Explorers of the North Sea

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Explorers of the North Sea is set in the latter years of the Viking Age. As ambitious sea captains, players seek out new lands to settle and control. They will need to transport their crew among the newly discovered islands to capture livestock, construct outposts and fulfill various other goals. So ready the longships, there are new horizons to explore!
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  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You Might Like

  • Beautiful art and components
  • Unique map every game
  • Multiple ways to score

Might Not Like

  • No direct interaction
  • Little variation in strategies
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Explorers of the North Sea is set in the latter years of the Viking Age. As ambitious sea captains, players seek out new lands to settle and control. They will need to transport their crew among the newly discovered islands to capture livestock, construct outposts and fulfill various other goals. So ready the longships, there are new horizons to explore!

Gameplay Overview
Each player starts with 7 Vikings and a Longboat on a shared, central Island. From there players will place tiles and begin to venture out to the newly discovered Islands.
Proceeding clockwise from the starting player, each player takes their turn in full. On their turn, players first place 1 of their 3 tiles, expanding the game board. They can then take up to 4 actions (any number of the following): 1. Load Longship
2. Unload Longship + Deliver Livestock
3. Move Longship + Destroy an Enemy Ship
4. Move Vikings + Raid a Settlement
5. Transport Livestock
6. Construct an Outpost (costs 2 actions)

After taking their actions, players draw a new tile to their hand, ending their turn.

End of the Game
The game ends immediately after the turn where the player holding the Winter Token has no more Tiles in hand. This should be exactly 48 turns (there are 48 Tiles). Victory Points are gained from: 1. Delivered Livestock
2. Constructed Outposts
3. Destroyed Enemy Ships
4. Raided Settlements
5. Viking Deaths
6. Controlled Islands
7. Captain Cards

The player with the highest total is the winner!


Shem Phillips is on fire right now! His West Kingdom trilogy met with critical acclaim and, before that, Raiders of the North Sea took worker placement fans by storm. Raiders’ younger sibling, Explorers of the North Sea, is perhaps a little less well-known. Explorers is a pick up and deliver game with modular board that came out in 2016 completing the North Sea Trilogy. If you’re a fan of Garphill Games’ other titles then you’ll want to check out this 1-5 player offering that’s full to the gunnels of pillaging, exploring and eye-wateringly gorgeous island building!

Explorers of the North Sea box

How to Explore the North Sea

As mentioned, the map in Explorers is modular and made up of 48 hex tiles. Each turn, you will lay a landscape tile into the map, ensuring all coastlines line up, and then take up to 4 actions. You can move, load cargo or crew, deliver said cargo, raid settlements or build outposts. Every tile contains sea, land, and one resource or point scoring opportunity, which will be placed out on the tile as it’s laid. Each Viking warlord (that’s me and you!) will have to decide how best to take advantage of these opportunities, taking into account each warrior’s unique player power. The 3 spaces in your longboat will never seem enough as you gather livestock, manoeuvre your warriors to pillage settlements, plunder ships and establish control over the beautiful and unique island archipelagos created each game.

All players start from the mainland board, of which there are two (and they’re double sided for even more variable board set up). You’ll sail your ship back and forth to and from the mainland delivering livestock there and picking up more crew, so there’s plenty of opportunity to explore the whole board. Explorers of the North Sea provides something of a point salad, as sets of unique animals, raided settlements, lost crew, plundered ships and controlled islands all provide endscoring VP.

Viking craftsmanship

The aesthetics of Explorers of the North Sea are out of this world. The art by The Mico will be instantly recognisable to fans of either Raiders of the North Sea or the West Kingdom trilogy. The style and characters flow seamlessly from Raiders into Explorers, as you would expect from a publisher that offers a campaign mode (Runesaga) in which you play all 3 games together. The tiles are beautiful and illustrated so that the modular board lines up perfectly and is an absolute masterpiece every game. The horn-helmeted Viking Meeples are the same as those used in raiders; the longboats and animeeples though are new and fantastically cute and well crafted. Even the settlement and ship tokens are excellent quality. Garphill Games do not scrimp on quality and Explorers is no exception.

Explorers of the North Sea board

Sail and deliver!

This game has aspects of many mechanisms. Tile laying and area control are integral facets for sure. The chief mechanic has to be pick up and deliver though. Collecting the various animals dotted around the map and dumping them back to the mainland is a mainstay. Along with getting all your landlocked Viking buddies out onto the map to do what they do best, you’ll feel like a veritable barbarian Uber driver!

Explorers of the North Sea requires you to be very flexible with your strategy, as the map is constantly evolving and being affected by your fellow plunderers. This dynamic nature of the game keeps everyone engaged even on their off turns, as they keep an eye on available opportunities and opponent incursions. I really like this opportunistic feel and it gives a sense of sharing the experience in a game that otherwise has very little direct interaction. In fact, in a two player game, there are enough tiles that you never compete for anything. To score well and really enjoy the game, however, you’ve got to cross paths at least once or twice. Wrangle a horse here, drop an outpost there, make them commit more forces on this island so you can capitalise on that island! That’s where the game comes alive and the excitement builds even though the interaction is indirect.

