I had no idea this game existed when I first heard of Raiders of the North Sea. There was not a whole lot of buzz about Shipwrights of the North Sea by Shem Phillips and Garphill Games. When I backed the Kickstarter for Explorers of the North Sea, I went ahead and threw in Shipwrights. Was this game a surprise hit for me? Lets find out….
Publisher: Garphill Games
Designer: Shem Phillips
Players: 2-5 Vikings
Time: 60 minutes
It is the early years in the Viking Era. Each player is trying to amass the grandest fleet of war vessels. Being from the same village has its challenges as all of you are trying to call upon the same town folk to help you with your quest. The player who is able to build his ships the best while making life hard on the others will be the winner of Shipwrights of the North Sea.
Shipwrights of the North Sea is a card game with a bit of action selection. Each player will get a player mat and some starting goods; 3 workers, 5 gold and 2 resources of their choice. The resources are iron, wool and oak. How else would you build ships?
The game will take place over a series of rounds. Each round has a morning, afternoon and evening phase. The morning phase consists of each player getting 3 cards. The cards are decided by a drafting mechanism. The first player will draw cards equal to the amount of players plus 1. For example, in a four player game he will draw five cards. He will choose one of those cards and pass the rest to the player on his left. Do this a total of three times so each player has three cards discarding the final card.
The afternoon phase is where players will perform all of their actions. Each player, starting with the first, will perform all of their actions until everyone is done. You must play ALL your cards or discard them, you cannot hold cards over to the following round…..this will happen more often than you would like!! The cards come in all different varieties. There are buildings, tools, boats, craftsmen and town folk. Each type of card has their benefits. The buildings give you end game scoring, the tools allow you to construct a ship with less resources. The craftsmen are needed to meet the minimum requirements to build certain boats. The town folk give you a special action that you can use when you play it and of course the boats you need to build in order to win. You can also at any time during your turn go to the market by spending 2 workers and 2 gold. The current market is what is shown on the card at the top of the draw pile, which can change mid round!!!
After the afternoon phase is the evening phase. This is when you receive income. You get one worker plus any extra from your built ships, based on their icons. One gold plus one for each craftsmen you have in play and that is it!
Play continues until someone has built their fourth ship. Once that happens the game ends and everyone counts their points. You get points for your boats, buildings and if you have the highest military an extra 3 points. The player with the most points is the winner.
The art for this game is in a class of its own, or the same class with the rest of the North Sea games! The other components are just fine. The player mats could be made a bit thicker. The iron is actually stone meeples. The biggest concern for me is the player mats. It is not always understood where to play your craftsmen, tools and buildings. Something on the mat to give us that information would have been great. The worker meeples are great also.
There are some really nice mechanisms going on in this game that keep its score high for me. I really love the tightness of the game. You will not score more than 20 points unless the people you play with are completely oblivious to what is going on. Every turn is a struggle. I really like the fluctuating market. The market is based on the top card of the draw deck. It might show three wool, two oak and one iron this round but next round only one wool, three oak and two iron. Not only that but it could change in mid round. If someone plays a town folk who allows them to draw a card, then the next card sets the market. You might want the three wool but someone ahead of you draws a card and now there is only one wool available. It messes with you more than you would think. I really like how it keeps you on your toes. I like the drafting at the start of each round. It keeps things interesting….good and bad (more on that in strategy). Over all I really like the mechanisms in this game!
Here is where I think things could have been better. First off the drafting. I like the drafting but more times than not…..you will get crap! It seems like every round after the first couple you will get one or two and possibly 3 cards that do nothing for you. AND, those were the best ones to take. Especially if you are the last player of the round….prepare to do nothing since you only have two cards to choose from. I get the strategy….it is just hard to keep your strategy! The next issue is the scoring…..this game should be all about building ships but it kinda isn’t. You can win this game without building the most ships…..I’ve done it! If you have the right building and boat combo, you can win by only building 2 ships. It seems that having the best fleet is not the best way to play. Now, saying that……you still have to build ships and getting the right craftsmen with the right ship and resources is a chore in itself!
There is not a whole lot of replayability in this game for me. Each game is going to feel the same and in the end you are doing the same things over and over…..building ships. That’s not to say it’s a bad game but not sure it will be played often. The game seems a little long for what it is also. If it was a 30 minute game, I could see it being played more.
Final Thoughts: 12/20
Well, this wasn’t a hidden gem that I was hoping it was going to be. I like the game for what it is and some of the mechanisms it brings. I just don’t see myself playing it often. When my wife and I got done playing it the first thing she said was, “That was not very fun!” I am hoping she will give it another try because I do think it has potential. I will keep it for the sole reason that it belongs to a bigger set, The North Sea Trilogy. If it wasn’t tied to those I would not keep it for long. Shipwrights of the North Sea is a solid beginning entry game to the Trilogy but as a stand alone game it’s not quite up to par.