The French development studio Shiro Games quickly became known in 2013 with its creative action role-playing game Evoland, in which you experience different eras of video game history. With Northgard, the indie publisher released a real real-time strategy hit in 2017. The strategy title, which is strongly reminiscent of "The Settlers", has sold over 3 million copies to date and, with a Metacritic score of 81, can convince both critics and gamers. So it's no wonder that the game follows the big trend of board game adaptations of video games and appeared on the market analogously with Northgard: Uncharted Lands. The German-Swiss publisher Board Game Box is responsible for distribution in this country. You can find out what we liked about the board game in the following review.
Legends tell of a land beyond the seas full of mysteries, dangers and treasures. The war chiefs of all clans sense glory and power and send their bravest warriors to explore and claim the uncharted lands. However, the uncharted lands harbor evil creatures that make the clans even more difficult. Only the clan that successfully confronts the creatures and opposing clans and can collect the most glory at the end will rule over the new land.
A simple 4X?!
Northgard: Uncharted Lands is a classic 4X game with deck building elements in which we have to explore the uncharted lands, colonize them with our units, collect resources and fight against enemy units. The goal of Northgard is to control 3 closed areas with large buildings by the end of any year or have the most Fame Points by the end of the 7th year.
A year is divided into 5 phases. The beginning of the year, the campaign phase, the harvest, winter and the end of the year. At the beginning of the year we draw 4 cards from our deck. In the action phase that follows, we can decide per turn to play one of the drawn cards and carry out its action, or instead not to use the action and wait. This can be useful, for example, to be able to react better to actions by opponents. If you spend 1 knowledge resource, instead of waiting, you can replace the unused card and draw a new card. For 2 knowledge you can remove the unused card from your deck, thereby reducing your deck and subsequently drawing two cards. Finally, you can decide to pay an additional 3 knowledge to take a clan card with particularly powerful actions into your hand.
During the action phase you try to shape the situation on the game board in your own favour. We can construct buildings in areas controlled by us, which either give us more resources, fame points, warriors and hand cards, or help us to defend this area. In addition, we can discover new game board tiles and thus open up new areas that can give us additional fame points. We can also recruit new warriors in controlled areas, which we can then move around the game board to claim new areas for ourselves. If we enter an area with enemy units, a fight ensues. More on that later. If we win the fight, we now have control of this area and can use all its advantages.
If we are satisfied with our round or cannot use any more actions, we can or must pass. If we pass, we can take a development card and add it to our deck. So we gradually build our deck with better cards. The sooner we pass, the more control we have over which development cards we add to our deck.
The work is bearing fruit
The harvest phase follows the action phase. Depending on how well or poorly we did in the action phase, we now receive fame for each closed area we control as well as all mapped resources in all areas we own. We can then exchange three resources for a resource of our choice as often as we like.
The harvest phase is important because winter is coming! As in the video game, this one can be particularly tough. Depending on our own troop strength on the game board, we have to pay for resources to maintain our units. If we cannot do this, we must add a riot card to our deck. This can have a particularly severe impact on our game, because not only can we perform fewer actions in a turn when drawing the Riot card, but we also lose 5 Fame Points per Riot card at the end of the game.
After winter, the end of the year is heralded. If a player now owns three areas with at least 1 large building per area, he wins. In addition, game endings who no longer have any units on the game board at the end of the year are given a “second chance”. You may then place three new units on any neutral space. Thus, Northgard offers a possibility that all players can help shape the game until the end and not only have to watch the loss of all units.
Lucky to win!
Battles in Northgard: Uncharted Lands work according to the "the more, the merrier" scheme. We can use the move action to move any number of warriors from one area to the next area. If we move into enemy territory, a fight will ensue. First, the number of warriors on both sides is compared here. For example, if you move with 5 warriors into an area that the opponent has occupied with 3 warriors, you have 5 battle points and the opponent has 3.
Various bonuses are then calculated on the battle points. These can be added by the played movement action card, clan abilities or defensive buildings. In addition, you can discard one food per warrior to strengthen them by one battle point. Once you have done that, luck comes into play. The two players involved in the battle each roll a battle die and add the result to the battle points. The person who now has the most battle points wins and forces the opponent's warriors to retreat to adjacent areas. In the event of a tie, the defender wins. If skull symbols were involved in the fight by rolling dice or buildings, both parties involved lose one unit for each skull symbol inflicted by the opponent.