Jarl of all trades

So, there’s no direct conflict. There are however plenty of point scoring opportunities on the board to compete over. While favouring one particular path can pay dividends, to score competitively you really need to have a finger in all these different pies, or at least most of them. Your personal player bonus will no doubt encourage you to lean in a certain direction. All the games I’ve played have been super tight-scoring, so these little character bonuses can make all the difference to end scores. But it’s not the sort of game where you can try radically different strategies each game. Every play is enjoyable but similar; in other words, you’ll lay tiles to give you the most effective route for collecting and delivering all these point-scoring resources as they appear. It’s a game of efficiency and logistics rather than combos and synergies.

Explorers of the North Sea board

Final Thor…ts – Explorers of the North Sea

Explorers of the North Sea is a visually stunning game. Unlike many games with modular boards, the setup is quick and easy due to laying the board as you play. It doesn’t do anything particularly novel with its mechanisms, unlike Raiders’ unique take on worker placement. Explorers is however executed very smoothly and enjoyably. Creating the map as you play is so pleasant and the end result is always really satisfying to see. The modular nature and ridiculous number of hexes gives insane physical replayability, even if the strategic replayability is rather limited. The game is lighter in complexity than Raiders of the North Sea, but by no means unpleasantly so. It’s a fine mix of pick up and deliver and area control mechanics that chugs along at a good pace and doesn’t outstay its welcome at the table. The inclusion of a solo variant is always appreciated and this mode is very smooth and enjoyable. If you enjoy the puzzley side of board games rather than the aggressively competitive, knock-each-other’s-teeth-out end of the spectrum, then you’ll enjoy the efficiency puzzle provided by the game’s twisting sea lanes and myriad scoring options.

Explorers Of The North Sea!

I have been completely captivated by the Garphill Games trilogies ever since I found out about them. I really enjoyed Architects of the West Kingdom as it had a few twists on the worker placement genre, as you could capture other people’s workers, exploit the black market and support morally questionable institutions. After that, I was hooked and I wanted to explore all the worlds. I love the character artwork and the symbols that act as a common thread through the games.

The North Sea trilogy came out first and brought Garphill Games into the limelight. A lot of the mechanisms in later games were introduced in this trilogy. I love how the trilogies play with different game mechanics and designs. Explorers of the North Sea is a tile and worker placement game. It’s probably one of the simplest games of these trilogies, so a good starting point for those getting into games if you want to try something with a fun take on historical themes. So let’s see how Explorers of the North Sea holds up as a solo experience.

Exploration Awaits

In the initial set up, you’re told to remove the Queen and Scout player boards as they have competitive goals. In the solo game, you’re playing for a high score.

To set up you select two character boards which will give you your goals Explorers Of The North Sea. Here I have the Archer and Cartographer. At the end of the game you only score one of them. So depending on the tiles you draw, you decide which of these end game goals would be best. The character boards are a good way to switch up the way you play and the goals you’re trying to reach.

You place your vikings and longship at the starting island. I do love the little boat, it’s adorable. Each turn you’ll flip over three tiles and place two of them, with the game ending when you’ve gone through all the tiles. As it goes with tile placement games, it has to be a legal placement, water to water and land to land. If you reveal a tile with an enemy ship, animals or a settlement you place a ship token (face down), an animal meeple or settlement marker (face down) on the map.

Like in the multiplayer games you have a variety of actions (of which you take four per turn):

● Board/get out of your longship

● Move your longship

● Load animals

● Fight enemy ships

● Overtake settlements

● Construct outposts (which counts as two actions)

And all of these actions allow you to score points, from unique sets of animals to vikings killed in battle to overpowering settlements. So it’s a point salad for scoring this game. But all this info is handily on the character boards.

Throughout the game, it’s lovely to see your map grow and getting that perfect piece to complete your island or sail to that distant land. Obviously transporting the animal meeples back to the home base is very satisfying too. It probably goes without saying that a viking has to sail the ship with an animal (they can’t make it themselves).

As you have limited actions, when you get to the crunch point of the game you have tougher decisions to make about whether you plunder a settlement or make an outpost as more and more options open up on the map. Since your timer is the ticking down of tiles, you know you can’t do everything.

Docking Your Longship

So by the end of the game you’ll have used all the tiles, got a variety of victory points for defeating enemies, dead vikings (which is a little morbid), overtaken settlements and collections of little animals. If you don’t like point salads, this won’t be for you.

Naturally with this publisher, the components are lovely. The tiles have a nice finish and all the meeples are great. While the character boards are on the thinner side, it’s not a big deal. All around a very tactile game, that’s easy to set up and tear down.

Naturally the competitive element in a multiplayer game can’t be there, so you’ll need to get some people together to fight over the islands with your vikings and outposts. Since this is a significant part of the multiplayer game, the solo experience is pretty different. It’s still fun, you just play in a different way. As it usually goes with solo games, it’s a great way to learn the game and discover different ways to play. The character cards add a different dimension to each game, and it’s just great art. If you want to try another tile laying game, this is a very satisfying one to play solo.

Zatu Score


  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You might like

  • Beautiful art and components
  • Unique map every game
  • Multiple ways to score

Might not like

  • No direct interaction
  • Little variation in strategies