Raids: A four-sided game review

Raids* is a family board game for 2-4 players, taking 30-60 minutes. While listed for ages 10+ it will comfortably go younger (the consensus seems to be 8+ would be fine): I can only imagine this was done due to component issues (small coins etc), not complexity.

Speaking of components, publisher Iello has done its usual fine job. In the box you’ll find a nicely illustrated main board and four player boards, 70 cardboard tiles, 44 wooden pieces and 20 metal coins – and it all fits beautifully into the dedicated box insert.

Raiding Vikings may not seem the most obvious family game theme, but there’s nothing here you’ll need to cover small children’s eyes from. While the game sees you sailing around collecting items, the fighting and pillaging is reduced to some light bidding, racing and collection mechanisms. That said, the art does a good job of evoking a Viking adventure and most of what you do makes at least vaguely thematic sense. You should be able to pick it up for around £30, which feels like solid value.

Teaching

While generally a pretty simple teach, Raids has a few niggly little rules that may throw some people (you’ll probably need to keep reminding people of them, or do some regular game admin yourself) – and anyone who needs to be competitive straight off the bat is going to need all the rules explained right from the start – especially for scoring (more casual groups can explain things as they happen).

In short, players go on journeys (on their long ships) around the board, stopping at points along the way to either collect items/points, fight monsters, or improve their ship. Once this has happened four times, the player with the most points wins. In euro game style, points can be immediate or accumulated for end round/game bonuses – but in family game style, this is all done with the minimum of fuss and complexity. Players start with a ship board ready for 10 Vikings (you’ll start with 1-3 cute Viking meeples, depending on turn order) and a nice wooden long ship token on the start space. 

The game is oft described as a competitive Tokaido, which is semi-useful: the board has a set route players must follow, and whoever is at the back of it takes the next turn (so you could equally reference older games such as Thebes or Egizia). But with Raids, the key difference is when you finish at your new space you don’t do the action immediately – you instead wait until you next get to move from the back before you take it.

Mechanically there are two types of space: those you can’t stop at, but where things automatically happen when you pass; and those you can either choose to stop at or move past without consequence.

Passing spaces either give you freebies (points or Vikings – sometimes benefiting those who get there first) or a monster to tackle. You can pass a monster by leaving a meeple behind to keep it occupied; meaning later players also have to deal with it – or you can spend as many Vikings as its victory point value (3-6) to defeat it – removing it from the board and putting it in your score pile.

Stopping spaces will give you a tile when you leave – as long as when you do, there’s no one left behind you. The reason being, just because you’ve stopped at a space to pillage it doesn’t mean you’ll get to. If another player comes up to the space from behind you and decides they fancy landing there, you have to duke it out. This is a very simple system: they ‘spend’ a Viking to move you on, but in turn you can spend two to hold your ground – at which point they can spend three more to push their claim, then you could spend four to defend again – and so on. The winner takes the space, the loser moves to another (and could equally push someone from another space further on). 

Once you’re the last player on the board’s track, you take the tile on your space before deciding where to move to next. Many of these tiles will upgrade your ship (give you bonus Vikings at the end of each run, help you fight monsters, or give end game scoring bonuses) but can also, for example, be goods you can sell at other spaces later for points. These ship tiles can force you into interesting tactical decisions, as while they take up spaces on your player board they may offer less ‘shields’ (Viking spaces) than you currently have – giving you less room for crew (and so fighting power).

Each round has a random scoring tile you hand out points for once all ships have made it home (perhaps most creatures defeated, or most goods collected etc). You then clear the board of any remaining tiles and put out the ones for the next round (you use all the games tiles, and they all have set rounds to be in – except the end game scoring tiles, which are chosen randomly from a small stack each game).

The four sides

These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.

  • The writer: This is a clever family design from designers Matt Dunstan and Brett Gilbert, but more experienced gamers will soon start to ask questions. Once you start looking beyond the solid basics, the core becomes fragile – especially with two players. You soon learn the make-up of each set of tiles, for example, so know certain strategies have a clear arc – making certain plans only good near the start, for example – while if you know you’re winning (with two) you can easily rush the final round. There’s a two-player variant that tries to address this, but it’s just fiddly (like most two-player variants). So good for families, OK at best for gamers.
  • The kids: We love it! Its fun being raiders and the little wooden Vikings are awesome. But it was hard to remember you could only take the tile at the start of your go, not at the end – and frustrating when tiles you wanted got taken away because you were the last player at the back. But it’s a fun game and we want to play it more. But why are the pigs and sheep so big?! They’re bigger than the Vikings on the boat 😀
  • The trasher: This can be a mean game in a good way! Raids has a good mix for me – strategic thinking at the start of the rounds, but tactics take over once you start moving and reacting to the ever-changing situation. Having lots of Vikings is always good, but any fight (with a player or monster) immediately makes you vulnerable, so while you can be aggressive you also need to pick your battles. Personally, I’d have liked to see a dice thrown in to make the creature battles a little more random and riskier, as overall the game feels a bit too mathsy for my liking: I like my combat to have a bit of jeopardy! But still a fun game. 
  • The dabbler: This one worked really well with the family. It fits neatly in the box, then looks great on the table – and the rules are largely simple to understand. The theme works well, and it’s fun throwing your Vikings back in the pile while you fight creatures or other players. And while there are lots of ways to score points, they’re all simple to understand – the game distils lots of ideas from more complicated games and makes them accessible, which also makes this a solid gateway title as well as one for gamer families – especially if the theme appeals. 

Key observations

The only observation I can make for families is it’s a shame some parts of the game are a little unintuitive. Younger players especially will want their reward straight away, not at the start of their next go – especially if someone can kick them out before they get it: I can see some table-flipping from some kids here! And tiles being removed (if it’s your go to move, but there are tiles between you and the next player) is hard to remember – especially as this doesn’t happen on the first turn of each round. But these shouldn’t stop most families enjoying the experience.

Gamers, however, will soon start to see the cracks. Set tiles are always used, and always in the same round, so you can soon grock all the available strategies: and there are less than it first appears. There are only two monsters in the final round, for example – so why aim to fight then? I can see why certain tiles needed to be in certain rounds, but setting them all in stone has reduced this to a five-and-out game for your average gamer. But for families, especially if their kids are doing Vikings at school, this could be a real winner – and at a very reasonable price, even a short number of plays offers value (especially with the current strong resale market).

Conclusion

Raids is a really good family game. But as a gamer, while it’s mechanically sound and good fun for a few plays it won’t be staying in my collection. As I’ve talked about elsewhere on the blog, short-term interest games seem an actual strategy for some publishers – and for gamers, I’d put this in that category. I like to either explore a game over a lot of plays and keep finding new things; or have silly random fun and laughter: meaning this one isn’t for me (although I’d happily play again).

I guess I just wanted a little more. It feels as if concessions have been made to keep gamers happy, such as reducing the random elements to a minimum (there are even an exact number of coins in the box as required for every game). Everything just feels a little too precise – which actually fails to meet long-term gamer needs as much as fragility would have done, while reducing the amount of potential family fun in the process. So overall really solid, but for me it didn’t quite meet its full potential.

* I would like to thank Coiledspring Games for providing a copy of the game for review.

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