots of space, i.e., you cannot assign warriors to that section as long as it remains. Though it may limit your fighting numbers, it’s usually worth it as it can be lucrative. Remember, Vikings were traders just as much as pillagers! To trade the goods, you’ll need stop later at a port tile. The same rules apply…you must wait until the start of your next move to actually nab the tile, thus giving others behind you a chance to steal it away. When you do earn the token, it will allow you to “sell” one or two goods tiles on your ship. No money is actually involved. Just stack all of the affected tiles beside your boat and you’ll earn points as indicated on the goods.
A round ends when each Jarl has returned home. There are bonus coins (more points) awarded to players based on who has the most of a certain category voyage tiles and/or who reached port first. Then all of the locations on the rondel are seeded with new tiles – stacks are numbered by round, with values generally increasing. After four complete rounds, the Viking with the most points collected from rune sets, monsters, banners, goods and coins wins.
A Great Dane? Or Have You Taken Leif of Your Senses?
Raids wears a bit of a disguise. Not quite all made up like Lon Chaney, the Man of Thousand Faces in the silent movie era, but gussied up enough to seem to pull a bait-and-switch. Not that I’m saying is disingenuous. Still, it uses the Norse setting and thematic flavor to cover up what is essentially an auction design. Yeah, it has sweet looking Viking meeples and you’ll send plenty of them off to Valhalla while fighting the other players. Yet, it’s simple numbers in a bidding war over taking the choicest spots.
That said, it’s a good auction game, as long as you know what you’re getting into. There are a few elements that create nice tension points. The first is the often not-so-simple decision of where to stop when you know others are behind you. If you visit a particular port in hopes of taking its tile, you may be sweating a little until each longboat has passed by on its merry way, leaving you the spoils. Sometimes there isn’t much risk involved. For example, if you don’t have the warriors to challenge other comers (and everyone knows it) then you’ll just force an opponent to dump a Viking so they can take your spot before you slink away to a new location. No harm to you, but perhaps there was an off-chance others weren’t interested, and pass on, after all.
If you do have an adequate raiding band aboard, then it’s a little more nerve-wracking, because you’re never quite sure what the tile may end up costing you. Will it be worth what you have to pay in warriors? Or should you cut your losses and the opportunity in the interest of conserving strength? Then again, maybe another player just wants to whittle you down a little, forcing you to discard some meeples before calling their bluff? Indeed, the potential to bluff offers is another small tension point. It’s not always an option since your “currency” is limited, but when you have a little extra armour jingling, maybe you want toy with your foes?
That limited currency is a second tension point. Depending on your turn order, you begin with anywhere from one to four meeples. Once spent, there are only a couple ways to add more. You pass three fixed locations around the board which add one meeple each. And there are a few tiles which grant two or one swordsmen to players on a first come, first serve basis as you sail by. And everyone gets one additional viking to start a new round, plus one for every sail on their boat. But it doesn’t add up to a lot. Planning on how to stretch that budget can be an interesting and rewarding element to any auction design.
Compounding that restricted resource are the monster tiles. Having to essentially kill off a meeple just for passing by is frustrating. Especially given the fact they’re already in low supply. Yet, there may not be any option. You might simply not have the warriors to face the challenge. If you can defeat it, then the balance is weighed determining whether you want to go ahead and spend the warriors for the guaranteed points…or reserve your swords for further down the road…or is that seas lanes?
Points are nice. In fact, they’re kind of the goal of the game. Yet sailing around with a big stick to ward off, bluff or intimidate others opens up your options, too.
Aside from the bidding element, the remaining decision point lies in which tiles to target. Here trading is an interesting and potentially lucrative option, but also fraught with some risk, as it requires two stops to pull bag the points. Goods tiles are worthless and just clutter up the boat until you can “win” a port tile later. Alas, there aren’t a great number of them throughout the game. And when you have goods, everyone knows it! Therefore they are often the most hotly contested locations. So ensuring you can make them pay off is yet a further element in balancing your little raiding party.
Of course, there are other ways to nab victory or aid your efforts. Aside from the sails to increase your warparty, you can take axes to defeat beasts more easily. Runes, Mjolnirs and banners are straight points, as is another tile that awards a coin to the first two raiders passing by. It’s a surprising variety for a smaller game of its weight and complexity.
Unfortunately, the design’s overarching issue is that the combination of turn order to begin a round coupled with the random distribution of voyage tiles heavily impacts play – almost hijacking it. If multiple favorable pass-by tiles fill out the initial locales, the first player can snatch up several goodies before making that all-important decision of when to stop.
Or conversely, if those attractive bonus tiles end up in the middle to latter parts of the route, it usually benefits those going last. In that case, the first players don’t want to pass up too much to get the free goodies, winding up even further along the trade route without much to show for it. Whereas those behind may not be strong enough yet to contest the first players, and so need to move on, just grab the freebies. The result is that often times, optimal moves seem a little obvious just by the lay of the land, negating the design’s otherwise choice driven angst. At least sessions are quick, so the shortcoming isn’t a non-starter.
A second drawback is lack of scaling. I cannot recommend the two-player variant at all. It utilizes an impotent ghost longship that moves automatically and which you cannot engage, nor does it take any of the goodies or monsters from pass-by tiles. Three-player sessions work, but aren’t as satisfying. As an auction game, the third bystander observing combat is generally set up nicely after any significant bidding war between the other two. Four players provide the most interesting interaction and competition.
Production-wise, the components are first rate. No publisher beats Iello in art, look and visuals. The illustrations are brilliant, thanks to incomparable illustrator Biboun. The tiles and longboat boards work efficiently and intuitively. The bonus coins are heavy metal and decorative. And even the Viking meeples are detailed and delicately cut, but not flimsy.
Raids is a straightforward game that moves along at a smart pace, welcomingly finishing up in under an hour. That briskness serves the design well, else its roteness would grow wearily repetitive. That speed also helps to dampen the influential combination of player order vis-a-vis the random distribution of voyage tiles, which heavily impacts the outcome, stopping just short of hijacking gameplay. In the end, Raids is an auction game, Viking-style, disguised by combat, in which the locations you decide to visit and/or contest provide some tension, angst and interaction. You won’t feel the spray of sea water upon your face or the Berserker bloodrage coursing through your veins. But you’ll likely let out a Skol! or two…
Iello provided a copy of Raids for this review.