In order to completely escape from the luck of rolling dice, fights that you absolutely want to win tend to send as many units as possible into an area so that the dice can no longer exceed the battle points. Likewise the other way around. If you want to keep an area, it is good to have many warriors in the area in addition to defensive buildings. However, the disadvantage of this is that you can spread less across the playing field and thus conquer other areas in order to get more fame and resources in the harvest phase. So we always have to think carefully about whether we don't want to give up an area at all or whether we want to take the risk and spread it out a little.
High replay value despite less depth
Of course, Northgard: Uncharted Lands doesn't offer the same depth as the big role model. This is how we continue to expand our tribe with only 3 types of resources (wood, apples, knowledge). Also, we don't expand from our parish hall, but place warriors on an area and move from there across the unexplored lands. Also, the analog representative has far fewer win conditions. While the video game offers a total of seven ways to approach the game and win, the board game has only two. Here we would have wished for a little more options to give our games more tactical depth. A few clans are also missing, such as the squirrel clan and thus features such as cooking.
Despite all this, the seven included clans in Northgard: Uncharted Lands offer a high level of replayability. Also included are the bear, boar, goat, raven, snake, deer and wolf clans known from the video game. In addition to a special ability that applies throughout the game, each clan also has three clan cards that have special actions. These are modeled after their counterparts from the video game and give the clans their very own style of play.
In addition, Northgard: Uncharted Lands comes with a creature module. This brings wolves, brown bears, draugar and fallen valkyries into play. If we uncover new game board tiles, we may encounter a creature. These prevent us, sometimes more, sometimes less, from our project. For example, the fallen Valkyrie will drive warriors out of areas we own if the fight against them is lost. Areas with wolves, on the other hand, do not produce Fame or Resources during the Harvest phase. If we're clever, we can even place the creatures in such a way that they attack our opponent in the next turn, giving us an advantage.
Material-wise, Northgard: Uncharted Lands is a real stunner. Cards, cardboard markers, as well as miniatures feel really high quality. There is also an inlay that offers enough space for sleeved cards. Only the maps we find too big. Keeping these on hand can sometimes be quite cumbersome and therefore annoying. What some people might also find annoying is the space the game occupies. The markers and buildings alone take up a large part of the table. However, this is whining at the highest level. For an RRP of €65, Northgard: Uncharted Lands is definitely worth the money purely in terms of material.
It is also nice that the game mostly works with simple symbolism. This makes it much easier to explain or learn the game and a game with new players who don't know the game can start faster. With an average playing time of 60 minutes, Northgard: Uncharted Lands is also a comparatively faster representative of the 4X genre. With the game being quick to learn and play, we can imagine it could find its way onto the table more often than other 4X games.
About Northgard: Uncharted Lands
|Number of players: 2 – 5
Age: from 13 years
Playing time: 45 - 90 minutes
Long-term motivation: medium
Classification: 4X, Deck Builder
Author: Adrian Dinu
Northgard: Uncharted Lands manages to capture the feel of the video game despite some limitations. Especially the proximity of the clans to their digital role models and the addition of the creatures module contribute to this feeling. It's just fun to explore the unknown lands and always excited to see what will be revealed next. Since we are constantly drawing and placing new game board tiles when discovering, different cards are always created, just like in a video game. No game is like the other. Gamers who want to take a detour into analog will find their way around Northgard: Uncharted Lands quickly and are sure to enjoy the game.
However, Northgard: Uncharted Lands can also be very interesting for board gamers who have nothing to do with video games. As much as I love and enjoy playing 4X games, unfortunately we rarely see them on our tables. The reason for this is simply that this type of game often only works in larger groups and simply takes far too long. Northgard: Uncharted Lands solves exactly this problem, because the game works excellently in all constellations and can be played in about an hour if you are well attuned. Since it's easy to learn, the hurdle is much lower than other games of this genre.
In general, it can be said that Northgard: Uncharted Lands is a successful analog implementation of a grandiose digital strategy game. Board and video gamers alike will surely enjoy this game.
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