Jonathan Franklin: Review of Explorers of the North Sea:  Rocks of Ruin

Image result for rocks of ruin explorers

Explorers of the North Sea: Rocks of Ruin (expansion)

Designed by Shem Phillips

Art by The Mico (Mihajlo Dimitrievski)

Published by Garphill Games, Renegade Game Studios, Schwerkraft-Verlag

Players – 1 to 5

Time: 60-80 on the box (but our games all ran 75-90)

Expansion from Renegade Game Studios, Base Game from my collection

All images courtesy of Renegade Game Studios
So, the North Sea was not exciting enough before?  Well, it sure is now.

Up front, I am a Shem Phillips fan.  I have a bunch of his games, from Linwood (plus expansion) to Explorers of the North Sea.  Raiders of the North Sea is a family favorite for its clean and interesting design, even before you add expansions.

Explorers of the North Sea is a tile placement pick-up and deliver game that fits into 40-60 minutes.  As such I would call it superfiller. It feels less deep than Raiders, which is fine because it fills a different niche.

If you already know Explorers, skip to the heading Rocks of Ruin.

In short, Explorers is very clean design.  After 48 tiles have been placed, you score based on islands controlled, livestock returned to your home, outposts constructed, enemy ships sunk, settlements raided, etc.  One nice touch is that because they are vikings, if they die when attacking an enemy ship, you have fewer vikings for the rest of the game, but those who died go to Valhalla and earn you end game points.

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Each turn is place a hex tile to expand the map, place relevant tokens on the newly placed hex (animals, settlement tokens, and enemy ships), take up to four actions, then draw a new tile.

You can spend your four actions each turn to

  1. Load livestock and/or vikings from land to your boat
  2. Unload livestock and/or vikings from your boat to land
  3. Move your ship to an adjacent hex connected by water
  4. Move one or two vikings to an adjacent hex connected by land
  5. Move one viking and one livestock to an adjacent hex connected by land
  6. Construct an outpost at the intersection of three hexes (with two of your vikings on the neighboring three hexes, some limitations, & it takes two actions)

The game zips along, as each turn takes maybe a minute and there are a fixed number of tiles.  Note of thanks to all game designers who permit you to draw your tile at the end of the turn, rather than at the beginning – saves a ton of downtime.

Rocks of Ruin

Rocks of Ruin (RoR) supersizes Explorers.  If you want to play Explorers with five players, run to get this expansion.  One benefit of a tile based game timer is that the game runs just as long no matter how many players.  Each player just gets fewer turns.

In the expansion, RoR, you get beautiful player mats that match the base game, new buildings beyond outposts that give you special abilities, a few more variable power starting captains, and more hexes.

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There are two new types of hexes, and these are the heart of the new systems.  Fortresses are super-settlements.  Surrounded on all sides by land, they require 5 vikings to successfully attack and you may lose 0, 1, or 2 vikings to Valhalla while scoring 4-6 points. There are three fortress tiles, but five fortress tokens, so you never know exactly what you will find there.

The other new tile type is Shipwrecks.  They offer supplies that did not exist in the base game. Timber (10x) is used for building the new buildings, Gold (4x) is 3vps at end game, provisions (4x) get you two immediate extra actions, and battering rams (6x) let you attack a settlement or fortress with one fewer viking.

Rocks of Ruin 1.jpg

To add fortresses and shipwrecks to the base game, the expansion comes with 24 new tiles, bringing the total to 72 tiles.

The three new actions are fairly self explanatory.

  1. Salvage from a shipwreck
  2. Raid a fortress
  3. Spend a timber to build one of the three new buildings
    1. Mill – You may deliver livestock here instead of going home (this is a necessary feature for the livestock strategy, as the map is much larger than in the base game)
    2. Workshop – You can now build outposts with only one viking present, instead of two. You have only five outposts for the whole game and they earn points and help with area control of islands.
    3. Barracks – When you move across land you may move up to three vikings for one action, which helps to get to fortresses, which require more vikings to raid than settlements).

Enough of the bits & rule summary, what did I think?

I love Mico’s art and it shines here, meshing well with the base game as well as bringing the vivid blues and greens of the series alive.  There are six kinds of animals in the game and we had a hard time telling some of the animals apart, esp. brown and black, but that might be my poor lighting.

I liked the greater complexity – I have a weakness for exploration games, but the base game was a bit too streamlined.  There were not many aha moments. With the expansion, the fortresses take more coordination, and synergize well with the new barracks building.

I liked the race aspect where two players might be able to get to some juicy target, but it often felt like tiles were placed where only the player placing could gain the benefit and/or there was hate placement to cut someone off, forcing them to backtrack.  I think this is because the rules are very open about tile placement – only one side of the hex has to match up with an existing tile. In two games, the board looked like a starfish by the end. In the friendlier games, we tried to have tiles touch at least two sides with existing tiles, making a less gamery layout – more like a normal map.

Part of exploration games is luck.  Timber feels important to the expansion and this is implicitly acknowledged by having 10 of the 24 tiles be timber.  At the same time, a player who goes out and while playing the livestock strategy gets two battering rams can feel a bit bummed that they still cannot build their mill.  If this is not acceptable to you, this might not be the game for you.

A few players were irked that some fortress tiles were strictly better than others.  So I raid and get six points plus a viking in Valhalla while you do the very same thing and get five points and a  viking in Valhalla. As with the shipwreck tokens, it is part of the game, so accept it or maybe it is not for you.

The only real negative for me is that it moved the game from ~50 minutes to ~75 minutes. The addition of the 24 tiles is great for variety, but it pushed the game into a zone where there is more competition.  In my fantasy world, the designer would have a variant with 24 known tiles that get removed so that all strategies are viable and the game is still playable in under an hour, but I understand it is far more easily said than done.

I have not played Shipwrights or the North Sea Trilogy, so I cannot speak to how this expansion affects the full megagame experience.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

I love it!

I like it.  Jonathan F.


Not for me…


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4 Responses to Jonathan Franklin: Review of Explorers of the North Sea:  Rocks of Ruin

  1. jeffinberlin says:

    Not for me, although I like exploration games and really wanted to like this. As Jonathan said, it only makes strategic sense to pick a path and place all the good tiles in that path, while possibly blocking the paths of opponents. Aside from the tile laying, the rest is just an actions point game with set collection. Kramer and Kiesling already did this much better 18 years ago–several times–and with much better player interaction (especially with Tikal). Very disappointing, but I would still like to try Raiders of the North Sea, which my opponent assured me was far better.

  2. Jacob Lee says:

    I appreciate all the reviews I find here but I have to admit I’m having more trouble than ever these days keeping all the titles straight in my head. I had a less intense year of gaming this past year and I feel a little out of the loop when it comes to the newer stuff. I aim to fix that over the next year. What would be really useful to me, and perhaps others, is if you could include an image of the box cover at the top of the review. Do you usually do this? I spent a good chunk of this article trying to remember if I owned/previously owned/had played Explorers of the North Sea. I guess the game didn’t leave much of an impression. Thank you for continuing to post such excellent reviews. The written review will always be my favourite form of review.

  3. gamekahuna says:

    I had an image up top, but it looks like it was broken somehow, so I just added one – it has the garphill logo, but in the US, it is a Renegade Game Studios release.

  4. Tom Luongo says:

    I haven’t played a tile-layer since Carcasonne Hunter Gatherers which I’m quite tired of. So, EotNS was a fun diversion. Rocks of Ruin makes it just the type/weight of game I wanted.

    Just enough player interaction to make it interesting while giving multiple ways to score points.

    The buildings change the mid-game strategy significantly.

    Definitely a keeper.

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